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.

Breaking Chains — Fighting Trafficking in Persons

TIPIn October 2000, 135 years after the Thirteenth Amendment officially abolished slavery within the United States, Congress declared that “as the 21st century begins, the degrading institution of slavery continues throughout the world.” These opening words to the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act embodied the United States’ growing awareness of modern slavery and announced their intention to combat this evil both at home and abroad. In the following interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning August 2001, Theresa A. Loar, who worked as the State Department’s Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues, discusses the evolution of the Act and the dedication of its champions. Charles A. Ray, Ambassador to Cambodia from 2002-05, and Marie Therese Huhtala, who served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Bangkok from 1998-2001, discuss initial reactions to the Act in Cambodia and Thailand, two centers of international human trafficking. continue reading »

The Embassy Moscow Fire of 1977

fire3Diplomats working in the USSR had to contend with a wide range of difficulties – poor bilateral relations, KGB surveillance, tough living conditions, Russian winters. For those serving in 1977, you could add one more thing to that list – a massive fire. On the evening of August 26th, U.S. Embassy Moscow erupted in flames. The fire started on the 8th floor, and embassy employees quickly scrambled to save what they could. A great deal of information was lost or stolen, some of which was classified. Some had suspected that the KGB was responsible for the fire, and while this was later disproved, it was clear several “firemen” were actually KGB personnel trying to remove sensitive information from the Embassy. continue reading »

North Korea and U.S. Violation of International Waters

North South KoreaFor much of military history, combatants of all nationalities have operated under the guidance of an ancient adage:  all’s fair in love and war. Unfortunately, even with the advent of maritime law and international conventions on the conduct of war, countries continue to commit violations of one kind or another during times of conflict, such as during the Korean War. Tensions on the peninsular remained high even after the War ended, which often led to drastic, sometimes illegal measures. In an interview with Thomas Stern beginning October 1996, Paul M. Cleveland, who was serving as the Political Counselor in Seoul in the mid-1970s, discusses Korean tensions over the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Northern Line Limit (NLL) and laments how forces under the salty Admiral Hank Morgan attacked North Korean patrol boats on the high seas, which ended up killing 30 North Korean fishermen in what Cleveland called “an act of piracy.”   continue reading »

End of an Era: The August Coup and the Final Days of the Soviet Union

Aug coup moscowIn August 1991, Soviet hardliners attempted to overthrow the progressive Mikhail Gorbachev, Secretary General of the Communist Party, in a desperate attempt to save the collapsing Soviet Union. Declaring a state of emergency, eight government officials named themselves the State Committee on the State of Emergency (GKChP) and forcibly detained Gorbachev in the Crimea, where he refused to resign. At the GKChP’s behest, armored tanks thundered into Moscow on the morning of August 19th, and the city’s only independent political radio station was silenced. Later that day, President Boris Yeltsin issued a statement condemning the coup and commanding those responsible to release Gorbachev. The coup disintegrated with little bloodshed two days later, on August 21st, when the soldiers withdrew and communications between Gorbachev and Moscow were renewed. continue reading »

The Birth of NAFTA

integration NAFTAIt has its share of ardent supporters, who see it as a force for positive economic and social change, as well as die-hard opponents, who lament the loss of jobs and the damage done to some small towns and cities. Whatever the sentiment, it is hard to deny the tremendous effect the North America Free Trade Agreement has had on its three participants. It is now the largest trading bloc in the world,  covering 475 million people and accounting for more than $20 trillion (that’s trillion with a T) in trade each year. Given the entrenched interests and widespread concerns of either American cultural hegemony or cheap Mexican labor, it is not surprising that the road to an agreement was long and tortuous.   continue reading »

The Berlin Wall Is Built — August 13, 1961

berlin-wall-build-_1970554i (1)On August 13, 1961, Berlin woke up to a shock:  the East German Army had begun construction on the infamous Berlin Wall.  The Wall was initially constructed in the middle of Berlin, and expanded over the following months. It entirely cut off West Berlin from the surrounding East Germany, prohibiting East Germans to pass into West Germany.  However, American military cars were sometimes able to pass through and, in the words of Charles K. Johnson, “poke around.”  The Wall would quickly become a symbol of the Cold War and separated families for a generation. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan demanded “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Two years later, the Wall officially fell, leading to the eventual reunification of East and West Berlin. continue reading »

The Search for Peace in Southern Africa – Oil, Angola, and the Proxy Wars

Flag_of_Angola.svgDuring the Cold War, the United States and the USSR engaged in a zero-sum game throughout the globe; while mutually assured destruction prevented the two nuclear superpowers from fighting a hot war, they did conduct an extensive war of proxies on nearly every continent. In the 1970s, just as Saigon – and American influence in the region – was falling, a new hotspot emerged in oil-rich Angola. After many years of conflict, Angola had gained its independence in 1975. That led to a fight for dominance among the three nationalist movements:  the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), founded in 1956; the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), established in 1961; and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), founded in 1966. The U.S. supported the FNLA in an attempt to counterbalance the growing number of Cuban troops, which supported the MPLA. continue reading »

The Birthday Party Coup Attempt on Morocco’s King Hassan II

hassan2_02The Arab world’s longest-ruling monarch at the time of his death, King Hassan II survived several coup attempts during his reign. By far the strangest occurred in the middle of his forty-second birthday party. The King had provoked strong opposition, protest demonstrations, and riots in response to his centrally controlled rule. He had dissolved Parliament in 1965 and was accused of rigging elections to favor loyal parties. On July 10, 1971, King Hassan held a large party at his seaside palace in Skhirat to celebrate his birthday. About a thousand soldiers from the nearby cadet training school stormed the palace and fired on the guests. They killed Belgian Ambassador Marcel Dupret along with 91 others and injured 133, including the King’s brother. continue reading »

Korean Visa Fraud and GI Brides

korea GI brideAs long as there are vast economic disparities between countries, there will be people desperate (and unscrupulous) enough to do whatever it takes, including fraud and false marriages, to try to immigrate. Before its economic takeoff, South Korea in the 1970s and 80s was a major source of visa fraud and so-called GI brides, women who looked to escape the country by marrying a U.S. soldier stationed there. Others were “sold” by their families and others to soldiers to take them to the U.S. and were later forced into prostitution to pay off their debts when they landed on American soil. It is estimated that between 90,000 and 100,000 Korean women immigrated to the U.S. between 1950 and 1989 as GI brides. continue reading »

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

President_Lyndon_B._Johnson_signs_-Gulf_of_Tonkin-_resolution_-_NARA_-_192484.tifAugust 2, 1964 marks the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin attack, which led to an escalation of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The USS Maddox was patrolling the Gulf of Tonkin, situated between North Vietnam and China, collecting intelligence in international waters when it engaged three North Vietnamese naval boats. The Maddox initially believed it had been fired upon by three torpedoes, which all missed; it retaliated with over 280 3-inch and 5-inch shells, while jet fighter bombers strafed the torpedo boats. One U.S. aircraft was damaged and though one round hit the destroyer, there were no U.S. casualties. A second incident reportedly took place two days later but this appears to have involved false radar images and not actual torpedo boat attacks. As a result of these incidents, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by “communist aggression.” continue reading »


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