ADST Facebook Page ADST Twitter Feed RSS Feed ADST Youtube

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.

Who Let the Dogs Out? – A Pet Evacuation from Kinshasa

dog in a jungleDear Fido,

If you’re reading this, we’ve been evacuated (and you learned how to read!…). But don’t worry ol’ pal! I’ll send for you as soon as I can. I left one of each sock behind, so it’ll be like nothing changed. Food is in the pantry and water’s in the toilet. Call for Lassie if you need anything. See you again real soon, buddy!

In 1991, Ambassador Melissa F. Wells was faced with overseeing the kind of operation not normally covered during training — a full-scale evacuation of diplomatic pets from Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).   continue reading »


Alexander Haig’s Fall from Grace

Alexander Haig IIA highly decorated military leader and influential political figure, Alexander Haig’s career, which included such roles as Supreme Allied Commander to Europe (SACEUR) and Chief of Staff to Presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, culminated with his appointment as President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State on January 22, 1981. As White House staff and Department of State personnel quickly discovered, however, Haig’s wealth of experience did not prepare him for smooth sailing in Washington or abroad.

Haig’s brash leadership style was met with growing frustration from within the administration.  During his one-and-a-half-year stint as Secretary of State, Haig’s approach toward Israel during the Lebanon War of 1982 and the developing dialogue between China and Taiwan over the One-China policy and arms sales helped to seal his fate. After repeated clashes with his colleagues over his operating style, Haig submitted his resignation on June 25, 1982 and was replaced by George Shultz less than a month later. continue reading »


The Chile Burn Victims Case: Containment vs. Human Rights under Pinochet

RODRIRODEDuring a 1986 protest in Santiago, Chile against the human rights abuses of Augusto Pinochet’s regime, teenagers setting up barricades were arrested by a military patrol. What happened next to Rodrigo Rojas DeNegri (seen right) and Carmen Quintana is a matter of dispute, but in the end, Rojas was dead and Quintana severely burned. An official Chilean report claimed that Rojas, an American legal resident, and Quintana, an engineering student at the University of Santiago, were carrying Molotov cocktails which broke, setting them on fire.

Quintana maintains that both were brutally beaten by the army patrol, soaked with gasoline, set on fire and dumped in a ditch. Rojas died of his burns and injuries. In 2015, seven Chilean army officers were charged in connection with the killing of the 19-year old Rojas and attempted homicide of the 18-year old Quintana.

Chile was in a state of political upheaval during this era. Mass protests demanding democratic reforms were commonplace and many erupted into violence. The U.S.-Chile relationship was strained. continue reading »


Cleaning up America’s Backyard: The Overthrow of Guatemala’s Arbenz

3333The Central Intelligence Agency launched a covert operation on June 18, 1954 to overthrow the left-leaning government in Guatemala. The coup, code-named Operation PBSUCCESS, deposed Guatemalan President Jacobo Árbenz Guzman, ended the Guatemalan Revolution and installed the military dictatorship of Carlos Castillo Armas. Armas would be the first in a series of U.S.-backed strongmen to rule Guatemala.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized the CIA to carry out Operation PBSUCCESS in response to growing concerns over the spread of Communism in what was considered “America’s backyard.” Árbenz permitted the Guatemalan Communist Party to operate openly and his land reform program threatened U.S. commercial interests, in particular those of the United Fruit Company. continue reading »


Politics, Pinatubo and the Pentagon: The Closure of Subic Bay

Mount Pinatubo IIThe closure of Naval Base Subic Bay, the U.S. Navy’s massive ship-repair, supply, and rest and recreation facility in the Philippines, was prompted by both political and geological unrest. Once the second largest U.S. overseas military installation in the world, it was acquired by the U.S. in the 1898 Treaty Of Paris and because of its strategic location, played a key role in World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars and Operation Desert Storm. But with the departure of President Ferdinand Marcos and the rise of the People Power Revolution, the operation of the bases by U.S. forces was increasingly seen as incompatible with Filipino nationalism.

The political turmoil was complicated by the June 15, 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo. The second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, it produced high-speed avalanches of hot ash and gas, giant mud flows, and a cloud of volcanic ash. The U.S. Air Force evacuated and closed down Clark Air Base. Naval Base Subic Bay was also evacuated but less badly damaged and operations resumed. On September 13, 1991, the Filipino Senate voted to reject a lease extension on the bases, ending almost a century of American military presence.  The closing required the relocation of 5,800 military personnel, 600 civilians and 6,000 military dependents, and resulted in a major economic loss for the Southeast Asian island nation.  continue reading »


Roaring through the Riots of Libreville

bongo_omarOmar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, one the longest-serving rulers in history, opened his newly-independent country’s political system to multiple party participation in the wake of destructive riots in May 1990. As a young man, he held key positions in the government of first President Léon M’ba, was elected Vice President in 1966 and became Gabon’s second president when M’ba died. Bongo served as president of the small sub-Saharan African country for 42 years, from 1967 until his own death in June 2009.

