George P. Shultz was Secretary of State for President Reagan from 1982 to 1989, the longest such tenure since Dean Rusk in the 1960s. As Secretary, Shultz resolved the pipeline sanctions problem between Western Germany and the Soviet Union, worked to maintain allied unity amid anti-nuclear demonstrations in 1983, persuaded President Reagan to dialogue with Mikhail Gorbachev and negotiated an agreement between Israel and Lebanon in response to the Lebanese civil war. After leaving office in 1989, Shultz worked closely with the Bush administration on foreign policy and was an adviser for George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign.
Shultz was a no-nonsense manager and highly-prepared negotiator who did not suffer fools gladly, but was compassionate towards those displaced by political upheaval and appreciative of those who served him and the U.S. well. Thanks to his long tenure as Secretary, Shultz touched the lives of many Foreign Service Officers. Read more
Before being absorbed and restructured by the State Department in 1999, the United States Information Agency (USIA) was an independent agency devoted solely to public diplomacy: dealing with the media, culture, and academic and professional exchanges. Considered by some America’s propaganda agency, its methods spanned broadcasting, printed materials, art exhibits, concerts, and above all, face-to-face personal interactions to communicate information about America’s policies, society and culture.
Charles Z. Wick, a close personal friend of Ronald Reagan, was appointed the director of USIA in 1981 and served until 1989, setting a record for length of service in that job. A former talent agent and film producer, he served through both of President Reagan’s terms and pioneered a more assertive image for the agency. He was responsible for launching USIA’s WORLDNET, the first live global interactive satellite program, creating the Artistic Ambassador Program and establishing VOA broadcasting to Cuba under “Radio Marti.” Read more
George Frost Kennan was, and still remains, a very controversial and legendary figure in American diplomatic history. As a historian, political scientist, and diplomat, Kennan focused most of his career on Russian culture and history. Widely regarded as one of the most brilliant diplomats of his day, he was collegial with his staff and, despite his acclaim and senior status in the Department, often saw himself as an outsider. Kennan served as Ambassador to Moscow in 1952 and Yugoslavia in 1963, and advocated for a containment policy to counter Soviet expansion that would shape American foreign policy during the Cold War.
After his ambassadorship in Yugoslavia, Kennan spent the rest of his career and later life at Princeton as a professor where he wrote several books on international relations. He won the Pulitzer Price for History, the Bancroft Prize, and the Francis Parkman Prize, among many others, for his academic works which focused primarily on Russia and its relations with the West. Kennan passed away in 2005 at age 101 in Princeton.
While posted to Kiev as a minister-counselor in 1946, Kennan drafted the now-famous “Long Telegram” to Washington, in which he advocated the policy of containment at a time when many in the U.S. still had a favorable view of the erstwhile ally. He asserted that the Soviet Union did not see the possibility for long-termpeaceful coexistence with the capitalist world; on the other hand, “while Soviet power was impervious to the logic of reason, it was highly sensitive to the logic of force.” He followed this up with his July 1947 “X” article, published anonymously in Foreign Affairs. His writings inspired the Marshall Plan.
However, he lost influence when Dean Acheson became Secretary of State in 1949 and the drafting of NSC-68 , which more formally outlined U.S. policy and called fora large expansion in the military budget, the development of ahydrogen bomb, and increased military aid to allies of the United States.Kennan felt that NSC-68 was too rigid, simplistic, and militaristic; he opposed the building of the hydrogen bomb and the rearmament of Germany, which stemmed from NSC-68.
When he became Ambassador to the USSR in 1952, he became disillusioned by the Soviets’ pervasive surveillance and outward hostility and was frustrated by the lack of flexibility shown by the U.S. After he made a statement comparing his conditions at the Ambassador’s residence at Spaso House to that of when he was interned in Berlin during the first few weeks of the Second World War, unintentionally making a comparison to his Nazi internment, Kennan was declared persona non grata and was not allowed back in the country. His next and last ambassadorship would be at Yugoslavia in the early 1960s.
In the following collection of interviews, spanning from the early 1940s to 1991, Kennan’s life is detailed by those who worked with him. Merrit N. Cootes, interviewed by Lillian Peters Mullin in 1991, talks about the “Jelly Fish” telegram. Charles Stuart Kennedy interviewed Marshall Green in 1988, who was assigned to the Japan desk in the State Department and went with Kennan in 1948 on a trip to see MacArthur to shift the U.S. occupation from reform to economic recovery.
Richard Townsend Davies, interviewed by Peter Jessup in 1979, talks about Kennan’s fear of being manipulated by the Soviet Union’s media, and later, his response to becoming persona non grata in Moscow, including asking for suicide pills from the CIA. Robert Daniels interviewed George Jaeger in 2000, in which Jaeger talked about his impressions of Kennan and meeting with him at FSI before being assigned to Yugoslavia. Charles Stuart Kennedy interviewed Richard Johnson in 1991, and Robert Gerald Livingston in 1998 in which they discuss their first impressions of Kennan, his tumultuous relationship with Josip Tito, and his later academic exile in Princeton. Finally, Jack Perry, interviewed by Henry E. Mattox in 1992, talks about Kennan’s reputation and writing ability. The last section by long-time Soviet and Russia hand Jim Schumaker is taken from his blog.
“That story is mine. You can write all the memos you want, but that story is mine”
Merritt N. Cootes, Political Officer to Lisbon from 1942-1944
COOTES: Lisbon was the keyhole to Europe. Everything went through there. George Kennan was sent over by the State Department to put some order into the intelligence collection effort there, because the Military Attaché wouldn’t speak to the Naval Attaché, and the Naval Attaché wouldn’t speak to his British counterpart. So they sent George Kennan over to Lisbon to put some order into things.
He returned to Washington and was put in charge of Policy Planning. Then he was assigned to Lisbon…. When George Kennan got to Lisbon, I took him down to the Foreign Ministry and did the interpreting for him there.
I called up and asked for an appointment for George Kennan and the Minister at 1:00 a.m. with Prime Minister Salazar. I believe that it was November 7, 1942, or something like that. It wasn’t easy to arrange a meeting at 1:00 a.m. with the head of the government there. Of course, I couldn’t tell him why we wanted the appointment. The purpose of the call was to have the Minister and George Kennan inform Salazar that the U.S. was adhering to the oldest, written treaty of 1397 between Portugal and Great Britain.
The treaty was being modified somewhat to allow the British to control the seas around Portugal against the German U-Boats. That was for the British. But our naval officers wore British uniforms when they were flying their planes from land bases.
Anyhow, George Kennan and the Minister went down and delivered this message. They came back to the Legation and were to send a code word back to the State Department, saying that they had delivered the message. Now, of course, the same message was delivered in Spain to Franco. It was perfectly all right for them to send a message because the message from Madrid read: “SecState Washington: (Then the code word). (Signed) Hayes” [Carleton J. H. Hayes, American Ambassador in Madrid at the time].
However, from Lisbon the telegram went out: “SecState Washington: (Then the code word ‘Jelly’). (Signed) Fish” [for Ambassador Bert Fish]. So the text of the telegram from the Legation in Lisbon read, “SecState Washington: Jelly Fish.”
Later on, at a staff meeting George Kennan told us: “Now, look. That story is mine. You can write all the memos you want, but that story is mine.”
“That trip to Japan was probably the most important thing that he did, after the Marshall Plan”
Marshall Green , Japan desk officer, 1947-50
GREEN: I was assigned to the Japan desk in the State Department. I served there from 1947 to 1950 as a Japan desk officer.…
I was assigned as George Kennan’s only traveling companion to Japan in February 1948. This trip turned out to be extremely important.
What had happened was that when the occupation of Japan was undertaken in 1945, it was our expectation that it would only go on for two or three years, and then there would be a peace treaty.
Meanwhile, to jump ahead a little, John Foster Dulles had been brought aboard in 1950 to try to negotiate the peace treaty with Japan. Until there was a peace treaty, Japan would be under Allied occupation. Since it appeared that the occupation period was going to be extended much longer than had earlier been anticipated, it was strongly felt in the Office of Policy Planning in the State Department, especially by George Kennan, but also by John Davies, Walt Butterworth and Secretary of State George Marshall, that occupations can go sour.
It was felt that, in the case of Japan, we had to be very careful. So George Kennan was sent out to Japan in February 1948 by Secretary of State Marshall to discuss with General [Douglas] MacArthur how the emphasis in the occupation of Japan could be shifted from “reform” to “economic recovery.” The idea was to normalize things as far and fast as one could to stave off growing, nationalistic resentment against the occupation.
At that time we had various mechanisms for dealing with Japan and with the occupation. In Washington there was the Far Eastern Commission, on which all of the countries that had been enemies of Japan had their representatives. We met in the old Japanese Embassy here in Washington about once every two or three weeks. I used to go to those meetings. Another international mechanism was the Allied Council in Japan, on which representatives of the Great Powers sat. It met periodically and discussed the broader issues.
However, neither of those bodies carried any weight with MacArthur. MacArthur ran the show the way he wanted to, and to heck with all these other people. He had a little bit of the same attitude toward the White House. He felt that Japan was his exclusive domain. Of course, we came to learn a lot about that in Korea later on.
Now, when George Kennan was sent out to Japan to talk to MacArthur about changing the emphasis of the occupation, he was treated, on his arrival in Japan, just as though he was a visitor from a not too friendly power. He was almost seen as a spy from the State Department. MacArthur held him at arm’s length. Of course, he couldn’t ignore Kennan. George Kennan had his orders, but MacArthur kept him at arm’s length and wouldn’t meet with him, except socially — for example at a dinner party.
It was interesting to see how Kennan operated. Kennan got through to MacArthur two ways. The State Department already had a representative in Japan in SCAP [Supreme Commander, Allied Powers] headquarters, William Sebald. Bill Sebald was the head of the Diplomatic Section of SCAP. There were 14 Sections in SCAP — including Sebald’s Diplomatic Section answerable to Major General Fox who, in turn, was deputy to General Almond, a four-star general, who was chief of staff of SCAP. So the State Department’s representative, Bill Sebald was “way down the line.”
George Kennan eventually got through to MacArthur by casually observing to Major General Willoughby, head of SCAP Intelligence, that MacArthur should not be too concerned about the views of the Far Eastern Commission in Washington, whose work was now largely complete. MacArthur was in the best position to judge what now needed to be done in Japan, and Kennan could be of help to MacArthur in getting MacArthur’s views across in Washington.
Through Willoughby and through my intervention with General Babcock (an old friend from our service together in the Embassy before the war) it was arranged that Kennan would discuss the origins and current nature of Soviet conduct in the SCAP HQ briefing room where some 100 top brass were present.
I found Kennan’s presentation — and I suspect most others attending would agree — absolutely brilliant. It was as though we were at one with eternity like that old advertisement of the Rosicrucian Society, where an eye is seen, piercing into eternity. Of course, all the clouds rolled in afterwards, but there was a transcending moment of truth.
Now, MacArthur recognized brains when he soon heard about the speech. After that, all doors were open to Kennan. In fact, MacArthur provided us with a railroad carriage of our own to go wherever we wanted to go….
To return to the fundamentals of what Kennan was saying to MacArthur. He said that we have to move as far and fast as possible toward a more normal type of relationship with Japan and toward putting Japan much more on its feet and taking care of itself. We must be aware that if we move too slowly, nationalism will overtake us, and heaven knows what will happen. This was always presented in terms suggesting that MacArthur knew this better than he did. Kennan never lectured MacArthur.
The kinds of things he wanted to end as quickly as possible — and it was carefully targeted — included the reparations and decartelization programs. He called for an end to the “purges” immediately or as soon as possible. He said that the Japanese should have some kind of economic representation abroad. (This last point I was to take on as my own responsibility and work very hard on it.)
Improvements should be made in communications channels. Kennan placed the greatest emphasis on setting up better internal security in Japan. He was appalled to see how the Police Force was all divided up. The Japanese had inadequate means to maintain law and order in the country on a national scale. He made some recommendations on how to strengthen a democratic Police Force and establish a Japanese Coast Guard that could protect Japan against smuggling, illegal entries, and things like that.
There was quite a long list of things that had to be done. All I can say is that our report covered all of these points. So we returned to Washington. Meanwhile, Kennan suffered from a terrible case of ulcers….
“One of my jobs was to ‘look intelligent’”
While I was in Kyoto, writing up the report, I was asked by some Navy friends to come down and see the Osaka docks. They thought I would be shocked by what I saw. And there — stacked all down the docks –was dismantled machinery from Japanese industries. The machinery was being greased, crated, and shipped — at great expense and effort — to North China, as part of a reparations program to China.
Meanwhile, North China was being overrun by the Communists. The whole thing was ridiculous. The American taxpayer was paying for taking machinery out of Japan, which we were meantime supporting, and taking it to China, which was falling into the hands of the Communists. It will not surprise you that Kennan not only spoke extremely effectively but wrote even more effectively. The telegrams which Kennan sent back to Washington were really bristling.
What he was saying was that we want MacArthur to remain in charge, but we wanted to anticipate and head off whatever kinds of forces that might undermine his authority and effectiveness. I think that this appealed to MacArthur, because MacArthur was an intelligent man. Now, where we were running up against problems was with the architects of these policies in SCAP headquarters, for example, the Political Section, which was headed by General [Courtney] Whitney…
His principal deputy was Colonel Kades. These people had been the architects of the “purge program,” for example. They hated to see it dismantled and resisted our efforts to end the purge, even though it was the expressed will of our National Security Council.
The purge involved removing from public office or from top positions of influence, in business or in government, those who were considered to be responsible, in any major way, for the war effort. This meant, basically, anyone in a prominent position was “purged.”
Kennan was opposed to this way of tarring everybody with the same brush, without any kind of examination of the individual’s record. By the way, he had also been opposed to war crimes trials, but they were all over in Japan by the time he got there.
Meanwhile, Walt Butterworth had been replaced by Dean Rusk (pictured) in 1949 as Assistant Secretary for Far East Affairs. So after two months of frustrated efforts by Washington to end the purge, Rusk asked me to draft a personal message for Marshall to MacArthur.
I thought my draft was “pretty hot stuff,” but Rusk said, “Do you think that this will turn the trick, Marshall?” I said, “No, I don’t think so, Mr. Secretary, but this is putting it on the record.” He said, “The object is not to put it on the record. The object is to stop this damned thing.” He added, “I suggest you go back and rewrite this 10-page telegram and make it no longer than a page and a half. Make the point that MacArthur thought originally that the purge should end by this time and that we’d been reluctant as had other governments in the Far Eastern Commission. However, now we’ve come to see the wisdom of his earlier position, he should go ahead and do it.”
So I wrote the telegram accordingly. I gulped pretty hard because I come from New England, where we have strong consciences. I knew that MacArthur had never said this, but we attributed it to him. That did the trick. The purge was ended 48 hours later.
I reminded Dean Rusk about this, many years later. He said, “Marshall, I hope you don’t go around telling people that story. It casts me in such a cynical light.” I said, “Not at all, Mr. Secretary. It casts you in the light of somebody who knows how to get things done through diplomacy.”
I’ve always admired his [Kennan’s] eloquence and his ability to write and speak. His mission to Japan was a great challenge to him. He rose to it, and that’s why he succeeded. Now, you know in his “Memoirs,” he recalls all this. He says that he thinks that that trip to Japan was probably the most important thing that he did, after the Marshall Plan. Then he went on to say, “Perhaps it was even more important than the Marshall Plan, in the long run.” So he attached great importance to this, even in retrospect. It was marvelous to see how he operated.
I mentioned how he “co-opted” people on MacArthur’s staff who paved his way to MacArthur. But there was also the way that he drafted reports and telegrams. It was something to behold. He would sit down and start dictating.
One of my jobs was to “look intelligent.” He would speak to me, while Dorothy Hessman, his secretary, took it all down as a telegram. So he was basically dictating a telegram to Washington while speaking to me. The result was that the telegram had a kind of conversational flow that made it far more effective. When he was through, he didn’t have to change a word of it. Articulation is something I admire in any diplomat.
“Now here is a man who speaks beautiful Russian and who was completely cut off from Soviet society”
Richard Townsend Davies, Junior Officer in Moscow, 1951-53
DAVIES: [Ambassador to Moscow] Alan Kirk was there until the end of 1951, and then…he left shortly thereafter, and George Kennan we were told was coming, and of course that excited all the younger officers in the Embassy a great deal because George Kennan was very much our idol.
He had published his famous Mister X article on the sources of Soviet conduct in the middle of 1947 in Foreign Affairs, and almost immediately thereafter everybody knew who had written it. After his service on the Policy Planning Council in the State Department he had gone up to Princeton.
In fact I think he was at Princeton up until shortly before he was appointed. He had been active in initiating or in proposing the initiation of the Free Europe Committee and the Radio Liberation Committee. But we were terribly excited to hear that he was coming. He was the person on whom most of the younger officers, I think — certainly those in Soviet studies — modeled themselves.…
He gave two interviews [before arriving in Moscow]….He said that…admittedly no individual probably could influence the course of events that much, but nevertheless since Stalin would leave the scene one day, if it should happen that he died or left the Soviet political stage, while Kennan was there this would be very fortuitous because of course Kennan knew the Soviet Union so well and knew the Soviet people so well, and he would be in a position to interpret to the United States the confused situation that ensued upon Stalin’s death….
And then he came to Moscow, and of course he found a Moscow which was very different from the Moscow he obviously remembered and had anticipated, I suppose, returning to, much less tolerant of foreigners than even during the ‘30s, and of course during the war things were relatively free and easy there.
Apparently during the 30s when he was there first — he was a young man in the first place — there used to be very pleasant evenings, and it was possible to know and see a certain number of Soviet citizens, of Russians who obviously were if not under the control of the secret police at any rate had some kind of permission to mingle with foreigners.…
But when he got back there in 1952, the situation was very different. There were no contacts at all of any kind. It was the period that can reasonably be called the Deep Freeze, and he came back into that situation, with his very charming and strong wife, a Norwegian girl by birth — a very fine woman — and he found no contacts at all.
Now here is a man who speaks beautiful Russian, who knows Russian literature and appreciates Russian literature and so forth, and who was completely cut off from Soviet society. Well, one thing he did in order to try to overcome this was to go once a week to the theater, and part of the time he was there — he was there less than a year, around nine months I suppose — Mrs. Kennan was in Norway with her parents, taking care of the older children, having put them in school somewhere, so he was alone a fair amount of time in Moscow, and he would go once a week to the theater, and he would go with a language officer, and if the language officer was married with the language officer’s wife.
“’It’s just as though there is a great hand pressing down on all of us’”
He’d send his car for them and would have them picked up, and then the car would go to [the U.S. Ambassador’s residence] Spaso House to pick him up, and they’d go to the theater, and then come back to Spaso House after the play and have a little midnight supper in his study underneath the famous carved eagle with the microphone in it. (Here shown with U.S. Ambassador to the UN Henry Cabot Lodge in 1960.)
We didn’t know that there was a microphone in it at that point. It had been there not too long; it had been up in the attic, and I think when he got there he went through it and found it. It is a very impressive carved seal of the United States. But I don’t even know whether the microphone was in it up in the attic. I don’t think so. I think it was [put in it] after it was hung down there, because as I say he was alone in the house, and out of the house a fair amount. I think there would have been ample opportunity for somebody to stick the thing in it.
In any case I remember my wife and I went with him, and we went to see The Inspector General of Nikolai Gogol. …So we went to the theater, and of course he had these four goons following — these four secret policemen — and we went in and they had free seats there and they sat down. There were four people sitting in the row right behind, and these people, these characters came up, and they really didn’t have to say anything, they just looked at the people and they said, “You, out, we will sit there.” Which they did — the four of them sat behind us.
They were muscle men, and it made him feel very — well, I was used to this. I had been in Poland. And the anti-American propaganda of course got to him very much. He took it very personally. He walked to work every morning from Spaso to the Embassy, which was on Mokhovaya Street, right next to the National Hotel, across from the Kremlin.
He had no idea that this was going on. He had been at Princeton. Of course we had been reporting all this. The thing that surprised me was that he wasn’t aware of it. He obviously hadn’t been reading. I can only imagine that he hadn’t been reading the Soviet press, because you know the anti-American propaganda was all through the press: you couldn’t pick up any publication, any newspaper, without reading some horrible story about the alleged atrocities committed by American troops in Korea….
