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Methodist Missionary: A Future Ambassador’s Historical Experience in South Korea

Korean Christianity appears to observers as embedded in Korean history and tradition. However, this is not the case, as Korean Christianity is still a minority religion and only entered mainstream South Korean society during the mid-twentieth century, when many American Christian missionaries began evangelizing in South Korea. One of them was a young Methodist Missionary named James T. Laney, who previously served in Korea as a Counterintelligence Officer between 1947–1948. Laney’s fascination with Korean culture and society convinced him to return to South Korea in 1959.

James T. Laney at Emory University (2019) | Emory University
James T. Laney at Emory University (2019) | Emory University

Laney arrived at one of the most politically turbulent eras in South Korean history. In 1960, South Korean students overthrew South Korean dictator Syngman Rhee in the democratic April Revolution. In 1961, South Korean General Park Chung Hee launched a coup d’état against the government and established a military dictatorship. Laney witnessed firsthand the political infighting between the democrats and the militarists that would define more than two decades of Korean history. Through his role as a missionary, Laney was able to connect with the Korean people on a personal level that made him better understand them in ways many Americans couldn’t during the mid-twentieth century. Read more

Artist Diplomat

Foreign Service Officers come from diverse backgrounds, yet share one common interest of promoting American interests abroad. However, how do diplomats utilize their unique experiences while in the field? Cynthia Farrell Johnson built important local connections through her talents as an artist and was coined an “artist diplomat.” While serving in Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Panama, Uruguay, and El Salvador, Johnson sketched and painted unique aspects of a country’s culture.

Courtesy of Cynthia Farrell Johnson
Courtesy of Cynthia Farrell Johnson

Johnson’s art was well received by local communities who appreciated a foreigner taking the time to observe, capture, and highlight their country. Art helped facilitate numerous connections for Johnson and furthered her efforts as a public affairs officer.

From as young as she can remember, Johnson has always had a deep-seated love for drawing and painting and has carried it with her throughout her career. After deciding a career as an art teacher was not right for her, Johnson explored a career as a librarian. While working at the Sojourner Truth Library in the World Studies Center at the State University of New York in New Paltz, Johnson developed a love and fascination for world cultures. After earning her masters in library science, Johnson worked at the Brooklyn Public Library and applied for the Foreign Service. Following her acceptance and initial training, Johnson embarked on her first tour to Côte d’Ivoire as an assistant cultural affairs officer. As a first tour officer Johnson held an art exhibit at the cultural center in Abidjan. Throughout her career Johnson was able to nurture her passion for art, hold art exhibitions at all of her posts, and advance public diplomacy efforts through local connections. Read more

An Embassy at War: Labor Management in South Vietnam

The roles of embassies and their staff vary greatly by countries and regions, though few can claim themselves to be as unique in their responsibilities as the U.S. Embassy in Saigon during the Vietnam War. In Saigon, the embassy went beyond serving as a representative of the U.S. diplomatic mission and as a haven for U.S. citizens, and even functioned as part of a parallel government with management responsibilities that ranged from local Vietnamese employees to military affairs.

Streets of Saigon, 1967 | Wikimedia Commons
Streets of Saigon, 1967 | Wikimedia Commons

As the embassy transitioned, so too did its personnel who increasingly saw their duties expanded greatly to ensure the smooth functioning of the embassy and mission.

By 1966, the Vietnam War was in full force. Just a year earlier in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson had authorized American boots on the ground, landing 3,500 marines in South Vietnam—a number that would rapidly increase to over 200,000 by the end of the year. Attacks on U.S. government installations, military and otherwise, were also increasing, and the need for American intervention on behalf of South Vietnam became ever more apparent. Over the years coups, military juntas, and corruption took its toll on the South Vietnamese government, which couldn’t stabilize, and weakened it as time passed. In the midst of all this chaos and transformation, the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam began to function as a hub providing broad support for the Saigon government, encompassing military and other matters in its daily functions. Read more