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Captivating Times in India—What it Means to Travel Across the World as a Foreign Service Officer

Upon joining the Foreign Service, most officers are immediately assigned to locations all over the world. Postings can vary from serving in a democratic country where the government runs efficiently, to a country where the government is struggling to maintain power, to even an active war zone. Wherever the assignment, foreign service officers must be prepared for anything. In this “Moment in U.S. Diplomatic History,” we see that James Leader joined the Foreign Service with the Labor Department in 1962 and embarked on an exciting career that sent him all over the world.

State Bank of India at Madras. Taken on February 20, 2011 by Williamsatish25. Source: Wikimedia Commons
State Bank of India at Madras. Taken on February 20, 2011 by Williamsatish25. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Leader’s first assignment was in Madras, India where he learned a number of skills that he would later use in his career. Like most officers, he started off as a consul where he was actively training to master a new language. However, when the code clerk got sick, he was tapped as the replacement and began a rotational assignment that exposed him to working in different parts of the embassy, such as the consular, commercial, and political sections where he learned the value of networking. After his two years in Madras, India he continued his career in London.

While stationed in London, Leader was vice consul for only a short period of time before he was promoted to consul. There he dealt with a number of disputes surrounding non-immigrant and immigrant visas, and he interacted with a number of people from different backgrounds. He dealt with people who were denied entry into the United States for political issues, medical problems, drug related disputes, and those who were linked to criminal offenses. In both assignments, and throughout his career, Leader gained a varied experience, which kept his career and life exciting. Although foreign service officers have their own experiences in the field, one that many have in common is gaining an appreciation for the differences in the world.

James Leader’s interview was conducted on September 19, 1995 by James F. Shea and Don R. Kienzle.

Read James Leader’s full interview HERE.
For more Moments on India, click HERE.
For more Moments on London click HERE.

Drafted by: Ahtziry Ruiz

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Excerpts:

“I spent time in the Consular Section in the Commercial Section and in the Political Section and got the cross fertilization and learned one thing that stood me in good stead in later years . . . the Consular business is where you meet the people.”

Experiencing India:

LEADER: I had a very useful time in Madras and because I knew people in the international field; I went out and talked and had some introductions to people in the labor movement, most notably Anthony Pelei in Madras who was a textile workers leader and a very fine trade unionist. He belonged to the [pre independence] Socialist Party and interestingly because I went to Sri Lanka later was in exile to India from Sri Lanka. He had originally been a Trotskyite when the British really cracked down. Most of the Sri Lanka establishment supported the war effort unlike in India where Gandhi had a peaceful resistance to the war effort most of the Sri Lankan establishment supported the war effort but the Trotskyites did not. That’s an interesting point where they split off from the Moscow communists who of course, as soon as Hitler attacked Russia changed it from the Imperialist War to the People’s War. They came to the Trotskyites in Sri Lanka and said, “Hey jump on the bandwagon this is now a peoples’ war” and they said, “The hell with it, it may be your peoples’ war it isn’t our peoples’ war. This isn’t going to help us helping the British, they’re going to help us get our independence.” So anyway, Pelei was one of those who sought refuge in India at the time that a lot of Trotskyite nationals had to flee.

KIENZLE: What were your official duties in Madras?

LEADER: This first cross indoctrination’s assignment that you were required to spend at least six months in three or four different sections of the Consulate. So my first five months involved in Tamil training interrupted to become Code Clerk when our Code Clerk got sick. Since I was the junior most guy I was tapped and so I spent time in the Consular Section in the Commercial Section and in the Political Section and got the cross fertilization and learned one thing that stood me in good stead in later years that the Consular business is where you meet the people. I probably made more labor contacts in the Consular business there than if I had been a Political Officer because people came in for visas and you found out a lot about them at that point.

“I did two years and it turned out to be very interesting…Tom Burn was Labor Attaché in London…he recruited us to go out and talk to Trade Union meetings.”

           
London Houses of Parliament. Taken in September 1973 by Family photos of Infrogmation. Source: Wikimedia Commons
London Houses of Parliament. Taken in September 1973 by Family photos of Infrogmation. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Navigating London:

KIENZLE: After your service on the Nepal desk where did you go then?

LEADER: Then I went to London. I had to go to another region because I had had two straight tours in NEA or South Asian Affairs and I wanted to go to Japan. I felt like I knew something about India. That was 1966 and it was already apparent that Japan was on the road to being a great power economically at least by the mid ‘60s. I thought it would be very interesting to go to Japan and spend some time understanding how an Asian Buddhist country dealt with development, what rational cultural characteristics allowed them to do this, and it would be a very useful contrast to the Indian experience. Of course coming out of colonialism, quite different. But anyway in this wisdom they decided to send me to London and that’s not one you can argue.

KIENZLE: In what capacity did you go?

LEADER: I went as Vice Consul. I guess I got promoted there and became a Consul in London and I really was called a troubleshooter. We had a section of the Embassy that was the category A ineligible section.

KIENZLE: This was for non-immigrant visas?

LEADER: Non-immigrant and immigrant. People who had been for political reasons fascists or communists or had medical problems or been convicted of prostitution, drug use or whatever, drug trafficking and the whole list of things that absolutely excluded you from entry to the U.S. and could only be overcome by a special waiver of your knowledgeability. A friend of mine who worked in the section called it the commie thinking queer section.

KIENZLE: That’s not politically correct today.

LEADER: That’s right. Remember the times, we’re talking about 1966. So anyway I did two years and it turned out to be a very interesting assignment. Tom Burn was Labor Attaché in London and he got some of the young guys including myself, he recruited us to go out and talk to Trade Union meetings. The English seemed to love to hear American diplomats talk about the relationship and so there were a lot of invitations. I went to several meetings and made addresses and usually talked on immigration since I was a Consular Officer. I tried to explain the American mystic and American character on the immigration topic. I thought that’s the one I had the title and authority to speak on it. Also since race relations were becoming very important in the United States at that time I treated the black population as the latest wave of immigration at least to urbanized America and that’s where big problems began to develop.

TABLE OF CONTENTS HIGHLIGHTS

Education
Purdue University, Agriculture degree 1954–1958
Ahmedabad Agricultural Institute 1956–1957
American University, MA in International Studies 1958–1962
Joined the Foreign Service 1962
Madras, India 1962–1964
Washington, Nepal Desk Officer 1964–1966
London, United Kingdom 1966–1968