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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.

Dealing with a PR Disaster – The U.S. Bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade

Beijing Anti-American_Protests_Liu_Kai_b3On May 7, 1999, U.S. warplanes accidentally dropped laser-guided bombs on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during NATO’s intervention in Yugoslavia.  The strike was meant to target a warehouse storing Yugoslav munitions, but the maps given to NATO were out-of-date. Three Chinese citizens were killed and twenty were wounded. The Chinese blamed America for deliberately bombing the embassy despite apologies from President Bill Clinton. CIA Director George Tenet testified that the Agency had identified the incorrect coordinates for a nearby Yugoslav military target. A wave of strong anti-American protests erupted in China. Paul Blackburn served as Public Affairs Officer (PAO) in Beijing during the time of the bombing and had to deal with the anti-American backlash. continue reading »


The Day Venezuelans Attacked Nixon

Venez nixon protestersIn the spring of 1958, President Eisenhower sent Vice President Nixon on a tour of Latin America to improve relations. Unfortunately, the tour would create even more friction, as it was punctuated by protests in various countries, including Ecuador and Peru. His May 13 visit to Venezuela turned violent and threatened the safety of the Vice President, his wife, and his support staff. Robert Amerson, who was Press Attaché in Caracas, explains the fragile transition Venezuela was undergoing at the time and how the public’s opinion of the U.S.– and Communist Party agitprop — made for a very unwelcome visit. continue reading »


Back in the USSR — Life as a Student in Moscow in the 1960s

Moscow 1965 busGrim. Tedious. Unrelentingly cold and dreary. Add in KGB surveillance and the fear that they truly were out to get you and you have the makings of one memorable graduate year abroad. Dr. Naomi F. Collins has enjoyed a storied life and career in academia, non-profit work and various other areas. Some of her most notable experiences come from living in Russia during the height of the Cold War. Her husband is a retired career Foreign Service Officer and former Ambassador to Russia, James F. Collins, whom she accompanied to Moscow several times over the course of four decades. In the following excerpts from her oral history, Dr. Collins speaks of her life as a graduate student in Russia from 1965 to 1966. She details what it was like to be a Westerner studying abroad there – from the day-to-day challenges, the social tensions that came with surveillance, and finally their hasty escape when they feared that they’d run afoul of the KGB.  continue reading »


The Year of Living Dangerously – Indonesia and the Downed CIA Pilot, May 1958

PopeIn April and May of 1958, Indonesia went through a period of rebellion, as discontent on the peripheral islands, like Sumatra, grew because of lack of support and autonomy from the central government, which is located on the island of Java. Although Sukarno’s government was not communist, it did allow the communists to participate politically. That led the U.S. to covertly support the anti-communist rebels. On May 8 Allen Pope, an American pilot who had been carrying out attacks against the Indonesian military, was captured. This news reached the press and exposed the actions of the CIA in Indonesia. Pope was accused of bombing the rural village of Ambon and sentenced to death. continue reading »


Apocalypse Not, Part II

McNamara at_SubicOn April 29, 1975, Francis Terry McNamara, then Consul General, finally received orders to evacuate the Consulate General in Can Tho, Vietnam. By that time, the U.S. had resigned itself to the fall of Saigon and McNamara and others had been evacuating the most vulnerable Vietnamese staff. McNamara had also been preparing for a water-borne evacuation which, in his view, would be able to rescue far more Vietnamese and Americans. The second part of this story recounts how the vessel, carrying more than 325 people, was intercepted by Vietnamese “monitors,” a final act of apparent rebellion from the CIA contingent at Can Tho, and the conclusion to McNamara’s trip down the Bas Sac River. continue reading »


Apocalypse Not – The Evacuation from Can Tho, Vietnam — April 1975

mcnam apocalypse-now_21The shaky peace that had held in Vietnam since the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 began to crumble in late 1974 after North Vietnam began a series of military offensives which pushed the South Vietnamese army back on its heels. By early 1975 it had become painfully apparent that there would not be two Vietnams, as had existed in Korea, but that the North would soon be in Saigon. Despite this, Ambassador Graham Martin refused to believe that a collapse was imminent and had stalled in authorizing evacuation plans, much to the dismay of his subordinates. Terry McNamara at the time was Consul General in the city of Can-Tho. Pushing through the maze of bureaucracy and against the background of an unprecedented American defeat, McNamara came up with a bold plan that would allow him to evacuate a great number of Vietnamese employees in addition to the American staff. continue reading »


The Fall of Saigon — April 30, 1975

Saigon-evac of US embApril 30, 1975 will long be remembered as the day that Saigon fell and with it, the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. It also marked the beginning of Vietnam’s unification as a “socialist republic.” North Vietnamese forces began their final attack on Saigon on April 29, with a heavy artillery bombardment. This bombardment at the Tan Son Nhut Airport killed the last two American servicemen that died in Vietnam. By the afternoon of the next day, North Vietnamese troops had occupied the important points within the city and raised their flag over the South Vietnamese presidential palace. The fall of the city was preceded by the evacuation of almost all the American civilian and military personnel in Saigon, along with tens of thousands of South Vietnamese civilians associated with the southern regime.  continue reading »


The Fall of South Korean Strongman Syngman Rhee — April 26,1960

april revolutionSyngman Rhee, a staunch anticommunist and authoritarian, was the first president of South Korea. Backed by the United States, Rhee was appointed head of the Korean government in 1945 before winning the country’s first presidential election in 1950. He led South Korea through the Korean War, but because of widespread discontent with corruption and political repression, it was unlikely that he would be re-elected by the National Assembly. Rhee ordered a mass arrest of opposing politicians; elections were held, with Rhee receiving 74% of the vote.

In March 1960, a protest against electoral corruption took place in Masan. Violence erupted as police started shooting, and the protesters retaliated by throwing rocks. A few weeks later, the body of a student who had disappeared during the riots was found in the Masan Harbor. Rhee’s regime tried to censor news of this incident; however, it was reported in the Korean press along with a picture of the body. The incident became the basis of a national movement against electoral corruption. continue reading »


Poor Richard’s Podcasts

For a more personal — and often more dramatic — way to experience ADST’s oral history collection, try listening to one of our podcasts!
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The Embassy Beirut Bombing — A Consular Officer’s Perspective

Beirut REAGANSCASKETSThe suicide bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon on April 18, 1983 was the deadliest attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission up to that point. The blast killed sixty-three people, seventeen of whom were Americans. The attack is thought of as the beginning of anti-U.S. attacks from Islamist groups. This attack, along with the Marine Corps barracks bombing that same year, prompted a review of security measures at the Department of State and led to the creation of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Diplomatic Security Service. Diane Dillard was a consular officer in Beirut at the time of the bombing. Here she recounts the troubles she encountered directly after the bombing and the troubles her office encountered in the days following the bombing. You can also see Ambassador Robert Dillon’s account here. continue reading »