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Slobodan Milosevic and the Road to Dayton

Slobodan Milosevic was in many ways a paradoxical figure. Long criticized for being a corrupt opportunist, he could also be engaging and charming. Often described as being a paranoid psychopath, he could quickly swing from the role of staunch Serbian nationalist to conciliatory peacemaker. As Yugoslavia disintegrated in the early 1990’s, leading to violent conflict, the United States began to view the protean Milosevic as the key to reaching a peace agreement in the region.

Rudolf Perina served as Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade from 1993-96 and describes working with Milosevic, who usually worked without a staff and avoided putting anything down on paper. He also details Assistant Secretary (and later lead negotiator) Richard Holbrooke’s early involvement in the Balkans, the tragedy in the making that was Kosovo, and the beginning of talks which would become the basis for the Dayton Peace Accords. He sadly notes the the passing of his colleague, Deputy Assistant Secretary Robert Frasure, who died with two others in a car crash on the road to Belgrade. Read more

Negotiating the Dayton Peace Accords

During the 1990s, the world witnessed the worst conflict since the end of World War II.  The violence, bloodshed and ethnic cleansing within the Former Yugoslavia was unthinkable. The conflict began after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence on February 29, 1992. As a result, a group of Bosnian Serbs rebelled and created their own republic, the Republika Srpska. With the support of Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, the Bosnian Serbs gained territory throughout three years of killing and ethnic cleansing. Fighting ensued for several years between Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Serbs and Muslims.  After the events and widespread media coverage of the shelling of a Sarajevo marketplace, the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys, and the capture of UN peacekeepers as hostages, the goal of a successful peace agreement became imperative. Read more

Vietnam, A Look Back

The Vietnam War remains one of the most contentious foreign policy issues in American history. U.S. military involvement was initially justified in view of the domino theory, the widely held belief that a failure to prevent the spread of Communism in Vietnam would ultimately to Communist victories in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and the rest of Southeast Asia. Incidents such as the My Lai Massacre and the Tet Offensive convinced Americans that the War was turning into an unwinnable – and immoral – stalemate and that the toll in American lives was too high a burden. The U.S. eventually withdrew in 1973, after which South Vietnam fell to the Communist North. Over 40 years later, the debate over whether U.S. intervention in Vietnam was warranted in many ways echoes the ongoing discussions over U.S. missions in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere. Read more

Chile’s 1988 Plebiscite and the End of Pinochet’s Dictatorship

The 1970s and 1980s were a long, dark time for Chile. The September 11, 1973 coup against Socialist president Salvador Allende led to the brutal dictatorship under Commander-in-Chief Augusto Pinochet, who immediately began to round up thousands of opponents in stadiums and elsewhere and have them killed. In 1980, a new constitution was approved, which mandated a single-candidate presidential referendum in 1988, where a candidate nominated by the Junta would be approved or rejected for another 8-year period. That would provide democratic forces a glimmer of hope.

A national referendum was held on October 5, 1988 to determine whether the Junta, and its leader Pinochet, should stay in power for another eight years. Read more

The Fight in Vietnam Arrives at the White House

In the late 1960’s, the United States had become polarized by the Vietnam War, as even many defenders were beginning to question the goals and tactics of the military. One such person was William Watts, who at the time had been promoted to the position of White House Staff Secretary for the National Security Council under President Richard Nixon in 1969. As such, he worked closely with Henry Kissinger, who at the time was National Security Advisor, as well as prominent people from the Nixon White House, such as H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. Bureaucratic tensions were often high and interpersonal skills were often lacking, which not surprisingly led to bitter infighting and nasty confrontations over policy. U.S. policies on Vietnam and the planning over the invasion of Cambodia, which took place from April-July 1970 were strongly opposed by Watts, which left him an outsider. Watts resigned from the NSC in 1970 after a fiery exchange with Alexander Haig, then Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff.      Read more

Secretary Ron Brown’s Plane Crashes in Croatia

On April 3rd, 1996, just before the Easter holiday, Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown was killed in a plane crash in Croatia. He was 54 years old. He was on a trip to Dubrovnik, flying from Zagreb to meet with President Franjo Tuđman on an official trade mission. Brown had offered to make the trip on behalf of President Bill Clinton as the President’s schedule was very tight and Brown was available. The crash occurred as the pilot attempted to land at Dubrovnik’s Cilipi Airport on visual flight rules in severe weather. The plane crashed into a mountainside; Ron Brown and 34 other people were killed instantly. Only Air Force Technical Sergeant Shelly Kelly was able to survive the impact; however, she died on her way to the hospital. In March 2011, the new United States Mission to the United Nations building in New York City was named in Brown’s honor (see photo below).  Read more

A Soldier Uncovers the Horrors of the Nazis’ Hadamar Camp

As a soldier in the U.S. Army towards the end of World War II, George Jaeger, who was part of V Corps’s four-man war crimes team, happened upon the town of Hadamar, located between Frankfurt am Main and Cologne. Hadamar has since become notorious as the site of a top-secret extermination site involved in the sterilization and extermination of the handicapped and mentally ill in Nazi Germany.  The Hadamar Euthanasia Centre was one of the six sites carrying out Action T4 resulting in the mass murder of those deemed “undesirable” by the Nazis.  The program claimed 70,000 victims in its two years of operation from 1939 to 1941.  Although the program was officially concluded in 1941, operations and practices of physicians went underground.

Killings still went on during this covert phase where additional estimates of 200,000 people were killed in all the Action T4 facilities.  Under the Action T4 program, the development of the use of lethal gas to perform mass murders occurred.  These techniques were later implemented for mobile death vans and extermination camps.  Following World War II, Hadamar fell within the American occupation zone.  In October 1945, Americans conducted the Hadamar Trial, which was the first mass atrocity trial after the end of World War II. Jaeger and the V Corps later went to Flossenbürg concentration camp, which was used for, among others, political opponents. In a gripping account which is often difficult to read, Jaeger describes the horrific scenes he and his colleagues discovered and the emotional stress he experienced. Read more

Life in Ceausescu’s Romania

Romania in the 1970s was a study in contrasts. Traditionally a rich agricultural breadbasket, its backward economy could not provide enough food for its inhabitants.  A despotic, communist dictatorship, it still enjoyed a close relationship with the United States, as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger used Nicolae Ceausescu, who ruled Romania from 1967 to 1989, as an intermediary with countries such as China. E. Ashley Wills was posted to Embassy Bucharest in his first overseas position with the Foreign Service from 1973 to 1977. Here he discusses life in that drab, oppressive country, the affairs within the embassy community, including a couple of which were with women in the pay of the Securitate, the omnipresent Romanian secret police, for which he had some, uh, choice words when they threatened one of his human rights contacts.   Read more