Reporting live from a shortwave radio station near the German border at the beginning of World War II, NBC’s first female correspondent, could hear the bombs begin to land outside her Dutch radio station—and so could her audience. Margaret Rupli Woodward knew it was time to go.
In May 1940, Woodward was living in the Netherlands with her husband, a British newspaperman. She’d only recently begun reporting for NBC. When CBS hired its first female correspondent, NBC felt compelled to follow suit. Woodward, an American woman in war-torn Europe with little else to do, found herself working unexpectedly as a radio journalist. She spent several months reporting on live shortwave radio, telling American audiences what was happening in the war—and now the Germans were bringing it to her door.
To flee the invading Nazis forces, the Woodwards found passage on a British coal barge, alongside the Sadler’s Wells ballet company. There was an even more important passenger in nearby waters. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands escaped on a British destroyer that sailed from Holland on the same day as the coal barge. In the commotion, and using her American citizenship to her advantage, Margaret Rupli Woodward was able to smuggle out a Dutch Jewish woman’s entire wealth in diamonds by wearing them as her own.
One of very few female American radio journalists reporting from Europe during World War II, Woodward’s radio career ended after she returned to the United States. Woodward supported the war effort with a job in the U.S. Civil Service, and after the war worked with refugees and displaced persons in Europe. She went on to travel and work across the United States, Europe, and Asia. In 1958, Woodward was able to join the Foreign Service, serving as an economic officer in Ottawa, Canada. In retirement, she returned to the Washington, D.C. home she had grown up in.
Harriet Elam-Thomas grew up in Boston, the youngest of five children. She graduated from Simmons College and later earned a Master’s Degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts. Beginning a four-decade career in the Foreign Service, Elam-Thomas served her first tour in Senegal, worked in public diplomacy in Mali and Cote D’Ivoire, was Cultural Attaché in Athens, Director of the Cultural Center in Istanbul, Counselor of Public Affairs in Brussels, and Counselor of the U.S. Information Agency. In 1999, President Bill Clinton nominated her to be U.S. Ambassador to Senegal; she served in that capacity from 2000-2002. From 2003 to 2005, Elam-Thomas was the Diplomat-in-Residence at the University of Central Florida. She retired at the rank of Career Minister. Read more
The fall of the Soviet Union upset long-established power dynamics, leaving East and Central Europe, in particular, in uncharted waters. The creation of the Nordic-Baltic Eight (NB8), a regional cooperation consisting of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden, helped the Baltics transition away from Cold War-style self-identification toward a more regionally-focused identity.
President Bill Clinton appointed Edward E. Elson U.S. Ambassador to Denmark. During his tenure from 1994-1998, Elson helped to strengthen the bonds of the Nordic-Baltic region and secure American alliances in the region. Elson came to the job with impressive credentials. An entrepreneur, Elson pioneered retail outlets in airports and hotels, creating a lucrative retail empire among other businesses. Elson’s many interests led him to become a Charter Trustee of Phillips Academy, director of Hampton Investments, Rector of the University of Virginia, First Chairman of National Public Radio and Chairman of the Jewish Publication Society.
Elson discussed his experiences in Denmark, including an attempted assassination, creating a Baltic-Nordic hub in Copenhagen and having a Russian son foist upon him, with Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2012 and with Mark Tauber in 2017. Read more
Mary Marvin Breckinridge Patterson was the only female member of the original generation of CBS Radio war correspondents known as “The Murrow Boys.” A photojournalist and cinematographer, she studied French, German, Italian, and modern history at Vassar College. While there, she also helped found the National Student Federation of America, and in that way met Edward R. Murrow.
Travelling to Europe in 1939 on photojournalism assignments, Breckinridge was in Switzerland when the Nazis invaded Poland, starting World War II. She traveled to London to photograph the evacuation of English children, one of only four American photographers in England for the first months of the war. In November, Edward R. Murrow invited Breckinridge to join him in a CBS radio broadcast about the changes the war had brought to English villages, and then others. Urging her to speak in a deep voice while broadcasting, he hired her as the first female news broadcaster for the CBS World News Roundup to report from Europe.
She ended up broadcasting 50 reports from seven countries and became part of The Murrow Boys, a group of scholarly correspondents that Murrow assembled before and during the war. Only eleven were in the group, including legendary reporters Charles Collingwood, Richard C. Hottelet, Eric Sevareid, William L. Shirer, and Howard K. Smith, as well as Breckinridge.
While working in Berlin, she married Foreign Service Officer Jefferson Patterson. She resigned from CBS, hoping to resume her career in photojournalism, but the State Department would not waive its regulation censoring anything a diplomat’s spouse offered for publication. The couple was posted in Peru, Belgium, Egypt, the Balkans and Uruguay. Read more
China scholar Richard Solomon, who was an essential component of the “ping-pong diplomacy” that led to the thaw in relations between the United States and China, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After getting a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1966, Solomon taught political science at the University of Michigan. He left in 1971 to join the staff of the National Security Council, where he was responsible for Asian Affairs and worked with National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger on the normalization of relations with China. Solomon joined the Rand Corporation in 1976. Ten years later Secretary of State George Shultz recruited him to the State Department to lead the policy planning staff.
President George H.W. Bush nominated Solomon to be the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in 1989. In that role, Solomon helped to negotiate the 1991 Paris Agreement which helped end a long-running conflict in Cambodia. Solomon facilitated nuclear non-proliferation discussions between South Korea and North Korea and served in 1992-1993 as ambassador to the Philippines. Read more
Considered by many the most accomplished diplomat of his generation, Thomas Reeve Pickering served as U.S. Ambassador to Jordan, Nigeria, El Salvador, Israel, India, and Russia. While serving as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations TheNew York Times described him as “arguably the best-ever U.S. representative to that body.” He was Assistant Secretary for the Bureau for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs and ended his federal government career as the Under Secretary for Political Affairs.
Born in Orange, New Jersey in 1931, Ambassador Pickering received a B.A. in history from Bowdoin College and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He went to the University of Melbourne in Australia on a Fulbright Fellowship and was awarded a second Masters. After serving three years in the U.S. Navy, Pickering joined the Foreign Service in 1959.
Beginning in 2003, Charles Stuart Kennedy conducted a series of oral history interviews with him. Pickering’s detailed accounts of the major diplomatic events of his forty-year career provide historic insights for scholars and tradecraft tips for today’s diplomats. Pickering served during a number of changes of Administration and noted how those transitions allowed leaders at the State Department to change the way the Department conducts business and implements foreign policy.
From 1973-74, Thomas Pickering served as Executive Secretary of the Department of State and Special Assistant to Secretaries William P. Rogers and Henry A. Kissinger
Sometime along in the fall of ’73 it became apparent that Ted Elliott was going to leave the Executive Secretariat. He had been engaged for I think three or four years in long battles with Henry (Kissinger) and the National Security Council (NSC) and the NSC staff. Actually, it emerged finally out of all of the contests they had that Henry had a lot of respect for Ted and for what Ted was doing and grudgingly, at first, but then later quite generously mentioned it…
I worked with Secretary (William) Rogers (seen at left) on a number of other things, including our ratification of the 1925 Protocol on Gas Warfare… so it became apparent after a while that they wanted me to take the Executive Secretary job, which I was delighted to do. I had been in (the Political Military Bureau) from ’69 until the summer of ’73. I was pleased to go on to a new job and anything as prestigious and interesting as the Executive Secretary was very welcome. I had no inkling that when I started to work for Rogers he was going to be gone in a month and that Henry was going to come in and we would go through the Middle East (Ramadan-Yom Kippur War) war, among many other things in that very short period of time. Henry would then ask me to go to Jordan [as U.S. ambassador] at the beginning of the year.
The Executive Secretariat, when I first came in, was pretty much involved in a couple of things: the Operations Center was pretty much coming into its own, a regular long-term watch beginning to standardize procedures. It had become an alerting center for the Secretary and for the Seventh Floor principals, becoming in effect a standard way of coordinating in the intelligence community on judgments and impressions and opinions about fast-breaking crisis developments, and obviously staying in support with the Department’s principals, in those days particularly with the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary.
The second piece was the Line, in which a group of excellent young officers reviewed paper prepared for the Secretary and the seventh floor principals for completeness – for, obviously, ability to hang together in terms of the policy advice – and to make sure that the rest of the Department was signed off for clearance. There were, I think, in Bill Rogers’ time, very few bypasses of the Line. In Henry’s time they began to multiply with great rapidity.