Well, as he went to the office he would pass these hoardings of billboards with frightful cartoons against the United States on. Of course we all saw them, but we all sort of understood that this was the game that was being played, and what did one do about it? You could protest about it, and we did protest about some of these things, but it was no good….
These goons were keeping their eyes on the Ambassador, and he was very, very depressed, and finally he sort of looked up and he said, “It’s just as though there is a great hand pressing down on all of us.” I tried to sort of make some joke, but that was no joking matter to him. Well, then we saw the rest of the play, and then went back to Spaso for a midnight supper. But it was a very morbid kind of evening….The whole thing was very depressing. I wouldn’t say that he has a sense of humor. He is dour….
I’ve often been asked how could he, a professional diplomat — at that time he was regarded as the pinnacle of our service — how could he have done what he did in Berlin, and said what he said, which resulted in his being declared persona non grata, comparing the Soviet Union, life in Moscow, with life in a Nazi internment camp in Germany during the war. And my answer is, well, he found himself in what for him was psychologically an intolerable situation….
He had this picture of himself, this self-image, which to a very considerable extent was quite accurate, as the — if not the greatest at least one of the three or four, two or three, maybe two – he and Chip Bohlen, let’s say — most highly qualified Soviet experts we had in every sphere, language, knowing the history, having served there before, knowledge of what happened during the war, the whole thing….
And then when he got there he found on the contrary this… He was never received by Stalin – a point that he makes a great deal of in his memoirs. In his memoirs he tells about the effort he made to break out of that isolation, having the Deputy Chief of Mission, Hugh Cummings, mention to somebody in the Foreign Office his – Kennan’s – desire to have somebody with whom he could speak Russian, to have some contact with somebody….
I should say that morale was not bad before he came. Of course we all felt that we were under attack, and under the circumstances there was a certain esprit de corps and a pulling together, and a recognition that everybody was in the same boat and we had to try to help each other. But morale… I think he had the idea, he projected his depression, his gloom, his discouragement on the rest of us. He thought we were in bad shape. I didn’t feel that way at any rate. …
And he decided that we must organize ourselves in order to combat this. Consequently he started a number of activities, some of them really quite good. I don’t know that ballet classes were possible then, but perhaps they were. But there were a number of kinds of hobby groups: painting, you could join a group and sing Russian folk songs – I think he belonged and helped along there, he was really excellent at that, at playing the guitar and singing, perhaps another side of his Celtic heritage, I don’t know….
No one else could have done more. But he felt that he should have been able to do more, or he felt perhaps that he’d promised somehow that he would do more, and he’d been unable to do more,…He couldn’t go back to President Truman and say, “I have to resign.” That would have been a kind of admission of failure….
“I understand that the CIA has some form of pill that a person could use to kill himself instantly. Is this right?”
He died [in 1978], a career CIA officer, operations officer who wrote I think, really, a very good book – undoubtedly parts of it were regarded as quite indiscreet two years ago when he first wrote it, Sub Rosa: The CIA and the Uses of Intelligence – New York Times Books, New York, 1978 – (in which) Peer de Silva discusses the question of the establishment of a CIA station in Moscow. …
Peer de Silva went to London and saw Ambassador Kennan, who turned down the proposal. But the interesting thing, and the thing I am coming to here, is that he writes, “However, during the conversation I had noticed that the Ambassador was very tense and nervous: he was pale, his hands trembled, and he seemed to have much on his mind. At the end of our talk he said there was something he wanted to ask of the Agency” – that is, of the CIA.
“‘There is something you must do for me,’ he said. ‘I have here a letter.’ And he then handed me a letter, and I noticed that it was addressed to Pope Pius. ‘I have a very pessimistic view of our immediate future with the Soviets, particularly at the diplomatic level. I want you to get this letter to [CIA Director] Allen Dulles, and make sure that it is passed by secure means to the Pope in Rome.” My questioning look brought the following explanation: “‘I fear that there is a good possibility that I will wind up some day before long on the Soviet radio. I may be forced to make statements that will be damaging to American policy. This letter will show the world that I am under duress, and I am not making statements out of my own free will.’”
“The letter to the Pope will let him make public my position and the true situation there.” That is Peer de Silva. “I was astounded at the grimness with which these words were delivered,” de Silva writes, “but I was in no way prepared for the following.” Again Kennan speaking: “I understand that the CIA has some form of pill that a person could use to kill himself instantly. Is this right?”
And so the upshot is that Kennan asked Peer de Silva, according to the latter’s memoir, for these pills, and Peer de Silva says that through the diplomatic pouch two pills were sent to Ambassador Kennan. Well, I am not sure it says “two pills” but at any rate, some pills were sent to him.
“Shortly thereafter he went from Moscow to Germany on an official visit, where he made a speech with strong critical reference to the USSR. This speech resulted in his being declared persona non grata on the spot. He never returned to Moscow from Berlin. Ambassador Kennan finally came back to Washington from Europe. I made an appointment to see him, and asked what had happened to the pills. He told me with a curious smile, “I have already flushed them down the toilet.” At the time and in the years since I have always thought that the actions of Ambassador Kennan were the actions of a very brave man.
During the early 1950s, the CIA was aware that the Soviets were experimenting with drugs and tended to destroy a person’s natural inhibitions and controls. [Peer de Silva wrote,] “In the Cold War atmosphere of the times Kennan saw himself as a likely target for a Soviet effort along this line. Nevertheless he went back to that environment of danger and was prepared to take his own life rather than let himself be used by the Soviets in a manner degrading or shameful to the United States”….
He came back [to the United States]. In the meanwhile, the  election had taken place, and Eisenhower had been elected….According to the Foreign Service Act of 1946, a man who had held the position of ambassador — and there were certain other qualifications — who was not appointed to another position for six months, was automatically retired, and he was the only one – [John Foster] Dulles by that time was Secretary, and he utilized that provision of the Act against him, and again he writes about this in his memoirs, and he is very bitter about it.
Then he went back to Princeton, where he’d been before, and I think really he was a brilliant reporting officer. Some of the things he wrote — copies of them were available in the Embassy when I was there – were just brilliant, beautifully written, great insights, but not an ambassador somehow.
“Kennan was a brilliant seer, advisor on major issues and interpreter of history, but fatally indifferent to the short-term stuff”
George Jaeger , Consular Officer, Yugoslavia, 1961-64
JAEGER: Although [Secretary of State Dean] Acheson admired Kennan, he had grown weary of Kennan’s somewhat moralistic, hyper-intellectual approach. While Kennan’s ‘containment’ policy had won general acceptance, Kennan was uncomfortable, as the Cold War ratcheted up, with Washington’s growing emphasis on military means. As Kennan’s views came to seem more and more unrealistic and out of touch, they created frictions….
George Kennan, about to go out to Belgrade as Kennedy’s new Ambassador, paid us a visit [to Arlington Towers] to meet some of his future staff trying to learn this awful language. It turned out to be an unforgettable experience.
Kennan, utterly relaxed, slung his leg over a chair and, instead of talking about the Yugoslav situation or his plans as the new Ambassador, launched into a fascinating, historic disquisition about Yugoslavia’s orthodox monasteries and their roles in Balkan mediaeval history, with advice as to which ones were particularly beautiful and must therefore be visited while we were there.
What, I think, he was trying to convey, was that it was through these magnificent monasteries that we might come to some understanding of the essence of this complex region.
I had come to know him slightly when I had dated his daughter Grace for a while, and had had a similar Slavic-mystical experience one evening in Princeton listening to him as he was sitting on the kitchen table in a Russian nightgown playing the balalaika and absently singing deeply moving Russian folk tunes.
But back to our meeting at FSI. After listening to him for some time with respectful attention, I asked the question which I thought was on everybody’s mind: “Mr. Ambassador, we will certainly try to see the Orthodox monasteries. But for now, is there anything you would like us to do before we get to Yugoslavia? Are there any special things you’d like us keep in mind when we get there?”
His reply was unforgettable. “Oh, you mean all that policy stuff? Don’t worry about it; I’ll be the one doing all that.” In case we had missed the point he spelled it out: “You know, you are just being given a wonderful opportunity to absorb Slavic culture, and I would hope you would make the very best use of it and spend your two-year tour sopping it up, the way I did when I was a young officer in Russia.” On that note he left us, somewhat bewildered, very charmed, and looking forward to see how this division of labor would actually work in practice….
“I felt at the time that there was an amazing disparity between what I had heard on the trip and what he had written”
I was asked to accompany Kennan on a three-day trip through Croatia and Slovenia.
He arrived a bit earlier [in Zagreb], in March of 1961, and served until July 1963. On this, his only longer visit during my time, he wanted to meet leading government people, journalists, and other movers and shakers in both Croatia and Slovenia.
When we got back to Zagreb after a busy and very pleasant three days, which I had arranged, Kennan surprised me by referring to the trip as “a significant experience!” When I offered to draft a reporting telegram, Kennan surprised me again by saying, “That won’t be necessary, I’ll just sit down in your code room, if I may, and write it up.”
He emerged after a couple hours with a long hand-written draft and asked me to read it over and tell him what I thought. I did, and was absolutely amazed. The people we had met had, with minor exceptions, told us pretty much what the party line then called for. But what Kennan had written was that his trip through this northern region of the country had confirmed his sense of the impending disintegration of Yugoslavia after Tito!
The thrust was that there were great tensions in the country, and that the people he had seen had given him significant indications of this.
Basically Croatia and Slovenia were economically supporting Serbia and the rest, a situation which caused some discontent, but not to the extent Kennan’s telegram described it. I felt at the time that there was an amazing disparity between what I had heard on the trip and what he had written.
In retrospect, it may well be that Kennan’s antennae were finer than mine, or that the inherent logic of the situation had led him to this far-reaching conclusion which he then wanted to document. Even so, he got the timing wrong, because he thought the crisis was clearly more imminent than it actually turned out to be. Still, his was the first explicit warning, as far as I know, of what was to come.
Needless to say, the report was greeted with skepticism, both in the Embassy — which didn’t believe that nationalism was very powerful at the time and usually asked us to tone down our occasional reports of Croatian nationalist behavior — as well as in Washington.
Kennan’s personally written telegrams often reached entirely different conclusions than the Embassy’s routine reporting. As his ‘Memoirs’ make clear, he saw the Embassy diplomatic and USIA [U.S. Information Agency] staff as being “from another generation,” people, he wrote, “who had come up in a different sort of bureaucratic environment: Less human, less personal, vaster, more inscrutable, and less reassuring. Some of them tended initially… to be wary, correct, faithfully pedantic, but withdrawn and in a sense masked. The studied absence of color, in personality and in uttered thought, had become a protective camouflage. But of course they were real people underneath, and in most instances very valuable and intelligent ones….”
Tellingly, not one of them is mentioned in his ‘Memoirs’ by name even though it was a first-rate team….There was a basic, rather sad disconnect between Kennan and the staff. Some of this may have been due to the fact that Kennan saw himself by then as an agent of historic transformation and had come to Belgrade with his own agenda: To restore mutually confident American-Yugoslav relations, implying a larger strategy of wresting it still further away from the USSR.
The symbol and centerpiece of the policy was to be most-favored-nation [MFN] status for Yugoslavia. What this did not adequately take into account was the continuing deep distrust of anything ‘Communist’ in Congress, feelings kept alive by hyper-active Croatian and Serbian émigré groups in the U.S.; and the fact that Yugoslav Communist behavior did not always lend itself to benign interpretation from Washington’s perspective.
Tito’s leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement [NAM], his repressive domestic policies and his refusal to ally himself with the West all contributed to this.
Although Kennan fought hard, his effort foundered on these obstacles, leaving him feeling betrayed by the Department, which, of course, had to deal pragmatically with the political realities as they existed at the time.
Taken together, all this led to important misunderstandings with the Department’s Eastern European people and eventually to his unhappy departure from Belgrade, feeling that he had not been appreciated or understood.
Kennan was a brilliant seer, advisor on major issues and interpreter of history, but, for all that, fatally indifferent to the short-term stuff which makes up the daily fare of government bureaucracy.
As a result he became a tragic figure in American diplomacy, who, although he shaped the post-war world as much as anyone, spent most of his career at odds with the State Department and later in prestigious Princeton exile.
“That’s something that struck me, even then about Kennan, that he took these things personally”
Richard Johnson, Political Officer in Belgrade Yugoslavia, 1962-63
JOHNSON: The thing that made that tour [in Belgrade] interesting and exciting was that George Kennan was our ambassador.
Well, of course I was tremendously impressed with him before I went, with what reading I’d done. And as a boss I just can’t imagine a more exciting person to work with….
But Kennan was the sort of a person who liked to rap with his junior officers…, He developed this project of publishing a history of Yugoslavia, and each of us was assigned a chapter, then he would ask us to come up on Sundays and sit around the fire and discuss various aspects of developments that were going on.
He is such a tremendously articulate and deeply intelligent person that these were really fascinating Sunday afternoons. Also, he would invite us in when he came back from a meeting with Tito, and he would tell us how the meeting went and analyze it in very perceptive terms.
Robert Gerald Livingston, Economic Officer, Belgrade Yugoslavia, 1961-64
LIVINGSTON: You know, Kennan was a bad ambassador, I thought. He was lovely; so was his wife. I wouldn’t say he took a shine to me, but he had this project of getting officers to write up little studies, and I think I was one of the few that took it seriously….
Kennan was marvelous, but he was emotional, very emotional. Even I could tell that. This is partly gossip form the people in the political section including Jim Lowenstein who was there then. But he reacted very personally and he felt almost betrayed by Tito personally when the Soviets violated the Test Ban stop and Tito didn’t condemn them….(Pictured: Tito with Kennan)
Kennan took it personally. That’s something that struck me, even then about Kennan, that he took these things personally.
And I remember something happened; he was personally insulted. It was maybe Adlai Stevenson and Mrs. Katherine Graham [Washington Post publisher] came on a yacht. Katherine Graham’s husband must have been alive then. They visited Tito on Brioni and Kennan wasn’t invited — was either invited later or something… I don’t remember the details, but he took it very, very personally….
My recollection had to do with Most Favored Nation treatment of Yugoslavia. Kennan, before he left Washington, Kennedy had said to him as he had to some other ambassadors, “You be in touch with me anytime you have something. It doesn’t have to be just your country.”
And I remember Kennan at the time the Berlin Wall was built, which was August of 1961, sent stuff in commenting on the German situation. It wasn’t paid any attention to, and we knew that it wasn’t paid any attention to, you know. He, I think, was wounded by that. This must have been ’62 or something like that when Most Favored Nation thing came up.
Memories are faulty, but he put in a call to Kennedy on the open line to the White House. Kennedy took the call from him and Kennan said “You’ve got to do something about this MFN thing.” And Kennedy said, “Well, George, I’ll have this call transferred to Wilbur Mills.” He didn’t say anything but, “I’ll have this call transferred to Wilbur Mills.” And he switched to Wilbur Mills, [the powerful Chairman of theHouse Ways and Means Committee].
Kennan deliberately talked on the open line to show the Yugoslavs how much influence he had, you know, talking to the President and getting things done. Of course, he showed he had no influence. And then, not only did that happen, but he convened a staff meeting, in which I was at sitting in the very back row, I think; and he told us about this, in his office….
Jack R. Perry, Personnel and Political Officer, Moscow, Soviet Union, 1962-64
PERRY: The thing is, George Kennan could write better than most of the rest of us put together. He was and is a marvelous master of the English language and people always said that when Kennan wrote a telegram to Washington, no matter what he was arguing, you’d be persuaded because the English was just so overwhelming.
I don’t think that was true of Chip Bohlen, for example, although he wrote beautifully, but he was not the persuasive master that Kennan was. Some people felt — and I don’t like to criticize Kennan because he’s one of my heroes in many ways — but as a diplomat, some people said that he had a certain messianic complex that he really felt that he was called to be the one that knew everything and did everything.
I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but it certainly may have entered into the way he departed Moscow, because he was declared persona non grata and so forth.
Q: One reason I raise the question is because I just read the book George Kennan, Cold War Iconoclast, by Walter L. Hixson, who takes a fairly negative view of Kennan, granting him that he writes beautifully and that he was a great raconteur and he was a bona fide Soviet expert and so on and so forth, but Hixson apparently doesn’t like him and says words to the effect that he’s a prima donna and that he changed his mind every time the wind blew in different directions.
PERRY: I’ve heard some of that, but I must say, if you look at his writings, particularly right after the war — the Long Telegram and the X article and so on — what diplomat do we know that could compare with the effect he had on history? Now you might go back and say, was he always right? I’m sure he wasn’t. I was a bit of a dove. I mean, I was a detentenik; I believed in better relations with the Russians. (Photo: Corbis)
Now that the Cold War is over, you might go back and look at people like me and say, were they right or were they wrong? Towards the end, in Washington, I remained friends with Bohlen. He would come by the Soviet desk, where I was then serving, and talk about what was going on in Russia. And I remember we had some differences, because I felt that he was somewhat too ideological in his view of the Soviets, feeling that they were ideologically motivated, which I always doubted, frankly.
But, on balance, as far as Bohlen is concerned, he was called a Cold Warrior, but I think most of all he and Kennan both were people that knew the Russians, as a culture, as a civilization, as a people, and that’s what gave them their great strength.
Meeting George Kennan, Moscow, 1977
Jim Schumaker, Embassy Moscow, 1977-1979
SCHUMAKER: In the summer of 1977, I met George Kennan for the first and only time. He had come out to Moscow on a historian exchange program, and had been prevailed upon to talk with members of the Political and Economic sections about reporting on the Soviet Union. We met him in the Political Library, and he talked with us for about an hour.
I had long been an admirer of Kennan for his prescient Long Telegram of February 22, 1946, his “X” article in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs on the “Sources of Soviet Conduct,” and of course for his elegant writing style. I also agreed with his oft-expressed view that Russia can have only two kinds of neighbors, vassals or enemies. I had read a couple of his books on U.S.-Soviet relations when I was at St. Louis Country Day School and it was one of the things that had initially attracted me to a Foreign Service career.
Kennan spoke articulately and brilliantly, but for all that, I can’t remember much of what he actually said during our hour-long meeting. It was just a pleasure to listen to him. Kennan was in his mid-seventies at the time, and I recall thinking that he looked quite frail. One of my friends remarked afterward, “We were lucky we met him now — he’s so old he can’t last much longer.” I agreed, but Kennan fooled us all by hanging on until 2005, living to the ripe old age of 101 and writing all the while.
I’m especially sorry that I never had another opportunity to meet with Kennan, because years later I finally read his memoirs, and realized that we shared many common experiences. In fact, when he discussed his tours not just in Moscow, but throughout his career, it was almost like I was reading my own memoirs and not his. It was a great opportunity lost. In addition, I would have wanted to question him more closely about his views on the Soviet Union, with which I often disagreed.
Kennan’s thinking was profound and multi-layered. He was particularly good at descriptive writing, and he outlined the situation prevailing in the Soviet Union in compelling terms. There were certain areas where I agreed with him completely, such as his harsh criticism of Ambassador Joseph Davies’ disastrous tenure in Moscow, and the Roosevelt Administration’s role in perpetuating, for political reasons, a sentimental enthusiasm about Stalin’s Soviet Union.
I also found convincing his searing portrayal of the dysfunctional Washington bureaucracy of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s in which the random actions of minor bureaucrats and failures of communication often trumped all efforts to construct a rational and realistic foreign policy. I especially admired what Kennan himself called his greatest achievement: his role in the creation of the Marshall Plan for the economic revival of Western Europe. Kennan also took a very dim view of the United Nations, and thought it would be more of a negative than positive influence in world affairs, a view with which I agree in part.
On other issues, however, I found fault with Kennan’s views. For example, I did not agree with many of his prescriptions for dealing with the Soviet Union in the Cold War era. Kennan’s general approach seemed to be to take no steps that might be construed as approving of or legitimizing the Soviet regime, while refraining from direct opposition or action except in the most extreme circumstances.
This was the line he took with regard to the creation of NATO and the separate Peace Treaty with Japan, despite the provocative actions that dictated these prudent defensive steps, i.e., the communization of Eastern Europe and China. His opposition to doing anything that might cause an aggressive Soviet reaction ignored the fact that such a passive policy might actually tempt the Soviets to reach still further, in the belief that they could continue to push the West without fear of consequences.
