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Bikini Bombshell: The First H-bomb Test on the Eniwetok Atoll

On November 1st, 1952 the United States detonated the world’s first hydrogen bomb on a large atoll called Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific (190 miles west of the more famous Bikini Atoll) as a part of Operation Ivy. Previously in September of 1949, the Soviet Union had detonated its atomic bomb, prompting the United States to increase efforts to develop an even greater thermonuclear weapon to surpass the capacity of the Soviets. The creation and detonation of the first hydrogen bomb on the Eniwetok atoll allowed the United States to temporarily step ahead of the Soviets during the arms race. Overall there were 43 nuclear tests conducted at Enewetak from 1948 to 1958. Read more

444 Days — The End Game

The 444-day-long Iran Hostage Crisis ranks as one of the most traumatic diplomatic events in U.S. history and even thirty years later still colors diplomatic relations with Iran. In these excerpts, John Limbert describes the negotiations that eventually led to the release of all the hostages Iranian Revolutionaries attacked the embassy, their (surprisingly) triumphant arrival in Wiesbaden, meeting with former President Carter, and the challenges of transitioning to regular life after such a traumatic ordeal.

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444 Days: Memoirs of an Iran Hostage

More than thirty years later, the Iran Hostage crisis still ranks as one of the most traumatic diplomatic events in U.S. history. Dissatisfied with the corrupt and ineffective regime of Reza Shah Pahlavi, many Iranian citizens began protesting the Iranian government in 1977. In 1979 after nearly two years of protests and strikes, the Shah was exiled from Iran and was succeeded by the radical Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Supreme Leader of the newly established Islamic republic. The Shah sought asylum and medical care from his erstwhile allies, particularly the United States, which agreed to help. Enraged members of the Iranian Revolution insisted on his return so that they could prosecute and punish him for his actions. The 444-day-long crisis began on November 4th when some 3,000 militant Iranian students stormed the United States embassy in Tehran, taking nearly sixty diplomats hostage.

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Dissidents, Spies, and Attack Cartoons — Life at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana

Diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba were frozen in time for more than 50 years. After the U.S. formally severed ties on January 3, 1961, the two countries were not technically represented by embassies but rather Interests Sections, both under the diplomatic aegis of the Swiss Embassy. Relations were restored on July 20, 2015. From 2002-2005, James Cason served as the Principal Officer at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (the de facto U.S. ambassador). Cason saw himself not “at a mission,” but rather, “on a mission” to promote democratic principles and support the people of Cuba. As the key representative of the “Yankee Imperialists,” Cason inevitably faced enormous backlash and pressures from the Cuban government. Read more

Halloweens Around the World

BOO! Halloween is a holiday on October 31st where costumes, tricks, and treats reign supreme. Originally a pagan holiday, Halloween is a time when children, and often times adults, dress up in silly and creative costumes; some go door to door asking for candy while others attend costumes parties and dance the night away. Though Halloween is normally about candy and fun, it is also associated with the weird, creepy, and sometimes supernatural situations ordinary people might find themselves in. Read more

When Diplomats Kill

Bradford Bishop and Gérard Amanrich were highly esteemed American and French diplomats, respectively. The two men were bright, motivated, and had a lot going for them:  Bishop was a skilled Foreign Service officer with a picture-perfect family, while Amanrich was a former Ambassador to the Vatican with a lovely wife and kids. While their lives may have seemed ideal on the surface, something inside drove them to murder. The Bishop case lay dormant for decades until the FBI put him on its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list on April 10, 2014, for allegedly bludgeoning to death his wife Annette, mother Lobelia, and three sons, William Bradford III (14), Brenton (10), and Geoffrey (5) at their home in Bethesda, Maryland, on March 1, 1976.

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The Hungarian Revolution of 1956

The early 1950s witnessed a thaw in the Communist monolith. Stalin’s death in 1953 led to Khrushchev’s “secret speech” in 1956 which condemned excesses of the past. The U.S. and USSR agreed to a treaty in 1955 establishing Austria as a neutral and demilitarized country, which encouraged hopes in Hungary of a similar arrangement. July 1956 saw the resignation of hardliner Mátyás Rákosi, “Stalin’s Best Hungarian Disciple”, as General Secretary of the Party. Just a few months later, in October, the USSR gave in to reformist demands in Poland, which further spurred hopes for concessions in Budapest. All these changes encouraged students, journalists, and writers to openly criticize the form of government and call for reforms.

Soon, student groups across the nations had banded together. On October 23, 1956, several thousand protesters marched through central Budapest to the Parliament building. Some students tore down a monument erected to Stalin and put Hungarian flags in the boots which remained on the pedestal. Someone in the crowd cut out the Communist coat of arms from the Hungarian flag, leaving a distinctive hole and others quickly followed suit.   Read more

Establishing Ties with Pakistan — 1947

It was the end of one era and the beginning of another. In August 1947 the British Empire, which had ruled the Indian subcontinent as part of the Raj since the mid-19th century, granted independence to the India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Muslim League, which arose in the 1930s in order to assure Muslim representation and interests in politics, had fought for Partition for several years and now faced the task of creating a new country. On October 20, 1947, the United States established diplomatic relations with Pakistan, a strategically important partner during the Cold War and a bulwark against the spread of Communism. David Newsom, who was posted in Pakistan as an Information Officer from 1947 until 1950, relates his experiences regarding life in Pakistan, establishing diplomatic ties from scratch, and his trip to the “Movieland” with the wife of the Prime Minister. Read more

Learning the Brazilian Candomble Dance

Candomblé, meaning “dance in honor of the gods” in Portuguese, is an Afro-Brazilian religion developed during the earliest days of slave trade by Africans forced into slavery in Brazil. Those of this faith believe that each individual possesses their own personal orixa, or deity, that both acts as a protector and controls their destiny. A main component of Candomblé is dance, and special dances are performed during important ceremonies such as religious rituals and exorcisms.

Dorothy Robinson Kidder, wife of Ambassador Randolph A. Kidder, was given the opportunity to participate in not one, but two Candomblé ceremonies during her time in Brazil from 1946-1949. Mrs. Kidder later became a White Magic Priestess of the Second Degree. She was interviewed by Jewell Fenzi in June 1998.  Read more

Khrushchev Visits America – A Cold War Comedy of Errors, Act II

In September of 1959, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visited the United States on an unprecedented goodwill trip spanning several days, thousands of miles and which was covered by a huge press corps. In stark contrast to the finely orchestrated tours and campaign stops that are common nowadays, the visit was a series of flubs and fiascoes, which led people to criticize the ineptitude of the State Department. And yet the chaos of the first leg of the trip, detailed in Act I, was nothing compared to what was to come in San Francisco and Iowa.

In Act II, Khrushchev’s Cold War Comedy of Errors continues with disastrous press encounters and an unwilling host whose petulance led to the corn battle at Garst Farm. Richard Townsend Davies, who was an integral part of the trip, describes the myriad problems of “an abysmal failure” in PR.

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