[By “bypass” I mean] a piece of paper that wasn’t vetted through the Line, but got on the Secretary’s desk anyway. There were a number of ways to do that. One way was obviously to go to one of the Secretary’s executive assistants and bypass the Executive Secretariat, and another was to come to me as Executive Secretary and see if I would personally put it in, given a) its sensitivity or b) the need to move it in a hurry.
This is always dangerous because often these represented a single person’s point of view, often an Assistant Secretary or a bureau point of view, but without all the competing interests brought in. There was a certain value in this, in the sense that it tended to rise above the lowest common denominator Department opinion, so it was always kind of a close call. I wanted to be involved in those even if they were not clearly vetted by the system, and I tried to hold those down to a small minimum.
It was also very clear that the Executive Secretary in those days did an awful lot of work, particularly with Kissinger, that the Secretary personally wanted done. Some of it had to do with personnel at very high levels – bringing people back to help staff the Department that the Secretary wanted and which he used the Executive Secretary rather than the personnel system at least to talk with the ambassadors overseas.
Ted had developed the LIMDIS/EXDIS/NODIS (Limited Distribution/Executive Distribution/No Distribution) channels during his time and regularized those. We attempted to use those and he had developed several versions of the NODIS Channel on call. One was “Cherokee” which was reserved for the Secretary’s personal use. We got a lot of use out of that particular channel as things developed with Kissinger, who wanted things particularly close-hold and also who at the same time wanted to be totally in command of what was going on in the Department.
We were at the period where jobs were being filled and he hadn’t yet brought back Dean Brown who was coming back from Jordan to be his managerial focus. Joe Sisco was going up to be Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Roy Atherton took over NEA (the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs) and a number of other people around were being shuffled one way or another. Henry was spending, as you remember in those days, half of his time at the NSC and the other half of the time in the Department — usually mornings at the NSC and afternoons and late evenings in the Department.
It was an interesting arrangement and it became one of the major ways in which Henry (seen at right) stepped into the Department. I can remember that I heard of Bill Rogers’ departure just about the time everybody else did. I think he called me in one morning and said that he was about to leave and shortly thereafter it became a public fact, and then Henry’s announcement by the President proceeded almost on the heels of that, if not with it.
Then Henry came over and I can remember I had a fascinating opportunity with Ted to see Henry when he called the two of us out to San Clemente in California. We spent a whole afternoon. Ted was about to leave and I was about to take over. I came back with a short list of three hundred action items from Henry of every conceivable type. I became the initial liaison between Henry and the Department to get all these things done or to get them underway. It was everything from his security detail to what we were doing about a whole series of foreign policy issues, to the funding of his office to everything else you could conceivably think of.
Years later on several occasions, Henry was kind enough to say that after he left the Department, he was shown a memo I had prepared after San Clemente “eyes only” to the Regional Assistant Secretaries. I spoke to them frankly about my assessment of the Department under Henry, what he was expecting and how I thought they should respond. He said that he thought that I was right on in my judgments and made gratifying statements about how and what I had done to help mobilize the Department to support him.
I think that initially he arrived in the Department with a lot of skepticism. He had known some Department officers and had respect for them. The ones particularly who fought with him, I think he had more respect for. So he began immediately to start picking people.
Using the Transition from Secretary Kissinger to Vance to create OES and win Budget Battles
From 1978-81, Pickering served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
(The organization that eventually became the Bureau for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, OES) arose because at one point after I had left the Department to go to Jordan, Henry asked the usual question, “Why do I have all of these special assistants I never see?” He said “let’s take a look at reorganizing” and I think that Larry (Eagleburger) who was there and maybe George Springsteen and a couple other people said, “Well, we have a common thread of science and scientific-like work, why don’t we sweep these all into a bureau?” And they set up a bureau. They had a very good guy who was not a career Foreign Service Officer but had been in the Department long enough and had been an expert in this area for a significant amount of time to become the first leader of this new bureau. It became OES.
It was a bit like PM (the Bureau of Political Military Affairs), how PM was organized in the period before that in the early Nixon period, when a bunch of folks working on arms control and related issues were pulled into PM and I went over there fairly quickly and worked for Ron Spiers, who was the second director of PM… We had a bunch of people floating around the Department who did work which was similar, and that made sense not to have them as special assistants to the Secretary any longer, to kind of tax his staff and not function in a coordinated way, but to coordinate those into a new bureau for such Pol-Mil purposes.
OES in those days was fairly large. I think we had 185 or 200 people on the Washington end, and almost nobody overseas to speak of, except the science counselors and attaches. We did lots of interesting programs all over the place and as a result we had a huge range of contacts with the executive branch, departments and agencies. We managed a lot of those. We actually looked over how HHS (Health and Human Services) and its cooperative agreements was working with other organizations in foreign countries and international organizations. We had a wealth of international organizations of a scientific character that we were working with — UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization) was one…
Then we had a huge range of contacts on the Hill. The Whale Lobby was one of my favorites — and I was not one of theirs — but it was interesting. We had all the animal protection treaties. The CITES treaty [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 1973] covered in part the non-importation of ivory. There was just a huge panoply of very interesting things going on all the time.
One of the most interesting experiences I had was that, during my second year, my budget was cut fifty percent by a disappointed Congressman who worked his vengeance on me because I wouldn’t dismiss someone in order to hire one of his diving buddies to be a Deputy Assistant Secretary in my bureau to deal with oceans and fish. At least that was, in my view, the reason. This came to us out of the blue. The Department, Congressional Relations, didn’t pay much attention to it. I had a couple of very good special assistants who watched the Hill for me and they discovered this very quickly. I was then left on my own by the Department to go out to defend and try to restore on the (Congressional) floor the fifty percent cut made in committee.
My folks who had all of these contacts on the Hill and around town did an absolutely fantastic job. We just lobbied the Hill tremendously while the State Department hung back in Congressional Relations. I was trying to build up my bureau and the State Department in the eyes of this big community to convince them that we could work their issues and be successful. I had a sense of responsibility with respect to them. They all suddenly turned around and saw this cut coming.
The people I worked with on the outside of the Department understood they were going to lose much of the relationship they had in the State Department through OES and any influence in State along with it. So those outside people also worked hard to save us. We actually saved the budget in a floor debate which went on for a couple of hours. We ended up with something like 160 votes in the floor of the House in favor and 80 against restoring the OES budget.
As UN Ambassador, Working with President Bush’s and Secretary Baker’s Teams
Pickering was U.S. Ambassador and Representative to the United Nations from 1989-92
[On being asked to return to the Department and working with Secretary Baker] I think Baker had by then begun to put together his own team. Bob Kimmitt who I worked with extensively and perhaps the most directly relevant Baker person is, if you know Bob, an absolutely sensational person to work with, — very open. Bob was military academy graduate, had been a military officer and done other things in the government and knew how the government worked and came in as Under Secretary for Political Affairs.
Larry Eagleburger (seen left) was Deputy Secretary. So Larry obviously also interfaced with the career service. I had a lot to do with both of them and they were much more in my line. (North Carolina Senator) Jesse Helms had wanted John Bolton to come in and be Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizational Affairs, which was not obviously my first choice. I didn’t know much about John, but what I did know about John did led me to believe he was someone who thought the UN would not be a useful instrument of American foreign policy, if I can put it that way. So John came in after the time that I got up to New York, but I had an opportunity through mutual friends to meet him and we talked.
We had a civil relationship throughout the whole period of time, but I had, from time to time, to call Secretary Baker when I felt that I was being asked to carry out instructions that were not accomplishable and talk to him about what we were doing. He was always willing to receive calls. I didn’t bother him frequently but on those infrequent occasions when I did he was helpful. And from time to time in the middle of difficult negotiations in New York over resolutions I needed to resort to him to help on tie-breaking and he was extremely good. He didn’t always take all of your recommendations but had ways to suggest moving ahead and had his own ideas about can you get this, can you get that and I said, “Sure, let me try that.” So we had a very good professional relationship on that basis…
George Bush, Sr. you know had grown up in foreign affairs. He was ambassador to the UN, represented the U.S. in China before we had full relations, and was Director of Central Intelligence. His background and his interest was very broad… It was very clear he was fascinated with what was happening, extremely interested in what was going on. Brent (Scowcroft) would often join in. I have the greatest respect for Brent. He is tremendously able, remarkably capable, a very, very strong analyst of foreign affairs and obviously has kept his hand in intensively since the time he worked first with Henry Kissinger as his deputy and then subsequently as National Security Advisor for Nixon and Ford. He then was brought back by President Bush. President Bush had a great deal of respect for him — and a great deal of give and take with Brent about these major issues.
