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Post-WWII German Reconstruction: Rehabilitation and Food Availability

Following the Allied victory in World War II, Germany faced a long road to reconstruction. The war took the lives of about 7 million Germans and destroyed much of the country’s physical infrastructure. The Allies’ occupation of Germany also disrupted German life even further. Factories were destroyed, some civilians were enslaved, and other people were forced to migrate to new areas as reparations for the immense damage the German Nazis had caused during the war.

Allied occupation in Germany, 26 December 2016, Paasikivi, Wikimedia.
Allied occupation in Germany, 26 December 2016, Paasikivi, Wikimedia.

The four Allied Powers (the United States, France, Britain, and the Soviet Union) split the country into areas that each one would occupy, though the ultimate goal remained for the country to be reunified eventually. However, the separate areas led to the division between East Germany and West Germany, which contributed to and lasted throughout the Cold War. Reunification ultimately did not take place until 1990.

The United States played a large role in the postwar occupation of Germany. During this period, tensions heightened between the United States and the Soviet Union as the camaraderie steadily faded following World War II. During his time in postwar Germany, Victor Skiles experienced firsthand much of the tension and destruction that occurred. However, Skiles felt that he was there to help rebuild Germany and to stop the destruction. He focused on agriculture and imports, trying to ensure that all Germans were able to eat sufficient rations even throughout the chaos and uncertainty of the occupation and reconstruction of Germany. This “Moment” in diplomatic history highlights Skiles’s experiences working in postwar Germany amid ongoing struggles and increasing tensions. Read more

The Last Days Before the Fall of Saigon: Evacuating Vietnamese Refugees

The Fall of Saigon is perhaps one of the most infamous moments of the Vietnam War. Following the fall of other large cities to the North Vietnamese Army, the U.S government launched covert operations to evacuate Americans and Vietnamese civilians from the country. These evacuations would become some of the most famous in history.

U.S government personnel help transfer refugees from a barge to a Navy ship |  U.S Navy Archives
U.S government personnel help transfer refugees from a barge to a Navy ship | U.S Navy Archives

In 1974, Congress reduced funding to the South Vietnamese government. This reduction in funds increased the vulnerability of South Vietnamese forces, and in December 1974, the North Vietnamese invasion began. As city after city fell to the North Vietnamese Army, refugees fled in droves while being shelled by North Vietnamese artillery. In Washington, President Ford appealed to Congress for emergency aid to Vietnam, but was turned down. When it became clear that evacuation would be necessary, controversy brewed over how to handle the evacuations. Some members of Congress insisted that only Americans should be evacuated, while others stressed the importance of evacuating “vulnerable” Vietnamese nationals. These were Vietnamese citizens who had worked with the U.S government, and would be at increased risk when the North invaded. Ultimately, the government decided to evacuate Americans, vulnerable Vietnamese, and Vietnamese relatives of American nationals.

In March of 1975, Americans and Vietnamese employees of the U.S. government began to be evacuated from other cities around the country, but the evacuations sparked chaos when many members of the public found out about the evacuations and begged to be included. Throngs of people attempted to board U.S. vessels and planes, creating widespread panic. For this reason, the Saigon evacuation was kept secret from the public up until the last minute.

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Assistant Secretary of State Barbara M. Watson: First Black and Female Pioneer in Consular Affairs

Barbara M. Watson was the first black person and woman to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Security and Consular Affairs. Appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968, Watson’s exemplary legacy continues to reflect a deep commitment to public service, self-integrity in light of political and social tribulations, and a distinct dedication to consular functions.

Assistant Secretary of State Barbara M. Watson | U.S. State Department
Assistant Secretary of State Barbara M. Watson | U.S. State Department

Such acumen and intellect was met with an acute sense of duty and bipartisanship which complemented her strong leadership throughout her career at the State Department. Based on the accounts of her contemporaries as well as her experience as ambassador to Malaysia under President Carter, Watson’s contributions to U.S. foreign policy, especially as an African-American female, demonstrate the important richness of diversity in the diplomatic service and professional workforce.

The late Miss Watson was born in New York City on Nov. 5, 1918 to Jamaican immigrants: Violet Lopez Watson, a founder of the National Council of Negro Women, and New York’s first elected Black judge, James S. Watson. Following her familial calling to service and justice, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1943 from Barnard College and her law degree in 1962 from New York Law School. Upon graduation, she served as an assistant attorney for the New York City Law Department from 1963 through 1964.

