Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

ADST BenSeveral times a month, ADST highlights compelling moments in U.S. diplomatic history, using our substantial collection of oral histories.

Note: These oral histories contain the personal recollections and opinions of the individual(s) interviewed. The views expressed should not be considered official statements of the U.S. government or the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.

The 1980 Kwangju Massacre and the Surge in Anti-Americanism in South Korea

A helmeted army paratroops clubs man arredted during violent anti-government demonstrations Monday this provincial capital, May 20, 1980. Up to 800 persons were arrested, and forces said two demonstrators died of injuries. (AP Photo)

In 1980, a democratization movement spread throughout South Korea following the assassination of Park Chung-hee, which ended his 18-year authoritarian rule and brought political instability to the country. General Chun Doo Hwan took power as the new president through a coup in December 1979 and expanded martial law soon after in attempt to suppress increasing demonstrations. The extent of this suppression culminated on May 18, 1980 when a student protest in Kwangju was met with a brutal military response that left hundreds injured, dead, or missing.

Anti-American sentiment arose in the aftermath of what would later be referred to as the Kwangju Massacre or Uprising. Because of the close American ties with the South Korean military and statements by the Korean government implicating the United States, many Koreans believed Washington was somehow involved in the violent suppression of the demonstrations, which led to lingering distrust and suspicion of the U.S. for years afterward. (Photo: AP) continue reading »

The 1976 Soweto Uprising

Soweto Uprising3During the 1970’s, South Africa’s apartheid rule continued to use official procedures of explicit and implicit racism to subjugate and demoralize the black Africans in the country. By the 1970’s, the majority black communities were sick and tired of these oppressive policies, which led to an increase in violence, protests and militant activity. However, not all organizations and group efforts to fight apartheid involved violence. In 1974, the South African regime passed the Afrikaans Medium Degree which required all black schools to use and teach Afrikaans as much as English. Because the language of Afrikaans was strongly associated with apartheid, black South Africans preferred their indigenous languages or English. Opposition to this decree prompted black students to organize a peaceful rally on June 16, 1976 in the township of Soweto, located in the nation’s capital, Johannesburg. continue reading »

Ghana’s Populist Mystic, Jerry Rawlings

Jerry_Rawlings1 (Large)Like many leaders throughout Africa, Jerry Rawlings was a paradoxical figure. He could be calculating and ruthless, as when he ordered a bloody “housecleaning” of those he viewed as corrupt or disloyal. Or he could demonstrate genuine concern for the well-being of Ghanaians as he tried to address the country’s myriad problems.

Jerry John Rawlings was a First Lieutenant in the Ghana Air Force when he and six other soldiers tried to stage a coup against the government of General Fred Akuffo in May 1979; they were all arrested and convicted. While awaiting his execution, Rawlings was able to escape with the help of other soldiers on June 4, 1979 and led the overthrow of the Supreme Military Council. continue reading »

The Marshall Plan — “The Europeans did the job themselves”

Marshall Plan Poster 2After World War II, Europe was recovering from the devastation of conflict and suffered from high unemployment and food shortages; the U.S., however, had emerged as a world power with an economy that had grown during the War. Recognizing the dire needs in Europe and the importance of economic stability, Secretary of State George C. Marshall, along with other State Department officials under President Harry Truman, developed an initiative to provide approximately $17 billion in aid (approximately $120 billion in current dollars) to European countries.

This large-scale aid program, officially named the European Recovery Program (ERP) and informally known as the Marshall Plan, was passed relatively quickly through Congress as the Economic Cooperation Act (ECA) and signed into law by President Truman on April 3, 1948.  continue reading »

Operation Winter Warmth – Helping Armenia in Its Darkest Hour

When Armenia gained its independence after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, it was in dire straits. It was in the midst of a bitter war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, its borders with Turkey were closed, which prevented the transshipment of goods. Civil unrest reigned in neighboring Georgia, where bandits would frequently steal from large trucks, greatly reducing the amount of food and oil which finally made it to Armenia.

