The Watergate affair was the most controversial political scandal to ever come out of the Oval Office and, along with Vietnam, marked a turning point in Americans’ distrust of the government. On June 17, 1972 five men were arrested as they tried to break into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate complex. It was later discovered they had initially entered the DNC offices on May 28th and wiretapped two of the phones. However, the listening devices needed to be repaired, which led to the second burglary. The men were connected to the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP, but mockingly referred to as CREEP), which directly tied President Richard Nixon to the scandal. Read more
Since 1979, the U.S. has maintained unofficial relations with Taiwan to preserve the U.S.’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and in support of the one-China policy. However, tensions have frequently flared up between Beijing and Taiwan over issues of international recognition and independence for Taiwan. One of the more notable cases was when Congress allowed a visit from Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui to Cornell University, despite the PRC’s opposition to such high-level visits. Lee Teng-hui’s somewhat provocative speech on June 9, 1995 further strained U.S.-China relations. In what would later be known as the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, the PRC launched a series of missiles in shipping lanes near Taiwan, provoking a similar tense but restrained military response by the U.S. Read more
The Manhattan Project is one of the largest scientific research programs the United States has ever seen — and certainly the one with the greatest impact on foreign policy. Commissioned by President Franklin Roosevelt by executive order in June 1941, at its height the Project employed 130,000 people and cost a total of $26 billion in 2015 dollars. Spread out between secret facilities in Los Alamos, New Mexico, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Red Gate Woods, Illinois, and Richland, Washington, the work to create a nuclear bomb was headed by the Army Corps of Engineers and scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer. The group worked for over three years on methods to extract plutonium from Uranium-235 and then on a way to harness plutonium’s natural fission into a controllable bomb. Read more
In 1982, Cold War tensions led to growing concerns about Soviet and Cuban influence in Central America. Following the overthrow of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) took power and began supplying Soviet weaponry to Salvadoran guerrillas. Secretary of State Al Haig urged that evidence of this be released to the media; however, the information could not made public because of intelligence sources.
In the midst of this, the Salvadoran Army captured a 19-year-old guerrilla fighter, Orlando Tardencilla, who claimed to have been trained in Cuba. Certain that this was the smoking gun which would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Cuba was meddling in El Salvador, the U.S. flew Tardencilla to Washington for a March 12 press conference. However, Tardencilla quickly recanted his story, claiming he had been tortured. Read more
In 1980, a democratization movement spread throughout South Korea following the assassination of Park Chung-hee, which ended his 18-year authoritarian rule and brought political instability to the country. General Chun Doo Hwan took power as the new president through a coup in December 1979 and expanded martial law soon after in attempt to suppress increasing demonstrations. The extent of this suppression culminated on May 18, 1980 when a student protest in Kwangju was met with a brutal military response that left hundreds injured, dead, or missing.
Anti-American sentiment arose in the aftermath of what would later be referred to as the Kwangju Massacre or Uprising. Because of the close American ties with the South Korean military and statements by the Korean government implicating the United States, many Koreans believed Washington was somehow involved in the violent suppression of the demonstrations, which led to lingering distrust and suspicion of the U.S. for years afterward. (Photo: AP) Read more
During the 1970’s, South Africa’s apartheid rule continued to use official procedures of explicit and implicit racism to subjugate and demoralize the black Africans in the country. By the 1970’s, the majority black communities were sick and tired of these oppressive policies, which led to an increase in violence, protests and militant activity. However, not all organizations and group efforts to fight apartheid involved violence. In 1974, the South African regime passed the Afrikaans Medium Degree which required all black schools to use and teach Afrikaans as much as English. Because the language of Afrikaans was strongly associated with apartheid, black South Africans preferred their indigenous languages or English. Opposition to this decree prompted black students to organize a peaceful rally on June 16, 1976 in the township of Soweto, located in the nation’s capital, Johannesburg. Read more
Like many leaders throughout Africa, Jerry Rawlings was a paradoxical figure. He could be calculating and ruthless, as when he ordered a bloody “housecleaning” of those he viewed as corrupt or disloyal. Or he could demonstrate genuine concern for the well-being of Ghanaians as he tried to address the country’s myriad problems.
Jerry John Rawlings was a First Lieutenant in the Ghana Air Force when he and six other soldiers tried to stage a coup against the government of General Fred Akuffo in May 1979; they were all arrested and convicted. While awaiting his execution, Rawlings was able to escape with the help of other soldiers on June 4, 1979 and led the overthrow of the Supreme Military Council. Read more
After World War II, Europe was recovering from the devastation of conflict and suffered from high unemployment and food shortages; the U.S., however, had emerged as a world power with an economy that had grown during the War. Recognizing the dire needs in Europe and the importance of economic stability, Secretary of State George C. Marshall, along with other State Department officials under President Harry Truman, developed an initiative to provide approximately $17 billion in aid (approximately $120 billion in current dollars) to European countries.
This large-scale aid program, officially named the European Recovery Program (ERP) and informally known as the Marshall Plan, was passed relatively quickly through Congress as the Economic Cooperation Act (ECA) and signed into law by President Truman on April 3, 1948. Read more
When Armenia gained its independence after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, it was in dire straits. It was in the midst of a bitter war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, its borders with Turkey were closed, which prevented the transshipment of goods. Civil unrest reigned in neighboring Georgia, where bandits would frequently steal from large trucks, greatly reducing the amount of food and oil which finally made it to Armenia.
The populace faced a grim winter with very little heat and not much hope. Into this dark morass came Harry Gilmore, the first Ambassador from the United States to Armenia. Working closely with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the On-Site Inspection Agency, and others, he spearheaded an effort to bring in heating oil and food in the winter of 1994. Read more
Russian banquets (and, of course, Russian drinking) are legendary, as tradition dictates that every drink be accompanied by a toast (or “tost” in Russian). These can be something simple and heartfelt, such as to friendship, or more grandiose and significant, such as to good neighborly relations between our two countries. At more formal, high-ranking affairs, the toasts are often scripted in advance, laden as they are with political meaning.
Gary Crocker worked in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) when he was part of a high-level international delegation with European and Japanese parliamentarians who were visiting Russia in 1994, not long after the collapse of the USSR. As is the custom, there were toasts. As is not the custom, Crocker made a rather pointed joke, which fortunately, did not lead to an international incident. Read more