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.

Tachito Crumbles – The End of Nicaragua’s Somoza Dynasty

esteli-nicaraguaFrom 1936 to 1979, Nicaragua was under the grip of the Somoza family. Coming to power following the death of his older brother, Anastasio “Tachito” Somoza Debayle re-established the fierce reign of violence that had characterized much of his father’s reign. Intolerant of any and all opposition, Tachito ruled the country with an iron fist. Despite a federal law disallowing immediate re-election, the 1972 earthquake sent Nicaragua into a state of massive shock, calling for the introduction of martial law.

As the leader of La Guardia Nacional, Tachito was the head of the National Emergency Committee; Tachito was then re-elected once more to the Presidency in 1974. Soon after his re-election, opposition groups began to join together and raise their voices in protest of Somoza and his government. Led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), mass protests and violence plagued the streets of Nicaragua. continue reading »


The Northern Ireland Conflict — Peace by Piece

IRA mural“The Troubles” between Northern Ireland and Ireland date back to 1167 when England first laid roots in Ireland, but in recent history “The Troubles” refer to the 30 years of conflict over the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The Unionist side wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom, while the Nationalist and Republican side wanted Northern Ireland to become a part of the Republic of Ireland. Discrimination against Catholics and lack of solutions led an increase in violence and terrorism from both the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Ulster Defense Association, which led to a death toll of more than 3,600 and maiming of tens of thousands.

An agreement was finally reached on Good Friday, April 10, 1998. The Good Friday Peace Accords laid out a compromise that established relationships between the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Issues of civil rights were also central to the agreement. continue reading »


Books, Defectors, and Song — The Cuban Missile Crisis, as Seen from Moscow

Pen_Russian Protests 2The Soviet Union, in Churchill’s famous words, was a “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”; as such it made it extremely difficult for outsiders – including foreign intelligence services — to separate fact from fiction. The United States had a range of sources to gather intel:  spies, bugs, publicly available information like brochures and books, and of course, defectors. One of the most important defectors was Oleg Penkovsky, a Soviet colonel who provided information to the United States on the plans and descriptions of the nuclear rocket launch sites in Cuba. A few believe that Penkovsky was actually part of a Soviet plan to somehow mislead the U.S. into thinking that Soviet missile capabilities were not as advanced as previously believed. Penkovsky, true defector or not, was tried, found guilty, and executed.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a time of great tension for U.S diplomats in Embassy Moscow. Some Americans during the Penkovsky case were declared person non grata, and “rent-a-mobs” surrounded the Embassy protesting U.S. actions on Cuba. Oddly enough, the Russian people themselves seemed to go out of their way to express appreciation for Americans, as demonstrated in their ovations for the Robert Shaw Chorale, which was touring the USSR at the time. continue reading »


Jordan, 1970 – An Attack on the Embassy and a Dispute with the King

husseinJordan is one of the United States’ staunchest allies in the Middle East and has been one of the few bright spots in a troubled region. However, this was far from the case in the 1960’s and 70’s, when relations with Jordan’s King Hussein were much more prickly and unpredictable. When Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan during the Six-Day War, displaced Palestinians fled to Jordan in an attempt to seek refuge. Among the displaced were members of the Fedayeen, a militant group of Palestinians seeking retribution for their dislocation. The Fedayeen engaged in frequent attacks on the West Bank and in Jordan proper. As tensions rose, the threat of violence became more imminent. It reached a boiling point in the April 1970, when a Fedayeen mob attacked Embassy Amman. continue reading »


Brazil’s Long Detour on the Road to Democracy

Castello BrancoBrazil’s path to democracy was far from perfect and often tortuous. In 1961, a “possibly half insane” Janio Quadros was elected to the presidency. One of his more miscalculated moves was to threaten resignation if Congress did not give him more power. Congress instead accepted his resignation, and his successor, Joao “Jango” Goulart became President. Goulart, however, was much too leftist for most people and on March 31st 1964, he was overthrown by Brazil’s Armed Forces; U.S. involvement was suspected, but denied by Ambassador Lincoln Gordon. What followed was a military dictatorship that ruled for twenty years with an iron fist, often torturing its own citizens under the guise of maintaining order.  continue reading »