I found from my first days at the UN, when George Bush was still Vice President, he had me over and we spent 45 minutes in the Vice President’s office then talking about the issues that were coming up and where the UN would fit in it and how he would see that develop. He remained very active on things like the important resolution on the use of force to counter the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on 1 August 1990. It could never have been achieved without the tremendous amount of leg and telephone work that both Secretary Baker and President Bush did to make that happen. You know big countries don’t go to war because their Perm Reps at the UN say that is the right thing to do. That was above the pay grade there. It was very clear and very obvious that to bring something like to happen required that highest-level effort.
Pickering as a Seminole?
Ambassador Pickering served as Ambassador to Russia from 1989-’92
What happened [during President Clinton’s Administration] was that the State Department had begun a search for a new ambassador to Russia under conditions of change; Yeltsin had come in. Bob Strauss had gone out just at the time of Yeltsin’s standing on the tank on the barricades in August 1991 and supported Yeltsin. Bob had been there a year and decided that, with the Clinton administration, the Clinton administration should go find a new ambassador. The Clinton administration, according to the historical reports to which I later had access, looked around at a few people. They couldn’t find a willing volunteer from among the preeminent and widely noted. So, as usual, it dipped down into the Foreign Service and somehow Yours Truly’s name came to their attention.
I had an interesting experience over this because in December after the election I was called to Little Rock to interview with President-Elect Clinton for another job… We had a very nice interview and a good discussion; I came out very pleased with the results. I got on a plane and stopped over in Frankfurt. I got a call from Warren Christopher who had been handling personnel and Warren informed me at the Frankfurt airport that the job had gone to somebody else, which was obviously something that was disappointing to me but nevertheless…
So I went back to India, but Christopher had said that they certainly had things in mind for me. So along about –it must have been mid-January or so — I had a call at three o’clock in the morning from Peter Tarnoff, who was Under Secretary at the time. Peter said in a kind of cryptic way in the middle of the night — and I was half awake — “We would like to have you go to FSU. I said, “Well Peter, why would you want to send me to be a Diplomat in Residence at Florida State University? Are you really unhappy with the job I’ve done here or do you have somebody who you think is going to do a better job in India?”
I said, “I don’t have any real interest in going to Florida, maybe I can have my choice.” So he said, “No, no, no I was being cute; it’s the former Soviet Union.” It was Russia. So I said, “Well, obviously this is something I would like to do. It will not be easy here because they had just been four months without an ambassador before I came, or five months without an ambassador, and they will be unhappy. They will want to know if somebody is coming to take my place and if so who and all the rest of it.” He said, “Well I can’t tell you the answer to all of that because that hasn’t been decided yet. But at an appropriate time in a few weeks we’ll be announcing this…”
I came back from India at the end of March 1993. I headed for Moscow in May. I was there around the 20th of May. Clinton had just come into office in January and Yeltsin, of course, had been in place for a couple of years in Russia. But this had been one of our most important and difficult, tense, strained and significant relationships — so it was a high priority.
Working with the Clinton Team on Russia
The President had asked Strobe Talbott (seen right) to come in to cover Russia. Strobe was an old friend and roommate of the President’s at Oxford. They had been together for a long time and talked a lot. Strobe in effect became “Mr. Russia” for the State Department. Warren Christopher had brought him into the State Department. He became Special Assistant to the Secretary and Ambassador-at-large for the area of the former Soviet Union. This piece of what had been in the European Bureau when I came in was in the course of being established as Strobe’s virtual bureau for dealing with the former Soviet Union. It included not only Russia, but the other former republics of the Soviet Union, absent, interestingly enough, the Baltic States, which went to EUR [the Bureau of European Affairs] right away and stayed with EUR. It got the initials S/NIS which stood for the Secretary’s office dealing with the Newly Independent States…
The administration and management stayed with EUR. Strobe was in effect operating as the Regional Assistant Secretary on the policy issues, but his own broad contacts with the administration and his own background both as a journalist and in politics and with Clinton meant, in fact, that he was very much at ease working with Tony Lake at the White House. Tony was then the National Security Advisor with Sandy Berger as his deputy. Nick Burns was over at the White House about that time dealing with Soviet affairs. Toby Gati went over there for a while and then later came over as head of INR [Bureau of Intelligence and Research] at State.
The group was quite tight knit; they had pretty much a broad-gauged view. Jim Collins who was holding the fort as the embassy’s DCM and charge when I arrived, stayed with me until roughly from May till October. Then Strobe asked him to come back, which was very much his preference, to become Strobe’s deputy on NIS affairs. I worked very easily with both Jim and Strobe from Moscow at that time. I learned a lot from Jim in particular while we were together. Then I got Dick Miles, who was ambassador in Azerbaijan, to come up and take over the DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] job. Dick had had long experience in Russia and had the language. He had been part of the Soviet-Russia crew for a long period of time. I thought that was essential for continuity to make sure that we got the best of his expertise and the expertise of that organization integrated in the embassy while I was there learning Russia. Yet again this was another learning experience for me.
As Under Secretary, Breaking Down Stovepipes within the Department
Pickering was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs 1997-2001
I think the notion of creating a separate bureau had lots of pros and cons. My view is that the smaller the bureau, the less time and attention the Assistant Secretary gets from the Secretary, because the range of issues is smaller…
I have long argued that we should go back to a five-bureau structure for the regions and something comparable for the functional bureaus. As you know, we have in general support bureaus in the State Department, like the Legal Advisers Office and INR, and we have management and administrative bureaus, but a rule of five for each of those would reduce something like forty-plus now Assistant Secretary-level officials to something closer to twenty reporting to the Secretary. That would make sense even in a rarified bureaucracy like the State Department.
In my view the State Department has numerous problems of how to deal with functional issues and regional issues all at one time. It’s obviously going to continue to be a matrixed organization. We are not going to let one point of view solve all problems, but the fewer people we have in the room representing the diversity during key decisions, the more likely we are to get white smoke out of the chimney rather than black soot.
The Department should be able to settle policy issues in the main at a reasonably low level… I felt that the Under Secretaries by 1996 had become much too stove piped. Too many issues were being dealt with by them within a cluster of bureaus that they considered reported to them, and not across the Department. My view was always the Under Secretary role should be as a surrogate for the Secretary on issues the Secretary was not going to take an interest in. If the Under Secretary, by dealing with all the bureaus interested in a problem, could solve the problem for the State Department, that would take a lot of weight off the Secretary. That meant having in the room people not only who were in the “cluster” of the Under Secretary’s bureaus, but people from all the bureaus interested in and relevant to the decision. That was the way to get at the answer on behalf of the Secretary and it made sense…
(On his views upon taking the position of Under Secretary) There are a couple of things that might be worth considering here. One was my appreciation of the job as I came into it and the things that I felt needed to be done. Then secondly to follow on from that, because it’s a logical segue, is the interest that Madeleine Albright had in trying to bring about some reforms in the operation of the State Department. I volunteered to help. Then those ideas eventually got morphed or aligned into process ten years later, when Secretary Rice undertook to look at the same issues and where I joined her committee looking at transformational diplomacy…
I came to the Under Secretary’s job with a sense that this was the ideal job for a Foreign Service Officer and I left fully reinforced in that view. In that sense it is considered usually the highest-level job a Foreign Service Officer can get aspire to. People like Walt Stoessel, John Negroponte, Bill Burns and Larry Eagleburger were all Deputy Secretaries and then Larry [Eagleburger became] Secretary of State. So there isn’t a total glass ceiling, but there is a kind of glass ceiling in which Foreign Service Officers who have the luck and, I suppose, a reasonable amount of success can aspire to hit up against.