By the end of 1964, her new role as the executive director of the New York City Commission for the United Nations from 1964 to 1966 served as her debut into foreign policy. This position led to her first role at the State Department as the Special Assistant to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Administration and as Deputy and Acting Administrator of the Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs from 1966 to 1968. Her appointment to State was uncommon and thus prominent, as the Department employed few female and black Foreign Service Officers—a reflection of the overall state of the American national security apparatus at the time. Despite this, her distinguished work performance in the Bureau of Consular Affairs earned her promotions, thus paving the way for more women and African-Americans to follow suit.

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Keeping “Enemies” Close: Diplomacy in Divided Cities

The twentieth century continues to captivate the attention of policy professionals, academics, and the general public. This is due to more than its contemporary salience; the century epitomized ideological contest on a global scale. As the threshold between Colonialism and Neo-Colonialism, the setting of both world wars, and a witness to the decades-long contest of their emergent world superpowers, the twentieth century proved a crucible for many of the most trying conflicts of human history.

Potsdamer Platz Berlin (21 November 1989) Frits Wiarda | Own Work
Potsdamer Platz Berlin (21 November 1989) Frits Wiarda | Own Work

Unfortunately, much of the twentieth century was marred by the theme of division. As the global climate divided between Washington and Moscow, the wake of World War II birthed several more regionally descript divisions: namely, that of East and West Berlin, and of Israel from Palestine.

Countless men and women dealt with these fissures in their everyday lives, and many continue to do so to this day. It is in the job description of American diplomats to ease division, and many have made a career of engaging in these tense post-conflict scenarios.

Few, however, have had as frequent a front-row seat to the heavy events of our time as Ambassador Brandon Gove. From serving in Berlin in the late sixties to working in Jerusalem just after the signing of the Camp David Accords, Ambassador Gove had a view into some of the most divisive global issues of the modern age. Read on to discover Ambassador Gove’s tense experiences in occupied Germany, pursuit of peace in the Middle East, and his views on how each were affected by the broader strategies unfolding beneath the Cold War.

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Raising the Standard of Living in Foreign Countries: USAID’s Housing Guarantee Program

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is a crucial player in delivering assistance and aid to foreign countries. With a mission to reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance, and help global communities emerge from crisis, USAID has spent the last sixty years implementing a variety of programs and initiatives to achieve such goals. One of the early programs of USAID was the Housing Guarantee Program (HG).

Peter Kimm with children at home under construction in Costa Rica | Peter Kimm’s Personal Collection
Peter Kimm with children at home under construction in Costa Rica | Peter Kimm’s Personal Collection

Responsible for providing loans for trade union sponsored projects, HG began with a specific focus on Latin American regions and the establishment of U.S.-style saving and loans associations in foreign countries. While this approach did achieve some success, under the leadership of Peter Kimm USAID’s Housing Guarantee Program developed and expanded significantly.

Beginning his career with USAID in 1966, Kimm first felt a call to action following President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, which inspired him to join the Association for International Development, a volunteer opportunity with a Catholic NGO. From there, he went on to work with the American Institute for Free Labor Development, which would act as his first exposure to USAID and the Housing Guarantee Program. Through leadership, policy change, and the implementation of new legislation, Kimm helped to extend the reach of the program to not only include Latin America, but the entire globe. Simultaneously, Kimm shifted focus to upgrading urban slums into affordable housing for impoverished people in these foreign communities.

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Peace Between Egypt and Israel in Jeopardy: The Return of Sinai

In 1979, Israel and Egypt signed a historic peace agreement committing to diplomatic and commercial ties. Peace seemed imminent for these two countries in conflict, but one issue remained in place for the next three years––the Sinai peninsula. The matters of contention revolved around a settlement that was then occupied by Israeli and American extremists, as well as the ownership of the resorts in the Sinai town of Taba.

           
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin acknowledge applause during a Joint Session of Congress after President Jimmy Carter announced the results of the Camp David Accords | U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection | 1978
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin acknowledge applause during a Joint Session of Congress after President Jimmy Carter announced the results of the Camp David Accords | U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection | 1978

As a small resort town located in the South of Sinai, Taba’s ownership was a very contentious issue, generating nationalistic responses from both Egypt and Israel. Both sides presented their arguments for ownership, but in the end, an international arbitration panel awarded Egypt sovereignty. In February of 1982, Egypt and Israel signed an agreement for the handover of Taba that included $37 million in compensation for the former Israeli owner of Taba’s main hotel, The Sonesta.

The United States coordinated a negotiation team to resolve the conflict between Egypt and Israel. Originally Israeli Prime Minister demanded that they be led by Secretary of State Al Haig, but he was occupied with resolving the disputed Falkland Islands. Ultimately, the team included Foreign Service Officers Robert M. Perito and Walter Stoessel, amongst others. Perito, in particular, proved integral to resolving issues over Taba’s sovereignty, the demarcation of boundaries, as well as the claims of Egypt’s violation of its peace agreement with Israel.

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