What is essential is visible to the eye.
Some academics have suggested that between 60 to 90% of all human communication is nonverbal. Efforts have been made to correlate body language with intent. For example, security screeners at Heathrow have been trained to look for individuals “walking in a crowd of hundreds by looking for nervous behavior, such as avoiding eye-contact, or having the appearance of being drugged.”
But it is far from a perfect art. Nonverbal communication varies across cultures. Italians for example, are said to talk with their hands. On the other hand the Japanese may be far more inscrutable. So it’s always interesting to see gestures interpreted. Did he mean that? Or didn’t he?
Body language has played a role in world history. Regarding his first impression of Hitler, Chamberlain commented: “In spite of the hardness and ruthlessness I thought I saw in his face, I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.”
Hitler on the other hand, regarded Chamberlain as a comical asshole. He found in Chamberlain’s trademark umbrella a symbol of just how effete it had become.
Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, underlined three times in red pencil Hitler’s reported description of Chamberlain as an “arschloch” before handing it on to the Prime Minister.
Hitler was also said to have mocked Chamberlain’s trademark umbrella, according to the report, which said he was “very fond of making jokes about the ‘umbrella pacifism’ of the once so imposing British world empire.”
The New York Times reported that the Cuban Missile Crisis may have had its origins in Khrushchev’s view of Kennedy, formed at their meeting in Vienna, that the US President was a weakling.
Despite his eloquence, Kennedy was no match as a sparring partner, and offered only token resistance as Khrushchev lectured him on the hypocrisy of American foreign policy, cautioned America against supporting “old, moribund, reactionary regimes” and asserted that the United States, which had valiantly risen against the British, now stood “against other peoples following its suit.” Khrushchev used the opportunity of a face-to-face meeting to warn Kennedy that his country could not be intimidated and that it was “very unwise” for the United States to surround the Soviet Union with military bases.
Kennedy’s aides convinced the press at the time that behind closed doors the president was performing well, but American diplomats in attendance, including the ambassador to the Soviet Union, later said they were shocked that Kennedy had taken so much abuse. Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was “just a disaster.” Khrushchev’s aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed “very inexperienced, even immature.” Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was “too intelligent and too weak.” The Soviet leader left Vienna elated — and with a very low opinion of the leader of the free world.
Kennedy’s assessment of his own performance was no less severe. Only a few minutes after parting with Khrushchev, Kennedy, a World War II veteran, told James Reston of The New York Times that the summit meeting had been the “roughest thing in my life.” Kennedy went on: “He just beat the hell out of me. I’ve got a terrible problem if he thinks I’m inexperienced and have no guts. Until we remove those ideas we won’t get anywhere with him.”
Hitler of course, started World War 2. And the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the entire world to the brink of Armageddon. Impressions probably matter and we have no way of knowing how leaders size each other up behind the scenes. What do world leaders really think of the President? And what does he think of them?