This might seem to be a strange criticism of the person generally credited as the author of America’s containment policy, but, as Kennan himself repeatedly pointed out, his “X” article was completely misunderstood, and the containment policy adopted by U.S. policymakers was not the one he advocated.
Whereas Kennan believed in the containment of Soviet ambitions by political means, and only when our vital interests were threatened, the widely-accepted interpretation of containment policy at the time was to oppose the Soviets both militarily and politically, wherever their ambitions manifested themselves around the world. My own views stand somewhere between these two extremes, although in the end I am more comfortable with the containment policy that was eventually adopted than I am with Kennan’s version, which, in my estimation, would have led inevitably to disaster.
I was also a little bit surprised to find that Kennan’s discussion of his tenure as our Ambassador in Moscow was unusually naïve, particularly his ruminations on why the Soviet leadership gave him the back of its hand (he imputed some deeper political motives to the Kremlin, when in actuality Soviet leaders treated all American ambassadors badly, unless they were thought to have a direct line to the White House). I also disagreed with his criticism of our military attachés in Moscow, whose activities he found provocative.
In reading his memoirs, I found myself a little disapproving of Kennan’s personal manner. Kennan was a classic elitist, an attitude that clearly came across in his characterizations of those of his fellow Americans who were not as schooled in foreign policy as he (his discussion of his interactions with St. Louisans, whom he obviously considered to be hicks, was very revealing in this regard). Kennan, who had very fluent Russian and nearly bilingual German, seemed academic and remote to many of his Foreign Service colleagues, and often seemed more comfortable with foreigners than his own countrymen.
In addition, Kennan’s writing style, while eloquent, was at times so fussy and equivocating. At one point in his chapter on his Moscow ambassadorship, Kennan noted that he had been a reluctant diplomat, and was much happier in the world of Russian literature and culture than “the world of politics and diplomacy into which Fate had thrust me.” I would certainly agree with that assessment, and, on reflection, it is no wonder that he and Ambassador Toon did not get along: ideologically, they were poles apart.
As for me, I find Kennan and his thinking to be endlessly fascinating. I might disagree with many of his conclusions, but I would never fault his gift for description or his intellectual brilliance.
With his impressive intellect, polarizing personality, close ties to the Kennedy White House and imposing stature, Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith was a larger-than-life figure in American diplomacy. Born in the Canadian town of Iona Station, Ontario in 1908, Ambassador Galbraith began his education at the Ontario Agricultural College, graduating with a degree in Agricultural Economics.
He later made his way to the United States, where he continued his studies in Agricultural Economics, eventually obtaining a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 1934. He became a professor at Harvard University after graduating.
Ambassador Galbraith was known to be a close friend of President John F. Kennedy, who valued his intellect as well as his clarity of communication. In 1961 Kennedy appointed him ambassador to India and he remained there until 1963.
During his time in India, he formed a close relationship with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and remained a staunch supporter of the country after leaving his post in 1963. Ambassador Galbraith’s connection with the Kennedy family also meant that he had a direct line to the White House, often bypassing the State Department at the President’s request. At his suggestion, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy visited India in 1962.
Ambassador Galbraith was a prolific writer and became known as an influential economist and intellectual, but he was also known for his outsize ego and intolerance for those he did not get along with. These accounts, taken from six ADST interviews, are evidence of the lasting impressions—positive and negative—that he left on those who interacted with him.
Eugene Rosenfeld, reporter for International Press Service, discussed his experiences with Galbraith with Jack O’Brien in November 1989. Lindsey Grant, Economic Officer in New Delhi was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in January 1990, and Kennedy also interviewed Kathryn Clark-Bourne, Political Officer in Bombay in August 1995. Ray Ewing interviewed Jonathan Rickert, Consular Officer in London in December 2002. Carleton S. Coon, Jr. was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in October 1989. Howard B. Schaffer was interviewed by Thomas Stern in March 1997.
“He was fun to work with, stimulating, but he had absolutely no tolerance for people that he decided he didn’t like…”
Eugene Rosenfeld, reporter, International Press Service
ROSENFELD: I think [the situation in India] deserves a little bit of attention in that it refers to an ambassador who was not particularly helpful in dealing with his staff. This was John Kenneth Galbraith, a highly intellectual man, a great economist, although economists say he is a great journalist and journalists say he is a great economist. I think he is both. I think he writes extremely well and I think he has a very good mind.
He was fun to work with, stimulating, but he had absolutely no tolerance for people that he decided he didn’t like or were not doing what he wanted them to do, by his lights. I think that in his first year there [the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi] he fired six counselors, embassy, just got rid of them, and he also got rid of a couple of USIA [United States Information Agency] guys who were good officers; he just did not want to have anything more to do with them.
I think this simply reflected the Kennedy attitude, the Kennedy style, which was basically that the bureaucracy — the State Department particularly they labeled a fudge factory — that they really did not understand it. They considered FSOs and bureaucrats as mealy-mouthed who always knuckled under, did not have any ideas of their own, just faceless types following a line that was set up for them and who did not have any original thoughts. Such was the Kennedy approach — in my view.
I realized that Galbraith was not easy to work for, so the first thing I tried to do was to straighten him out from my point of view, which was, you know, disagree with him at the first opportunity.
One thing that happened — this, again, is something that might be useful all around — at the time of this Chinese thing [Sino-India War of 1962] he would have a press briefing primarily with the American press to try to explain what was going on.
At this point a very top-level USG group had come in to “assess” the India-China situation — General Paul Adam, head of Strike Command, Paul Nitze, Averell Harriman (who headed the mission). It was top government action. It was the elite and they were in there talking about how they could provide support, with the British, to stop the Chinese from coming in any further [into territory disputed with India.]
So at one press backgrounder, which Galbraith gave almost every day, somebody said, “We hear that the Chinese are prepared to accept a cease-fire. What are you going to recommend to the Indians, that they accept it or they not accept it?”Galbraith said, “The Indians are big boys. They can make up their own minds about this.” They said, “Come on, you know this story. What is American policy? Do we want to have a cease-fire or do we want to keep just plugging in there? What is the story?”
Galbraith put on a bit of a show and he started yelling at whomever it was; I think it was Phil Potter of the Baltimore Sun. He said, “Don’t you cross examine me.”
Then he answered some more questions and finally wound up. He and Lane Timmons, the DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission], and I got together and so he said to me, “What did you think? How did it go?”
I said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t like it.”
Timmons said, “What do you mean? He was absolutely right to tell these guys where to get off.”
I said, “No, you don’t tell these guys where to get off in front of their peers. If you want to take them aside and let them have it, okay, but don’t do it in front of everybody else. Don’t try to put on a show. It is just not good for you. All it does is create more anguish.”
So the next day, at the group’s airport departure, I see him talking to Potter and he is sort of apologizing to Potter, but I couldn’t go up to him and say, “Look, the American ambassador doesn’t apologize. You did what you did. You stick with it.”
Anyway, this is something — how you deal with an ambassador who thinks he is the smartest guy in the world is a problem every PAO [Public Affairs Officer] is going to have. I can’t give them any great advice except to be straightforward and don’t knuckle under.
“He was just dying to come down on the Indian side of this whole argument”
Lindsey Grant, Economic Officer in New Delhi, 1965-1968
he Chinese were giving the Indians a bloody nose. Were you having problems selling the idea of a limited punitive engagement in India to others within the State Department or the Government?
GRANT: …What we had there was rather interesting. Galbraith, who was ambassador in India at the time, this is about the only time I’m aware of that he actually used his old White House connection effectively at all, but he was just dying to come down on the Indian side of this whole argument. He managed to force through a US Government position endorsing the Indian view of the border, whereas our view–and I think the India desk rather shared it–was that this was none of our business, that we should have left that whole question of borders for much longer resolution between them. So in that sense, even though Galbraith was associated with Kennedy and with this whole new school, his instinctive view–I guess it was probably “localitis”–he simply wanted to take the Indians’ position. He wasn’t about ready to give a nickel to the Chinese.
“My problem was that Galbraith was almost seven feet tall and the bunks on ships were short”
Kathryn Clark-Bourne, Political Officer in Bombay, 1962-1967
CLARK-BOURNE: [Previous U.S. ambassador to India] Chester Bowles was really liked by the Indians. He had two different tours there. Galbraith was something else. I remember, as consular officer, I was always the control officer for ship visits.
And COMIDEASTFOR, Commander of the Middle East Forces, [who was stationed in Bahrain], would drop by quite often. I remember Galbraith coming down once by train. I think he took over seven cars on the train for all of his friends and relatives. He arrived in Bombay and the COMIDEASTFOR had come down on his flagship. Then there was a destroyer…
Galbraith announced that he and his wife were going to stay on the captain’s ship during the visit. In that day, a woman staying overnight on a ship was practically unknown. The captain wasn’t very happy, but felt that he had to acquiesce to the Ambassador.
My problem was that Galbraith was almost seven feet tall and the bunks on ships were short. I remember sending a junior officer down to the bazaar to find big cushions to pile up at the end of a bunk so that he could sleep on it.
But he absolutely insisted. That’s the kind of person he was. And yet, he wrote magnificently. We loved to read his cables and his telegrams. We’d look forward to them. He really was very talented. But there were two sides to the character.
Jonathan Rickert, Consular Officer in London, 1965-1966
RICKERT: … I was sent out to the airport to meet John Kenneth Galbraith, who was passing through [London] on his way back to Boston. He was no longer Ambassador to India by that time but he had been sent when Prime Minister Shastri died unexpectedly. Galbraith headed the American delegation. He had a stack of exams with him that he had been grading and he left them with me to pouch back because – I don’t remember why – but he couldn’t take them with him. That was the easiest meet-and-greet I’ve ever done because he’s about 6’10…
“As an individual I find him enchanting. But this was a colossal error on his part.”
Carleton S. Coon, Jr., assigned to the India, Nepal, Ceylon Desk, 1965-1968
Q: Communist China had attacked India up in the Himalayas, and had defeated them rather soundly and we [the U.S. Government] were organized in an emergency arms aid program to them. Had this helped things with us with the Indians?
COON: It helped enormously for a little while. But John Kenneth Galbraith made one of the great classical misperceptions of South Asia. I don’t suppose you’ll get this coming out of him, but certainly it was my perception, from where I sat, and I think a detailed study of his policy messages to Washington would bear out that his basic approach was that, “We have built up capital with the Indians by arming them against China. We have built up capital previously with the Pakistanis by arming them against Russia. Now is the time for us to cash in our chips, and get a Kashmir settlement that once and for all will get rid of this animus between India and Pakistan.”
Well, you can see the magnitude of the misconception. The animus not being based solely on Kashmir — Kashmir being as much a symptom as a cause — and the sheer arrogance to think that we had enough chips to effect something this basic. But Kenji [refers to Galbraith – “Ken” plus the Indian affectionate honorific “ji”] for all his brilliance, and he is a brilliant man, and he’s a very likeable man, is a very articulate, and humorous guy. As an individual I find him enchanting.
But this was a colossal error on his part. And he has enough of an ego so he would not suffer being told that it was a colossal error. He somehow saw the Kashmir problem as a kind of fiendishly complicated jigsaw puzzle, which only he had the intelligence to solve.
So he sat there with maps, and charts, and generals, and statesmen, and so forth, and he snookered the British High Commissioner into joining his camp. And he cozied the Indians and the Pak[istani]s up to a certain point …
Nehru went along with this for quite a while just to keep Kenji happy and to keep the arms coming from America because he needed them badly at that point. But as soon as Nehru saw that Kenji was getting into a position where he could do something affecting Indian interests, basic interests, as India perceived them, Nehru wasn’t there anymore.
He pulled the rug out from under leaving Kenji spinning. And the dispute simmers on. The goodwill that we gained from arming India was very rapidly dissipated.
The other thing Kenji did, he did manage to ram this through to a successful conclusion, an air defense agreement between India and the United States where we could come to India’s defense. It was almost but not quite a treaty alliance, or a security treaty alliance relationship.
It wasn’t quite that because the Indians, even in their moment of maximum desperation, were not about to sign up as military allies of the United States. But it was a lot closer than they were comfortable with but Ken managed to get them to sign that…
…They had a top Indian general who was there talking to the National War College and the students gave all the pre-programmed questions. Then I asked him about the air defense agreement. He was totally startled, totally lost his composure, and he pretended he couldn’t remember it.
It became a dead letter, in other words, almost while the ink was still wet. So those were Kenji’s two achievements, and the way he blew the credit we got. It was by an unsuccessful attempt to ram a Kashmir solution down the throats of the unwilling Indians and Pakistanis, and through the conclusion of an air defense agreement that was dead the moment it was signed.
“He must have seemed to the Indians to be very close to Mrs. Kennedy and, hence, to the President”
Howard B. Schaffer, Economic Officer in New Delhi, 1961-1967
SCHAFFER: …I might at this point just interject a comment about Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy’s visit, which took place while Galbraith was still ambassador. It was a very interesting operation. According to reports that I believe are correct, Ambassador Galbraith had been one of the principal promoters of the visit, which (inevitably in those days) included Pakistan as well.
I believe he did this not only because he enjoyed these occasions – he loved being in the company of great people or their spouses — but I’m convinced that he also saw the visit, and his role in masterminding it, as evidence of his close ties to the Kennedy White House that would impress the Indians.
Since he was seen to be choreographing the visit of the First Lady, he must have seemed to the Indians to be very close to Mrs. Kennedy and hence to the president. Much of this staging was designed to show the Indians that he was a person to be reckoned with because he had full and meaningful access to the Oval Office.
The visit went off very well. The important aspect, from our point of view, was that the preparation for the visit became first priority for all embassy staff. Other work just had to take second place for months.
Officers were sent to various parts of the country. Some very remote indeed — to check out accommodations, scout sites that the First Lady might wish to see, and look for places appropriate for public relations purposes…
When Mrs. Kennedy came, I was still pretty much of a fledgling. But like everyone else in the embassy, I was drawn into the preparations. I was much impressed by the attention that was devoted to every detail by Galbraith. He even ran a rehearsal dinner designed to ensure that all would go smoothly at the official dinner, which was loaded with VIPs from Prime Minister Nehru on down. This visit was taken as seriously as a presidential visit. It was a very glamorous occasion…
It is important to note that during the Kennedy presidency, many Indians viewed the White House with great admiration. The Indians have a love of pomp and circumstance, for royalty. I think they saw in the Kennedys their image of a young, vigorous royal couple.
I use the words “young and vigorous’ quite advisedly because I do feel that part of the attraction the Kennedys had for Indians was their youthful beauty and exuberance. Indians compared this with the tired and aging leadership of Nehru and the other chieftains of the Congress Party.
The visit was obviously a public relations success. Mrs. Kennedy was photographed everywhere. But it was all fluff; there were no serious discussions. She sat with Nehru on the embassy stairs after dinner, but the visit had no lasting impact.
It did show the U.S. in a very favorable light and I think one can say that Indian public opinion moved in our favor–and it was wonderfully good for Galbraith in terms of his standing both with the White House and the Indian leadership.
Yet soon after Mrs. Kennedy’s departure, Indian-U.S. relations sagged once again.
Mari-Luci Jaramillo, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras from 1977-1980, rose from poverty in New Mexico to a life of diplomacy and advocacy of civil rights for Hispanics. With a husband, three children and a factory job, she completed an undergraduate degree at New Mexico Highlands University with the goal of teaching elementary school. In 1977, President Carter selected her to be ambassador to Honduras, making her the first Hispanic-American female Ambassador and the first woman to head an embassy in the Western Hemisphere. Ambassador Jaramillo drew upon her personal experiences with poverty and discrimination in her public service as U.S. ambassador and civil rights advocate, adhering to and respecting the values of her Latino family and community throughout her life.
President Dwight Eisenhower appointed John Foster Dulles as Secretary of State in January 1953, a job he held until almost the end of the decade. Dulles’ firm friendship with the President gave him direct access to the Oval Office; he got access to the Central Intelligence Agency through his brother, Allen Dulles, then CIA director. During Dulles’ tenure, the U.S. secured international security agreements, reduced American troop numbers and weapons production, and contained the spread of communism. The State Department also initiated its first press conferences.
Dulles could be a controversial and polarizing figure. Some commended his stance against communism, while others criticized his policies of massive retaliation and brinkmanship. There were those who felt threatened by his presence, while many admired him as a devoted public servant, hardworking and committed to President Eisenhower.
The following excerpts give a sense of the disparate views of John Foster Dulles, as eight who worked with him recall their impressions of the Secretary during his tenure at the State Department:
Douglas Dillon, who prepared speeches for Thomas Dewey’s nomination campaign and worked with John Foster Dulles on the campaign in 1948, was interviewed Robert D. Shulzinger in April 1987. William H. Gleysteen, Jr. served in the Executive Secretariat at the State Department from 1951-1955. Thomas Stern interviewed him in June 1997.
David S. Smith was Special Assistant to John Foster Dulles from 1953-1954. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in May 1989. Eugene Bird was a Rockefeller intern in the Office of Personnel at State from 1953-1955. He was interviewed by Kennedy in January 1994.
Frances Knight served as the Director of the Passport Office from 1955-1977. Kennedy interviewed her in June 1987. Richard Parker served as the Israel/Jordan Desk Officer from 1956-1959, and was interviewed by Kennedy in April 1989.
Ambassador Marshall Green served as the Regional Planning Advisor for the Far East working in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs from 1956-1960. He wrote the memoir, Evolution of U.S.-China Policy 1956-1957: Memoir of an Insider. Archer K. Blood served in the Executive Secretariat from 1956-1962. He was interviewed by Henry Precht in June 1989.
Douglas Dillon, Speechwriter for Dewey’s presidential campaign, 1948; later U.S. Ambassador to France and Secretary of the Treasury
DILLON (seen at left): My father had been a good friend of Foster Dulles– used him as a lawyer, I guess– Sullivan and Cromwell. And so Foster Dulles was aware of my interest in politics, and he was very interested in the Dewey campaign [in 1940], and I went and helped him raise money for that in New Jersey. That was when [dark horse candidate who became the 1940 Republican nominee for President, Wendell] Willkie overwhelmed things. I went to that convention.
In 1944 I was out in the Pacific with the Navy, but then when we came back, in 1948, I also worked with Foster Dulles on the nominating campaign. When Dewey was nominated, Mr. Dulles asked me, along with a couple of other people, who I’ll mention in a minute, to work with him in preparing foreign policy speeches that Dewey might give during the campaign.
He had an office in the Roosevelt Hotel and his chief assistant was his brother, Allen Dulles. The next person down the ladder was [Massachusetts Representative, later Secretary of State] Christian Herter, and the next one was me, and the youngest one was McGeorge Bundy [Council on Foreign Relations, later National Security Advisor under Kennedy and Johnson]. So we had quite a group. We worked and wrote a lot of speeches for Mr. Dulles. He liked them, and he gave them to Dewey to deliver, but Dewey didn’t deliver any of them because he thought they were too strong and too controversial.
Dewey was also being advised by Senator [Arthur] Vandenberg [R-Michigan, who helped with the creation of the United Nations], who felt that he should not upset the Democrats because after he was elected, he would be able to deal much better with them in the Senate if he hadn’t been too strong, so he followed that advice.
I worked for two months there very closely, every day with Foster Dulles. So he knew me and my interests and what he thought of my capacity, I guess, in this area…
Dulles had nothing directly to do with [Dwight Eisenhower’s 1952 presidential] campaign — although Eisenhower knew he was very good. After Eisenhower was elected, very early on, he turned to Dulles and asked him to be Secretary of State. That was in mid-November . I think it was early December when I got a telephone call from Mr. Dulles, who was working at the Commodore Hotel.
I went there and had lunch with him, and he asked me if I would be interested in being Ambassador to France. He told me at that time that the President-elect had, in effect, given him the right to nominate — to suggest– one person for one of the major embassies. The President had reserved for himself the other two or three major posts.
Foster Dulles was always particularly interested in France, because he had studied there as a youth, and his wife had been there, and they had gotten together there, and he had a real understanding and love of France.
So he was interested in that, and he thought I could do the job. This was a surprise for me because I was so young for that– at that time I was 42 years old.
“Dulles’ mannerisms were remarkably unattractive”
William H. Gleysteen, Jr., Executive Secretariat, 1951-1955
GLEYSTEEN: I had an interesting reaction to Dulles. First of all, I had a slightly worshipful — probably somewhat excessive–view of [Secretary of State Dean] Acheson that may have made me more severe than justified in my judgment of his successor.