Targeted by Germany’s Red Army Faction

red-army-faction-logoAn offshoot of the radical Baader-Meinhof Group (named for its founders, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Horst Mahler, and Ulrike Meinhof), the Red Army Faction (RAF) was a leftist terrorist organization operating in Germany from 1970 to 1998. Having roots in the German student movement, RAF was primarily comprised of young Germans who were angry and frustrated that the Communist Party was banned, while former Nazi members and sympathizers were given prominent positions in the German government. The RAF would go on to commit numerous acts of terrorism throughout its existence, including an attack on the German Embassy in Stockholm that left two German diplomats dead. continue reading »


An Unwelcome Guest at Embassy Managua

us-embassy-nicaragua-1984It is a commonly held belief that while abroad as a U.S. citizen, the American government and its embassy will do what it can to protect you. While this may be true in most situations, it is not always the case. During the late 1970s, a South Carolina citizen traveled to Managua, Nicaragua and stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel (now the Crowne Plaza Hotel); while there he ran up a bill of $30,000 while waiting for approval for his “business” from President Somoza. Hotel management grew impatient and had the Managua police arrest him. The man somehow escaped jail and made his way to the U.S. Embassy to seek asylum, where he stayed for six long, aggravating weeks. U.S. Embassy officials devised a plan for his removal, which could have backfired horribly.

continue reading »


Israel’s Unapologetic Hawk

netanyahuBenjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, long-time Prime Minister, is a controversial figure who has been one of the most influential figures in Israel in the past twenty years. He was Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations from 1984 to 1988 and was Prime Minister the first time from 1996 to 1999. He was named Foreign Minister in 2002. He became Prime Minister a second time in March 2009. After agreeing to enter direct talks with Palestinians and embracing a two-party state solution, Netanyahu ruffled feathers in Washington and elsewhere by approving new construction in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 2010. In March 2015, he backtracked on his position on the two-party solution and declared that if he is re-elected, he would never allow the establishment of a Palestinian state. He was a staunch advocate for the Iraq war and has been a hawk on negotiations with Iran. continue reading »


Japan’s “Lost Decade”

Japan lost decadeThe Lost Decade marked a tumultuous time in Japan’s economic history, as corporations and banking systems played fast and loose with the economic interests of the country as a whole. Originally referring to the period from 1991-2000 and now extending to the last decade as well, it started when the asset price bubble was at its peak in Japan, allowing corporations to get lines of credit even though their holdings were overly inflated. At one point, it was calculated that the Imperial Palace land was worth more than the State of California.

Flush with cash, Japanese companies began using real estate as collateral to buy assets and properties abroad at highly inflated prices, such as the Rockefeller Center and the Pebble Beach Golf Course. This house of cards eventually collapsed when the real estate bubble burst and debt began to accumulate. From 1995-2007, GDP fell from $5.33 trillion to $4.36 trillion in nominal terms and real wages fell around 5%. continue reading »


No Good Deed – Cattle, the French, and Getting PNG’ed from Madagascar

tsiranana (1)While U.S. diplomatic missions attempt to build relationships with the nations in which they maintain embassies, these relationships don’t always work out. Sometimes, diplomats are PNG’ed or declared persona non grata – a nice way of saying they’ve been kicked out of the country. Such was the case with Ambassador Anthony Marshall.

While serving in Madagascar from 1969-71, Marshall worked with the government, the French, and some Americans to create a cattle project for the island. However, as well-meaning as the project was, it met with some resistance from the French, who were concerned about what the potential threat American success with the Malagasy could mean. continue reading »



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