Secondly, there is a tendency to see that job as a combination of a number of things. One, the Department’s crisis manager — and certainly I had that role in many crises and with many issues — obviously subject to the Secretary’s and Deputy Secretary’s own interests. But in the main, I was either the crisis manager or supported the Secretary or the Deputy Secretary if they wanted to do that. It all worked out quite well. In that context I worked closely with the inter-agency process in the Deputies Committee at the White House and with the special group to deal with terrorist threats…
“Stove piping” is a word that has now achieved general currency, but it means that information, activities, policy recommendations and ideas are channeled through narrow conduits within the bureaucracy up the line to the Secretary so that outside reflections and other ideas are either eliminated or prohibited or — because of the bureaucratic arrangement — often never let other ideas from the outside see the light of day. I should begin by saying that anybody that looks at it for half a minute will understand that the State Department is a matrixed organization. That means that on every policy issue there are always competing bureaucratic interests. These are essentially best represented in the ‘matrixing’, if I can call it that, by the regional bureaus, the five or six bureaus that, in effect, divide up the world, have the money to run the embassies and are the major workhorses and powerhouses of the State Department and the functional bureaus set up over the years to represent the series of world wide-scale issues such as arms control or climate change.
Preeminent among them and perhaps the most important and perhaps the longest-lived is the Economic – now Economic, Business and Agricultural – Bureau of State It reports in a stovepipe up to and through the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs. So, in this matrixed organization, I believe in the Christopher period of the Clinton administration, the process was, from what I understand, very heavily stove piped. So that my predecessor Peter Tarnoff had, as I did, supervision over the regional bureaus ,and to some extent — while it wasn’t formal in any way at all — we looked carefully at the work of the International Organizations Bureau, and to some extent the Intelligence Bureau, which was heavily relied upon by the regional bureaus although not part of ‘political affairs’ cluster.
What I did when I came in with respect to that was a couple of things that I think in my view helped to improve the performance of the State Department while I was there, although I’ll let the historians judge that matter. I don’t think they were permanent, although Marc Grossman who succeeded me kept a number of them on…
But what I tried to do — and it came about in an uncanny way because as I was being asked to take this job –Stuart Eizenstat (seen left) who had been Chief of Staff to President Jimmy Carter and who was a superb lawyer and public servant and someone I had worked with for years, called me. I had gotten wind of the fact that he was also being solicited to become Under Secretary for Economic Affairs. He said, “I will take this job, Tom, if you do the political job.” Nice of Stu to say that; it wasn’t necessary. I said to Stu, “I always felt the same way about you Stu, so let’s go ahead.”
Then he said, “Well, I have one question for you.” I said, “Sure, what is it?” He said, “Can your people attend my meetings?” And I said, “I don’t know what you mean.” He said, “Well, I understand that the regional bureaus report to you and are in somehow locked into you and the tradition is that they don’t go to meetings that involve economic issues.” I said, “Stu, that’s a travesty, of course they can come to your meetings. One of the things that I will do is encourage that and — if there is any problem, please let me know if you have any difficulty – ensure participation in your meetings goes ahead.”
And that the second thing is that I will do the same and I will tell you that my approach will be that I will certainly, on the basis of my close relationship with them, meet with the Assistant Secretaries for the regional bureaus whenever they want to meet on a private basis. But when we have a decisional meeting to discuss foreign policy recommendations to the Secretary or for my decision, I will have all the players in the room whether they are from the Economic Bureau or from the Legal Advisors Bureau or from whatever bureau it may be.”
So we agreed to work that way and it worked out splendidly. I don’t think we ever had any problems.
Born in Philadelphia, Harold “Hal” Saunders graduated from Princeton and Yale before serving in the U.S. Air Force. After working in a liaison role in the CIA, he began his career in diplomacy by joining the National Security Council (NSC) in 1961, where he advised on Middle East policy for over a decade and was the NSC’s Mideast expert during the June 1967 Six-Day War. Moving to the State Department, he was Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research (INR). He joined an elite negotiating team led by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, shuttling between Israel and Arab states and helping to mediate several Middle East agreements as Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs (NEA). Saunders played a key role in negotiating the 1978 Camp David Accords and the Sinai Disengagement Agreements. In 1979, following the revolution in Iran, Saunders coordinated efforts to secure the release of 66 members of the U.S. embassy staff and held hostage for 444 days. Saunders served under six U.S. presidents.
A pioneer of diplomatic thinking, Saunders was credited with coining the phrase “peace process” to describe U.S. efforts to negotiate a settlement in the Middle East and with developing the “sustained dialogue” model for resolving disputes. He continued his intellectual contributions to the study of international relations by working at several think tanks and writing four books on diplomacy following retirement from the U.S. Government. Thomas Stern interviewed Saunders in November, 1993.
“My education…taught me to look at problems from different perspectives”
SAUNDERS: I consider that the most important part of my background that led me into the foreign affairs field was my college education. It was inter-disciplinary. Specifically, I joined the “American Civilization” program at Princeton, majoring in English.
That program exposed me to a number of disciplines which permitted me to study American literature and culture in a broad context. It raised my awareness to the sensitivity to the complexity of human interactions, which are the substance of literature.
After graduating from Princeton in 1952, I went to Yale where I received my Ph.D. in American studies–literature, art, history, architecture, sociology, political science–in 1956. Those four years were also spent in an inter-disciplinary program.
I emphasize that aspect of my education because it taught me to look at problems from different perspectives. When you work for the National Security Council and the President of the United States, it is vitally important that you look at an issue not only through the eyes of a diplomat or a military officer, but through as many eyes as possible.
My dissertation at Yale was in American intellectual history and specifically on the processes of social interaction; that stood me in good stead later in the 1980s while I was participating on the Middle East process.
When I received my degree in 1956, I was twenty-five and a half years old. That made me eligible for military service. At the time, CIA had a junior officer training program which had a relationship with the US Air Force.
So I joined CIA and then went into the Air Force where after a year of training I was given a commission as a Lieutenant. . . . I did not join CIA just because of the arrangement it had with the Air Force; I had intended to join CIA as a career. . .
I had a friend at the Yale Law School who led me to CIA and its junior officer training program. That seemed tailor-made for me because it would have permitted me to use my analytical talents in a field — foreign affairs — which interested me. I had no background in foreign affairs beyond the courses I had taken in American diplomatic history, but the subject matter intrigued me. . . .
Lower-level Staffer at the NSC, 1961-1963: “I would summarize the Kennedy period as one that shook the bureaucracy”
One of President Kennedy’s major initiatives was an exploration to see whether a better relationship with Egypt might not be developed. At the time, [Gamal Abdel] Nasser, the President of Egypt, was one of the “big five” in the non-aligned world…
Jack Kennedy became personally involved, and so decisions on economic assistance and PL 480 [the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954] began to be viewed as possible avenues toward this goal. Involved even became the issue of the financing required to save the Abu Simbel temple which attracted Jackie Kennedy’s interests. Once she even sent a hand-written note to Nasser on the subject. (Jackie Kennedy seen with Nasser at right.)
So there was a general effort on the part of the Kennedy administration to re-orient our Middle East policy towards establishing better relationships with Nasser.
Of course, this new orientation had to be managed carefully lest the Israelis might come to believe that such an opening was inimical to their security interests. That would have raised a number of domestic political problems that the administration wanted to avoid…
Kennedy was a very much “hands on” President in foreign policy. So the informal nature of the White House staff was really the result of the President’s operating style.
The NSC staff was small enough — probably never exceeded fifteen professionals during the Kennedy administration — that a fluid operating process could work well. There was a lot of interchange among the NSC staff, partly because many of the issues cut across areas of responsibility… We worked on an inter-disciplinary and inter-regional basis with considerable collegiality. I must admit that it took the State Department a while to become accustomed to the informality of the process… So the process on a personal basis worked quite well. The government institutions had some reservations.
In the weeks following the Kennedy assassination and Johnson’s assumption of power (Johnson and Kennedy are seen at left), word was sent down to the regional bureaus from the State Department’s leadership that any calls from the White House were to be returned not from the officer who had received the call, but from an office director or higher.
That new approach affected me particularly because I had been accustomed to working with a desk officer on an issue that may have been raised by a memorandum that had come from the Department. I would, if necessary, try to get clarification of a point by calling the drafting officer.
But after Kennedy’s assassination, I could no longer talk to the desk officer, but would have to deal with the office director or more senior officials… It was during this transition period that one national magazine —Time or Newsweek — quoted someone in the Department referring to us as “White House meddlers.”