The populace faced a grim winter with very little heat and not much hope. Into this dark morass came Harry Gilmore, the first Ambassador from the United States to Armenia. Working closely with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the On-Site Inspection Agency, and others, he spearheaded an effort to bring in heating oil and food in the winter of 1994. continue reading »

Burnt Toast

A Russian World War II veteran and a Chinese businessman drink a toast to mark the upcoming Victory Day, in a Chinese restaurant in Vladivostok, Russia's Far Eastern port about 9,300 kilometers (some 5,750 miles) east of Moscow, Wednesday, May 6, 2009. Chinese businessmen invited Russian World War II veterans to celebrate the anniversary of the World War II victory in a Chinese restaurant. Russia celebrates the anniversary of the allied victory over Nazi Germany on May 9. (AP Photo)

Russian banquets (and, of course, Russian drinking) are legendary, as tradition dictates that every drink be accompanied by a toast (or “tost” in Russian). These can be something simple and heartfelt, such as to friendship, or more grandiose and significant, such as to good neighborly relations between our two countries. At more formal, high-ranking affairs, the toasts are often scripted in advance, laden as they are with political meaning.

Gary Crocker worked in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) when he was part of a high-level international delegation with European and Japanese parliamentarians who were visiting Russia in 1994, not long after the collapse of the USSR. As is the custom, there were toasts. As is not the custom, Crocker made a rather pointed joke, which fortunately, did not lead to an international incident.  continue reading »

Reap the Whirlwind — The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi

Rajiv Gandhi, son of India’s long-time Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, had no intention of entering politics like the rest of his family, but as heir to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, such a step was almost pre-ordained. Rajiv Gandhi became India’s seventh Prime Minister on October 31, 1984 just hours after his mother was assassinated by two of her own bodyguards. As a member of India’s post-independence generation, Gandhi was viewed hopefully as a modern technocrat who would help transform the populous nation.

However, it was old-school Realpolitik that ultimately proved to be his undoing. India had long supported the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which had been fighting for independence from Sri Lanka since its founding in 1976. When the conflict intensified, Rajiv Gandhi sent in the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka in 1987 in the hopes of disarming the LTTE and defusing the violent conflict. This backfired badly, as the LTTE began to resent the presence of Indian troops and the government’s strong-arm tactics. continue reading »

The NPT and the Aftermath of India’s Nuclear Test — May 1974

india test 1974Operation Smiling Buddha was the assigned code name for India’s first nuclear weapons explosion on May 18th, 1974. India declared that this test was simply a “peaceful nuclear explosion” or PNE, yet it was later discovered that this was actually a part of a nuclear weapons program. The sharp backlash by the international community  stemmed in part from the fact that India was not a member of the UN Security Council.

After the first nuclear bomb was exploded by the United States in 1945, other nations – the USSR, Great Britain, France, and China –- soon followed suit and developed their own nuclear weapons capabilities. These five nuclear powers soon realized the potentially devastating effects of nuclear weapons development and pushed for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which went into effect in 1970. continue reading »

The Longest Day — Tales from D-Day, 1944

Airborne_troops_smile_from_the_door_of_their_Horsa_glider_as_they_prepare_to_fly_out_as_part_of_the_second_drop_on_Normandy_on_the_night_of_6th_June_1944._H39182The June 6, 1944 invasion of Normandy marked the beginning of the end of World War II. Planning for what would be the largest seaborne invasion in history began in 1943. In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted substantial disinformation regarding the date and location of the main landings in order to mislead the Germans, who were spread thin throughout northwest Europe. The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and the landing of 24,000 British, U.S., and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight. Allied infantry and armored divisions began landing on the coast of France at 6:30 in the morning.  continue reading »

Normalizing Ties with Franco: “I don’t have to like the son of a bitch, do I?”

Francisco-Franco-1937For many people, Spain in the 1930s and 40s was a country of despair, where the dreams of democracy and freedom were brutally crushed during the Spanish Civil War. Its leader, Generalissimo Francisco Franco, had proclaimed Spain’s neutrality during World War II, yet still provided war materiel and assistance to the Axis Powers. Franco then carried out a disastrous economic policy, which stressed self-sufficiency through state price controls. After the end of the war, the Spanish economy was in shambles and Spain was increasingly isolated, as Mexico and others pushed to have it excluded from the newly created United Nations. Shortly thereafter, in December 1946, the UN recommended that all members withdraw their ambassadors from Madrid. The U.S. then excluded Spain from the Marshall Plan as long as the dictatorship remained.   continue reading »

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