Secondly, my newspaper acquaintance with Dulles before he became Secretary was of a man of baffling contradiction. While visiting Korea in 1950 before the outbreak of the Korean War he seemed to demonstrate commendable caution about the danger of South Korean provocative actions, yet he later appeared to have become a hawk in suggesting we use nuclear weapons to break the military stalemate. Whatever the facts, I worried that he was a hardliner.
Lastly, Dulles’ mannerisms were remarkably unattractive; he was not a polished figure like his brother Allen. John Foster was physically clumsy — he was tall and gangly; he was abrupt; he didn’t pay much attention to his surroundings; he was very demanding of people. So my first impression of Dulles was rather negative, the views of a fairly “liberal” anti-communist Democrat working in a very Republican administration.
But I generally measure people on how they perform, and over time, and my opinion of Dulles rose measurably. Initially, I feared he was an adventurer; he sided with the military in several debates concerning the development and use of nuclear weapons. In the Secretary’s and Deputy Secretary’s offices during meetings and phone conversations I listened to the arguments dealing with China; I was appalled.
Bedell Smith, a fine soldier and good deputy, also disappointed me by siding with Dulles. Fortunately, President Eisenhower had the sense to toss out an almost unanimous State and Defense recommendation to use nuclear weapons. This aspect of Dulles jolted me, but as time went on, my anxieties diminished.
I came to see Dulles as a very hard worker. He was not so ideological that he turned deaf ears to important information. He listened to people. Although it was not easy to see him, once you got to him, your views would get an airing. I think Dulles acted on a fairly broad spectrum of information and views. Periodically he would return to his menacing “Cold Warrior” style, but President Eisenhower seemed to balance that off very well.
My opinion of Dulles was more favorable at the end of my tour than it was at the beginning. Dulles barely recognized my presence; he was very impersonal to all. He knew I was a member of his outer staff and treated me decently. I dealt mostly with him through [his administrative assistant] Rod[erick] O’Connor, with whom I had a very good relationship.
“I was never in the office when the President disagreed with him”
David S. Smith, Special Assistant to Dulles, 1953-1954
SMITH: I regarded him as a really dedicated man. I occasionally had lunch with him. It was his custom to have lunch alone or with one person in his office as often as he could. His usual fare for lunch was a raw apple, which he peeled slowly, and a small dish of cottage cheese, which to a young man was pretty amazing. I had a good, full appetite and liked a three-course meal, but that was what he usually had for lunch.
He usually arrived about 8:00 every morning and stayed in the office until he took a shower about 6:00 and changed either to a black tie or white tie to go to some diplomatic function.
He was just an extremely hard-driving, aesthetic, devoted public servant. One thing that impressed me tremendously was that he never took any important action without picking up the white telephone at his desk and calling the President and describing it to the President and giving his recommendation for an outcome and asking the President’s decision. I never was in the office when the President disagreed with him.
I didn’t hear the other end of the conversation, but I had the impression that the President usually said, “Well, that’s fine, Foster. Let’s go ahead as you suggest.” But at least I was very impressed. It was a lesson to a young man on how to keep a good relationship going for eight years, or nearly eight until he died, that he was scrupulous always to keep the President fully informed and totally briefed on any important matter….
Mr. Dulles was a lifelong, well-trained lawyer who was extremely knowledgeable about diplomatic history, American history and foreign policy. He was also a very devout Christian and a very serious, thoughtful man and certainly made every effort to be just.
Of course, there was the impact of Senator Joseph McCarthy, and I think every thinking person regarded him as having considerable power. Mr. Dulles certainly never espoused the idea “Let’s run the rascals out!” There were certain individuals, of course, who were brought to his attention as people that he had to cope with [because of] the background that they had built up.
“I’ve already spoken to President Eisenhower about you, and I think he has something in mind for you”
He did take into the Department — possibly it was a mistake, but under the pressure of two or three other leading, extremely conservative senators – Scott McLeod and a couple of others who certainly were extremely conservative Republicans and who certainly caused him hours of concern over matters that were brought to the Secretary’s attention. Some of those people had very long security files.
I remember seeing one that was three or four piles of papers that were each about four feet high, of their background materials and reports, of course, unsubstantiated reports of incidents. Under pressure of people like Senator McCarthy, the Secretary felt he had to give very serious thought to what to do.
I must say, he never took any action on any of those cases without giving it a great many hours of time he would have preferred devoting to foreign policy. As you know, personnel can be an extremely time-consuming matter, and he was a very serious and just man who tried to deal with these matters in the way that was best for the United States, I think….
I had taken a leave of absence of one year from my law firm, having participated in the political campaign of General Eisenhower, as I mentioned to you earlier. I was really eager to follow him to Washington. I had a lifelong interest in it, and I was anxious to go into government.
So when I finally got there, I really worked very hard at it and tried my best to make good use of my time knowing that I only had a year to be in Washington and became very devoted to Secretary Dulles and to the experience of being close to high foreign policy, sitting in on his daily staff conferences with all the assistant secretaries each morning.
I was really very enthusiastic and very much taken by it. So I was thoroughly enjoying this year in Washington, but very conscious that the clock was ticking and that I had only a year. I had a wife and three little boys. I was only 31, and I felt a little bit guilty that I had taken this time out from my career having previously taken four years to be in the war.
I really felt I had an obligation to get back to my law firm and a serious practice. So as we approached the end of the year, I went to Secretary Dulles. I had been waiting for a moment when I found him in a relaxed mood.
I said to him, “Mr. Secretary, I just want to remind you that I will be going back to New York to my law firm in just about a month or so, and I do think you should begin to look for a replacement. I took this position for one year and the year is nearly up.”
And he said to me, “Well, David, you know I’m leaving for a conference in Germany tomorrow. But please don’t do anything about this until I get back and we talk about it, because I’ve already spoken to President Eisenhower about you, and I think he has something in mind for you at another agency but at a very much higher level. So wait until I get back.”
So I did, and very shortly I learned that the President wanted me to become Assistant Secretary of the Air Force at a time when all of the other assistant secretaries were my father’s age and I would be dealing daily with four-star generals in a very exciting life.
So it didn’t take me too much to decide that, law or no law, I wanted to try the Pentagon. That’s why I went there.
“He had an incredible grasp of detail of diplomatic history of foreign countries”
Q: I wonder if you could describe how [Dulles] operated in meetings?
SMITH: Yes, I’d be glad to. He had two levels of meetings. One was a very small meeting of just three or four officers in his office that he sometimes held. But he held regularly scheduled, almost daily, meetings of all the assistant secretaries. That was in a larger conference room with assistant secretaries around the table and the Secretary setting at the head of the table. They started, as I recall, about 9:00, [beginning with reports] on intelligence that had already been finished and all that.
This was to get a direct report individually from the different assistant secretaries on their geographic areas, developments that they felt were significant that might or might not have been covered in the intelligence briefings, their views and recommendations. It was, to me, a very exhilarating occasion which in some ways was a great opportunity for the Secretary to display his incredibly detailed knowledge gained from a lifelong study of diplomatic and government history.
If the Assistant Secretary for Latin America might be speaking about a border dispute between two adjacent countries, for example, the Secretary would be apt to make a remark like this: “Well, don’t forget now, do go back and study how that discussion would be influenced by the treaties between those two countries of 1832 and then the Treaty of 1871 which was later modified by the Treaty of 1890 in that border dispute and further modified in 1906 and 1917.”
It was incredible. He had a tremendous grasp, and it would be the same in any part of the world, whether it was the Far East or Europe or South America. He had an incredible grasp of detail of diplomatic history of foreign countries.
In effect, I feel and I’ve understood from others, he had been studying to be Secretary of State pretty much all of his life and it showed. He was a very self-contained, quiet, controlled man of considerable wisdom and determination.
“Dulles was viewed by many people as being a sort of political ‘hatchet man.’”
Eugene Bird, Office of Personnel, Rockefeller intern, 1953-1955
BIRD: The presidential election was in November, Eisenhower became president in January, 1953, and John Foster Dulles was appointed Secretary of State. We scrambled around trying to learn who this person [Dulles] was. As we were in public affairs, we would supposedly have to have read everything that he ever wrote. It was quite difficult to find things that Dulles had written. Secretary of State Dulles came into office and, shortly thereafter, decided to have a massive Reduction in Force [RIF].
So a lot of people were left without jobs. The Rockefeller people had insisted that we be given full civil service status and protection, right from the start, so we were protected from the RIF. [Many] people in USIS [United States Information Service] and the ECA [Educational and Cultural Affairs] were separated from government service, while 40 Rockefeller interns remained in the Department…
[Outgoing Secretary of State Dean] Acheson was very highly thought of in the Foreign Service. He was considered a very professional, high-class person. Dulles was viewed by many people as being a sort of political “hatchet man.” There was that aspect to it. People who had worked with Dulles had a lot of respect for his abilities but also viewed him as something of a “bull in a China shop” in terms of our relations with some of our allies and some of our programs.
Of course, the programs were being slashed right and left at that point. There was a major re-thinking of what we should do with this massive bureaucracy that had been put together over the years by the Democrats. So there was that aspect. But the other aspect, I think, was, “Thank God that we’ve got a tough champion, close to President Eisenhower, who might do something about the situation on the Hill”…
There was a feeling that, “Well, if we have to have a son of a bitch, we’ve got a good one here. And he’s a person who isn’t going to be run over by a lot of people.” Dulles had been a politician and had a good relationship with the President. That also was very important. But people in the Department felt that Dulles lacked to some extent the savoir faire to do some of the things that the old Foreign Service would like to see him do…
The modernization of the Foreign Service really began with Secretary of State Dulles. That was the point. I saw it from the standpoint of the administration and management side. Of course, you start out with a study. You had various commissions that were appointed to try to “renew” the Foreign Service and give the President a more “American” Foreign Service.
There had been an attitude that we didn’t know how to administer the very large programs that we were involved in. The Marshall Plan was largely finished by that time. It wasn’t complete, but it had been reoriented to a large extent….
[Eisenhower and Dulles planned to] reorganize the Foreign Service so that it would stop talking about trying to accommodate to the Russians and try to confront them openly, strongly, and completely. That was partly the result of the Korean War, which had a deep effect on American politics. This was one of the reasons why Eisenhower ran and why he was elected.
“Dulles was opening the door just a little bit to find out what I looked like”
Frances Knight, Director of the Passport Office, 1955-1977
KNIGHT (seen at right): Dulles was a good friend of mine. Well, he was the one who really hired me. I remember he called me to his office, and he said that I had been recommended by Members of Congress to him, and that Mrs. Shipley was retiring, and that it had been suggested to him that I was a proper person for that job because I had been working in the government over the years. So I think that from that standpoint, it was all right.
I remember so well that Dulles said to me — when I was in the waiting room outside his office, it was just a small one, half the size of this, a lot of chairs, I was sitting like this towards the door, and I was watching the door, and the door moved just a little bit, and a little bit more. I thought I saw a person’s eye. Sure enough, it was Dulles.
Dulles was opening the door just a little bit to find out what I looked like, you know, and he had already known that I was there. So then he made an effort to open the door, as though he had not been looking through the door. I remember that very well.
He invited me into his office, and he said, “Well, I just want to discuss with you the fact that you have been recommended by Members of Congress and by the Secretary for the Passport Office. Mrs. Shipley is leaving, she’s retiring, and you’ve got a reputation of being very tough with people.”
And I looked at him, and I said, “Well, what about you? You’re tough with people. I know about all your toughness.” (Laughs) And we started talking, and that was it. Out of that small, insignificant conversation, he said, “When can you start?” That was it.
“He treated the Foreign Service sort of like a public convenience”
Richard Parker, Israel/Jordan Desk Officer, 1956-1959
PARKER: We saw Dulles as a very remote figure who really didn’t know anything about the details of what was going on in the Department. He treated the Foreign Service sort of like a public convenience. I once interpreted for Dulles during the visit of King Saud in 1957. I was one of the team of interpreters. One night I found myself interpreting for Dulles and a Saudi who was a very short prince named Musaid Bin Abdul Rahman, who was the Chief of the Diwan [hall where a minister sits and receives supplicants] of complaints. He was the ombudsman for Saudi Arabia.
Dulles came into this dinner. We were seated at dinner. I forget whose dinner it was, it wasn’t Dulles’ dinner, it was somebody else’s. This was a state visit. I guess it was King Saud’s dinner for us. It was the Mayflower Hotel or someplace like that.
Dulles came in, sat down and said, “Good evening,” to me. And he said, “Good night,” when he left. These were the only words he spoke to me all evening. We were there for about two hours. I was constantly interpreting.
I obviously wasn’t an Arab. I’m blond and freckled and don’t look at all like an Arab. Never any question about how I learned Arabic or who I was or anything else. I could have been a telephone instrument in his hand as far as that was concerned. I am not allowed to eat either, of course. I am sitting just behind and between these two gentlemen.
By contrast, I also interpreted for then-Vice President Nixon the first night of the visit when President Eisenhower entertained the king. My man was pretty high in the Saudi pecking order, so I was up at the head table. I was interpreting between him and Vice President Nixon. Nixon immediately wanted to know who I was and how I spoke Arabic. (Photo: Corbis)
Afterwards, during one of the intermissions on another occasion, he made a point of coming up and talking to all of us. Sort of politicking, but expressing some personal interest in who we were, and he was pleased that we had people in the Foreign Service who could interpret like this, this difficult language.
Dulles was just a hopelessly remote figure. We respected and admired his abilities as a lawyer, as a drafter, as a politician. But as a human being, he didn’t have much appeal to us.
“He was a dyed-in-the-wool lawyer with a cold-war missionary zeal”
Marshall Green, Regional Planning Advisor for the Far East, Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs, 1956-1960.
GREEN: A few comments about Secretary Dulles’ handling of the [Taiwan Straits] crisis: I was deeply impressed by his excellent working relations with President Eisenhower, as well as with his associates in State, Defense, and the CIA (headed by his brother, Allen).
On several occasions, near the conclusion of meetings in his office, Dulles would pick up the secure phone and tell the President of our conclusions and solicit his comments or, where relevant, his approval. Dulles thus made it clear to all present that he was acting under Eisenhower’s orders. That, in turn, strengthened Dulles’ position with all his associates.
I was also impressed by the way Dulles took charge of the problem, making it his personal responsibility to work out a peaceful solution, losing many hours of sleep in the process. Yet he sought advice from his associates.
I recall how Gerard Smith, at that time Director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, used to argue almost instinctively against the emerging consensus of several of our meetings. Dulles seemed to welcome the ensuing debate which helped to fine-hone the final decisions.
Diplomatic biographer Sir Harold Nicholson once wrote that the worst kind of diplomatists are zealots, lawyers and missionaries, and the best kind are humane skeptics. In his first years as Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles seemed to fall clearly in the first category. He was a dyed-in-the-wool lawyer with a cold-war missionary zeal. For him, countering Soviet aggressive acts gave rise to a new term in diplomacy: “brinksmanship.”
He stonily refused to shake the extended hand of Zhou En-lai at Geneva in 1954 (seen at right) — an insult never forgotten by Zhou. He was also associated in the minds of many of us Foreign Service Officers with Senator McCarthy and his ilk who pilloried the Foreign Service and hounded out of office several of our best China specialists whose only “crime” was the accuracy of their reports out of China during World War II, predicting the decline of the Chinese Nationalists under Generalissimo Chiang and the rise of Mao’s Communists.
John Foster Dulles may be remembered by history as one of our most zealous, hard-line Secretaries of State, especially in his dealings with Moscow and Peking, but from my vantage point, in the next to last year of his life, he appeared as a man of moderation and reason, an able practitioner of diplomacy as well as of law.
“Almost without exception, the Secretary knew the answer”
Archer K. Blood, Executive Secretariat, 1956-1962
BLOOD: Secretary Dulles liked his privacy. Even assistant secretaries who wanted to contact him had to call us [in the Executive Secretariat.] So I would get phone calls at home or on Saturday morning from people saying they had to see the Secretary.
It was difficult as a young officer to make the decision when you were going to call John Foster Dulles and say, “Somebody wants to see you” or not. Or you just say, “I’m sorry, I can’t give out his number,” and try to refer them to somebody else.
Also, in those days, if you had an eyes-only cable for the Secretary that came in over the weekend, you went down to the Department and got it. And in your own car, you drove over to the Secretary’s house and delivered it to him and waited there while he read it and gave you instructions as to what to do.
Q: What were your impressions of Mr. Dulles at this time?
BLOOD: First of all, it troubled me that he knew more about the details of the business of the State Department than did most of the senior Foreign Service officers with whom he was dealing. As the EUR [European and Eurasian Affairs] man, I would routinely be invited to the briefing sessions with the Secretary that preceded the visit, say, of the French Prime Minister or the German Chancellor, whoever.
And I was struck that in these meetings when questions came up about details, say, “What does the Treaty of Rome say?” or this or that, that almost without exception, the Secretary knew the answer. The senior Foreign Service people said, “I don’t know. I’ll look it up…”
[Dulles was] not too charitable. Also, the other impression I had was that he was quite inarticulate, in the sense that he answered many questions with grunts. There were people who had worked with him more closely than I who could interpret these grunts, but I found it very difficult when he would look at me and grunt.
And I would normally have to whisper to somebody, “What does he want?” And they would say, “He wants two copies of this” or something like that. And I would go out and get it. But he was not given at all to any small talk or social niceties. All business.
Loy Henderson (1892-1986) is one of the most storied figures in American diplomatic history. Beginning his career in 1922, he would spend the first two decades of his nearly 40-year career in various posts across Eastern Europe. This includes an assignment to Moscow in 1933, where Henderson worked alongside such diplomatic notables as George Kennan and Charles “Chip” Bohlen as America’s first envoy to the USSR.
However, his strong criticism of the Soviet Union would get him transferred out of Eastern European Affairs and into the Near East, where he would severe as Ambassador to Iraq from 1943 to 1945. He would then return to the U.S. to head the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau until 1948. During this time, he was faced with the crisis caused by the creation of the state of Israel.
Some have speculated that Henderson’s personal skepticism toward U.S. recognition of the Jewish State led to his “promotion” to Ambassador to India in 1948, then a newly independent country. From India, Henderson would go to Iran, where he would serve as Ambassador from 1951 to 1954, during which time he aided in the CIA-organized coup to overthrow democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in favor of Shah Reza Pahlavi.
Henderson would serve the last stretch of his career (1954-1960) as the Under Secretary of State for Administration. While in this position, he would oversee the process of “Wristonization,” whereby numerous Civil Service Officers were transferred to the Foreign Service, and vice versa, despite his opposition to the policy. During the final year of his career, Henderson would take a tour of the newly decolonized countries in Africa, and would be heavily involved in forming embassies in these newly formed nations. The Loy Henderson Auditorium, one of the main halls at the State Department, was named in his honor.
James McCargar was just entering the Foreign Service in 1942 and had the pleasure of meeting then Director Henderson immediately following his oral examination. John Steeves, who would later serves as Ambassador to Afghanistan, was a junior officer in the Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) Bureau under Henderson, and would accompany him to India. John Stutesman was a consular, and later political, officer in Iran from 1950 to 1953.
John Harter, then a junior FSO and American Foreign Service Association board member consulted with Henderson during the “Wristonization” process. Alan Lukens was a junior officer who became charge d’affaires in Brazzaville when the French colonies in Africa became independent in 1960. Finally, Robert Ryan Sr. was Executive Director of NEA from 1955 to 1958 during the twilight of Ambassador Henderson’s amazing career.
For a first-hand account from the diplomat himself, an interview with Henderson is stored in the Truman Library archives, and can be accessed from their website. Learn how he helped push for better language instruction at the Foreign Service Institute.
“Collective security or territorial aggrandizement?”
John McCargar, Foreign Service Candidate, 1942
McCARGAR: On the 6th of January 1942 I took my oral examination [to enter the Foreign Service]…. [During the examination, Assistant Secretary of State] Dean Acheson said, “Now, Mr. McCargar, you’ve studied Russian. You’ve studied Russian history. You apparently know a great deal about Russia. What is your estimation of the post-war policy of the Soviet Union? Collective security or territorial aggrandizement?”
Well, I may have been young but I wasn’t that stupid. So I walked all around that question. After some of my meandering, Acheson raised his fist and slammed it down on the table in front of him. No Board laughter here. Acheson said, “Stop evading the question! Answer it!” So, stifling a gulp of panic, I said “Territorial aggrandizement.”