I would summarize the Kennedy period as one that shook the bureaucracy. Individuals made the informal relationships work quite well. But when Johnson became President, the institutions took advantage of the change and reestablished a more formal process.
Senior Staff at NSC, the Six-Day War of June 1967: “The President’s first concern was the Soviet reaction”
There were lots of warning signs. I saw some of them during my visit to the area in early 1967. There had been an aerial engagement between Israeli and Syrian planes. I saw a Syrian plane that had crashed at the northern end of Lake Tiberius.
From February on, there were signs of increasing tensions. Matters came to a head when [Egyptian President Gamal Abdel] Nasser expelled the UN Force with [United Nations Secretary-General] U Thant’s acquiescence. There were several points during this sequence of events where the war could have been prevented…
The crises started really in early May; by mid-May the UN Forces had been expelled and Nasser had closed the Straits of Tiran. That last action was of particular importance to us because in the aftermath of the Suez crisis, Eisenhower had insisted that the Israelis withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula.
In exchange, he had made certain commitments about the Straits of Tiran, which were the entrance to the Gulf of Eilat or Aqaba, depending on whom you are talking to. It was the channel for Israeli import of Iranian oil. In essence, Eisenhower had promised to keep the Straits open.
So after its closing, intense diplomatic efforts were made to reverse Nasser’s action and to head off the war, but they were not successful.
Johnson was personally involved in the crisis, as has been well documented in a number of writings about this period. About ten days before the outbreak of hostilities — after Nasser had closed the Straits, Abba Eban, then the Foreign Minister of Israel, came to Washington to find out what the United States intended to do about Nasser. (Eban and Johnson at left.)
Johnson chaired an NSC meeting, which included some officials who were not usually present at NSC meetings…
The whole meeting was a perfect illustration of the Johnson style. It was perfectly staged; the presentations were clear and logical; all the facts, including the intelligence analysis, were on the table.
He had to decide what he would say to Eban that evening. At the end of the meeting, Johnson said in his Texan fashion: “Come sundown, I am the one who has to bell this cat. What should I tell Eban?”
Everyone around the table had an opportunity to make his suggestion. Johnson did not do what Nixon would have done. He did not write down the pluses and minuses on a yellow pad; he collected human judgments…
[During the June 5-10, 1967 war between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and Syria], there were numerous “hot line” exchanges with the Soviets and multi-national efforts in the UN. When it came to specific issues, like the attack on our electronic [intelligence-gathering] ship The Liberty, there were intense exchanges with the Israelis.
The first White House reaction was a very interesting one; it came from the President himself. He instructed the staff to call the Soviets on the “hot line” to inform them that we were deploying a couple of extra ships to the area in response to the attack and for rescue purposes. So the President’s first concern was the Soviet reaction; he wanted to make sure that our ship movements would not be misread…
Of course, during this period, Johnson was preoccupied with the Vietnam War. He couldn’t afford to have another major US involvement in another part of the world and certainly not in the Middle East. That accounts for much of the rationale behind diplomatic efforts to avert the conflict.
The Kissinger Shuttles, 1973-1975: “I became the scribe”
The NSC assignment became my first step into the foreign policy development work. I never returned to CIA, but the fact that I was an alumnus of that organization proved to be very significant and useful later on, especially during the Kissinger shuttle era, when, as one of the members of the very small negotiating team, I became responsible for the analytical underpinnings for Kissinger’s mediation efforts.
I relied then on various elements of the intelligence community and especially CIA… I am sure that having been an alumnus gave me greater credibility in CIA; it was always interested in assisting policy makers, but since I had been “one of them,” that made it much easier for everybody. (Sadat and Kissinger at right.)
In the late 1960s and the 1970s, there was this strong professional commitment to making government work well … If you review Middle East policy from 1967 through the end of the Carter administration, I think you will find that it was developed by one of the better, if not the best, continuous relationships under three different Presidents and different National Security Advisors…
By the time we worked on the Kissinger shuttles–1973-75–we had a unique diplomatic process and a unique operating way. We worked together as closely as it was humanly possible…
I became the scribe … We all, and Henry especially, saw the peace process as what I later described as “a series of mediated agreements imbedded in a larger political process.”
When we went to the Middle East, we always stopped in a number of Arab capitals, before and during the negotiations. On several occasions, I was sent to Algeria or to Saudi Arabia to brief the leadership of those countries on what was happening at the negotiating table. We would regularly send letters from the plane to various Arab leaders to keep them advised on the peace process. . . .
I remember that on one trip, Joe and I were frantically collating. One would hardly expect that to be in the job description for the Under Secretary for Political Affairs.
In any case, on that occasion, Kissinger came out of his compartment and looked at a page and said that he had specifically instructed us to make certain changes on that page.
I said: “Oh, hell, Mr. Secretary, there are too many pages!”
But I took the page and gave it to the typist to redo. But by the time she got finished, we were already on our glide path and couldn’t reproduce the page. When we landed at Giannakla airfield — a military base — in the Nile Delta (a wine grape growing area with a Greek name), we had to copy this page in 110 degree temperature while the Egyptian Foreign Minister was waiting outside to greet us.
I asked the pilot over the intercom not to stop the plane but to keep it rolling on the ground until we had all the copies made and collated. I don’t know where he went, but he taxied long enough for us to finish the job. The party on the ground that was awaiting us must have thought we had lost our marbles…
“When the Egyptians found out that the reserves were in still in Israeli territory, they would feel that they had been double-crossed”
The willingness of the intelligence community to work with the [Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs] directly was extremely important and useful. In 1975, when we working on the last of the three interim agreements — Sinai II — we needed substantial analytical support.
I relied heavily on CIA, [Wat] Cluverius [then a Near East specialist at the State Department] and others for work on two issues. [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat had laid down two conditions for his agreement to Sinai II: a) Israel would have to leave the oil fields in the Gulf of Suez and b) Israel would have to abandon the two Sinai passes (Mitla and Giddi).
The first condition required us to have some knowledge of the oil fields if we were to serve as mediators. Fortunately, there was a woman in CIA who apparently had devoted much of her career to a study of oil fields. With her help, we actually ended up knowing more about the size and location of the underground reserves than the Egyptians did, even though, they, with the help of the ENI — the Italian government firm — had operated those fields for almost ten years.
During the shuttle, when we were negotiating a demarcation line between the Egyptians and the Israelis, the latter gave us a proposal which left most of the oil rigs on the Egyptian side. We knew, however, that most of the reserves would still remain in Israeli hands if that line stood as proposed.
We had the capacity, through overhead photography, to show the Israelis that their proposal just wouldn’t meet Sadat’s requirements. In fact, if the line were to be drawn where proposed, our mediation role would be greatly jeopardized because when the Egyptians found out that the reserves were in still in Israeli territory, they would feel that they had been double-crossed and would find it very difficult to work with us and the Israelis thereafter.
I have always believed that the Israelis knew what they were doing, although I have no way of proving it. So we told the Israelis that their proposal, even though on the surface meeting Egyptian demands, was just unacceptable. CIA’s capacity to have that analytical knowledge saved our role as an honest broker. . . .
Another illustration of the importance of a broadened institutional support for the peace process came when Simka Dinitz, then the Israeli Ambassador in Washington, came to us on the Saturday before we were to leave on the shuttle which led to the Sinai II agreement. (Mitla Pass is seen at left.)
He brought a map with a demarcation line drawn on it and said to Kissinger that that was the line that would bring about an agreement. As soon as he left, Henry called me and asked me to check out the map.
I had some advance notice that Dinitz might do that; so I had the National Photo Intelligence Center ready in my office to look over the map. They had their photographs spread all over the floor. Then they drew the Israeli suggestion on their photographs and it became immediately clear that the line did not place the passes in Egyptian hands; in fact, it did not touch on the passes at all.
I reported these findings to Kissinger who instructed [Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Joseph] Sisco to have Dinitz come back to the Department to review our findings. Henry insisted that Israelis redraw the map so that the passes would clearly be in Egyptian hands, and he wanted that done by the time he got to Jerusalem.
That was just another illustration of the analytical capacity that a bureaucracy can provide which is invaluable to peace negotiations.
The Iran Hostage Crisis, 1979: “We all missed the boat on Iran…”
Maybe if I had spent more time thinking about Iran, if I had perhaps talked to more people about the situation there, if I had given it the attention I gave other issues, perhaps I could have detected the underlying currents and warned my colleagues that the political stability was very fragile and was not of the same nature of previous unrest that the Shah managed to calm.
