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Transnistria — Moldovan Land Under Russian Control

The Transnistria region in Moldova is a Cold War relic. Along with Nagorno-Karabakh in Armenian-controlled Azerbaijan and South Ossetia in Georgia, it is a post-Soviet “frozen conflict” zone where a situation of “no war, no peace” still persists. It did not want to separate from the USSR when the latter was dissolved; the brief military conflict that started in March 1992 was ended by a ceasefire in July 1992.

Despite years of multilateral negotiations, this tiny sliver of land is unrecognized but independent, with its own government, military, police, and currency. While Transnistria is much smaller than Moldova, it retains considerable leverage, in now small part because of the Russian military contingent stationed there. Read more

My Lai — Atrocity and Cover-up in the Midst of Vietnam

On March 16, 1968, in what was one of the most shocking incidents of the Vietnam War and in the history of the U.S. military, an estimated 500 Vietnamese villagers were killed by U.S. Army soldiers from Company C of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division in the obscure village of My Lai in Quang Ngai province of South Vietnam.  The massacre took place shortly after the January 30 Tet offensive in an area known to be a stronghold of the 48th Viet Cong Battalion, one of the most effective military divisions of the VC. Read more

Poland’s Path to NATO

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created by ten European countries, the U.S. and Canada in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II in order to provide mutual protection in case of an attack against any member. For decades it stood as the bulwark against a possible invasion from the Soviet Union and its allies. When Poland — the very heart of the Warsaw Pact — established itself as a democracy in 1989, it upended the old order. Tensions were high as Warsaw strove for Western integration and NATO membership, wanting to protect itself as much as possible from its historical foe and oppressor. However, Washington had to delicately balance those ambitions with its relations with the USSR, now under the more enlightened leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. Nicholas Rey was the U.S. Ambassador to Poland from 1993 to 1997 when Poland was starting the process of NATO accession and discusses its tortuous path to membership, which was completed on March 12, 1999, when Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic became full-fledged members. Read more

John S. Service – The Man Who “Lost China,” Part I

During the 1950’s hundreds of government employees, entertainers, educators, and union activists were accused of being communists by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Careers were ruined, reputations smeared as people found themselves on black lists and the victims of unjust persecution. In 1950, Senator Millard Tydings (D-MD) headed the Tydings Committee to investigate McCarthy’s claims of Communist penetration of the federal government and military. The hearings revolved around McCarthy’s charge that the fall of Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang regime in China had been caused by the actions of alleged Soviet spies in the State Department and that China expert Owen Lattimore was a “top Russian agent.” Read more

Sneaking into Bulgaria: An Affair on the Orient Express

Travelling can be a fun, rewarding experience. Except when it’s not. David Fischer, who was a consular officer in Sofia from 1972-74, tells of one particular gentleman who probably wished he had stayed home. He was interviewed in 1998 by Charles Stuart Kennedy and Robert Pastorino.

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Dealing with the MacArthurs and their Notorious Pet Cat

This is a story about a demanding ambassador’s wife, who was “an ogre and an alcoholic,” a demanding ambassador, and a cat in Vienna which in 1968 almost caused a military crisis. Frederick Irving was the Deputy Chief of Mission in Vienna at the time who had to deal with it all.  Read more

Moscow Gets Torched — The Boycott of the 1980 Summer Games

The Olympic Games, despite their lofty ideals, have since their inception in ancient Greece intertwined the best of athletic competition with the world of politics. Case in point: The 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, which took place less than a year after the USSR invaded Afghanistan. While there was no way to undo the invasion, the United States wanted to express its disapproval of Soviet actions. It was decided to hit the Soviets where it hurt:  their ego. The UK convinced the U.S. to support it in calling for an international boycott of the Olympics. Garnering support for the boycott from within the United States and from other nations as well was not an easy task, especially when the UK and Canada voted in new governments, which then opposed a boycott, and as not-so special envoy Muhammad Ali was himself persuaded by other countries to oppose the very boycott he was supposed to convince them to join. Read more

“The First Terrorist Attack in the U.S.” – The Letelier-Moffitt Assassinations

After Augusto Pinochet led a coup d’état in Chile on September 11, 1973, taking power from the democratically elected President Salvador Allende, he exiled Allende’s Foreign Minister, Orlando Letelier. After Letelier sought asylum in the United States, Pinochet believed he was acting as an informant to the U.S. government. Consequently, he was targeted by the Pinochet regime and assassinated by a car bomb, along with his American assistant, Ronni Moffitt, in Sheridan Circle in Washington, D.C. on September 21, 1976. Many view this as the first terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Read more

The Ever-changing Nature of the American Foreign Service

The Foreign Service has undergone major reforms and tinkering over the past century, so much so that people often joked that if you didn’t like the current system, just wait a few years and it would change. While there have been major improvements regarding minorities and women (the State Department of yore was often characterized as “male, pale, and Yale”), many see the lack of institutional leadership, the politicization of high-level positions, and the absence of shared values as undermining the Foreign Service in the long run. Read more