“It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco. It must be a delightful city and possess all the attractions of the next world.” So observed Oscar Wilde and, as this anecdote told by Glenn Halm illustrates, he was right on the mark. continue reading
Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History
Several 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.
“With Ukraine, Russia is an empire. Without it, Russia is just another country.” The history between these two is long and often fraught with conflict. Before the current protests in Ukraine over relations with Russia, Ukraine had to fight to free itself from the Soviet Union. Official independence was declared August 24, 1991 and with it came its own host of problems. The United States was split between keeping the Soviet Union intact (and its reformist leader Mikhail Gorbachev in power), versus supporting Ukrainian democracy and self-rule. This ambiguity was highlighted by President George H.W. Bush’s much-criticized “Chicken Kiev” speech, in which he warned against “suicidal nationalism.” Eventually Washington decided to recognize Ukraine. However, its sizable nuclear arsenal, lingering Communist sentiments, the situation in Crimea, and the nature of the future government all became salient issues post-independence. continue reading
The United States Department of State is not the monolithic entity it may at first appear to be. The lack of streamlined appointment and promotion policy between the Civil Service and the Foreign Service has at times created an atmosphere of tension within the Department. Previous Directors General of the Foreign Service have attempted to bridge the divide between the agencies, with mixed success. After the Foreign Service Act was revised in 1980, subsequent Directors have sought to accommodate the changes. Former Directors General George Vest (who served from 1985-1989) and Anthony Quainton (1995-1997) discuss their experiences implementing the new Act and addressing matters of personnel and the relationship between the Civil and Foreign Service. continue reading
The Transnistria region in Moldova is a Cold War relic. Along with Nagorno-Karabakh in Armenian-controlled Azerbaijan and South Ossetia in Georgia, it is a post-Soviet “frozen conflict” zone where a situation of “no war, no peace” still persists. It did not want to separate from the USSR when the latter was dissolved; the brief military conflict that started in March 1992 was ended by a ceasefire in July 1992. Despite years of multilateral negotiations, this tiny sliver of land is unrecognized but independent, with its own government, military, police, and currency. While Transnistria is much smaller than Moldova, it retains considerable leverage, in now small part because of the Russian military contingent stationed there. The European Court of Human Rights considers Transnistria to be “under the effective authority or at least decisive influence of Russia.” Russia thus plays a double game, negotiating a “final settlement” while at the same time supporting its cronies in Transnistria to Moldova’s detriment. Many observers see Vladimir Putin resorting to similar tactics in other heavily Russian areas in the region, such as in the Crimea in Ukraine. continue reading
On March 16, 1968, in what was one of the most shocking incidents of the Vietnam War and in the history of the U.S. military, an estimated 500 Vietnamese villagers were killed by U.S. Army soldiers from Company C of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division in the obscure village of My Lai in Quang Ngai province of South Vietnam. The massacre took place shortly after the January 30 Tet offensive in an area known to be a stronghold of the 48th Viet Cong Battalion, one of the most effective military divisions of the VC. continue reading
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created by ten European countries, the U.S. and Canada in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II in order to provide mutual protection in case of an attack against any member. For decades it stood as the bulwark against a possible invasion from the Soviet Union and its allies. When Poland — the very heart of the Warsaw Pact – established itself as a democracy in 1989, it upended the old order. Tensions were high as Warsaw strove for Western integration and NATO membership, wanting to protect itself as much as possible from its historical foe and oppressor. However, Washington had to delicately balance those ambitions with its relations with the USSR, now under the more enlightened leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. Nicholas Rey was the U.S. Ambassador to Poland from 1993 to 1997 when Poland was starting the process of NATO accession and discusses its tortuous path to membership, which was completed on March 12, 1999, when Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic became full-fledged members. continue reading
During the 1950’s hundreds of government employees, entertainers, educators, and union activists were accused of being communists by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Careers were ruined, reputations smeared as people found themselves on black lists and the victims of unjust persecution. In 1950, Senator Millard Tydings (D-MD) headed the Tydings Committee to investigate McCarthy’s claims of Communist penetration of the federal government and military. The hearings revolved around McCarthy’s charge that the fall of Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang regime in China had been caused by the actions of alleged Soviet spies in the State Department and that China expert Owen Lattimore was a “top Russian agent.” The hearings, held from March to July 1950, were extremely stormy and attracted much media attention. The committee published a report denouncing McCarthy and his claims as a hoax.
John S. Service, a Foreign Service officer and long-time “China hand” who had criticized Chiang Kai-Shek, was one of those accused. In these excerpts, Service describes the frustrating sham hearings he endured, the support he received from his colleagues at the Department, and his eventual dismissal from the Foreign Service on December 13, 1951. Part II, taken from his wife, Caroline’s, oral history, deals with their struggle to make ends meet after he was dismissed, the isolation they felt for the years they fought to reclaim his honor, and the Supreme Court decision which vindicated him. You can also read about Service’s experiences in China. continue reading
Travelling can be a fun, rewarding experience. Except when it’s not. David Fischer, who was a consular officer in Sofia from 1972-74, tells of one particular gentleman who probably wished he had stayed home. He was interviewed in 1998 by Charles Stuart Kennedy and Robert Pastorino.
This is a story about a demanding ambassador’s wife, a demanding ambassador, and a cat in Vienna which in 1968 almost caused a military crisis. Frederick Irving was the Deputy Chief of Mission in Vienna at the time who had to deal with it all. You can read about Douglas MacArthur II’s entry into Paris after D-Day. continue reading
She was one of the greatest and most loved stars Hollywood has ever produced. She made over $3 million by her mid-teens and was awarded an honorary Academy Award — at the age of six. Born on April 23rd, 1928, Shirley Temple Black is known for such films such as “Bright Eyes”, “Curly Top” and “Heidi,” as well as the song “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” Her movies were an important part of the 1930’s and helped brighten the darkest days of the Great Depression. She ended her acting career at the age of 22, but she was never far from the spotlight. continue reading