There were some unknowns. For example, we did not know that the Shah had cancer. There was a lot of critical information that was not available to us. I feel worse about our policy development process as it concerned Iran than any mistakes we may have made in the Middle East peace process.
We all missed the boat on Iran — bureaucrats, scholars, experts… Our people in the consulates in Iran … could not understand why we didn’t see the handwriting on the wall. The main reason was that their reports were not being forwarded by the Embassy in Tehran to Washington. So it took too long for those signals to reach us in the [Near East] Bureau.
It wasn’t until November that Ambassador [William H.] Sullivan sent in his cable “Thinking the Unthinkable”. Of course, by that time, the Shah’s cancer had spread and his living days were numbered.
By the end of 1979, the hostage crisis was at a peak and it became my overwhelming preoccupation.
Let me just say a few words about the conduct of the hostage crisis. If I were to be proud of our government’s handling of a particular situation, I would obviously be very positive about the Arab-Israeli peace process, not just because of what was achieved, but also because the way we managed it.
We had terrific team-work; we had a sound analytical basis for our policies; the professionals involved were very competent; and we had as much political support for making progress as we wanted and needed.
Strangely enough, I would give the hostage crisis the same high marks. First of all, we must recognize that when the hostages were taken, we faced a terrible mess. We may, as I suggested earlier, have made mistakes in the pre-1979 period that led to the hostage crisis.
In any case, once the hostages were seized, despite several strategic decisions that might be argued, I think the government performance was quite exemplary… In terms of the management of a crisis, I think the hostage was one that was meticulously implemented. It was a very, very complicated problem with many facets.
That ranged from the resentments of the Iranian students in American academia to the protection of their rights and visas; the question of impounding arms shipments for which the Iranians had already paid; trade embargoes, freezing assets, etc. There were many issues that cut across the responsibilities of various Cabinet departments and agencies…
One of the interesting things that happened was that we had lost almost all intelligence and information collection capacity when the Embassy was overrun.
But Henry Precht [director of the Iran Office, Bureau of Near East Affairs] knew that he could dial Tehran directly. He began to call as many Iranians as he could. He would call people in the business community or the medical community or whoever he could. This went on throughout the crisis.
We also soon became aware of how many relatives of senior Iranian officials had married Americans and had American relatives in the US. We asked them to call their friends and relatives in Iran; we talked to them and through them to senior officials in Iran. That led to some very interesting connections…
An effective diplomat, dazzling socialite, and the mother of Winston Churchill’s grandson, Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman won the respect of fellow diplomats and adroitly handled complex problems related to the war in the Balkans, export subsidies, and intellectual property rights during her tenure as U.S. Ambassador to France from 1993-1997. Richard Holbrooke said of her service in Paris: “She spoke the language, she knew the country; she knew its leadership. She was one of the best ambassadors that ever served the United States.”
Pamela Beryl Digby was born in England in March 20, 1920. The daughter of a baron, she was well-educated and moved in prominent circles from a young age. At 19, she married Randolph Churchill. She soon became the confidante of his father, Winston Churchill, and through him she met the administrator of the lend-lease program, Averell Harriman, whom she would marry 30 years later. Together, the Harrimans worked to raise millions of dollars and rebuild the Democratic Party in the 1980’s. Pamela Harriman played such an important role that one biographer called her the “Life of the Party.” Read more
Shirley Temple Black, born April 23, 1928, served her country in vastly different ways. As a child star in the late 1930s, she cheered up a nation suffering the effects of the Great Depression, making 20 movies by the time she was six years old. Born April 23, 1928, Shirley Temple was known for films such as “Bright Eyes,” “Curly Top” and “Heidi” as well as songs including “On the Good Ship Lollipop” and “Animal Crackers in My Soup.” She ended her acting career at the age of 22 but would return to the spotlight in service to her nation later in life.
In 1968 she was at a conference in Prague when the Soviets invaded. The beginning of her diplomatic career came shortly thereafter, when President Nixon appointed her as a delegate to the United Nations. President Ford named her ambassador to Ghana in 1974, and later as his Chief of Protocol, the first woman to hold that job.
In 1989, President George H.W. Bush named her ambassador to Czechoslovakia, just a few months before communist rule was overthrown. President Reagan asked her to direct the Ambassadorial Seminar at the Foreign Service Institute and she served as a member of the Board and Advisory Council of ADST. She died February 10, 2014. Read more
Patricia “Patt” M. Derian was one of the key proponents of integrating human rights in U.S. foreign policy at a time when such a concept was regarded with skepticism, if not outright hostility, by most State Department principals who were more accustomed to the Realpolitik of recently departed Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Born in New York City on August 12, 1929, Derian dedicated her life to demanding justice for all people.
In the 1960s, she created an organization in Mississippi to support public school integration and then fought to get an integrated state delegation to represent Mississippi at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. She then served as President of the Southern Regional Council and was a member of the Executive Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union.
After Jimmy Carter won the 1976 election, he nominated Derian to be Coordinator for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs—a post later elevated to Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs (HA, which later became the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, DRL). In 1979, Derian headed an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate reports of widespread human rights abuses in Argentina. She continued this work in dozens of other countries around the world, establishing herself as an advocate for humanity and a crusader for justice.
Patt Derian describes her early life, where she moved from Virginia to California, and then to Mississippi, which forced her to confront the appalling reality of racism and poverty, as well as how she came to be the leading advocate of human rights at the State Department. Patt Derian passed away on May 20, 2016. She was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning March 1996.
“The strongest teaching of racism comes in those subtleties that children cannot intuit at the moment”
DERIAN: I was born in 1929, August 12. I was not told until I was about 14 that I was not fully Virginian. I was born in New York City, a real scandal. What happened was my mother obviously knew she was pregnant and I’m supposed to be born in early October, somewhere in that time. So they went to New York for the previews. They used to preview the new season’s plays in August.
During an interval my mother went into labor, which was a great shock and then got to the hospital and had identical twin daughters, which was an absolutely astonishing shock. Unfortunately, the other baby died of a diarrhea epidemic….
The only thing of real interest, how you happen to wind up living the life you do as an adult, is that I was this Catholic child in this pretty much Baptist town. There was one other teenager, a boy my same age and we were the only two kids in our little parish. I think that little parish was the only one, unless there was a black church, which we certainly didn’t know anything about.
I started high school in Danville (pictured). One day when I went into Latin class a young woman, whose name I think was Mable Tanner, was the teacher and I had already had almost seven years of Latin by then, said, “Are there any Catholics in the room?”
So we raised our hands and she said, “You might as well leave, I don’t pass Catholics.”
So I, joyfully, got up and left. That class was just before lunch. A great chunk of family assembled at lunchtime for the adults’ main meal and so I went home and took my place at the table and didn’t say anything.
Finally, someone said, “Aren’t you in school?”
I said, “I’m not going back anymore.” After a while I told them what had happened, whereas they rose in a body and in four automobiles convoyed themselves down to the high school where we had a wonderful principal named Mr. Christopher.
So they finally all came back and said I could go back to Latin class. I said, “No, no, I’m not going back to Latin class” and had a little confrontation, briefly. So it was decided that I would go back but I wouldn’t take Latin, which was just wonderful joy.
Then Miss Tanner, as it turned out, was forced to come and apologize to me, which was extremely humiliating for both of us. Oh, I hated that and never wanted to see her again.….
It was just one of those things that occur to you, that every time there was someone black, a black man, maybe, obviously someone they didn’t know since everybody knew everybody else’s people who worked around there. As soon as that person would go, then we could go back on the porch [after being called inside while they passed]. That’s all there was, nothing said.
I think that’s the strongest teaching of racism comes in those subtleties that children cannot intuit at the moment…. Nobody ever told us that we shouldn’t talk to black people or that we should be rude but it was absolutely rigid.
I was an only child until I was 12 and I really think that only children grow up in an entirely different way. Particularly because I had very glamorous, party-going, party-giving parents who were almost totally absorbed in their own lives.
“I leaned against the door frame and I said, ‘I’m 13, I smoke and I’m not going to curtsy anymore!’”
I was more of an ornament because none of their friends had children. When my sister Michael was born, they were just beginning to have children. She has a lot of contemporaries among my mother’s and father’s old friends but I have none. So everyone kind of doted on me and I was alone a lot and very self-sufficient….