Exam’s over, [Secretary of the Foreign Service Board Robert] MacAtee comes out and says “You passed,” and (presumably because I spoke Russian) took me up to Loy Henderson, at that time Director of East European Affairs, and — apart from Ray Murphy — the Department’s chief expert on the Soviet Union.
The first thing I said to Mr. Henderson was, “I don’t know whether I’ve made a terrible mistake, but this is what I said to Assistant Secretary Acheson in response to his direct question.”
Henderson looked up at me from his desk, and said “You didn’t make a mistake.”
Q: So Loy Henderson had no illusions about the Soviet Union.
McCARGAR: None. And one result was my assignment to the Soviet Union.
“There is only one thing that we can do, and that is to be good soldiers in carrying out the policy”
John M. Steeves, Near Eastern Affairs Bureau 1945-1948, New Delhi 1948-1950
STEEVES: Prior to our departure that year , the discussions on Palestine and its future was all consuming. The Balfour Declaration [the November 2, 1917 letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild that made public the British support of a Jewish homeland in Palestine] had been passed by Britain, virtually washing their hands of this naughty problem. In doing this the British had passed the buck to us to shepherd to some kind of solution with the help of the United Nations.
If the Jews were to be given their temporal state again, their homeland, it had to be done with the utmost care to keep it from blowing the Near East wide open. There might be ways for it to be done if it was done gradually and with the proper safeguards, but the way it would be looked upon in 1947, by the Arab World and those who sympathized with the Palestinians, was that there had been ruthless rape of the Palestinians and their rights.
They were thrown out lock, stock and barrel with no arrangement for compensation, for their homes, for their lands and cruelly being sent into refugee camps and being told, “You Arabs take care of yourselves somehow, we don’t care how you do or who does it.” Those close to the problem saw rather clearly what would happen. NEA [Near Eastern Affairs Bureau], the policy operating group advising the Secretary and the President, tried very hard to see not only what was necessary, because we could see that probably the idea of a home for the Jews of some kind had to be satisfied.
Political pressures back home were great, but it had to be done right or we would see the storm it would create in the Near East. NEA got to be looked upon, and Loy Henderson and his staff in particular, as the people who were dragging their heels in carrying out a policy that the Zionists and their sympathizers were hammering home by leaders like Eleanor Roosevelt and President Truman.
Because of his well-known advice to move with extreme caution at this delicate time, neither Ambassador Henderson nor the Department of State was informed that the act of supporting the U.N. Resolution was going to take place. The action was learned of from The New York Times that the United Nations had passed the Resolution. Then, of course, all hell broke loose….
I can remember one of the remarks indicative of Loy Henderson’s principle of loyalty to authority even if he personally disagreed with it, which he made the very next day, “Well, our position has been thrown out and there is no room at all for the feelings that NEA or I personally hold, nor any of our recommendations. There is only one thing that we can do and that is to be good soldiers in carrying out the policy. So from here on out the explanation has got to be that this is the United States’ policy and the status of the new Israel must be protected and the Arabs must learn to get along with the United States support of Israel.”
I sat with him during some of his interviews in the days after that and you would never know that he ever held a different view in his life.(Photo: President Truman with P.M. David Ben Gurion and Ambassador Abba Eban)
Q: Did you have the feeling at the time that Loy Henderson was sent to India [in 1948] because he was so sympathetic with the Arab world and the idea was to get him out of the picture…?
STEEVES: There could have been an element of that. Henderson was not well accepted by the Zionists. They had him targeted and as you know when they have their ways of influencing action. If that was there, it was out of my sight. I didn’t see it.
“Loy Henderson had no peers in his knowledge of protocol and procedure and policy”
STEEVES: When [Ambassador Henderson and I] got to India, independence had been declared the year before . They had gone through the bloodbath of the first few months of it. The awful scenes of the massacres and slaughter of innocent people by the train load when they were exchanging people, Muslims allegedly going north and Hindus coming south. There was a train load of Muslims passing through the native state of Patiala that were stopped at a station and the Sikhs systematically went through that train and murdered every single individual on it. Of course, coming the other direction, the same thing was likely to happen to Hindus going south.
We had excellent relations [with the Indian government]…. For instance there came the event very soon after our arrival when we went to present our credentials to the new President of India. Ambassador Henderson was the first full-blown American Ambassador there in the new India and the Indians had no other understanding of pomp and ceremony, but to carry the ceremony out about like the British had done.
Having been in India before and remembering some of the same affairs with the British; there were those same Sikh guards, with their long lances, high turbans, etc., so statuesque you could have stuck a lighted cigarette in their eye and they would not have blinked.
We got up to the Durbar Hall where after all of the dramatic ceremony before the great oaken doors would be swung open, to match the scene nothing less than seeing an armored knight on a white charger come out to announce the President would have been appropriate. But instead a little man leaning on a cane came out wearing a turban, a dhoti, and dark glasses….
This was [Chakravarti] Rajagopalachari — the first President of India .He was a wonderful scholar, a truly great man, but still of the old-fashioned orthodox Brahmin ways. He was very strict in the observance of his Brahmin caste rules.
I had heard this story the day before and knowing a good deal about India I believed it. In order to purify the food that came out of the great fancy kitchen downstairs he had to have the walls smeared with cow dung in order to purify it. When he came to Loy Henderson’s house for a meal, which he finally agreed to do, he had to bring his own bearers along with his own utensils to stand behind his chair and serve it to him. He couldn’t touch anything in the place….
Loy Henderson had no peers in his knowledge of protocol and procedure and policy and things of that nature. He was a wonderful gentleman and a good teacher to learn from and take instructions from. I can see him just sitting there going over your draft and saying, “Take this or that out, save superlative words of that nature for some really demanding moment.” He was a good preceptor and disciplinarian when it came to that type of form. He was the same way when dealing with people in a very correct and proper way.
Now, having said that, his usefulness with all of that ability in dealing with leaders like [Indian Prime Minister] Pandit Nehru was diminished a little bit by the fact that secretly he disliked and mistrusted Nehru. He disliked Nehru with a passion and didn’t appreciate him but dealt with him very correctly.
The day that Truman ordered American troops into Korea [in June 1950]…, President Truman sent instructions out to the Ambassador to go to Prime Minister Nehru and see if he could get his permission to send an Indian contingent in the United Nations force into Korea.
Loy Henderson, with all the experience he had had in Russia and elsewhere, made a remark I found a bit strange. What he said to me in the car going up there that day (he had asked me to go up with him to see Nehru) was, “Today is one of the proudest moments of my career.” He would have rocked me back on my heels if he had said that when I was standing up.
I figured out in thinking about it years later that he was so glad to be the messenger of that kind of a tough message to this Nehru, and to tell him what the great United States expected of him if he wanted to be a decent member of the world community. (Photo: Ambassador Henderson with Nehru)
The Ambassador couldn’t forget that after all that China had done when the Communists took over the country, Nehru, in the early days of the independence of India, had been the first to recognize the brutal Communist regime. He had stabbed the poor Chinese in the back by throwing out the Nationalist Chinese [Taiwanese] Ambassador and was one of the first to invite in the Communist Chinese Ambassador….
Henderson was kind of a purist in the way he lived and thought of other people. He didn’t want you to profess to be one thing and then turn out to be something else. Nehru to him was in a way a British country gentleman and then turned around and tried to be an Indian peasant in politics and the two didn’t fit at all. One personality was always jarring against the other. For him to be almost kissing Gandhi’s feet was next to ridiculous, almost comic opera to see him in this sycophantish way act around Gandhi….
“Mr. Henderson had a deep reluctance to have a covert operation displace a chief of state”
John Stutesman, Consular/Political Officer, Tehran, 1950-1953
STUTESMAN: I go back to when [Henderson] arrived in Tehran, he was a complete, really a dramatic change from [Ambassador Henry] Grady, without in any way trying to say one was better than the other. The fact is, without any question, that Mr. Henderson was a more certain person in dealing with the quagmire and walking across the bog of Iranian politics.…
By the time Henderson came, it had been clear that almost all avenues [of negotiation between Britain and Iran] had been exhausted. So Henderson came in, in my view, with an instruction to do what he could, but mainly to set up lines of communication to [Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad] Mossadegh and to the Shah, upon which we could build something new. Of course, that’s what he did…
Loy Henderson was one of the great classic diplomats of all time. He was a man of astonishing honesty, sincerity, gentleness, and a wonderful mind. He was just an extraordinary man. He treated the Shah with absolute sincerity and respect. He never gave the Shah any sense of looking down on him nor treating him as a less than emperor of emperors….
My recollection is that Henderson’s first attitude toward Mossadegh was one of treating him openly and continuing to try to work out some negotiated settlement with the British which would meet British and American concerns.…
The decision to overthrow Mossadegh was made, I believe, by [Walter B.] “Bedell” Smith, who was then Under Secretary and who, as you know, had come from the post in CIA, and who had been Chief of Staff to Eisenhower, so that you had a very tight family relationship there. You had Eisenhower as President, John Foster Dulles as Secretary of State, his brother Allen as the head of CIA, and Smith having been the closest associate of Eisenhower during the war and having been the Deputy in CIA, now as the Deputy in the State Department. So when “Bedell” spoke, he spoke not only with direct instructions, but also with a deep understanding of what his principals were thinking….
Now, they obviously did not work without involving Mr. Henderson….But I believe that Mr. Henderson had a deep reluctance to have a covert operation displace a chief of state. I think he had a long-term reluctance and a long-term sense of uneasiness about what this might do to the future.…(Photo: Shah Reza Pahlavi with Mossadegh)
Henderson’s role was nonetheless to carry out policy, and he very carefully developed an attitude and helped to sponsor an attitude in Iran that Mossadegh was leading the country to ruin and to Communist control. Whether Henderson believed that or not, I don’t know, but that’s certainly the way he worked. He did it, including removing himself from the scene. I don’t remember the exact timing, but it seems to me that he was out of Iran….
Q: On vacation, I think.
STUTESMAN: Yes. Of course, it’s so unlike Henderson to take a holiday right in the middle of a crisis. All of these things were worked out.
Wristonization and Personnel Reform: The Great Scrambling of Eggs
John Harter. American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Board Member, 1959
HARTER: Numerous commissions, expert groups, and reports in the late 1940s concluded the personnel situation at the State Department was not good, because Foreign Service personnel were mostly overseas, and most positions in the Department were filled by Civil Service personnel who had not lived or worked overseas….
As soon as [John Foster Dulles] became Secretary of State [in 1953], he froze all Foreign Service assignments and set up the Wriston Commission to study the Department’s personnel operations. He appointed Henry M. Wriston, who had been President of Brown University, to head it. The Wriston Commission recommended in more shrill terms than ever before that the status quo should not continue. The Department’s Civil Service personnel should immediately be integrated into the Foreign Service, and this should be done quickly. It should not be phased….
[T]he Foreign Service tripled in size overnight. All Foreign Service Officers were obligated to take jobs in Washington, and all Civil Service officers immediately became Foreign Service Officers who could expect to be assigned overseas. That created a lot of turmoil!
A Civil Service officer in Washington who backstopped the issuance of visas could be integrated as an FSO-2 and suddenly assigned to head the visa office at a major foreign post, even if that individual was not psychologically equipped to go overseas suddenly and was insufficiently experienced in overseas operations….
Loy Henderson was the most conspicuous Foreign Service Officer who [initially] opposed Wristonization when the Wriston report came out. He thought it would ruin the Foreign Service, because he thought most Civil Service officers were not qualified to do Foreign Service work.
But, in my view, one of the most intelligent things Dulles did was to ask Henderson to implement Wristonization. I was on the board of the American Foreign Service Association while all this chaos was going on, and that is why I became aware of these developments. Wristonization was the pervasive issue that dominated the board’s attention at that time. Although I was a very junior officer, I recommended to the board that we, as the full board, should meet with Henderson to discuss Wristonization….
Before the board agreed to my recommendation that we should meet with Loy Henderson, most of the board members were quite hostile to Wristonization, but after our first session with him, we were persuaded that this was the way the Department should go.
We had several sessions with Henderson, and he very eloquently explained that two very different personnel systems – systems with very different rules and regulations for recruitment, promotion, allowances, and retirement – were administered alongside each other, all kinds of crises, tensions, and resentments were bound to develop. That’s why he was convinced that the disparate systems had to be amalgamated.
Q: How did the selection-out principle work during Wristonization?
HARTER: Henderson fudged it a little. I was told that he held special briefings for the selection boards, pointing out that Civil Service personnel had been plunged into a new world they weren’t expecting, and they should be given special consideration, especially since their performance records were inherently not comparable to those who had been in the Foreign Service for some years.
In fact, Henderson had doubts about the entire promotion system, based on ranking officers from “the best” to “the worse.” For those reasons, he refused to allow selection-out during his tenure, except for cases involving clear incompetence or malfeasance. This is more or less my recollection of what he told me in later years. Henderson resisted pressures from some younger officers who wanted to get rid of the bald heads and gray heads who had become senior Foreign Service Officers through Wristonization. For that reason, those younger officers were very critical of his policies….
[John F.] Kennedy and his team, of course, heard all of these complaints [after entering office in 1961]. Loy Henderson wanted to continue in his position as the Department’s number five official [Deputy Under Secretary of State for Administration], with overall responsibility for personnel, security, buildings, and everything administrative. He lobbied to retain that position – and he encouraged us on the board to do what we could to pass the word along that he should stay on for a transition period. Unfortunately, in my view, the Kennedy administration rejected that option out of hand.
I think it’s fair to say Henderson was embittered; he knew the Department needed someone at that point who understood what was going on. He knew there was incredibly ill-informed opposition to Wristonization, and he knew many people thought the Department should be de-Wristonized. “We have to unscramble the eggs,” the critics said. And that was the word that percolated through to Kennedy’s principal cohorts.
Dean Rusk was, in many respects, an outstanding Secretary of State. He was brilliant and broad gauged, but hawkish, and he had no visible interest in administration and personnel matters. The Kennedy Administration named Roger Jones to replace Henderson.
Jones had headed the Civil Service Commission and was, in that capacity, in constant battle with Henderson over Wristonization. He was expected to de-Wristonize the Department, but, instead of doing that, he appointed a committee to study what should be done. That was the Herter Committee, chaired by Christian Herter, who had been Secretary of State during the last two years of the Eisenhower Administration….The Herter Committee took a few months to complete its report, which essentially recommended maintaining the status quo.
“He wanted an American embassy in every place”
Alan W. Lukens, Chargé d’Affaires, Brazzaville, 1960
LUKENS: This was the situation when I got there in early ’60. Of course, without belaboring the point, that was the big year of African independence. And [French President Charles] de Gaulle by that time had had his referendum throughout French Africa as to whether or not they would like to stay in the French commonwealth. They all voted to, gave the “grande oui,” except that Guiana refused and the French backed out of there in a very arrogant way….
Loy Henderson had decided ahead, of course, that he wanted to have an American embassy in each place, [and] he went through the motions of asking each president.
I’ll never forget in the Chad, [pictured, François] Tombalbaye…was President and standing there in his long boubou (that’s the long white sack that the Chadians wear). We went in to see the President and I was interpreting.
Henderson didn’t know any French, and he would say, “Do you want an American embassy?”
And the President would say, “Oui, patron.”
And then, “Do you want an Ambassador?” “Oui, patron.” And then, I’ll never forget in Chad, in this same wonderful open car, sitting with Henderson as we drove out along the river, and he said, “Tell them that we want these ten acres for the American Embassy.”
And the Minister of Defense, who was a 25-year old boy sitting in the front seat, kept saying, “Oui, oui, oui.”
The only problem with this little trip of Henderson’s was that we had to buy property, or get it in each place. And unfortunately he’d sent a couple of goons out from FBO [Foreign Buildings Operations] ahead of time, and these were heavy-handed guys that got in the hands of the French real estate market in each place, and started to line up houses and buildings.
So there wasn’t any great surprise when I landed there in a special plane with Henderson to ask if they wanted American embassies, because these FBO clowns had already been trying to buy up property. (Read an insider’s perspective on life in the FBO.)
Anyway, it developed then that the plan was to have an ambassador in Brazzaville [Congo] for the four countries [of French Equatorial Africa, which consisted of Chad, Central African Republic, Congo and Gabon], but have a chargé and an admin officer and a secretary communicator, basically, in each of the other three.
The first Ambassador to be named had been Consul General in Frankfurt, Wendell Blancke, and Henderson asked me whether I would like to stay on as his DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission], or be Chargé in one of the other places. So I chose Bangui and Fred Chapin…was the one in Chad, and Walter Diamanti went to Libreville, and Leon Dorros, who served as DCM under Blancke in Brazzaville, followed by Hank Von Oss who is retired now, took over.
“They couldn’t bamboozle him and they couldn’t ask him stupid questions that he couldn’t answer”
Robert J. Ryan, Sr., Executive Director of NEA, 1955-1958
RYAN: [Loy Henderson], of course, was Mr. Foreign Service. He was regarded, I think, in my day as the most respected and senior member of the Service. He coupled a heavy substantive background with a fairly good management and organization sense. He had a way of dealing with people that brought about confidence and respect so that he had a pretty good public relations posture.
He had a very good standing with the Foreign Service, with the Department, because he knew them well having worked both inside the Department and the Foreign Service. He was an able and articulate individual who was able to articulate the problems and the desires of the Foreign Service. He was the ideal front guy.
Under Loy Henderson, I think the morale of the Department and the Foreign Service was elevated as was the whole public impression of the Department and the Foreign Service.
I had the privilege of working in the administrative area when he was the Under Secretary and have the highest regard for him.
I think that some of the weaknesses that came about in the Department and the Foreign Service in later years may partially be attributed to the fact that the individual in the post of Under Secretary for Administration and
Management was, more often than not, not a person from the Foreign Service so he had no way of having an intimate knowledge of what was involved. I think if you ran a check you would find that probably seven out of ten of the Under Secretaries of State for Administration and Management were political appointees.
Q: And not staying very long.
RYAN: And not staying very long and not able to particularly articulate the needs of the Service when up with the Congress.
Loy, when he went up before the Congress…they couldn’t bamboozle him and they couldn’t ask him stupid questions that he couldn’t answer. I think that was one of the bright periods of the Foreign Service.
Frances Willis was the first female to rise to the rank of Ambassador as a career Foreign Service Officer. After she was graduated from Stanford with a PhD in Political Science in 1923, she taught political science at Gardner College and Vassar College until she decided to switch careers, saying “I didn’t want to just teach political science, I wanted to be a part of it.”
She passed the Foreign Service exam in 1927 and left shortly after for her first post in Chile, followed by posts in Sweden, Great Britain, Belgium, Spain and Finland. She rose quickly through the ranks, showing her competency and talent for diplomacy. President Dwight Eisenhower appointed her Ambassador to Switzerland in 1953, making her the first career female Ambassador. (Eisenhower also named Clare Boothe Luce Ambassador to Italy that same year as a political appointee.) She subsequently served as the Ambassador to Norway (1957-1961) and Ceylon, now Sri Lanka (1962-1964).
As part of her career, she witnessed many important historical events: she was serving in Brussels in 1940 when World War II broke out and the Nazis invaded Belgium. In addition, she served as the Ambassador to Switzerland during a time when women were not even permitted to vote in the country and she worked closely alongside Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the first female Prime Minister and head of government in the world, while serving as Ambassador to Ceylon.
She retired after her post in Sri Lanka in 1964, moving on to serve in various positions and committees for the U.S. government. She died on July 23, 1983, after battling a long illness. In 2006, the U.S. posthumously honored her by selecting her as one of six “Distinguished American Diplomats” to place on commemorative stamps. (Clifton Wharton, Chip Bohlen, and Philip Habib are three others.)
James Cowles Hart Bonbright served as the Second Secretary at Embassy Brussels from 1941-1942. He was interviewed by Peter Jessup on February 26, 1986. Joseph A. Mendenhall served as the Economic and Political officer in Bern from 1951-1955 and was interviewed by Horace Torbert beginning February 1991. Harry A. Cahill served as the Vice Consul in Oslo, Norway from 1959-1961. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning on July 1993. William B. Dunham served at the State Department’s Office of Swiss Benelux Affairs from 1954-1956. His experiences are extracted from his memoir given to ADST in 1996.
