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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.

134 Cells, One Inmate: The Closure of Spandau Prison

rCaWHFrom November 1945 until October 1946, the International Military Tribunal indicted and prosecuted Nazi leaders for their roles in the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials. Eleven of the 24 men who were tried as major war criminals were given the death penalty. Seven of them — Konstantin von Neurath, Erich Raeder, Karl Dönitz, Walther Funk, Albert Speer, Baldur von Schirach, and Rudolf Hess (seen right) — were given prison sentences to be completed at the notorious Spandau Prison.

Built in 1876 along Wilhelmstrasse in West Berlin, Spandau Prison originally served as a Prussian military detention center and was later used to hold civilian and political prisoners. On July 18, 1947, the prison took on a new role as the holding place of the seven high-ranking Third Reich officials. The operation was run by the Kommandatura, the post-war governing body of Berlin with the participation of the U.S., U.K., USSR and France.

Four of the prisoners were released between 1954 and 1957; Speer and von Schirach were set free in 1966. That left Rudolf Hess as the sole occupant in a facility designed to hold 600 prisoners. continue reading »


Hong Kong Returns to China, Part II

Hong Kong Handover 10 year anniversaryAs the formal handover of Hong Kong to China approached, many grew concerned about Beijing’s intentions. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens emigrated in the late 1980s and early 1990s for places like the UK and Vancouver while several came to the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong with claims of American citizenship. The event of the formal handover, which took place on June 30-July 1, 1997, was a glitzy affair. The Prince of Wales read a farewell speech on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II; newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, and the departing Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten also attended.

Richard Boucher served as Consul General in Hong Kong from 1996-1999. He describes the crush of Congressional delegations and the fear mongering in the American media, which he found especially frustrating when he learned that no one read his cables. continue reading »


Hong Kong Returns to China, Part I

Maggie and DengIn September 1982, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher went to Beijing to begin a dialogue on the issue of Hong Kong, a small nation that had been a colony of Great Britain for over a century. At issue was the 99-year lease which gave Britain authority over the islands was set to expire in 1997, raising a host of questions on what the future of the territory would look like. In 1984, after two years of negotiations, a Joint Declaration was released in which Britain agreed to cede Hong Kong at the expiration of the lease, while China guaranteed to allow the small nation to maintain an amount of political autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy. continue reading »


Evolution of the European Union: Early Seeds of Dissolution?

uk-eu-brexitBritain has always been a part of Europe and yet at the same time, it has seen itself as distinct from the rest of the continent — the English Channel has often proven to be more than just a geographic barrier. However, in the shadow of World War II, as the continent realized the need for greater political and economic cooperation, there was a shift among the British ruling elite towards more integration. In 1961 Britain applied for membership of the EEC. French President Charles de Gaulle was concerned that British membership would weaken the French voice within Europe and decided to express veto power with a resounding “non.” He also feared that close Anglo-American relations would lead to the United States increasing its influence in Europe. Charles de Gaulle also vetoed a second application from Britain in 1969.

Soon after President de Gaulle resigned, the Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath, took the UK into the EEC in January 1973, along with Denmark and Ireland, which expanded  total membership to nine countries.  continue reading »


How Did We Get Here? A Look Back at the Creation of the European Union

EU 1Welcome to Part I of our crash course on the formation of the European Union (EU). Each treaty signed between 1948 and 2007 brought Europe one step closer to today’s EU.

Back in the aftermath of World War II, a group of European countries decided that the Dunkirk Treaty of 1947, which the UK and France signed against a possible rebirth of German aggression, needed an additional “mutual defense clause” and so came up with the Treaty of Brussels (1948). That “mutual defense clause” turned out to be the basis upon which the 1954 Paris Conference established the Western European Union (WEU).

In the meantime, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was implemented as the first international organization based on the principles of supranationalism (i.e., a system where negotiated power is delegated to an authority by governments of member states). Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg signed the 1951 Treaty of Paris. continue reading »


Spain’s Post-Franco Emergence from Dictatorship to Democracy

Francisco%20Franco%20y%20Bahamonde%20-%20Portrait%20-%20España%20-%20Peter's%20Spain%20-%20Peter%20CrawfordSpanish leader Francisco Franco died November 20, 1975 at the age of 82 after 36 years in power, first as a dictator, then as head of a semi-pluralist authoritarian system. His regime was held responsible for the deaths of as many as 400,000 political dissenters, many during the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939. Franco persecuted political opponents, repressed the culture and language of Spain’s Basque and Catalan regions, and stifled freedom of speech.