I spent a huge part of my childhood in Glover Park neighborhood, all by myself, climbing trees, building huts. So a big chunk of myself requires being outside a lot. In a way, I raised myself. What was transmitted to me, my father’s lifetime message to me was “You live your life so that you can look any man in the eye and tell him to go to hell!” I got a profound message from that.
Those aren’t the fighting words I grew up with kind of thing, that isn’t the effect they had on me, but it did make me weigh choices that I made, would I be proud of myself for doing this, is this a good thing to do?…
We were at one of these lunches at Del’s house and the room where you ate lunch at that house had its bathrooms upstairs. I was up there smoking and blowing smoke out the window and they kept calling me for lunch and I kept saying, “Oh, I’ll be there in a minute!” waving a towel and all of that. So I went down and I stood in the door, I must have been still 13. I leaned against the door frame and I said, “I’m 13, I smoke and I’m not going to curtsy anymore!”
There’s this long silence and I can remember that feeling of dread that I’d just cut a lot of ties. And they all burst into laughter, being people of a wild turn and they were very pleased because I pack cigarettes and they couldn’t. That was their story….
I lived [in Orinda] a while and then my father was transferred to San Pedro, to Fort MacArthur….When I moved down there I had not finished high school yet. They said that I would have to go another year before I could graduate in California.
So I came home and I said, “I’m not going. If you want me to go to college, just tell me how I should do that and I’ll do it, but I’m not going to high school anymore.”…
When the family finally got back together again, we had a serious discussion about my education. They said I could go anywhere I wanted to except to an all boys’ school and that the only thing I couldn’t do was go to nursing school. So the next morning I called the University Of Virginia School of Nursing and said, “I may not be qualified by your standards but I would like to come to nursing school there.”…
Our graduation was in September  and I got married in March before I graduated, but I stayed on. My husband [Dr. Derian] was a resident in orthopedics. He was not a Southerner, and he was not from an old, old American family.
Everything about him was different. I always said I wouldn’t marry a Southern boy, their mothers had ruined them. Turned out, having married one the second time, they improve with age….
From there we went to Wilmington, Delaware, where I had my first child…. Then we went back to Charlottesville, where I had another child. Then we moved to Marion, Ohio…. And now I have another baby….
“You just have to decide how much you’re going to tolerate. It turned out my tolerance was very low.”
The medical school was in Jackson. The University of Mississippi is in Oxford [where Derian was offered a teaching position], which is a small town on the other side of the state. So that’s how I got to Mississippi.
We were there and life changed dramatically because here I was with three children and they were going to have to go to school. When we moved there in 1959, even though Brooke was only a year old and the little boys weren’t even in grammar school, yet the Citizen’s Council was pressing hard to shut down the public schools….
It had just reached the point, these men had just come back from the war and everything they’d been told about what they’d been fighting for was definitely a lie. People getting lynched. It was an astonishing place to be.
Anyway, my friend Winifred Green and I, she didn’t have any children but she’d been brought up the same way I had. We started talking about what we would do. We felt an obligation to do something….
So we formed an organization called Mississippians for Public Education. The aim of it was to keep the public schools open as well as integrated. In the early Sixties, yes.
You just have to decide how much you’re going to tolerate. It turned out my tolerance was very low, because it seemed to me, here I am facing my children, what will I say to them when they’re adults? And what will I think of myself? I was acting in a large and interesting number of things in a very hard time….
But the time came when I realized that if we were going to advance the place that we lived, we would have to step forward.
Part of my inv
olvement was in response to when Fannie Lou Hamer and the Freedom Democrats [organized by African Americans and whites from Mississippi to challenge the legitimacy of the regular Mississippi Democratic Party, which allowed participation only by whites, when African Americans made up 40% of the state population] went to Atlantic City and were turned away at the 1964 Democratic Party convention.
That caused the Democratic Party to institute a number of reforms and when the next go-around came, which was 1968, we went through the motions of trying to implement those reforms in the Democratic Party in Mississippi. And they just didn’t do it.
So we formed a party that was called the Democratic Party of the State of Mississippi because we would follow the national party’s regulations. We had precinct, county, regional, state, went through the whole procedure and elected a delegation to the Chicago convention, half black, half white, half male, half female.
Charles Evers [Medgar Evers’ brother] was the National Committeeman. I was the National Committeewoman. Hodding Carter, [now] my husband, not then, and Aaron Henry were the cochairmen and we went to Chicago and challenged the regulars. It was the first time a traditional delegation had been denied and we were seated.
“There is really no one more impressive on the one-to-one basis than Jimmy Carter”
So, I was already working on a regional level with the Southern Regional Council, I may have been president of it then, I can’t remember. Anyway, Bob Strauss became Chairman of the Democratic Party. I talked to him in Washington one time and said, “You know, George Wallace is really not a Democrat. He’s a racist and we really shouldn’t have him in our party. We should really drum him out.”
And he said, “Okay, but I can’t do it til the midterm elections.”
So the midterm elections came and went and I waited a couple of weeks. I said, “Okay, are you ready to move?”
He said, “Oh, darling, I can’t do that! He’s the most popular Democrat in the South.”
I said, “No, he isn’t.”
He said, “You won’t be able to beat him.”
I said, “Yes, we can.”
So then I was looking for somebody to support who could beat Wallace in Mississippi. Hamilton Jordan and Frank Moore, two people who were working for Jimmy Carter, came to see me. I had only met Carter at the midterm conference, as a matter of fact. I didn’t know anything about him.
I said, “Well, if he isn’t a racist and a sexist or a crook, I’ll support him in Mississippi.” I said, “But I can’t do it til I meet him. I’ve got to determine.”
They said, “Oh, no, he’s not any of those things.”
I said, “Well, I have to determine that myself.”…
Anyway, I went to Atlanta. Had an appointment to meet him at the VIP lounge in the Atlanta airport at seven o’clock the next morning. We stayed up most of the night meeting. So when I woke up at quarter til seven I called the airport.
There is really no one more impressive on the one-to-one basis than Jimmy Carter. So I said, “Okay, I’ll do it in Mississippi.” I wrote all the rules and went out and tried to get everybody to participate, old regulars and all the white groups and the hate groups. It was really very interesting. And we did, we left Wallace in the dust….
Four women and something like 52 men. That’s how I started operating at the national level. I really had no foreign policy experience at all, except we’d traveled. It didn’t really come up except in the second meeting of the Democratic Policy Council.
“Someone from the State Department called me and said they had two jobs: protocol and something called human rights”
So after Mississippi, Carter asked me if I would become part of his campaign staff and be a deputy director and I said that I would. During that 1976 campaign my portfolio there was liberals, intellectuals, editorial boards, university types. Sort of a fireman.
Then when it was over and Carter won the presidency, I went back to Mississippi and had only been home a short time when I was asked to come up and be part of the new administration’s transition team. So I did.
I had a funny job there. I had organizations and systems of HEW [Department of Health, Education and Welfare]….I interviewed a number of former HEW secretaries.
When I went to talk to the real systems fellow at the place, one of those folks who had really been in that department from the beginning, was serious about it and able, and he said, “Look, here’s the way it works. We’ve had some phenomenal number of secretaries and nobody ever stayed more than 18 months I think.” He said, “By the time a directive reaches the field, where it first causes some kind of activity, there is not just a new one but there’s the second new one.”
So I ran into Jimmy Carter somewhere and he said, “What do you want to do in my administration?”
I said, “I’m really not looking for a job but there’s one thing I don’t want to do. I do not want to be associated with HEW in any possible way.”
So then someone from the State Department called me and asked me if I would come over. So I went, not knowing why. I assumed that they wanted to ask me about something. So they said that they’d like me to come and work there and they had two jobs: they had the protocol job and something called human rights.
I said, “Well, if I did it, I can’t tap dance. So, human rights sounds more like something I’d be more interested in.” I had worked on that. Also, I had been on the Executive Committee of the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] for a long time….
I didn’t like the idea of being somebody who worked in the campaign and then got a job; there was something about it that didn’t seem right. But I talked to someone I knew who worked there and said that this was a job that really had never been done. That’s the kind of thing I’m usually interested in.
