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The Fight to Ratify the Panama Canal Treaty

Since Panama’s independence from Colombia in 1903, the Panama Canal had been a dramatic and ongoing point of discussion. The United States had engineered Panamanian independence from Colombia when it did not want to pay higher construction fees proposed by the Colombian and French companies building the canal; the new country then signed a treaty with the U.S. establishing the Canal Zone just a few weeks later. The Canal was viewed as a vital asset, as it drastically reduced the transit time from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and was a much safer passage. President Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “I took the Canal Zone and let Congress debate; and while the debate goes on, the canal does also.” Read more

The Beijing Conference on Women

“If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”—First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton

At the United Nations’ 4th World Conference on Women, which was held from September 4-15, 1995, several countries united in support of women’s equal rights to life, education, and security across the world. The conference crusaded for female empowerment and women’s inclusion in national and international decision-making. Discussions on such controversial issues as contraception, reproductive rights, and equal inheritance allowed advocates to raise women’s rights to the forefront of international diplomacy. Once the conference had ended, however, nations, including the U.S., struggled to incorporate those precepts into foreign policy or to negotiate with those countries that violated conference principles. Read more

Life Under Il Duce

Charismatic, admired, and feared, Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922, when he became the youngest Prime Minister in Italian history. After destroying all political opposition through his secret police and outlawing labor strikes, Mussolini and his fascist followers consolidated their power through a series of laws that transformed the nation into a one-party dictatorship. Within five years he had established dictatorial authority by both legal and extraordinary means, aspiring to create a totalitarian state. In 1935–1936, Italy invaded Ethiopia, ostensibly for both long-range expansionist plans and to give Mussolini a foreign policy triumph that would allow him to a freer hand at home. However, on 24 July 1943, soon after the start of the Allied invasion of Italy, Mussolini was defeated in the vote at the Grand Council of Fascism. In late April 1945, with total defeat on the horizon, Mussolini was re-captured and summarily executed; his body was to Milan where it was hung upside down at a service station for public viewing .

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“It wasn’t supposed to happen here” — 9/11, Before and After

September 11, 2001 left an indelible mark on American history when nineteen members of al Qaeda carried out the deadliest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. After hijacking four planes, the terrorists flew two into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, while a third struck the Pentagon, killing more than two thousand people in total.

As sirens blared, smoke billowed and survivors mourned lost loved ones, the audacity of the attack launched the United States and the world into a Global War on Terror, which would engender years of asymmetrical warfare, political instability and sectarian division within the Middle East. More than a decade later, the tragedy of 9/11 continues to direct the United States’ action across the world and to complicate its relationship with Middle Eastern allies and partners.

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“A Recipe for Endless War” – The Rise of the Taliban

After conquering Kabul in April 1996, the Taliban established the ultra-conservative Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, enforcing a radical interpretation of Islamic law which severely curtailed individual social and religious freedoms, especially for women. Because of its radical policies, its massive violation of human rights, and abysmal failure to provide basic governmental services, the Taliban were internationally condemned and almost completely isolated.

After offering safe haven to Osama bin Laden, the Taliban survived for years off of al Qaeda funding. In the following interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning July 2004, Ambassador to Pakistan Thomas W. Simons Jr. discusses initial attempts to reach out to the Taliban (or as he called them, “backwoods Muslims”) and Pakistan’s rationale for establishing ties with them and al Qaeda. Read more

Blessed — An Encounter with Mother Teresa

Born in Albania on August 26, 1910, Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, later known as Mother Teresa, devoted the majority of her life to serving India as a teacher, nurse, missionary and head of a major charitable organization. After joining the Sisters of Loreto as a young woman, Sister Teresa traveled to India and worked as a teacher at a convent school for twenty years. Grieved by the continuous religious violence, rampant poverty and widespread starvation of India, Sister Teresa left the school for the Calcutta slums, where she vowed to care for the poorest of the poor.

During the first year, Mother Teresa and her small group of followers struggled to find food and supplies and were often forced to beg for basic necessities. In 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity and, fifty years later, was operating more than 500 charities, hospitals and orphanages in over 100 countries. Read more

Breaking Chains: The Continual Fight Against Human Trafficking

In October 2000, 135 years after the Thirteenth Amendment officially abolished slavery within the United States, Congress declared that “as the 21st century begins, the degrading institution of slavery continues throughout the world.” These opening words to the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act embodied the United States’ growing awareness of modern slavery and announced their intention to combat this evil both at home and abroad. In the following interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning August 2001, Theresa A. Loar, who worked as the State Department’s Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues, discusses the evolution of the Act and the dedication of its champions. Charles A. Ray, Ambassador to Cambodia from 2002-05, and Marie Therese Huhtala, who served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Bangkok from 1998-2001, discuss initial reactions to the Act in Cambodia and Thailand, two centers of international human trafficking. Read more

The Embassy Moscow Fire of 1977

Diplomats working in the USSR had to contend with a wide range of difficulties – poor bilateral relations, KGB surveillance, tough living conditions, Russian winters. For those serving in 1977, you could add one more thing to that list – a massive fire. On the evening of August 26th, U.S. Embassy Moscow erupted in flames. The fire started on the 8th floor, and embassy employees quickly scrambled to save what they could. A great deal of information was lost or stolen, some of which was classified. Some had suspected that the KGB was responsible for the fire, and while this was later disproved, it was clear several “firemen” were actually KGB personnel trying to remove sensitive information from the Embassy. Read more

North Korea and U.S. Violation of International Waters

For much of military history, combatants of all nationalities have operated under the guidance of an ancient adage:  all’s fair in love and war. Unfortunately, even with the advent of maritime law and international conventions on the conduct of war, countries continue to commit violations of one kind or another during times of conflict, such as during the Korean War. Tensions on the peninsular remained high even after the War ended, which often led to drastic, sometimes illegal measures. In an interview with Thomas Stern beginning October 1996, Paul M. Cleveland, who was serving as the Political Counselor in Seoul in the mid-1970s, discusses Korean tensions over the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Northern Line Limit (NLL) and laments how forces under the salty Admiral Hank Morgan attacked North Korean patrol boats on the high seas, which ended up killing 30 North Korean fishermen in what Cleveland called “an act of piracy.”   Read more

End of an Era: The August Coup and the Final Days of the Soviet Union

In August 1991, Soviet hardliners attempted to overthrow the progressive Mikhail Gorbachev, Secretary General of the Communist Party, in a desperate attempt to save the collapsing Soviet Union. Declaring a state of emergency, eight government officials named themselves the State Committee on the State of Emergency (GKChP) and forcibly detained Gorbachev in the Crimea, where he refused to resign. At the GKChP’s behest, armored tanks thundered into Moscow on the morning of August 19th, and the city’s only independent political radio station was silenced. Later that day, President Boris Yeltsin issued a statement condemning the coup and commanding those responsible to release Gorbachev. The coup disintegrated with little bloodshed two days later, on August 21st, when the soldiers withdrew and communications between Gorbachev and Moscow were renewed. Read more