Although Spain maintained an official policy of neutrality during World War II, Franco aligned himself ideologically with Hitler and Mussolini, allowing the German and Italian navies to use Spanish harbors at the beginning of the conflict and, in the process, leading to loss of U.S. support for his government amid diplomatic and economic isolation. Once the war concluded and the threat of Soviet aggression pervaded Western Europe, relations between the U.S. and the anticommunist Franco warmed. Spain was invited to join the United Nations and to come under the protection of NATO.

Franco had vowed to restore the monarchy, and in 1969 picked Prince Juan Carlos, the grandson of King Alfonso XIII, as the next king. continue reading »


We Don’t Give a Dam — The Feud Over Financing the Aswan High Dam

aswan dam constructionEgypt’s agriculture has always depended on the water of the Nile; the river’s perennial floods, while critical in replenishing the fertile soil, constantly threatened to wash away a season’s harvest. The Aswan High Dam was built to regulate the river’s flooding as well as to create hydroelectric power and a reservoir for irrigation. Its planning and financing in the 1950s played a major role in American-Egyptian diplomatic relations, and was in part responsible for precipitating the Suez Crisis in 1956. (Photo: Corbis)

Following the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952, new president Gamal Abdel Nasser viewed a new, larger dam as politically and economically vital for Egypt. The United States, looking to counter Soviet influence in the Middle East, offered to finance the construction of a dam as well as provide arms shipments to Egypt, on the condition that the weapons be used only defensively and that the U.S. supervise all training. continue reading »


Getting on the Seoul Train — The 1988 Summer Olympic Games

1988_Summer_Olympics_logo.svgThe Olympic Games represent the height of sporting diplomacy, with thousands of athletes transcending politics for two weeks as they represent their countries on the world stage. While the athletic spectacles entrance and amaze on television, without the behind-the-scenes political efforts and negotiations, there would be no Olympic Games. For many countries, hosting the Olympics is an opportunity to show the world its culture, hospitality, and innovation. The 1988 Summer Games served as just such an opportunity for South Korea, as they gave the world a preview of South Korea’s impending economic boom, as the country moved alongside Japan to become a leader in technological development.

Moreover, the 1980 and 1984 summer Olympic Games, held in Moscow and Los Angeles respectively, were marred by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent boycotts.By 1988, there were no such issues and Seoul had one of the highest participation rates to date, with 159 countries and 8400 athletes attending. It also marked the swan song for Olympics powers the USSR and East Germany. as both ceased to exist before the next Olympic Games. continue reading »


The Day the Fountain Ran Dry: An Indian Duck Tale

SetWidth350-duckling-trio-mallards1As a Foreign Service Officer serving abroad, it is natural to become close friends with the colleagues with whom you share embassy offices; in many cases, they get to be like your family away from home. In the same way, any creatures which happen to be resident in diplomatic spaces become like family pets. As with every family, there are those who like animals and those who do not. It follows that if something happens to those creatures, there is bound to be trouble. Such was the case with the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, where jobs were nearly lost, ducks were kicked and ambassadors were insulted.

Former Ambassador to India William Clark Jr. (1989-1992) recounts the time when resident ducks were forced to depart the premises of the embassy. He was interviewed by Thomas Stern in January 1994. continue reading »


What Have I Gotten Myself Into? Tales from Rough First Tours

worried-faceLife in the Foreign Service certainly has its advantages – working in often exotic locales, meeting fascinating people, being a part of important, sometimes historical, events. But, like other glamorous jobs, it has its drawbacks, not the least of which come with the drudgery of first and sometimes second tours, where most FSOs end up doing thankless consular work or drafting tedious reports.

Theresa A. Loar discusses the challenges of entering the Foreign Service as a first-tour consular officer in Mexico City in 1986 and how, despite feeling that her work was unsatisfying, the tour became unexpectedly dramatic. Loar was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in 2001.

Albert Thibault describes his challenging first tour in Conakry, Guinea as a Political/Economic Officer between 1969 and 1971 when the Portuguese invaded Guinea in an attempt to overthrow the Guinea government. He was by interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2005. continue reading »