You can’t take a job like that without a very clear idea of what you’re going for. I didn’t just wander in off the street and sit down. I had a clear idea. I spent my entire adult life working on civil rights and civil liberties. I worked all day every day….
You really have to refine your thinking. You have to be very clear about the basis on which you have made your decision, starting with the law and the stated policy of your Administration….
I don’t see how anybody can walk in off the street and not do a good job if they use what’s at the State Department. Even people who are opposed to what you’re doing are often extremely helpful, sometimes inadvertently. By and large, most of the time, it’s not so much personal with these people; they don’t want anything to screw up. A lot of them don’t want the Congress looking down their throat.
Q: What was seen as background for the human rights job?
DERIAN: When I went there, you see the Congress created that job over Kissinger’s objection. [The position of Coordinator had been established in 1975 and placed in the Office of the Deputy Secretary, Roger Ingersoll.] The way the legislation was written supplied a loophole, which said there would be a Coordinator of Human Rights at the level of Assistant Secretary….
The first day I was there, sitting at a desk, someone walked in with a stack of paper about 14 inches high and said, “The Secretary wants you to read this.” So I started reading and I thought, “You know, I don’t really have a big interest in this!”
So I read the whole Law of the Sea plan, which is enormously big, and marked it all up, made my comments in the thing. When I got through, I walked into [pictured, Deputy Secretary of State Warren] Christopher’s office and I said, “I don’t think this belongs to me. I think it belongs to you….”
After a while, after I’d got the hang of things, I was doing intensive studying. In fact, in the first month sometime the Amnesty International yearbook came out and so I was sitting up in bed reading about awful torture with electrodes on the gums.
About 3:30 or four in the morning I cut out the light and I went to sleep. I woke up having this terrible nightmare and I ran my tongue over my teeth and they felt like they were all broken and fractured. I knew that it was a dream but I couldn’t shake the feeling. I put on the light and had to go in the bathroom and look in the mirror to see. So I decided I was going to have to read that stuff in the morning. It was really total immersion in all the horrors of the world.
“I don’t want to come here if you want a magnolia to make it look good. I’m not going to come here if I’m going to lose these bureaucratic fights every time.”
Q: While you were settling into your job, had President Carter or White House staffers like Hamilton Jordan, or anyone talked to you about what they wanted you to do or was it sort of, here’s a job, go ahead and do it?
DERIAN: No, when I called Hamilton to tell him I was going to take this job he said, “We don’t want you to take this job. We have something much better we want you to do.”
And I said, “Well, I’m sorry, I’ve given my word and this is very interesting to me.” Before I took the job, I had a long talk with Christopher, the Deputy Secretary of State, and it was an odd talk.
He asked me about the civil rights work and essentially the methods of it. I was in a peculiar position because I was a member of the community and not somebody from another place. There weren’t a lot of white people doing it then. So civil rights work was not a wildly popular job for a long time.
But in any case, he explained certain steps in the outline of the issues that were involved in the human rights aspects of it. I said, “You know, I don’t want to come here if you want a magnolia to make it look good, you’ve got a sweet person doing the human rights job, I think you’ve got the wrong person and you need to know it. I’m not going to come here if I’m going to lose these bureaucratic fights every time.”
He said, “Well, do you have to win them all?”
And I said, “No, of course not but I have to win most of them.” So that’s essentially the time when I decided to take the job….
I was sworn in at the White House, which I was a little bit sorry about, in the Rose Garden, with [DC delegate] Eleanor Holmes Norton and somebody else and the President presiding.
At first that worried me a lot because seemed to me that was a terrific boost in a way I was not ready for. But his people came to me and said, “He wants to emphasize the fact that he’s appointing women to high positions.”
But, anyhow, here’s what I decided after I’d gotten there and sort of gotten the drift of what it was going to be like. Which was adversarial and interesting and hard and important.
I decided that if human rights was the policy of the United States and not just this president, and it was, because there was a body of legislation, then I had to do my best to insert it all over the Department.
To get it in the machinery in every possible way so that when I left, I didn’t want it to be Patt Derian’s policy. I didn’t want it to be, you know, a lot of time people have a great idea and they do a good job and then they leave and that’s the end of it.
It seemed to me that this had nothing to do with me personally. It had to do with the duty to the country and to upholding the law. So that meant that we had to get a lot of people around who had human rights as part of their portfolio. So had to work on personnel who at least while they might report through somebody else would also be reporting to us. That was one of the main things, to just get it in there and institutionalize it.
Funny, along about halfway through it, I guess, I ran into the President somewhere and I said, “You know, I really need to talk to you.”
And he said, “Well just come on over.”
I said, “No, no, I’ve got to put a request through. I don’t ever want it to be back door.” He would always say, “Just call me up if you need anything” and I never would because I wanted the bureaucracy to always be enfolded in the thing.
About two years into it, I had seen him and I said, “I’m going to do it.” And I sent a request for an appointment through and had a little trouble from the State Department Secretariat but it got through and then the meeting came. [Vice President Walter] Mondale was there. The Secretary of State was there. [National Security Advisor Zbigniew] Brzezinski was there….
So we were talking along and I said, “One of the things that concerns me is that when I send something over for your night reading, I don’t think you have good information on the human rights issues. One of the things that concerns me is that when I send some things over for your overnight reading, it doesn’t always get to you. In fact, rarely does it get to you.”
And he said, “Well, you send it to me directly.”
I said, “What do I do, put it in a brown paper wrapper?”
And he said, “Sure!”
I said, “No, I’m not going to do that. I want to send it through this whole system. I want the system to work.” So things did get better, for a while after that….
One of the other things I decided when I went there was I could never leak to the press. I called our group together and I said, “I don’t know what your custom is. All I know is, when I read the paper I see a lot of leaks out of a lot of bureaus. Here’s what I want to tell you. The only thing we’ve got here is integrity and we’re going to be straight shooters, we are going to play by the rules. We’re not going to knife anybody in the back. We’re just going to go straight ahead. When we take a position we’re going to stick with it til we’re proven wrong or another decision is made.”
And I really believe that. If you cannot go along with a policy then you ought to get another job….
It was clear one of the [Bureau of European Affairs (EUR)] officers wrote on the margins of the memo [regarding a naturalized American man who had been a Jewish refugee from Germany, who claimed he had been treated unfairly] saying, “Who does this babe think she is? What does she know about this?” Just a really nasty thing. I thought, “Oh, I need one of these!”
So I called up and I said, “I’d like you to come to my office.”
And he said, “I can’t come.”
I said, “Well I can come down there and talk to you or you can come here RIGHT NOW!”
He said, “I’m coming.”…
I said, “Don’t sit down.” I stood up to him and said, “What is this?” And he just turned purple. I said, “Who do you think you are? You wanted to know who I think I am? I think that I’m running this office and I asked you a question and I need for you to answer it. I need for you to go back to your desk and write it down and clear it and if there’s anything else you can think of you might do, you better do that, too.”
So he said, “What are you talking about?”
I said, “You can’t figure it out, that’s your problem.”
And so he called up and said, “It’s going to take me a couple of days.” I said, “Gene, you already used up your couple of days. It’s now or never.” So he rushed around, got everything and then called up and said, “Is that everything you want?”
I said, “It’s everything I need but you need something more.”
He said, “Well why won’t you tell me? I don’t like riddles and jokes.” He’s sort of half afraid and half aggressive.
I said, “I think you’ll think of it. You just put your mind to it.”
So in about two days I came back from lunch one day. I had an envelope with an apology. I know it wasn’t heartfelt but at least his mother taught him the right stuff to do. But that was helpful because the note was publicly known in EUR. If you write something nasty like that and everybody in your office sees it and of course I see all the people whose initials are scratched through.
So after we’d had enough of those little markers around, I called a meeting in the Deputy’s conference room, which was not so grand and fancy as it is now. In any case, I told them that I’d been there whatever length of time it was, and that I wanted them to understand what I thought I was going to do and how I might interact with them and what they could expect from me.
You could already see everybody’s embarrassed. Everybody’s sitting kind of like this [crossed arms] because they know. It was really a sweet setup.
So I gave them a brief outline of what the laws were that I was going to be trying to do my part on and that I intended to go to countries and visit and talk with the leaders….
And I said, “I want to tell you why I’m doing this. I’m doing this because I’ve spent my whole life working on these issues. We teach our children we’re certain kind of people. So, we need to give expression to our democracy.”