Fisher Howe served as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Oslo, Norway from 1958-1962 and was interviewed by Kennedy beginning on February 1998. Larue R. Lutkins served as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) from 1962-1965 and was interviewed by Kennedy beginning October 1990.
Martha A. Rau was the spouse of Foreign Service Officer Donald Rau, who served as Consular and Political Officer in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from 1959-1961. She was interviewed by Pam Stratton beginning September 1997. Harry I. Odell served as the Economic Officer in Colombo, Sri Lanka from 1961-1964. He was interviewed by Peter Moffat beginning April 2000. Walter A. Lundy served as the Consular/Political Officer in Colombo, Sri Lanka from 1961-1963. He was interviewed by Raymond Ewing beginning September 2005.
“The Department hoped Frances would marry and get out of the way”
James Cowles Hart Bonbright, Second Secretary, Embassy Brussels, 1941-1942
BONBRIGHT: The other second secretary was Frances Willis, a lady who had entered the Service in the same class at the same time as I had. So we had known each other.
She was an interesting and hard-working and intelligent woman. There had been women in the Service before her, but most of them had married or gotten out for one reason or another. I think the Department rather hoped that this would happen to Frances. In our Foreign Service school days, one of our other classmates — I won’t name him here, it doesn’t matter — was very taken with her and courted her.
In a most unusual move, the Department sent him and Frances to the same post in Chile, obviously in the hope that they would marry and get Frances out of the way. But she resisted the temptation, if it was a temptation, and stayed behind, and became the first career woman to achieve the rank of ambassador and ended up in Switzerland. A fine woman.
“She was a very human individual”
Joseph A. Mendenhall, Economic and Political officer, Bern, 1951-1955
MENDENHALL: [Minister Richard C.] Patterson was succeeded by Frances Willis, who is very famous in the Foreign Service as our first career woman officer to be named as an ambassador. Indeed, very surprisingly, the Swiss who did not even permit women to vote agreed to accept her as the first American Ambassador to Switzerland.
I enjoyed very much working for her. She was a very precise lady who knew her own mind. I got along extremely well with her and enjoyed it very much. Not that I think any of us did anything of very great significance in our Swiss assignment.
She was also a very human individual. When my family and I left Switzerland in June of 1955, we took a train from Bern, about 5:50 a.m., for Genoa in order to catch a ship. She, the ambassador, insisted upon being down at the train station at that hour to see us off — a junior officer. This was rather typical of the very human attitude which she took towards all members of her staff.
“She was, in short, a first-rate FSO”
William B. Dunham, Swiss Benelux Affairs, 1954-1956
DUNHAM: The embassies in Brussels and Luxembourg City provided similar helpful experiences as did the Embassy in Bern where I met up with a good friend, Frances Willis. She was the senior and the most distinguished woman in the Foreign Service. I had worked with her in the Department and all of us who knew her were elated when she was appointed Ambassador to Switzerland, the first time for the U.S. to have an ambassador there — and a woman at that in a country where women didn’t have the vote.
Frances had been just such a trailblazer throughout her long career and she continued to be so as she reached the top levels of the Foreign Service. She was appointed to the rank of Career Minister when it was instituted; when the Career Ambassador rank [the equivalent of a four-star general] was established, she was again promoted to that rank. All who knew her work and her contributions to our foreign policy and to U.S. representation abroad knew she had fully earned such recognition and distinction….
Those of us who knew and worked with Frances at home and abroad were well aware of such qualities. I have attended meetings where Frances, the only woman present, quietly and unobtrusively steered the proceedings and moved them along to useful conclusion. Nothing pushy or manipulative, simply a deft touch, good humor, impressive competence and the authority that brings with it.
She was, in short, a first-rate FSO. The visit to Switzerland was, as one would expect, as well-organized and helpful as the visit in Holland. In addition to all the official activities, there were some opportunities to travel about and also to meet officials and others socially. At one such affair Frances invited a large group to a film showing, with dinner before for a small group.
I had the good luck to sit next to her mother, a tall, spare, unpretentious, Lincolnesque lady with a lively spirit and sense of humor. She kept all of us who were seated near her highly entertained.
The dining room opened through a wide doorway into a large reception room and from our side of the table we could see a few people beginning to arrive as we were finishing dinner. The butler quickly closed the big double doors, at which point Mrs. Willis confided, “He’s doing that so they won’t feel bad because they weren’t invited to dinner, too.”…
“Showing the world that being a woman was not a disadvantage in any way”
Harry A. Cahill, Vice Consul in Oslo, 1959-1961
CAHILL: I served as her protocol officer in addition to my regular consular duties. Protocol is challenging when the chief of mission is a single woman, when there is a monarchy with a widower king, when the government is socialist labor, and when there is abundant aquavit and cold weather.
Q: How did Ambassador Willis operate?
CAHILL: She moved with strength. I think she liked to see herself as fair and tough. She slipped on the ice on the way to a speaking event in western Norway and broke her leg, refused to go for medical treatment until the speech was done. She bravely stood at the podium and went through the whole program without flinching. She was slightly crippled from this for the rest of her life.
In all her work she was firm and decisive, showing to the world that being a woman was not a disadvantage in any way.
“She knew where every bit of dust was in the embassy”
Fisher Howe, Deputy Chief of Mission, Oslo, 1958-1962
HOWE: Frances, bless her memory, was a very competent, intelligent lady who was however a detailist if I ever saw one. She knew where every bit of dust was in the embassy and went through every detail of every communication. I suppose it was very good for me to come under that as my first post in the Foreign Service. She delegated very little although she was hauled back to the general assembly to be a liaison with other countries and so I had long periods of being chargé.
Frances delegated to my wife all of the uxorial [wifely] responsibilities, calling on other ambassador’s wives, calling on all the Foreign Service people. They had some magnificent house that goes with the DCM, a very modern house, on the outskirts of Norway. Well, Frances, it’s worth an anecdote.
We had a new embassy constructed while we were there and it was done by [famed architect Eero] Saarinen. He came over for the dedication. There was a debate between him and the Ambassador as to where the seal was going to be put. He had designed a Viking traditional building and he wanted a Viking shield to be placed in stone out in front of the building.
Frances said, “The regulations say the shield of the United States will be affixed to the U.S. embassy.” She wanted it slapped on the wall. Saarinen said that was aesthetically outrageous.
The ambassador won, as she would.
“She was not a delegator”
Larue R. Lutkins, Deputy Chief of Mission, Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), 1962-1965
Q: You had two ambassadors there, Frances Willis and Cecil Lyon. I wonder if you could compare and contrast their styles.
LUTKINS: Well, that’s a very good question. And there certainly was a marked contrast there. They were both old pros. Frances Willis was our first career woman ambassador. She had already served as chief of mission in Bern, Switzerland, and then in Oslo, and this was to be her last post.
She was a thorough professional, had come up from the ranks and knew the Service inside out and the regulations, and knew everybody’s job in the embassy better than they did. But she was not a delegator. I don’t mean to say that she didn’t have a good grasp of the overall situation, but she couldn’t resist immersing herself in every detail in every section of the embassy.
It didn’t leave too much for the DCM to do except carry out some of her wishes, naturally. I found her a delightful woman and a very intelligent, able woman, but the contrast with her and Cecil Lyon was very marked.
I served with Frances Willis for two years and Cecil for one. Cecil Lyon’s approach was that, after about three months of working together and sizing me up, he said, “The embassy is yours. I’ll concentrate on the big picture, and you run the embassy.”
“She really was upset if there was an empty seat at her table”
Martha A. Rau, Spouse of Foreign Service Officer Donald Rau, Consular and Political Officer in Colombo, 1959-1961
RAU: When we came into the Foreign Service, it was simply understood that a wife would have an efficiency report written on her along with her husband, that we would entertain — that was part of our husband’s job, that we were expected to entertain all his contacts, as many of the local officials as possible. And so we didn’t have any choice, it was just assumed that this was our duty. And I did not object. In fact it was a wonderful experience….
You wore your white gloves, you presented your [calling] card, you stayed 15 minutes to half an hour and you were on call for whatever your principal officer or his wife needed you to do. You always arrived at official functions 15 minutes ahead of time. If it was necessary for you to bring food or drink or furnish something, you did that. When there was a party and if they needed help, you always appeared.
Frances Willis was our Ambassador in Sri Lanka when we were there and she was of the old school. The Sri Lankans were notorious for arriving at parties with either a man without his wife or a wife without a husband, and always coming late. So Frances Willis insisted upon having a complete table. She really was upset if there was an empty seat at her table. She would always ask an extra embassy couple to come to the dinner and then depending on if a man arrived without his wife, the wife stayed. If the wife came without her husband, the husband stayed.
And I know many times I had to stay while Donald went home to fill in the extra place at the table. Because this is one of her things that she just could not tolerate.
When I was seven, eight, nine months pregnant in Sri Lanka and the fleet would come in — that’s when the naval vessels used to come in for a visit, and we always entertained them — I was expected to be at the reception, on my feet, entertaining, assisting.
And she said, “I expect you to do your duty until you are eight, nine months pregnant. When you’re in your last month, you won’t have to participate in social affairs. But you were expected to support your principal officer.” And again, yes it was inconvenient, but it was also a real learning experience.
“She was one of the genuine brains that I met in the Foreign Service”
Harry I. Odell, Economic Officer in Colombo, 1961-1964
ODELL: Frances Willis. You’ve heard of her. She was a career officer, of course, and she was our first minister at that time to Switzerland. Then when we raised the legation to embassy rank, she became the first ambassador. Then she was subsequently Ambassador to Norway and then her sort of retirement post was Sri Lanka. That was a good thing for me.
She was one of the genuine brains that I met in the Foreign Service. I met a lot of very bright people, but she was in her 60s at the time. She doesn’t seem all that old to me now, but did then. She was bright and very demanding. She could have quite a plodding demeanor that some people didn’t like. But she had a great capacity for going to the heart of an issue.
I found her very helpful in the sense that she could sense what you were getting at very quickly, sort of like a good editor helping somebody write something. At least with me, she could sense what it was. I was fortunate professionally in Colombo that I had been kind of bumping along and the job was not terribly exciting. Having to write about tea and all and rubber….We didn’t have a great deal of interest [back in Washington].
We had a fairly large AID [Agency for International Development] mission. I never quite understood how the AID mission had gotten to be that substantial in Ceylon, but it was a big one.
The first thing was, Miss Willis decided that she wanted to keep the AID mission director kind of at arm’s length — for whatever reasons, I don’t know. She wanted me as her economic officer to be the one that kept in touch with the AID mission and kept her informed as to what they were up to, which was not easy because they were up to all kinds of things. That was the first thing. I had to report to her on what they were doing.
This got me involved with the AID mission director Jack Bennett, who had been a fairly senior guy in the Treasury at one time. I don’t know how he ended up in AID, but I think that was Jack’s retirement post somehow. He and I got along fairly well.
I told him, “Jack, the best thing I can do for you is — you are persuaded that your AID mission is doing good things — let me see as much of it as you possibly can. I’m not a spy, but Miss Willis is asking me questions every day.” So, he arranged for me to go with all of his field officers to every damn thing they were doing, which got me all over the island. I saw all sorts of things, which was fun.
“I was lucky to have worked for her in that I much benefited from exposure to her long experience”
Walter A. Lundy, Consular/Political Officer in Colombo, 1961-1963
LUNDY: There was a remarkable ambassador who arrived in Colombo about the time I was assigned there, Frances Willis. She was the first woman to have made it through the career ladder to an ambassadorship. In retrospect, however, I have mixed feelings about her. She was an extremely hard working and completely dedicated public servant; on the other hand she simply had no idea how to delegate.
She had to see every written word that left the embassy. Such scrutiny reduced the volume and content of the reporting. I had an easier time there than my more senior colleagues who knew what they were doing, while I was very junior and had so much to learn. I was lucky to have worked for her in that I much benefited from exposure to her long experience.
I believe strongly, however, the first rule of management is that the best supervisor is the person who supervises the least. Ambassador Willis’ very cautious management style made life difficult for the deputy chief of mission, embassy section chiefs, and heads of other agencies….
As a teenage daughter of a Foreign Service Officer who moved his family from country to country every so often, Prudence Bushnell frequently complained that the Foreign Service ruined her life. It is ironic then — poetic even — that as destiny would have it, Bushnell found herself in Dakar, Senegal, in 1981 on her first post as an FSO, followed by 24 incredible years of service around the world.
During that time, Bushnell confronted misogyny, an embassy bombing, and warlords in several high-threat posts. But Bushnell also experienced the tenacity of women in West Africa, helped fight corruption in Latin America, and witnessed the gradual destruction of gender roles in the Foreign Service.
In her interview below with Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2005, Bushnell discusses her time in the Service starting with her decision to volunteer in 1981, the influence from her female predecessors, and working in the African Affairs Bureau, for which she travelled to Senegal, Rwanda, and other West African countries. Bushnell frequently faced skeptics from host governments and even within the Department, even as she pushed for progress on such issues as fighting the AIDS epidemic and empowering women.
Her honest account of the peacekeeping efforts in Rwanda after the genocide holds nothing back and is followed by an equally stirring discussion of terrorizing warlords in Liberia and Sierra Leone. After the devastating bombing of the Nairobi embassy in Kenya, Bushnell was assigned to serve in Latin America where she worked towards positively influencing the corrupt governments—for which she received some criticism. In closing, Bushnell talks about her forward-looking definition of leadership and her work in the Leadership and Management School of the Foreign Service Institute before retiring in 2005.
“There’s no way I was going to be a wife of a Foreign Service officer. I was already rebelling against that.”
BUSHNELL: The women I saw [growing up] were either wives and mothers or single women doing secretarial, consular, or personnel work who would come to our house for Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners. So, these were my role models. There’s no way I was going to be a wife of a Foreign Service officer. I was already rebelling against that.
What else was I going to be? Mom had both Susan [my sister] and me take typing and shorthand because “you can always be a secretary.” Women were still very constrained in their career choices.…
I found Dallas in the 70s to be culturally alien to me, especially since by now I had been working in professional jobs. I had a very hard time finding professional employment and finally decided to go it alone as an independent contractor. I did some supervisory training and the like. The most interesting, and certainly my greatest challenge, was a contract to help the senior engineers at NASA in Houston understand the male midlife crisis and cope with the sense of burnout they were feeling. Both were trendy issues.
So, there I was at the age of 33, spending my waking hours becoming an expert on the development cycles of American men. I can’t believe my chutzpa standing in front of a bunch of 50-something-year-old men. But I was prepared. When the inevitable question, “What makes you think as a woman you can stand up and talk about who we are?”
I was ready with the retort, “How many gynecologists or obstetricians are women?” At that time, of course, there were very few….
Once they got used to me, most were just fine. They recognized I knew what I was talking about and, once they relaxed, enjoyed the experience. I had one encounter, though, that left a significant mark. I met up with the nasty misogynist who made it his business to try to humiliate me as much as possible. It was my first taste of such behavior. It was a difficult and valuable experience to keep my cool, and I survived it. That was the lesson.
I could stand up to sarcasm, rolling eyes, and sexist remarks, maintain my dignity and survive to talk about it the next day. A good lesson in dealing with some of the jerks I later came across.
In 1979, Americans were taken hostage at our embassy in Tehran. All of a sudden a place and life I had put behind were in the headlines…. A day or so later, I heard an ad on the radio; Secretary of State Muskie was encouraging women and minorities who fit a certain profile to apply to a mid-level entry program. All of this was taking place during one of the hottest and driest summers in Dallas history. Dick (my husband) and I decided it was time to move on, and I might as well check out the Foreign Service. So, I applied and became so focused on the entry process I didn’t really think about the possible outcome….
[My parents] were shocked when I told them. After all my complaining about how the Foreign Service has ruined my life as a teenager when we moved from Karachi to Tehran, here I was voluntarily applying to join.
“Don’t let people know how smart you are, because men don’t like to hire women who are smart”
Q: How had the women’s movement affected you by then?
BUSHNELL: I found a whole lot to be sympathetic with. When I separated from my first husband, even though I had been joint and sometimes sole wage earner, I was denied credit. Couldn’t get a credit card. The bank did, however, let him cash our joint tax refund over his signature only. I was furious. They justified it saying he was “the man of the house.”
When I looked for work early on, an employment counselor told me, “Don’t let people know how smart you are, because men don’t like to hire women who are smart.” Years later, in Dallas, I interviewed with a guy who worked for the Office of Personnel Management — a federal agency, mind you. He advised me to wear skirts with longer slits in them so I could attract more attention. Don’t get me started. So, I was very grateful to the courageous women who decided to do something about the way we were being treated. Were it not for Alison Palmer and the women’s class action lawsuit against the State Department, for example, I would never have joined the Service.
There weren’t that many role models for professional married women. You either chose family or you chose career. I had the huge advantage of a husband who truly believed in me and who assisted me in appreciating my value and potential. He is passionate about people and he would push me to take risks and to stand up for myself. After doing so a few times, I did not need his encouragement. That said, in the Foreign Service, I encountered some terrific women leaders, like Roz Ridgway, Melissa Wells, Jane Coon, and others of the generation before me who paved the way.
Challenging Gender Roles in the Foreign Service – Dakar
[One] issue was the fact that my husband came as a so-called “dependent” (now termed “family member”). Remember, until the mid-70’s women officers who married were expected to resign. This embassy had experience with only one other male spouse, and that was not a good experience.
Within the first month of our arrival at post, Dick was offered a job. He had both accounting and legal skills to offer. About a week later, a group of women spouses came to the house very put-out that Dick had gotten the job so quickly when they had been unable to get one at all. They felt, probably correctly, that the administration of the mission had thought that a male spouse had better find decent work soon.
I felt very ambivalent. On the one hand, I understood exactly what they were saying; and on the other hand, I thought, why are you mad at me? It’s not my fault. Do you want me to tell Dick to quit the job? I certainly didn’t want him to….
It was my first post. I was checking things out—how things work, where I fit, and that Dick be accepted. He was. The second year, Dick applied for and got the job as Community Liaison Officer—I think he was one of the first men to have that position in the world—without any fuss.
“I can’t believe the United States would send a woman to do this job!” – Bombay
BUSHNELL: Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister and … U.S. relations were not good. She threw out American businesses, for example. There were significant strains between the Indian government and the United States government, which made us all the more grateful that we were in Bombay and not New Delhi. Bombay was a very cosmopolitan city, home of “Bollywood,” and movie stars. The city was overwhelming….
Professionally, I found it challenging, because I was the first woman to hold the position of Admin Officer. A lot of Indians felt very uncomfortable dealing with a woman and made no bones about it. The first time I met the Chief of Police he stared and said, “I can’t believe the United States of America would send a woman to do this job!” The status of women was abominable.
In addition, there were tensions among the FSNs [Foreign Service Nationals] that I had not seen in Senegal. I found it difficult to form teams among the people with whom I worked at the Consulate. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy most of the people as individuals; I just couldn’t get the supervisors to see themselves as part of a larger team. So I stopped even having staff meetings. I’ve always regretted that. I think I should have put more effort into it….
Bombay was the point in my career when I began facing disasters. Twice when I was “acting” in the absence of the Consul General, we had crises. First, when Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated and then when the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, which was in our consular district, experienced a chemical leak that killed I don’t know how many people, and injured thousands and thousands more. The British Consul General was assassinated during our tour, and we had the fall-out from President Reagan’s decision to bomb Libya. Lots of demonstrations in front of the consulate.
I was the post security officer, so Harry Cahill, our CG [Consul General] would always send me out to face them. “You’re such a nice lady, they won’t know what to do, and they certainly won’t harm you,” he would say….
“As an ambitious Foreign Service Officer and happily married woman, I decided to turn the job down”
My name was forwarded to the Deputies’ Committee by the AF [African Affairs] Bureau as one of their nominees for Ambassador to Conakry. I was so excited. This is the committee that decides on the names State Department is going to send to White House personnel as its candidate. For some unknown reason, the Committee decided instead to put my name up for Rwanda.
I began filling out forms the likes of which I’ve never seen before: for the White House, for the Senate, and, of course, umpteen ones for State, including medical stuff. I hadn’t gotten any word from MED, so I called just before Christmas. I was told that Dick had been denied clearance for Rwanda for reasons she couldn’t tell because that was confidential information. I was devastated.
