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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.

No-tell CODELs

codel US Congress SealOne of the more important tasks that an embassy deals with is the Congressional delegation or CODEL in Washington-speak. These visits by Members of Congress, usually during recess, are meant to give — theoretically, at least — a first-hand view of some of the more pressing foreign policy issues. They are usually short but can be very intense and in some instances, require thick skin and a great deal of diplomacy. For Michael Boorstein, then an Administrative Officer, his first CODEL to Sicily soon turned into a minor disaster. Vladimir Lehovich talks about his time in Saigon, where he was to do or get anything – anything — that Teddy Kennedy wanted during his visit there. Laurence Silverman, then Ambassador to Yugoslavia, recalls a similar encounter with the Speaker of the House.

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The Little Emergency that was the Korean War

korea inv headlines KoreanWar4There was a lot of unfinished business on the Korean peninsula in the 1940’s. It had been ruled by the Empire of Japan from 1910 until the end of World War II, when it was divided by American administrators along the 38th parallel, with U.S. military forces occupying the southern half and Soviet military forces occupying the northern half. The failure to hold free elections throughout the Korean Peninsula in 1948 deepened the division between the two sides; the North established a communist government, while the South established a right-wing government under Syngman Rhee. Cross-border skirmishes and raids at the 38th Parallel persisted until North Korean forces invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950. continue reading »


Hungary Escapes the Shadow of the Soviet Union

hung flag barbed wireFor those trapped in Eastern Europe in the 20th century, the horrors of World War II were supplanted by the rigors of oppression that was life behind the Iron Curtain. Lawrence Cohen, who was in Budapest from 1991-94, discusses the plight of Jews and Hungarians’ reaction — especially when it came to statuary — when the Soviets eventually withdrew from Hungary on June 30, 1991.  continue reading »


El Tanquetazo — Chile’s Coup That Wasn’t

tankIn the early 70’s, Chile was in a state of political unrest— its socialist president Salvador Allende and largely conservative congress were at odds, and by June 1973, the Chilean Armed Forces were plotting against the Allende government. On June 29, Lt. Col. Roberto Souper led a failed coup attempt now known as El Tanquetazo. General Carlos Prats, a frequent member of Allende’s cabinet and commander-in-chief of the Army, responded to the coup attempt. (He was killed in a car bomb in 1974.) Samuel Hart was stationed in Santiago during these years of unrest, and gives his account of the abortive coup and Prats’ resignation. You can read Hart’s account of the successful coup against Allendecontinue reading »


Car Troubles: Caught in the Crosshairs of a Greek pro-democracy Protest

Stu Kennedy - consular officerFrom 1970 to 1974, Charles Stuart Kennedy served as Consul General in Athens. While there, his wife Ellen, who wanted a quiet night out, was inadvertently caught in a political protest against the Regime of the Colonels, a series of right-wing military juntas that ruled Greece following the 1967 Greek coup d’état; the dictatorship ended in July 1974. Charles Stuart Kennedy recalls the event in an oral history conducted by Victor Wolf in 1986. Stu has been the Director of the Oral History Program at ADST since its inception in 1985. continue reading »


Escape from the Congo

evac congo UN refugeesDuring the Congo Crisis (1960-1966), which began after the colony was granted independence from Belgium, the province of Katanga declared itself a sovereign state. The situation in the Congo became so grave that in November 1961, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 169 to remove foreign military and other personnel not under the U.N. Command, “including the use of the requisite measure of force, if necessary.” In response, the Katangan gendarmerie planned an offensive against the UN peacekeepers and set up roadblocks to isolate UN units from one another. This prompted another major UN military operation, launched on December 5 to take control of strategic positions around Elisabethville (now Lubumbashi), which resulted in heavy fighting and casualties. Amidst all of this, Terry McNamara had to evacuate all Americans from Elisabethville at the end of 1961. Most of the evacuees were missionaries, who managed to test his patience and diplomatic skill with their vacillating and even ingratitude. continue reading »


Did he do it?: Navigating the Alleged Murder of a Kenyan Prostitute

prostitutes possible prostitutes....An unfortunate, but not uncommon, part of a consul’s job is to help American citizens who are in distress — and often not of their own doing. Robert Gribbin, who later served as ambassador in the Central African Republic and Rwanda, was assigned to set up a consulate in Mombasa, Kenya, where he had to deal with an American who was unfairly charged with the murder of a prostitute. Coincidentally, he is one of the select few Foreign Service officers who also had to deal with a “delegation of prostitutes” as part of his official duties. continue reading »


“It was something out of a B movie” — The 1980 Coup in Bolivia

boliv tank La PazSocial unrest, political fragmentation, drug trafficking, and violence all characterized the late 70’s in Bolivia.  All of the major parties failed to gain a majority vote, coups were attempted with an alarming frequency, and human rights violations were severe and widespread.  In the early 80’s, Bolivia transitioned to democracy, but that transition was far from smooth.  In a 1997 interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy, Alexander Watson (Deputy Chief of Mission in La Paz, Bolivia 1979-1981) discusses the turbulent course of events, beginning with a coup on June 20, 1980, how he gave the keys to his house to certain political leaders, the change in policy after Ronald Reagan’s election and the eventual collapse of the coup plotters. continue reading »


A Short History of Demarching Orders

demarche ListenandIgnoreButtonA demarche is the term of art for formal instructions sent from a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (or the State Department) in the capital out to an embassy outlining that country’s position on a particular topic. The topic may be routine (a pro forma administrative matter in the UN) or highly sensitive (criticism of the host government’s human rights record). While demarches are usually delivered to the relevant office at the host country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in extreme matters they may go to the foreign minister or even the head of state. continue reading »


Delivering the Mail and Avoiding Martial Law in South Korea, 1987

korea man with flagChun Doo-hwan, president of South Korea from 1980 to 1988, seized power in 1979 and crushed many democratization movements during his controversial rule. According to the South Korean constitution, Chun was limited to seven years in power, but as the end of his term approached, it was not clear that he would step down.  By late June, it seemed likely that Chun would declare martial law and use the Army to stay in power.  This decision would have the potential to bring about a civil war in South Korea, and the U.S. Embassy had only hours to deliver a letter from President Reagan and attempt to change Chun’s mind before the announcement planned for June 19 — a letter the government did not want to accept.  continue reading »