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An American in Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago”

He was a victim of cruel fate, a young American living in the USSR forced to endure unimaginable torture and brutal beatings, who would later be one of the many sources for Gulag Archipelago. In 1933 Alexander Dolgun’s father went to the Soviet Union to work as an automotive technician; however, when his short-term contract expired, he was not allowed to leave. Alexander and his sister Stella thus grew up in Moscow during the Great Purge and World War II. He started working at Embassy Moscow in 1943 at the age of 16. In 1948 he was apprehended by State Security and interrogated at the notorious KGB headquarters at Lubyanka on suspicions of espionage. He was brutally tortured and finally forced to “confess.” He was then transferred to Sukhanovka prison, which was known for being even worse than Lubyanka. His nightmare had only begun. Read more

House for Rent in the War-torn Congo–Three Baths, no Squatters

Housing for FSOs was not always provided on assignments abroad. Francis Terry McNamara had to find housing for himself and his family in many different places, some under unconventional situations. McNamara tells about his house-hunting in Elizabethville (now Lubumbashi), Congo in 1962 after the city had been ravaged by an attempted insurrection and continued unrest since independence in 1960. With the help of an Indian Gurkha colonel, McNamara was able to secure a fixer-upper, but one with some drawbacks. Read more

FSO Ends Up in an Irish Stew Over His Christmas Letter

We’ve all wanted to blow off steam about our boss, co-workers, or those troglodytes in Human Resources. Robin Berrington, who served as Public Affairs Officer in Dublin from 1978 through 1981, was no different. He talked about his frustrations with his job and with Ireland in general in what was supposed to be a private Christmas letter in 1980 to friends and family, writing things like, “The country has food and climate well matched for each other — dull.”  People have said much worse. However, someone somehow leaked the contents of Berrington’s letter to the media and all hell broke loose. The Irish tabloids ran headlines like “American Embassy Diplomat says We Irish Are Small Potatoes.” And then it went downhill from there. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in 2000. Read more

When Visa Officers Went Bad

Consular officers are often the face of the U.S. government overseas.  They are the ones interviewing visa applicants, dealing with prospective adoptive parents, helping U.S. citizens who have had their passports stolen or gotten in a scrape with the law. It can often be a demanding job, with weekend calls as duty officer or the emotionally draining meetings with people who unexpectedly lost their loved ones during a trip abroad [See Dealing with Death]. Consular officers, like other FSOs, routinely endure hardships in service to their country. In rare instances, for reasons of venality or misplaced sympathy, they may take a wrong turn.  Read more

Japanese Fishermen and the Bikini Atoll H-bomb Blast

On March 1st, 1954, the U.S. conducted its largest hydrogen bomb test ever near the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. An unexpected blast of 15 megatons — 1,000 times stronger than the Hiroshima bomb — affected Australia, India and Japan with widespread radioactive fallout. The Fortunate Dragon (Daigo Fukuryū Maru), a Japanese fishing boat, was about 150 kilometers from the blast and was gravely affected. At least one crew member died due to direct exposure. The U.S. initially tried to cover up the incident. The shock stemming from the tragedy helped further an anti-nuclear movement in Japan. It also inspired the 1954 movie Godzilla, in which the nuclear test awakens and mutates the monster, which then attacks Japan. Read more