Dick and I had to make a serious decision from pretty awful choices: me to go to Rwanda without Dick; have Dick come without a clearance on our own dime—and risk the reason for which he didn’t get a clearance; or say “no” to the opportunity. By this time in the bidding cycle … there weren’t that many slots open. So, as an ambitious Foreign Service officer and happily married woman, I had to confront what was most important to me: meet my values close-up. I decided to turn the job down.
Two weeks later I read in the newspaper that President Clinton, who had just taken office, was nominating George Moose [pictured] as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. I had been George’s DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] only a couple of years before [at Dakar, Senegal].…
It was an unspoken mantra by the White House [that] Africa issues, unless they turned into disasters, seldom made it to the seventh floor, where the top of the hierarchy worked….George offered me the job as Deputy Assistant Secretary, responsible for transnational issues in Sub-Saharan Africa, i.e. policies relating to democracy, human rights, humanitarian assistance, conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peacekeeping, HIV Aids, environment, drugs, bugs, everything that crossed borders for 48 countries. George turned to Ed Brynn as his Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary…. Ed had responsibility for all of the daily oversight and paperwork of the Bureau. For more than a year, there were only the three of us….
A good deal of my time was spent trying to get the interagency to agree to sending UN peacekeepers to Rwanda to implement peace accords that had put an end to a civil war between the government of Rwanda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF…. Eventually, the U.S. government was strong-armed by the UN and the French to support the Rwandan peace….
It was after the Rwanda disaster that the U.S. government became keen about Africa regional peacekeeping, which eventually turned into an arm of the African Union…. Liberia was also in my portfolio, so I would go there now and then.
On one of these occasions I was standing on the tarmac with our Ambassador, Bill Tweddell, watching a plane being loaded up to head back toward Lagos. We were pretty sure the cargo was illicit stuff—diamonds, gold, or drugs. The corruption among the Nigerians in Liberia was well known. On the other hand, Liberia had a multi-faceted civil war going on and the Nigerians were controlling at least part of the country, maintaining a peace of some sorts. So, as corrupt as these peacekeepers may have been, we were even more concerned about what would happen if they left Liberia…. Poor Liberia. It was divided up into territories under the control of warlords who represented different ethnic groups.
We used [Liberia] for our radio relay stations during the Cold War and had strong ties. The Liberians had equally strong expectations that we would intervene in some way, but we did not. George Moose would send me to Liberia now and then to bawl out the warlords but we had no active involvement….
On the other hand we did not want to signal the Liberian people that we were washing our hands of them. Even if we could do no more than be present, we were determined to at least be present. I don’t argue with that as long as there are colleagues brave and willing enough to go there. So, we had a fairly minimal presence that we could pull out and put back in….
“Taylor began to call me ‘my dear.’ [By] the third time, I had had it.”
Q: Who were some of the characters that we were having to deal with?
BUSHNELL: Ha! “Characters” is right, none of them anyone you would want to meet. The most long-lasting warlord was Charles Taylor. I went to … Gbarnga [capital city of Bong County, Liberia], which was in the middle of the jungle, via UN helicopter to deliver a demarche. He made us wait an absurd amount of time and by the time we finally got to see him in his throne room … I was hungry and very irritated.
Then he talked, and talked and talked. I have an agreement with myself that I will allow men to talk at me without taking a breath for only a certain amount of time — usually, 15 minutes for Americans, 25 for Africans. About 30 minutes into his monologue, Taylor began to call me “my dear.” Twice I decided to ignore him. The third time I had had it.
I interrupted him suggesting that he never again call a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the United States of America “my dear.” He accused me of being culturally insensitive and told me he called everyone my dear. I retorted that I would call him Mr. President and he could call me either Ms. Bushnell or Madame Secretary. By this time, he had lost his rhythm to say nothing of face, and he ordered us out. He told the UN peacekeeping commander never to let me back in. I found out recently that Taylor really did call everyone “my dear.” Still, I have no regrets at my action.
Another warlord was Roosevelt Johnson. I met him on the same trip to Liberia with the same message: stop it. Johnson reveled in telling how Charles Taylor’s soldiers would kill people, slit open their chests, and eat their hearts. I think he was trying to impress me, so of course I refused to show it.
The last one I saw on that trip was El Hadji Kromah in yet another part of Liberia. To get to him we had to go through checkpoints of child soldiers who were often high on drugs. It was frightening. We sat in a living room with walls decorated with bullet shells. I had to use his bathroom and he locked me in. My first thought was that he didn’t like my message and was going to keep me hostage. Actually, he had done it because there was no way to keep the door closed….
“At every stop I would meet with women. It was a real privilege and one of the best parts of my job”
I also spent a good deal of time on women’s issues, which I strongly believed should have been part of our mainstream policy portfolio.
African women play a major role in their societies, even though they are shunted aside. In many countries they’re responsible for raising and educating their children, as well as tending the fields and the home. If you say you want to promote democracy you’d better promote the rights of over 50 percent of the citizenry at the same time or you’re not walking the talk. I spent a huge amount of time traveling, going to countries people from the front office seldom visited—Guinea Bissau, Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger… At every stop I would meet with women. It was a real privilege and one of the best parts of my job.
Unfortunately, women’s issues were relegated to the development assistance portfolio. Policymakers too often see women only as victims in need of economic and humanitarian assistance but that’s only part of it. They are also potential political actors. In Rwanda, for example, almost 50% of the parliament is now made up of women because so many men died in the genocide. So, one of the things that I wanted to accomplish in these countries was to bring the Ambassador face-to-face with women as political actors and not just as the subjects of need.
Q: But, when you start talking about giving women more power you’re upsetting the male dominance and I can see where an ambassador saying, “I don’t want to tackle this sort of thing” or feel uncomfortable about doing it. Were you able to both move our own apparatus and do anything else about it?
BUSHNELL: You know, the first human rights reports I worked on in ’82 did not include domestic violence because it was considered a cultural issue. So I can’t say that the Department or our ambassadors were particularly forward-leaning. On the other hand, the Clinton White House was serious about women.
Prep for the Beijing Women’s Conference had started and people were recognizing a shift. Some ambassadors would quietly go with me or host an event. A couple of them, who just didn’t get it, had their spouses host something.
“I was beginning to understand how to use power.”
As a senior government official I had the power of position. By going out to meet and show respect to women I could bring not only the U.S. Ambassador but also the local press, which helped them. I feel strongly that it’s in the interest of the United States Government and certainly is a moral imperative to deal with issues of women.
J’aime avec prudence
The United States was targeting resources to it. There was a certain amount of rhetoric given by other countries, but we were the ones who were most actively and strategically engaged…. It was a huge problem. Africans, like a lot of Americans, are very conservative and do not talk about these things.… Also, you cannot talk about HIV and AIDS without getting into the issue of women’s empowerment—or lack thereof….
We were into commodities big time, promoting safe sex. We were also into education. In Central Africa, the most popular condom was called “Prudence.” You can imagine what a wonderful time people had with my name. When I left the African Bureau I had a drawer full of Prudence condoms, Prudence aprons, Prudence t-shirts. These were francophone countries and the tag line in the advertisements was “J’aime avec prudence.”
“I had been patronized for addressing an issue others, men especially, had put in the category of ‘too hard’”
BUSHNELL: Daniel Arap Moi was Vice President under Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta. When Kenyatta died in office, Moi stepped in and never stepped down. He continued to rule through a coalition of small tribes…. He also played the U.S. pretty shrewdly during the Cold War. In return for his support, we turned a blind eye to how he ruled domestically. When the Cold War ended, we began to insist on democratic elections.
In order to “stay at the table,” which is how Kenyans referred to presidential politics, Moi and company held fraudulent elections in ’92. We showed our disapproval by withdrawing aid and giving Moi the cold shoulder. By the time I arrived in ’96, we were down to about 19 million dollars in bilateral assistance directed through non-governmental organizations. Nothing went to the Moi government….
What bothered Kenyans most was the effect of corruption on schooling, which they valued highly and the abominable condition of roads. Stolen road taxes meant greater difficulty getting goods to market. Among diplomatic colleagues, I found huge frustration both with the level of corruption and Moi’s reaction should anything be said about. It usually entailed public blasts about interfering in domestic affairs.
The game was pretty simple: the Moi government would steal assistance money, then insult us if we said anything. People would suffer, the government would go to more donors to get more money which they could steal, etc. I decided to try to change the dynamics by taking on the game. I was lucky that our embassy had a large and experienced Country Team, so there was plenty of experience, support and enthusiasm for confronting corruption.
This was hardly the first time I had been patronized for addressing an issue others, men especially, had put in the category of “too hard.”
I began talking about corruption in my speeches — something Kenyan people could not do with impunity. Pretty soon things were showing up in media and more and more people, including my diplomatic colleagues, began to chime in.
It was an attitude I had seen before – “This is Africa; what can you do?”…
President Moi —“Corrupt to his soul”
Initially, he [Moi] wouldn’t see me. I was the second consecutive woman ambassador, and Moi was not at all pleased to have another female.
BUSHNELL: And then Smith Hempstone, who caused an enormous great controversy by going head-to-head with Moi, then Aurelia Brazeal and then me. Moi was convinced that the U.S. Government was intentionally sending him women as a message that he was just not good enough to merit a white male. Nor, evidently did he like what he heard about my promotion of human rights. After presenting credentials, I had a hard time getting him to see me. Once I did, we crafted an interesting and rather strange relationship.
It started when I invited him to the Residence for breakfast one day. That one-on-one started a precedent which led to some very heated discussions. Respectful but blunt.
He would fly into tantrums sometimes, or just get mad and cranky. I’d bring him up straight by asking point blank, “Why are you yelling at me?”
Once I stopped an argument in mid-stream and asked if he enjoyed fighting with me. “Yes,” he responded, “I am a democrat.” I think he rather enjoyed our interchanges….
By the time I got there he had been in power for 20-some years, far too long for anybody. He was in his 70s, in good health physically and mentally, still very shrewd and fairly competent. Sometimes he’d ramble, but then don’t we all?
I think he is corrupt to his soul and had found a way to bring his actions into harmony with his evangelical religion. I think he really believed that he was beloved by his people, clueless that the opposite was true because he surrounded himself with sycophants. Domestically, he was shrewd and ruthless; around the region, Moi behaved as statesman. He used this to his advantage to keep us in his debt. We would ask him to pull together the Somalia warlords, and he would do it.
He was sympathetic to our efforts to bring peace to Sudan and, at our request, would talk to his crony, Mobutu, president of Zaire. Like a lot of presidents, Moi wanted to be known in history as the elder statesman and a regional peacemaker….
U.S. ambassadors need to be fairly circumspect. When the Country Team and I decided to take on the issue of corruption, we had to be clever about it….
The World Bank was going to provide around $100 million dollars in an energy sector loan. Given the government’s proclivity to steal, to say nothing of their lousy completion rate (something like three percent) my colleagues in Washington and I decided to do something. I knew the U.S. delegate to the World Bank. With other colleagues, we decided she would vote “no” on the energy loan. That got a lot of attention. Both the World Bank and other governments took notice that we were serious about corruption….
The proposal put to the Kenyans was to direct the energy sector loan through a private sector bank that would ensure transparency.
A social friend of mine arranged a meeting with Moi on a Sunday afternoon at his private residence – very hush-hush – to discuss this. I was struck by how sterile and lonely the house appeared. He said to me, “If I agree to this it’s going to set a precedent, and I’m worried.
I said, “You’re right, it will and I’d be worried about it too if I were you, because it means doing business differently.”
He said, “I don’t want to do business differently.”
And I said, “Then you’re not going to get the money. There you are, Mr. President, you need to choose. I know life is unfair and this doesn’t seem good and right, but you need to understand our perspective and you have a choice to make. That’s what leaders do, they make difficult decisions.”
He called me after I got home, about an hour later and said, “I’ve decided to do it.” And I said, “Good for you, Mr. President, you’ve made the right choice.”
I felt like a life coach.
Nairobi Embassy Bombing – August 7, 1998
On Friday, August 7, we started another business day as usual. The DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] was on leave. Our Political Counselor was acting DCM and I had asked him to preside over the Friday Country Team meeting [with senior representatives of the sections and agencies at post]. I was finally successful in scheduling a meeting with the Minister of Commerce to talk about an upcoming U.S. trade delegation, a big deal given how we stiff-armed Kenya –so I was not present.
I remember asking that the Country Team discuss how our newcomers were settling in and whether we were reaching the right balance on issues of security alerting but not paralyzing people to the dangers.
In retrospect, that was a very ironic conversation….
As was the case in many official meetings, the Minister had invited the press to ask questions and take photos before the real talk began. A few minutes after they left, we heard a loud “boom.”
I asked, “Is there construction going on”? It sounded like the kind of boom you get when a building is being torn down.
The Minister said, “No, there isn’t.” He and almost everybody else in the room got up to walk to the window.
I was the last person up and had taken a few steps when an incredible noise and huge percussion threw me off my feet….
That summer was very difficult. I had spent so much time in Nairobi in the aftermath of the bombing focused on my leadership responsibilities that I did not fully appreciate how hurt I was — not physically hurt, but how wounded I was. I never had the chance to be a victim. When I came back to the U.S. the world became surreal. I sensed that somehow I was not behaving the way a proper victim should—whatever that meant….
When Secretary Albright visited Kenya after the bombing, she asked about my next assignment. My husband, Dick, and Linda Howard, who had been my OMS [Office Management Specialist] for years, had already decided they wanted Guatemala. So, when the Secretary asked where I wanted to go, Guatemala was what came out of my mouth.
It was a complete accident. She thought I’d be good in Guatemala, so that was it. WHA, the Western Hemis
phere Affairs bureau, was less than thrilled to have an interloper come into their turf and let me know that in no uncertain terms. I was told they already had their “minority candidate.”…
We left Nairobi in May 1999 and I had my confirmation hearing within two or three weeks of our departure. I then went into Spanish language training….
I also had yet another run-in before the first anniversary commemoration. I was told that the grand invitation-only event to be held in the Benjamin Franklin Room [at the State Department] was in part a response to family members of the Americans who were killed, some of whom remained very angry at the way they were treated by the Department. In other words, it was a rather forced event.
Space was obviously limited and I kept submitting names of people from Nairobi who had not been invited. I was told that I was ruining the seating chart and hit the ceiling. Then, of course, I was told I was over-reacting. So, the tension continued….
“I reminded him that this was the United States and as an American citizen I could say whatever I damn well wanted”
During courtesy calls to the Hill before my confirmation hearing I was specifically told that I was not to talk about anything that did not deal with Guatemala. Nevertheless, I mentioned my concerns for security because the Department still did not ask for or receive fund adequate to address the problems embassies had around the world. Got into big trouble.
In those days, you had to have someone from H [Department’s Congressional Liaison] accompany you. I was with a political appointee seeing a powerful Senate staffer, and began to talk about security. The baby-sitter interrupted and said, “Ambassador, you’re not allowed to talk about that.”
When we left the staffer’s office I reminded him that this was the United States and as an American citizen I could say whatever I damn well wanted.
Later that summer I ended up in the Department’s medical unit with a terrible, terrible earache. The doctor who saw me said it was TMJ [Temporomandibular joint dysfunction] and asked if I was clenching my jaw a lot. I’ll say! Anyway, after about six weeks of one-on-one Spanish at FSI, I got my 3/3 rating, and headed to Guatemala.
The WHA helped prepare me very well, though I have to say I was shocked to learn during the last days of consultations that I would have 24-hour security guards, because one of our ambassadors [John Gordon Mein] had been assassinated in 1968.
Thirty years later, Guatemala was still a violent country and bodyguards were not unusual among the elites and diplomats. It was so different from my experience in Kenya—I had an advance car, an armed guard in my vehicle and a chase car with more armed guards….
Guatemalan President Portillo — “What a guy. Actually, he was more of a little popinjay with a big ego”
BUSHNELL: Washington had given me two charges: To put pressure on the government to improve its human rights record – specifically, to get to the bottom of the murder of Bishop Gerardi, a human rights activist — and to persuade the government to disband the Estado Mayor, the Presidential Guard, which had a lock on the Presidency both literally and figuratively.…(Photo: AP)
It doesn’t take long to see the disparity of incomes. There are a few very, very wealthy families, some middle class and a mass of very poor people. Guatemala was second only to Haiti in statistics regarding poverty, maternal death, infant deaths, etc. It was second only to Columbia in gun ownership, violence, and kidnapping. And yet, perhaps this is apocryphal, I was told the country had the highest per capita rate of privately owned helicopters in the world. It did not take long to pick up a virulent strain of racism among some Guatemalan elites, nor the hard, cold mistrust of the Mayan people….
Regardless of their personal roots, the military was responsive to the elites. It a symbiotic relationship— elites allowed the military to go keep the government and countryside under wraps and in return, the military ensured that reforms— labor reform, tax reform, any kind of reform—were kept at bay so the elites could make the money they wanted….
But let me talk about Guatemalan elections first. The candidate who won, Alfonso Portillo, was a populist and a horror in the eyes of the elites. His political party was run by Efrain Rios-Montt, a military dictator who had seized power in the ‘80s and went on to sponsor the most bloody and most repressive years of the internal conflict.
He supplemented the military with civilian militias, giving them guns and saying, “Okay, go kill people in the villages over there.” He had Mayans kill other Mayans and implemented a deliberate strategy to accomplish three things: engage in conflict in the countryside; keep the mayhem away from the Guatemala City; and punish the people fighting the military — punish them, their families, their children, their fields, and their villages. People were baffled that Mayans would vote for the very man who created such horrors. But they did.
The elites decided that the sky had fallen, that hell had frozen over, that nothing worse could ever happen and that the American ambassador would, of course, have nothing to do with him. I didn’t have that option, nor would I have chosen it initially because, as I said, Portillo was mouthing all of the right things about human rights, tax structures, reforming the presidential guard, implementing the Peace Accords—everything the U.S. government wanted to hear. I was lambasted in the press for dealing with the new government.
Portillo didn’t speak a word of English, which was good for my Spanish, and was clueless about putting a government together. He had been a university professor in Mexico and made no bones about the fact that he left Mexico before he was brought to justice for killing. What a guy. Actually, he was more of a little popinjay with a big ego.
He lived near the Residence and would frequently come for breakfast. Over the period of two and a half years, my end of the conversations deteriorated. At the beginning of his administration I would start with something like “So, Mr. President, wonderful that you’re saying all these good things. Certainly hope that you will implement them.”
This morphed into “Mr. President, it’s now been six months, eight months, nine months, twelve months, two years since you have been talking about reforms but you still haven’t implemented them. Things are getting serious.”
“Women can say things that would get other men in big trouble”
I initially thought part of the reason he couldn’t get anything done was an ignorance of basic management. I invited Portillo and his vice president for breakfast one day and asked each of them to answer the two things in writing: 1) Three things I want to be sure to implement during my term of office. And 2) I would like to be known in history as….”
Once they wrote their answers down I asked them to exchange papers. At one point I thought to myself, “I can’t believe that I’m doing this.’
Q: Sounds like one of your management sessions.
BUSHNELL: It was, but it sure didn’t accomplish anything of particular good. As time went on, conditions in the country degenerated further. One of my last private conversations with Portillo ended with the following. “Mr. President, we know for a fact that your personal secretary is accepting money from drug dealers.”
Portillo responded: “So that must mean you think that the money ends up with me.”
I shrugged and replied “Mr. President, what can I say?”
Q: He would accept this and still come for breakfast?
BUSHNELL: Yes, he would. I think that women can say things that would get other men in big trouble. Women colleagues have noted that, as well.
Trust at some l
evel is easier to establish; men do not feel as threatened by women, and a particular tone of voice can allow us to say the kinds of things, like “Mr. President, stealing isn’t going to do you any good. You don’t want to end up in history as one of the greatest thieves in the country, do you? No? Well, then, you just have to stop.”
Q: My definition would be nagging.
BUSHNELL: That’s what men always say when women give negative feedback. Think of it this way: the U.S. Ambassador is advising a head of state to stop stealing while continuing her ability to influence. When National Geographic did a video called, “Inside an Embassy,” Portillo was asked to say a few words on camera.
Know what he said? “Relations between our two countries have never been as good and this ambassador, she’s really good. You know, she pulls my ear now and then and tells me to shape up.”…
“I had never been so vilified on the one hand and yet satisfied about what we accomplished”
Alien smuggling was another big issue that got a lot of our attention, although it did not directly connect to any particular funding program…. We dealt with boatloads of Chinese and mixed groups including Iranians, Egyptians, and even an Australian — people from all over the world….