Gabon was prosperous under his rule thanks to a huge resource of oil and a small population, but the millions went to the coffers of Bongo’s family and friends rather than to improve the health conditions of the population or infrastructure of the nation. Although Gabon had one of the highest levels of GDP growth in Africa, it also had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world under Bongo’s rule. continue reading »


The Battle to Create the Foreign Service Institute

FSIThe art of diplomatic relations and negotiations is as old as civilization itself. However, the State Department did not have any formal training facility until the Consular School of Application was founded in 1907. Then came the Wilson Diplomatic School (1909), the Foreign Service School (1924), the Foreign Service Officer’ Training School (1931) and the Division of Training Services (1945). By the mid-1940s, the need for an enhanced and permanent Foreign Service training center became apparent. As a result, Secretary of State George Marshall announced the establishment of the Foreign Service Institute under the authorization of the Foreign Service Act on March 13, 1947. FSI consists of five schools: Leadership and Management, Language Studies, Professional and Area Studies, Applied Information Technology, and the Transition Center.

For years, FSI occupied two increasingly inadequate high-rise office buildings in Rosslyn, Virginia, just across the Potomac from Foggy Bottom. continue reading »


Trouble in Chiapas: The Zapatista Revolt

Economic development in Mexico has been uneven for generations, as some blamed the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for exacerbating the nation’s income disparity and leaving southern states like Chiapas behind. Dissatisfaction with the government’s economic policies and growing resentment regarding its indifference toward Chiapas eventually led to an all-out revolt in the state. On January 1st, 1994, the day that NAFTA took effect, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a revolutionary leftist guerrilla group, went public and began occupying several areas inside Chiapas.

The Zapatistas and their primary spokesman, a mysterious, pipe-smoking figure known as Subcomandante Marcos, quickly gained international attention. News teams swiftly descended upon Chiapas to document the revolt, anxiously awaiting Mexico City’s response. The rebels claimed several early victories, including the capture of San Cristóbal de las Casas, a prominent religious center, but counterattacks launched by the Mexican Army drove the Zapatistas into remote areas of the Lacandon Forest before the government called a truce less than two weeks later, on January 12. continue reading »


Naming Names: U.S. Embassy Jakarta and Indonesian Purges 1965-1966

generalsuhartoAn article by an American reporter alleged that the U.S. embassy in Jakarta played a role in the Indonesian massacres of 1965-1966 by supplying a list of known communists to Major General Suharto (seen right), whose forces then hunted them down and killed them. The violence began when Communist forces killed six of Indonesia’s senior army officers on October 1, 1965. In response, army forces under the command of Suharto began a campaign to rid Indonesia of the communist party (Partai Komunis Indonesia or PKI) and other leftist organizations. The purges and ensuing civil war left an estimated half-million people dead. President Sukarno remained in power for six more months before being ousted by Suharto.

In her May 19, 1990 article “Ex-agents say CIA compiled death lists for Indonesians,” Kathy Kadane of States News Service asserted, “U.S. officials acknowledge that in 1965 they systematically compiled comprehensive lists of Communist operatives, from top echelons down to village cadres. As many as 5,000 names were furnished to the Indonesian army, and the Americans later checked off the names of those who had been killed or captured.” The article, published in The Washington Post and other dailies, was refuted by New York Times reporter Michael Wines, who examined transcripts of Kadane’s interviews for inconsistencies and spoke to her sources. continue reading »


Beijing Spring and the Lead-up to Tiananmen Square

behind-the-scenes-images-tell-the-story-of-the-iconic-tiananmen-square-tank-man-photo-taken-26-years-ago-todayThe iconic image of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and brutal government crackdown on the peaceful demonstrators is that of the “Tank Man,” the unarmed citizen who, carrying nothing but shopping bags, peacefully blocked the path of tanks sent by the Chinese government to assert control in the days after the crackdown. While the image may lead one to believe that the demonstrations were a short-lived event, in reality the crackdown on June 4, 1989 was the culmination of nearly two months of peaceful protests calling for an end to corruption within the Chinese Communist Party.

The protests began as student-led demonstrations in the aftermath of the death of former General Secretary of the Communist Party Hu Yaobang, considered to be a reformer, who had been deposed by the more hardline elements within the Party leadership. continue reading »