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Nelson Mandela’s Road to the Presidency

May 9th, 1994 marked one of the most significant – and previously unimaginable – milestones in modern African history as Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as President of South Africa. A key figure in the African National Congress (ANC) since the early 1950’s, Mandela  was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities. Although initially committed to non-violent protest, he co-founded, with the South African Communist Party, the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”) in 1961, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. In 1962, he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was imprisoned for 27 years, primarily at Robben Island. He was locked in solitary confinement on several occasions and was permitted one visit and one heavily censored letter every six months. He was finally freed in 1990. Shortly thereafter, he and President F.W. de Klerk began negotiations on a new constitution to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections. In 1994, he led the ANC to victory and became South Africa’s first black president.   Read more

The Fall of Dien Bien Phu and the Rise of U.S. Involvement in Vietnam

Dien Bien Phu was a major battle of the first Indochina war in which the French fought against the Viet Minh communists. The French objective had been to support the soldiers at Dien Bien Phu, deep in the hills of northwestern Vietnam to cut off Viet Minh supply lines into neighboring Laos. The Viet Minh, however, were able to drag heavy artillery through the jungle and position them overlooking the French encampment. When Dien Bien Phu fell to the Viet Minh on May 7, 1954, after nearly two months of bitter fighting, it marked the first time a non-European colonial independence movement which had evolved from guerrilla bands to a conventional army had been able to defeat a modern Western occupier. Read more

Remembering Pope John Paul II

John Paul II was one of the most charismatic popes in recent history, a rock star who attracted millions during his frequent trips abroad and who was considered a beacon of hope for people in his native Poland. Born Karol Joseph Wojtyła on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice in southern Poland, he was elected pope in 1978, the first non-Italian pope in 500 years. He was critically wounded by a Turkish terrorist while in St. Peter’s Square in 1981; he later took the unprecedented step of meeting his would-be assassin in his prison cell.

He was fluent in eight languages and his pontificate, which lasted more than 26 years, was the third longest in history. He greatly expanded diplomatic relations with other states, from 85 countries in 1978 to 174 countries in 2005, including the U.S. The man who oversaw a record number of canonizations was himself canonized on April 27, 2014. Read more

Constant Companions: KGB Stalking of FSOs

Revanchist policies from the Kremlin, crackdowns on protesters – lately with Russia it seems like everything old is new again. So perhaps it’s time to look back at the very embodiment of Cold War tensions – the infamous KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, or Committee of State Security). Rarely violent but often threatening, the constant presence of KGB agents became a fact of life for those serving in the USSR, especially Moscow. From smashed car windows to seductive blondes, the Soviets used many tactics to intimidate and monitor the Americans placed in their charge. And yet many Foreign Service officers found they were able to coexist with their KGB counterparts, and often formed wary relationships of grudging respect. Read more

Easter with Newt Gringrich

Easter is a time of joy, a belief in miracles, and reconciliation. But some people draw the line at people from another political party, as Joe Borich, who served as Consul General in Shanghai from 1994 to 1997, recounts. This excerpt is taken from “Shanghai Stories,” commemorating 30 years of the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai. Read more

Death of an FSO, As Remembered by His Widow

Dennis Keogh had been Political Counselor in South Africa from 1980-83 and made 25 trips to Namibia. In the spring of 1984, he agreed to serve for a month as head of the new U.S. Liaison Office (USLO) in Windhoek. In that troubled region, which South Africa had administered since World War I without a UN mandate, fighting had claimed the lives of 10,000 people, mostly civilians, over a 17-year period.  U.S. negotiators, led by Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Chet Crocker, had mediated the Lusaka Accord aimed at a settlement in which all parties would achieve their objectives. This included the withdrawal of thousands of Cuban troops from Angola as well as thousands of South African Defense Forces (SADF) from Angola and South West Africa (SWA)/Namibia; this would pave the way to eventual elections in Namibia and a peaceful transition of power in South Africa.

In March, Dennis Keogh took his 26th trip to Namibia to set up the Office and meet with the Joint Monitoring Commission that was overseeing SADF troop withdrawals from Southern Angola. However, while doing the groundwork for a transition from armed conflict to a “peace without losers,” he was killed in a bomb explosion on April 15, 1984. Read more

Making the World a Safer Place — Nuclear Arsenals and the Fall of the USSR

Imagine what Europe would be like today if Belarusian strongman Aleksandr Lukashenka were able to threaten his neighbors with nuclear weapons. Or how much tenser the situation in Ukraine would be if Kyiv had access to the bomb — Would Putin grab just Crimea or would he be tempted to take all of Ukraine to maintain regional security and make sure its nuclear arsenal did not “fall into the wrong hands”? With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the nuclear weapons which once belonged to one country were now the property of many. Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan all held some of the former Soviet Union’s arsenal. With the growing concern of “loose nukes,” terrorism, and regional instability, it was clear to many that suddenly having three more nuclear states in the world was not a tenable situation. Read more

Poland, 1920

He served in an era caught between the days of monarchs and lords that was swept up in a quickly advancing tide of modernity, a way of life that would soon be lost to time. Ambassador Jay Pierrepont Moffat began his career with the Foreign Service in 1919, as the nations of the world recovered from the events of the First World War. In September of that year he was posted to the United States Legation in Warsaw, after Poland had regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic. Moffat’s time in Poland provides a glimpse into a world that would soon vanish. The young diplomat would witness the conflict between the new Polish State and Soviet Russia, and after the war, his journal provides an interesting perspective to a diplomat’s life and work in the early 20th century. Moffat captures the celebratory spirit that pervaded much of Poland after the Soviets withdrew, and devotes much time in his reflections to his travels throughout the country. Moffat’s strong affection for the land, people, and pleasures of Poland is clear to see. These excerpts are drawn from his extensive journals and are the oldest memoirs in the ADST collection. Read more