July 2016 saw the explosion of the global phenomenon Pokémon Go, where people walk around town (and often into traffic or ditches) trying to catch various animated creatures that look like they are actually sitting there in front of you. (If you really do believe they are in front of you and not just on your smartphone, please seek medical attention immediately.) While many welcome this as a fun way to get out off the couch and others see it as another Sign of the Approaching Apocalypse, truth be told obsession with video games has been around at least since the 1980s and has even affected high-ranking government officials who ought to know better.
Johnny Young served in The Hague, Netherlands as Counselor for Administration from 1985-1988; he was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning October 2005.
“We can’t have the Ambassador down in the arcade playing Pac-Man with these kids”
YOUNG: We finally got word that John Shad, who had been the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, would be visiting several European posts in order to find out which one he liked the best in order to be assigned as ambassador. He would be coming out with his wife who was ill and confined to a wheelchair. He visited Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands.
I made all the arrangements to receive him and take care of him and he looked all around and asked lots of questions. In the end he decided that the Netherlands was his post of choice. Before he arrived, we received a 25-section message with all of his holdings.
It was my job to check to see if there was any conflict of interest in his holdings and the U.S. Embassy relationship with the various companies and organizations listed in the stocks and bonds that he owned. There was none. At the time he was considered to be the richest man in the Reagan administration. He was very wealthy….
We got him settled in his new house and it became very clear to us right away that this was no skilled diplomat. That this was someone who would require a lot of handholding, a lot of direction if he was going to be seen in a positive light.
Mr. Shad was quite a character, to say the least. He would fall asleep at meetings, public meetings, I don’t mean just in the embassy. He would fall asleep in the embassy meetings, but he would fall asleep in public meetings. I’ll never forget my next door neighbor who was a Frenchman said to me one evening, “Oh, I just met your ambassador at the Chamber of Commerce meeting. Oh, he fell asleep at the head table.” That was the kind of start we were off to.
He was in his 60s at that point….Could have been early ‘70s as well, but he was an elderly gentleman.…He didn’t really want much to do with substance. A little bit, but not too much….The Dutch frankly didn’t have much high regard for him. He certainly had the access that he needed as an ambassador.
My relationship with him was strained, very strained and I thought that frankly he was going to bring an end to my career. He was very wealthy, but very cheap. He was the cheapest man I’ve ever run into. He wanted all kinds of things to be paid for by the U.S. government and they were illegal and I couldn’t do it.…
I want to just tell you a couple of things. He had an obsession with video games and Pac- Man. He would go down to the local arcade and play Pac-Man with all of these kids. The DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] and I said we can’t have the ambassador down in the arcade playing Pac-Man with these kids.
We would go down there and rescue him out of the arcade and take him back to the residence. Then we had to find a Pac-Man machine that we had to put in the residence…. Pac-Man and Pokémon and whatever else they had at that time.
We couldn’t believe it. Here’s a man filthy rich who would indulge in this kind of activity with no sensitivity to his position whatsoever and would be caught doing this kind of thing.
I said to the DCM, I can’t believe it. Here I am making some $60,000 a year — which was a lot of money at that time — running around town here trying to find out where I can buy a Pokémon or a Pac Man machine to put in the residence to keep the ambassador confined to the residence instead of running downtown to an arcade. We did that.
Then one night while he was playing Pac-Man in his drawers, in his underwear, he locked himself out of the residence. We had to deal with that mess to get him back into the house and what have you. Oh, crazy stuff, just crazy stuff….
Another thing that happened concerned that the Secretary of Commerce, Malcolm Baldridge. He was killed when he was thrown from a horse.
Well, before the body was warm, Shad sent a cable to the President [Ronald Reagan] saying that he wanted that position to replace Baldridge because he only took his ambassadorship as a kind of consolation prize because there was nothing else at the time.
He did the message and then he left the copy on his desk. He had sent it classified. Since I was the admin counselor, the Marine brought it to me because they issued him a violation. I saw the message and I couldn’t believe that literally, within hours of Baldridge’s death, that he sent this message to Reagan asking that he be appointed.
He never was appointed to that position. He basically sort of hung around in that position for the remainder of his time there.