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The Birth of NATO

After the devastation of World War II and the ensuing Cold War with the Soviet Union, nations across the globe sought out alliances to protect themselves and to avoid a possible World War III. The United Nations was created, as were various regional alliances, such as the Rio Treaty for the Western Hemisphere. Europe’s growing concern about Soviet aggression led to the March 1948 signing of the Treaty of Brussels, which united the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg), France, and the United Kingdom, but not the United States.

Theodore Achilles and a handful of other American diplomats rightfully predicted the USSR’s expansionist policy and saw the glaring need for a military alliance which included the U.S.; however, such a treaty would encounter strong opposition in a Congress wary of further entanglements abroad.   Read more

The Iran Hostage Crisis — “I had very little faith in my government protecting me”

On November 4, 1979, some 3000 radical Iranian students protested at the U.S. embassy. The embassy had been taken over earlier in the year but the problem was resolved quickly leading most to believe this situation would be similar. People were angry over President Jimmy Carter’s decision to allow the Shah of Iran, who had been forced out of Iran earlier amidst widespread discontent over his reign, into the United States’ for medical treatment. What was expected to be a short demonstration turned into a 444-day-long hostage crisis.

Michael Metrinko, a political officer in Iran at the time, was fooled into being at the embassy at the time of the takeover. He spent most of his fourteen months as a hostage in solitary confinement. With little faith in the U.S. government rescuing him, he did what he could to maintain sanity and stay alive, including a strenuous exercise regimen and mouthing off to his captors. Read more

Argentina’s Dirty War and the Transition to Democracy

It was one of the darkest periods in Latin American history. From 1976-1983, a brutal military junta ruled Argentina in what was called “the Dirty War,” when some 10,000 persons were “disappeared” and human rights abuses were rampant. Many of the disappeared were believed to have been abducted by agents of the Argentine government during these years; the disappeared were often tortured and killed before their bodies were disposed of in rural areas or unmarked graves. In response the movement called “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo” arose, wearing signs with photos and names of their children who had vanished, standing in silent protest.

The junta remained in power until Argentina’s cratering economy and woefully unsuccessful attempt to seize the Falklands/Malvinas Islands from the United Kingdom further undermined any remaining shred of credibility.  Read more

Antarctica — Diplomats at the End of the World

Antarctica remains as mysterious as it is legendary.  Studied throughout history for its geology, climate, and resources, Antarctica’s allure is widespread.  The Antarctic Treaty, which was signed in 1959 and went into effect in 1961, stipulates that Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes and that “no new claim, or enlargement of an existing claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica shall be asserted while the present Treaty is in force.” To ensure compliance, all areas of Antarctica, including the bases, are open for inspection at all times. Scientists conducting research make up the majority of the temporary population. While tourism is growing, few individuals get the opportunity to visit the frozen continent, although some Foreign Service Officers are able to travel there on official business. Read more

The Unending Quest for Self-Determination in Western Sahara

The disputed region of Western Sahara in Northern Africa is the largest by both population and area on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories. Although Morocco has formally claimed Western Sahara since its own independence in 1957, Spain officially relinquished its administration of the territory to joint control by Morocco and Mauritania in 1975. The International Court of Justice acknowledged the Saharawi’s right to self-determination, but King Hassan II of Morocco refused to give up the territory and instead led 350,000 people on a peaceful Green March across the border. Morocco then fought with Mauritania as well as a Sahrawi national movement called the Polisario Front for control of the region until Mauritania’s withdrawal from the conflict in 1979. The Polisario declared the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and gained support from the Soviet Union, Algeria, Cuba, and Libya. Beginning in 1981, Morocco erected a sand-berm “Moroccan Wall” to repel the Polisario’s guerilla fighters. The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991. Read more

Ethiopian Flight 961 — The Worst Hijacking in History Before 9/11

On November 23, 1996, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 was flying from Addis Ababa to Nairobi when the plane was hijacked by three Ethiopians. One report later described them as “young (mid-twenties), inexperienced, psychologically fragile, and intoxicated.” It would turn out to be the deadliest hijacking in history until 9/11. The men threatened to blow the plane up in flight if the pilots did not obey their demands.

They declared in Amharic, French and English that if anyone tried to interfere, they had a bomb and they would use it to blow up the plane. (Authorities later determined that the purported bomb was actually a covered bottle of liquor.) When the hijackers demanded the plane be flown to Australia, where they demanded asylum, the captain tried to explain they had only enough fuel for the scheduled flight and thus could not even make a quarter of the way, but the hijackers did not believe him. Read more

Halt! We want to Surrender!–Europe, 1945

May 1945 — the end of World War II. Time to drink a beer, have fun, and enjoy the countryside. But hold on — what’s that on the horizon? A Nazi Panzer division?

George Jaeger was born in Vienna, emigrated to the U.S. and became an interpreter for the U.S. Army. He later served as a Foreign Service officer. You can read about his experience with the Kindertransport, when he and thousands of other children were taken to the UK right after Kristallnacht. Read more

Escape from the Nazis via the Kindertransport

Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, November 9-10, 1938 — SA forces vandalize Jewish-owned stores and synagogues. Five days later, a delegation of British Jewish and Quaker leaders appeal in person to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and ask that the British government permit the temporary admission of unaccompanied Jewish children. The British Parliament acted swiftly and ultimately allowed some 10,000 German, Polish, Czech, and Austrian Jews under 17 years of age to enter the country. The first group of nearly 200 children arrived in Harwich on December 2, just three weeks after Kristallnacht.

The program, called the Kindertransport, placed children into foster homes, schools, and hostels to protect them from Nazi persecution.  Many of the children were the only ones in their families to survive World War II as many of their relatives perished in the Holocaust. Read more

The U.S. Invades “A Little Island Called Grenada,” Part II

Planned in secret and executed quickly, the U.S. intervention garnered a mixed and fervent reaction. For the most part, the American public and Congress supported the invasion, mainly due to the need to evacuate the American medical students. However, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and others criticized the Reagan Administration’s decision. After the U.S. defeated the Cuban and Grenadian forces, Ambassador Charles Anthony (Tony) Gillespie, Jr. led the effort to establish the first American Embassy in Grenada and restore political stability. The newly instated head of government Governor General Paul Scoon formally broke diplomatic relations with Cuba. It then fell on the United States to fly the Cubans and Soviets off the island.

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The U.S. Invades “A Little Island Called Grenada,” Part I

In one of the smallest proxies of the Cold War, the United States, with the support of troops from other Caribbean governments, invaded the island nation of Grenada to depose its military dictator and secure the evacuation of American students in the country. Grenada had gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1974 and experienced civil unrest until Maurice Bishop’s New Jewel Movement overthrew the government in 1979. The Bishop government attracted attention from U.S. government officials in the summer of 1983 when it began constructing the Point Salines International Airport with assistance from Cuba, Britain, and others. Although it was originally conceived by the British and Canadians in the 1950s, the U.S. suspected the large airport was being built for the use of the Soviet and Cuban military.

On October 16, 1983, Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard led his military-backed rival faction in seizing power from the Bishop government. Hudson Austin, the military leader, murdered Bishop and many of his supporters. The leaders of Barbados, Jamaica, and the members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States expressed alarm at the crisis and sought American assistance. The U.S. was also concerned with the presence of 1,000 American medical students at St. George’s University, who were unable to evacuate Grenada. A joint force of U.S. and the Caribbean Regional Security System (RSS) troops invaded the island on October 25 in Operation Urgent Fury. The Grenada invasion would be the first U.S. military operation since the Vietnam War. Read more