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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.

Incoming! Surviving SCUD Attacks in Dhahran

Scud-launcherKen Stammerman was economic counselor in Kuwait from 1986 to 1987 before becoming consul general in Dhahran in 1989. Home to the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, or ARAMCO, Dhahran hosted many American citizens during Stammerman’s service.  It was also the target for numerous SCUD missile attacks during Desert Storm. Here he talks about the fear in the American community over the attacks, the difficulty in trying to evacuate people while SCUDs are falling and the “silly, stupid, media-driven game” of gas masks. You can read U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman’s account of Desert Storm here. continue reading »


A Real Life “Thunderball”: The Day the U.S. Lost Hydrogen Bombs in Spain

Thunderball closeupThe March 2009 edition of Time magazine called it one of the world’s “worst nuclear disasters.” On January 17, 1966, a B-52 bomber of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) carrying four hydrogen bombs collided with a tanker during mid-air refueling at 31,000 feet over the Mediterranean off the coast of Spain. The tanker was completely destroyed when its fuel load ignited, killing all four crew members. The B-52 broke apart, killing three of the seven crew members aboard.

Three hydrogen bombs were found on land near the small fishing village of Palomares. However, the non-nuclear explosives in two of the weapons detonated upon impact with the ground, resulting in the contamination of 490 acres. The fourth fell into the sea and was eventually recovered intact after a 2½-month-long search.

News stories related to the crash began to appear the following day, and it achieved front page status in both the New York Times and Washington Post on 20 January. Reporters sent to the accident scene covered angry demonstrations by the local residents. The incident had an eerie similarity with the recently released James Bond movie Thunderball, in which SPECTRE steals two NATO H-bombs, which end up submerged on the ocean floor of the Bahamas. continue reading »


Desert Storm: “The War Never Really Ended” — Part II

Chas_W_FreemanChas Freeman was U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm and consulted frequently with General Norman Schwarzkopf and others on the conduct of the war.  In this segment, he discusses his frustrations in dealing with Washington, his preoccupation with “visitor management”, his lack of respect for the media which covered the war, and the absence of a war termination strategy, which meant that the war never really ended and nothing was fully resolved. continue reading »


Desert Storm “The War Never Really Ended” — Part I

saddam_hussein01It was the first major foreign policy crisis for the U.S. since the end of the Cold War.  Iraq, which had built up the fourth-largest army in the world with U.S. assistance, was heavily in debt after its costly eight-year war with Iran. It pressured Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to forgive its debts, but they refused. Iraq had claimed, since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1932, that Kuwait was rightfully Iraqi territory, and accused Kuwait of exceeding its OPEC quotas for oil production.

This all came to a head in August 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait, a major supplier of oil to the United States, and also threatened Saudi Arabia.  In the last months of 1990, the United States participated in the defense of Saudi Arabia in a deployment known as Operation Desert Shield. continue reading »


Senator Chuck Hagel on Foreign Policy Challenges

HagelSenator Chuck Hagel, who has been nominated by President Obama to be the next Secretary of Defense, was awarded ADST’s Ralph J. Bunche Award for Diplomatic Excellence in February 2010.  In his extemporaneous acceptance remarks, Hagel stressed the importance of questioning past assumptions and of understanding new international frames of reference in facing new challenges. He called for a spirit of consensus among our national leaders and for accommodating common interests among nations in unpredictable and unstable times.  At right, Senator Hagel with ADST President Ken Brown. continue reading »


Hard Rock Hotel Panama: Noriega and the U.S. Invasion, Part II

Noriega-006The U.S. and SOUTHCOM had spent considerable time and effort planning for the invasion and had mapped out several places where Noriega could potentially be hiding, the chief one being the house of a mistress. However, he wasn’t in any of them as he had been tipped off.  Now the U.S. military and the embassy had to react to a very different scenario than previously imagined. In Part II, John Bushnell, who was Chargé d’Affaires in Panama from 1989 until 1992, discusses briefing members of the opposition at a dinner just hours before the invasion and finding a way to swear them in as the new government; the attack on the U.S. embassy and how he was shot; the psychological operations, including rock music, used against Noriega when he was holed up at the Vatican’s Nunicature; and the celebrations in the streets of Panama after he finally turned himself in.

continue reading »


Hard Rock Hotel Panama — Noriega and the U.S. Invasion, Part I

Noriega6Beginning in the middle of the 1980s, relations between General Manuel Noriega, Panama’s de facto leader, and the United States started to deteriorate. In 1986 President Ronald Reagan pressured him with several drug-related indictments in U.S. courts; however, Noriega did not give in. As relations continued to spiral downward, Noriega shifted his allegiance towards the Soviet bloc, soliciting and receiving military aid from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Libya.

In May 1989, an alliance of opposition parties counted results from the Panamanian national elections, which showed their candidate, Guillermo Endara, defeating pro-Noriega Carlos Duque by nearly 3-to-1. Endara was beaten up by Noriega supporters the next day while Noriega declared the election null and void. On December 15, the Panamanian general assembly passed a resolution declaring that U.S. actions had caused a state of war to exist with Panama. Then on December 16, four U.S. military personnel were stopped at a roadblock outside Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) headquarters; the PDF opened fire as they attempted to flee an angry mob. One soldier, Lt. Paz, was fatally wounded. President Bush ordered the invasion of Panama, to commence at 0100 on December 20.  continue reading »


Women in the Foreign Service – You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

We_Can_Do_It!It is remarkable to think that there have been three female Secretaries of State in the last 15 years.  However, the Foreign Service was not always so accommodating to women. Times were quite different in the Mad Men era — including the assumption that women should resign from the Service once they got married — as these three women point out in excerpts from their oral histories. continue reading »


Dealing with Death as a Consular Officer

Marie Huhtala, who later became ambassador to Malaysia, had several assignments as a consular officer. In these excerpts, she talks about grieving with family members as a young officer after a horrendous loss and the macabre sense of humor of some French undertakers. continue reading »


President Johnson says: “I Want YOU to Get Me a New Shower Head”

Many stars are (in)famous for the lists of must-have items that are to be stocked backstage or in their hotel rooms. During one tour in London, Barbra Streisand demanded rose petals in the toilet and 120 peach-colored towels. Mariah Carey wants gold faucets and new toilet seats installed in her room before she checks in. (We won’t even go into Van Halen’s reputed liquor requirements.) But such demands aren’t limited to those in the entertainment business. Many Foreign Service officers have had to endure visits by high-level officials who have a seemingly endless list of incredible requests. Tom Stern served as Administrative Counselor in Bonn in the mid-1960’s and had to deal with one of the political rock stars of the era, President Lyndon Johnson. continue reading »