I also tried, as I did in Kenya, to organize a group of the key donor countries. We called ourselves the Grupo de Dialogo and were quite successful in getting attention in the press to issues of corruption and other Peace Accord issues. Unfortunately, the multilateral banks, like the World Bank and Inter-American Fund consider it their job to give out money, so we only had a minimal impact in using funding as a lever of influence.
As we speak, the man who was Vice President of Guatemala at the time I was there is now in jail. Former President Portillo slipped over the border back to Mexico with the posse behind him…literally. So much for the gang I dealt with….
I left Guatemala [in 2002] with mixed feelings. I thought that the mission team could point to significant achievements but I was personally exhausted from the efforts. I had never been so vilified on the one hand and yet satisfied about what we accomplished. Even one-time critics in the media admitted I had made a positive difference.
As to Guatemala as a whole, I felt that the level of mistrust and violence would shackle it for years. Yet, I was also struck by the sense of optimism among so many Mayan people who had and continue to suffer the most. Most of all, I left with a sense of having survived one tough assignment….
“When I was a little girl I never could have dreamed of being a leader”
The kind of leadership that makes an activist ambassador effective is neither welcomed nor rewarded. In Washington, senior career people are expected to be implementers and managers of policy, not leaders of people or policy. We still have an old-fashioned system in which the most important work is done by the most senior level people. Everyone else is expected to feed the next level up. It’s a huge expenditure of time for possibly minimal results. But there you are.…
Q: Pru, you’re getting out of the garden spot of Guatemala and leaving your bodyguard behind I guess and heading for the more dangerous area of Washington, D.C., the political swamp.
BUSHNELL: The job as Dean of the Leadership and Management School… a gift of the cosmos. The last three years turned out to be among the best of my career…. It was … management and crisis training divisions into the newly created Leadership and Management School—LMS.
The notion of leadership has changed dramatically in my lifetime and therefore yours. When I was a little girl I never could have dreamed of being a leader because the notion at the time was that you were either a born leader or you were not — it was not something that could be taught. Plus, with rare exception, leaders were men.
The leaders engaged with people from the top down, keeping a distance to maintain a certain aura, had access to information that others didn’t, and were deemed to have all of the answers. They would make the decisions for everyone else to implement. In return, they were given the attention, resources and respect from below.
With technological changes, new demographics in the workplace, globalization, specialization and a host of other differences in our world, new concepts of leadership have emerged. Among them is the notion that a number of leadership behaviors can be learned. Also, that leadership means motivating and enabling others to go in a certain direction. The effective leader leverages team’s efforts toward an accomplishment, rather than going it alone. This is a different notion of leadership….
The whole point of leadership, and why I have such passion about it, is to make it easier for the people who want to make a difference to do so. Without leadership, we will still attract smart and committed people but they will end up doing a job with one hand tied behind their back. It’s the loosening of the hands that my job was all about these last three years.
(Below, Ambassador Bushnell receives the Service to America Career Achievement Award in 2004, with CNN’s Judy Woodruff and State Department colleague and Embassy Nairobi survivor Stephen Nolan.)
Johnny Young, who served in the Foreign Service from 1967 to 2005, was born into abject poverty in the Deep South. His family moved North in search of a better life, only to discover that the problems of racial inequality and prejudice were not much better. As a student in high school he was dissuaded from continuing his education as “no college in its right mind will take a look at you.” He eventually studied accounting and it was only because of a trip to Beirut for a YMCA conference that he realized that perhaps he could do something in foreign affairs.
Entering into the Foreign Service during a period of racial polarization, Young initially worked as a Budget and Fiscal Officer in Madagascar, where only one other African-American Foreign Service Officer was stationed (the Ambassador there often confused the two). He later served in Guinea, Kenya, Qatar, and Barbados before returning to Washington, where he worked in the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Inspector General. He eventually became Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Togo, Bahrain, and Slovenia, and in 2004 was promoted to Career Ambassador, the Foreign Service equivalent of a four-star general, in a ceremony presided over by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
In his interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in 2005, Ambassador Young recounts his childhood; how he thought his career was finished before it even started during his first tour; the time he was thrown in jail in Guinea; and the various positions he held throughout his career. You can also read about how he dealt with Togo’s dictator and Ambassador Terence Todman’s experiences of being Black in a “lily-white State Department.”
“Take these children North because there’s no opportunity for them in the South”
YOUNG: I was born in Savannah, Georgia on February 6th, 1940…Both of my parents were poor folks. They had nothing. We lived in an extended family relationship with my grandmother and my mother and father and some other uncles and their children. We lived in one big house, cramped in a couple or several rooms… Shortly after my birth my mother became ill and realized later on that she was terminally ill. She had heart problems, being a black woman in the South, 27 years old at that time, she didn’t have access to good medical care and good doctors so that was a factor. I mean we realize it now in retrospect.
In any case she turned to my sister-in-law, my father’s sister, one of the sisters. The oldest sister and she asked her if she would take me upon her death and raise me and that’s exactly what happened when I was 11 months old. My mother died and this aunt took me, her name was Lucille, Lucille Pressey….
She took me and she took my sister, Loretta… and she raised the two of us… This aunt raised me and she was the only mother that I knew. My father was with us, but he was a sometimes father. He was here, he was there. He had his friends and his life and what have you so I didn’t have the kind of fatherly support that I would have liked….
We stayed in Savannah until I was seven years old. I was baptized as a Catholic. My sister and I were baptized as Catholics in Savannah. There’s a story to that as well. This aunt, the one who raised me, found herself at a low point in her life in the ‘30s when things were pretty bad economically and she was hired as a domestic by the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia and she began cleaning the Cathedral and the rectory for the priests there. They took a liking to her and they asked her if she could cook and she said yes, so she became their cook and in the process they converted her to Catholicism and she in turn converted a number of her brothers to Catholicism. By the time I came along it was just natural that I would be baptized a Catholic, so that’s how I became Catholic….
One day in July of 1947 my mother, my Aunt Lucille, came to us and said we’re going north. I learned later that the nuns at the cathedral and at Saint Benedict’s Church had given her money. It was a nun, the Mother Superior and her name was Mother Blondena. She gave my mother the money and said, “Take these children North because there’s no opportunity for them in the South.” That was in 1947 in June, early July.
On July 3rd, 1947 we took a train called the Silver Meteor which still runs to this day. We boarded it in Savannah and we carried with us our little shoe boxes of fried chicken and biscuits and I don’t know what else we had in there. I thought this was the most exciting thing that I had ever done in my life. I had never been on a train and to think that I was going to go for such a long, long ride. I was just mesmerized by the whole thing, seeing the passing images of buildings and factories and things like that. This was really quite something for a boy who had come out of really nothing. We had nothing. We were as poor as can be.
Then we were on our way North and with it to a new life. I would like to go back for a moment to say that those early years in the South, as poor as we were, were happy years for me. I knew we didn’t have any money and there were times when we had absolutely nothing to eat, I mean nothing except a piece of bread and we had water which we would put sugar in. We called it tea so we had bread and tea and that was all that we had, but we were still very happy.
“We had these sessions with the Ku Klux Klan when they would burn a cross in the middle of our street”
We had times during that period when we had difficulty with the Ku Klux Klan and they would come to our street and absolutely terrorize us. I remember my mother would hold us close to her with her hand over our mouths so that we wouldn’t make a sound so that they wouldn’t hear that there was anyone in a particular house so that they would then target that particular house for more mischief making.
So, I still remember those things. My overall memory is one of happiness and contentment during that time in the South.
We were in a totally black neighborhood except for our grocer and his family. There was a grocer there by the name of Mr. O’Brien and Mr. O’Brien had a son my age. I remember him to this day. It’s like I can still see him. He had red, red hair and we became just the best friends and never for a moment can I ever think of anytime when he referred to my color or I referred to his color. We played together with the other kids in the neighborhood and that was life. We never gave it a thought.
The only time we were aware of our race and being targeted because of our race was when we had these sessions with the Ku Klux Klan when they would burn a cross in the middle of our street….
We went from Savannah directly to Philadelphia. We arrived in Philadelphia on the 4th of July, 1947 and we were met by my Aunt Bertha who was the other sister, my father’s other sister. She took us into her home. We lived in a project in Philadelphia called the Shipyard Naval Homes. She had five children. Those five children slept in one room and she and her husband slept in another room and they took us in so then that made seven children in one little room and then my aunt, my mother, got a room across the street in the home of another woman in the project. That’s where we lived for a short time, a very short period and then we moved to Wilmington, Delaware. ….
“’Are you kidding? No college in its right mind will take a look at you’”
Before I graduated I went to the high school counselor and I asked her about what I should do next and she said, “Get a job as a carpenter.”
I said, “What about going to college?”
She said, “Are you kidding? No college in its right mind will take a look at you.” That’s what she told almost all of the black kids in the school, Mrs. Muir. I remember her to this day as well and not with great fondness.
Then I graduated and I did attempt to get a job as a carpenter, but then the unions were segregated and you couldn’t get into the union. It was a useless exercise. I mean I could have, I guess, sort of been a day laborer or something like that, but I didn’t want that. I continued working at the store. I then began to work full time at this store, My Lady’s Specialty Shop.
I then took the college entrance examination, the SAT and didn’t do well at all on them. Didn’t get a good score at all. Didn’t have good preparation to tell you the truth. In any case, I got from Mr. Berenholtz and his family and what have you a sense of the value of education. I heard them talking to their friends and relatives about this one going to university and that one going to university and how important it is and on and on and they suggested that it’s something I should keep in mind. I didn’t have money to go to college at all. Didn’t have any money at all.
I went to Temple University and got a catalog and asked about going to school at night and I found out that I could go to school at night. It wasn’t too expensive; I could afford it. It was $18 a credit, can you imagine? It was $18 a credit and I didn’t know what to take. I knew I was going to take something in business because I liked working in that shop. I had aspirations of maybe owning a shop of my own….
I began to go to school at night and I took accounting and found out to my surprise that I had an aptitude for accounting. I had never done anything in accounting in my life, but I just had an ability for it and that was in, I think I started in ’58. At the time Temple University had a certificate in accounting program…
In 1960 I was laid off from the shop because business was so bad I couldn’t continue on there. I was at loose ends, didn’t know what to do, tried all kinds of different possibilities, none of them worked out, that’s again a time when race came into play. I began to realize that I’d be called in for jobs and the minute I walked in the door I knew that it was because of my color that I wasn’t going to get the job.
I then went to the city of Philadelphia and looked at their announcement of openings and saw there was a position for junior accountant. The requirements were a Bachelor’s degree or a certificate in proficiency in accounting and you could take the exam. I was very close to getting my certificate and I worked and worked and got my certificate in 1960. I sat for the junior accountant exam for the city of Philadelphia and I passed it at the top and was offered a position in 1960.
I started working for the city of Philadelphia. I worked as a census enumerator which was interesting. That took me into parts of Philadelphia that I wouldn’t think of going into today. When I look back on where I went and those doors I knocked on and the people I encountered and what have you, there’s no way in the world that I would do that today. I was fearless. I just didn’t think about it. I mean it was literally the worst crime ridden area of Philadelphia at that time. Anyway, I think it was September of 1960 I began working as a junior accountant for the city of Philadelphia and that was a major step in my life because it was the beginning of my entrée to the middle class….
“The U.S. had not changed enough for that to happen”
Then in 1965 I was asked by the YMCA, to be a U.S. delegate to an international conference to be held jointly by the YMCA and the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) in Beirut, Lebanon at the American University in Beirut (AUB). I was terribly excited by this prospect. I had not been overseas at all except for a trip to Puerto Rico for about a month or so and for a trip to Canada….
That trip was a transforming experience for me. I had never met so many people from so many different cultures and to hear their stories about their countries and their cultures and their traditions and what have you was fascinating to me. I say to this day that was my conversion on the road to Damascus except mine occurred in Beirut at AUB. It was at that moment that I said I have got to do something in the international sphere. I was going to graduate the next year in 1966 and I said I’ve got to find something that will put me in that kind of arena.
I began to apply to a number of American companies. I wanted to work in the international division of an American company and I wanted to do that abroad and I thought in 1965, ’66 the United States had changed enough to make that possible. I learned later on that it was not possible, that it wasn’t going to happen.
I was called for a number of interviews. I remember going to New York and going into Citibank and going into insurance companies in different companies for interviews and they were very charming and very nice and they’d say, “Oh, Mr. Young, you have a really impressive resume and you have a superb academic record.”
But the minute they would say, “Let’s go to the executive dining room” and the minute those doors opened and I looked inside and saw what was there and realized that I was the only spot in the place and I wasn’t going to be the spot to change things — I knew that it wasn’t going to happen.
They gave all kinds of excuses and what have you, but the fact is the U.S. had not changed enough for that to happen.
Then I began to look to the Federal government and I began taking every exam that I could think of and finally succeeded in 1967 in getting into the Foreign Service….
You have to keep in mind that when I came in in ’67, you could count on one hand –not even two — the number of Black officers in the Service. I mean very few. I went to Madagascar. I was the only one and then later on another African-American officer came and the Ambassador could not distinguish between the two of us. This second officer’s name was Irving Williamson and the Ambassador used to call Irving Johnny and he used to call me Irving….
The few who made ambassador at that time almost all as I recall back in the late ‘60s, they almost all came from USIA [United States Information Agency] and not from the State Department. I think maybe the only one that I can recall at that time might have been Terry Todman and there might have been one other or so, but almost all were from USIA….
“I thought, “Oh my God, this is the end of my career. It hadn’t even gotten off the ground yet.”
I was in Madagascar from 1967 to 1969, but I was also accredited to Mauritius. I have to tell you about one of the first things that happened to me on that first assignment. It was in 1968, the students in Paris were rioting.
They were rioting and they had a major impact on airline service and the students in Madagascar identified with the students in France and they, too, were rioting and sort of stirring up things.
Well, one of the problems was we couldn’t have usual pouch service between Mauritius and the rest of the world. I had gone to Mauritius to help on the administrative arrangements to get the post set up for its independence in 1968. I went to buy furniture and help set up offices and check the books and all kinds of things like that. My wife went with me and when our work was done which was I guess about a week or two, we prepared to return to Madagascar and I was asked to serve as a non-pro courier. I think this occurred in about April or May, something like that.
I was to be the non-pro courier taking these pouches back to Madagascar and then from Madagascar I think they would then be put on Air Madagascar and sent to France. That’s how we would get things from Mauritius to the rest of the world. I had five pouches and when I got to the airport I was told to check them in. I checked them in, these are classified pouches. I got the courier letter, the works.
When we arrived in Madagascar we went to claim the pouches and there was one, there was two, there were three, there were four, but there was no five and panic struck. My wife and I, we looked in every corner in the whole of that airplane. We couldn’t find that fifth pouch. I was getting frantic.
Before we had set out on our first assignment I had been ill and I’d been in the hospital in Washington for internal bleeding. They didn’t know what the reason was. I never reported it to the State Department. I just took off on my assignment and my wife was worried that I was going to get sick again. We looked and we looked and we said, “Well, we have no choice but to call the embassy.”
I called the embassy and explained what happened. They said come in right away. I went in with the four pouches. They took the four. They contacted Mauritius right away, explained what happened. Mauritius found the fifth pouch, said there was no evidence that it had been compromised in any way, telegrams flew back and forth.
The country team [with representatives from the key offices and agencies represented at post] was assembled. I thought, “Oh my God, this is the end of my career. It hadn’t even gotten off the ground yet.“ We arrived in late October, so we’d only been at post about five months. I thought that’s it, my career hasn’t even gotten started, finished. The communicator who took me to the airport said that he accepted responsibility because he never briefed me on how I should handle a pouch as a non-professional courier.
Everyone said to me, “Oh, they certainly took care of that in orientation class.” They surely told me. No one ever mentioned anything about how you behave as a non-professional courier. I didn’t have a clue. He accepted responsibility for that and I thought that was a very big thing on his part. It really was. It’s amazing what goes around, comes around.
Now, we had become friendly with this communicator and he was a very bright fellow and we remained in touch with him. He was not a high school graduate. He was very clever though and we told him, his name was Theodore Boyd, Ted Boyd and we told him, “Ted, you know, you’re a very bright man. Why don’t you finish your GED (General Educational Development) and why don’t you take the Foreign Service exam?”
He took the Foreign Service exam and passed it with one of the highest scores recorded at that time. Succeeded in passing the oral as well. He was brought into the Service and he became a U.S. Information Agency officer. USIS put him to school. He did his bachelor’s degree, did his master’s degree and worked toward his Ph.D.
Some decades later he ended up as my public affairs officer when I was in Togo.
“I mean they were determined to teach that country a lesson and they did”
Then I returned to the States and I got a tentative assignment of GSO in Conakry, Guinea preceded by a huge chunk of training. This was 1970…
It was clear to me as I looked around that everything was shabby and fallen down and broken down and I could see very readily what had happened when the French pulled out in the late ‘50s and literally ravaged that country. They were going to teach them a lesson because Guinea was the only country of the then Francophone countries that said it didn’t want to be a part of the Francophone set-up. That it wanted to go it on its own and France was furious.
They pulled out all of their people. They ripped out the electrical wires for the street lighting, for the apartment buildings and offices, broke the generators of the local hospital, tore up the streets, I mean everything you can think of, they did. It was horrible.
The broke the elevator to the one skyscraper, which was just mean and vicious, and it was ugly and the country had not been able to overcome that. It was readily apparent. I mean holes in the streets, broken down lights. You couldn’t get electricity on any kind of continuous basis so it was just a dreadful situation in terms of the infrastructure. They broke things and the cranes … I mean you just name it, they broke it. I mean they were determined to teach that country a lesson and they did…
“I’ll never forget seeing the hanged bodies of people we knew”
I was home in bed on the evening of November 22nd , which is a fateful in Guinean history. I was stirred out of my sleep by what sounded like cannon sounds. We had made a huge investment in food that we had shipped to the post and we had it in a storeroom at the end of one of the hallways in the house. I kept saying to myself, who’s trying to get into my storeroom? All I could think of was the value of all that food we had in the storeroom. I kept getting up and going to check the storeroom and everything was fine.
I kept hearing boom, boom, rat-a-tat-tat, boom. I couldn’t figure it out. The next morning, I got up to go to mass. I was standing outside of the gate waiting for the person to pick me up to take me to church and it was the admin officer who came by and he says, “Johnny, you can’t stay here.” I lived in an area that was close to what they called the village ministerial, which was near where a lot of the ministers lived.
He said, “Last night there was an attempted coup. There’s still trouble in the air. We’re all meeting over at the DCM’s residence.” The DCM at that time was a fellow named Don Norland. So, we all gathered over at Don Norland’s house. We gathered all of the Peace Corps volunteers, as many as we could. We all went to Don Norland’s house and that’s where we stayed for literally several days until we could return to our respective homes.
On the night of the 23rd things were still uncertain so we stayed at Don’s house. Suddenly I guess as dark descended the fire started again, the cannon fire started again and we could see the tracers through the trees and I remember Don screaming to all of us to get down on the floor and we all got down on the floor and that’s where we stayed for the rest of the night, down on the floor as these bullets and cannons and what have you sailed through the trees.
The Guinean forces were challenging rebel forces that were attempting to come in from the sea and Don’s house was right on the coast. We could see, we knew what was going on. That went on all night long. On the 24th we didn’t have that at night and by the 25th we could return to our houses.
Things were pretty bad after that. Sekou Toure turned on his own people he suspected of being involved in the plot to overthrow him. He turned on a number of people in the foreign community he thought were involved in the plot….
I’ll never forget a couple of days after that, going to work one morning and going under an overpass and before coming out of that overpass seeing the hanged bodies of people we knew, including the Director of the Electricity Department, whom I had dealt with just a few days before in an effort to get electricity to several of our houses. We saw people who were strung up in the public square for everyone to see. It was a very tense time.
Now, this witch hunt that Toure had embarked on stretched out over a number of months and a number of people we knew were involved including a number of Guinean officials. It was really pretty grim and many of them were never heard from again. They were killed and murdered and never heard from again. This was a time when we were concerned about human rights, but frankly couldn’t do very much about it….
“They had a machine gun with a bayonet and they put that in my back and said, ‘You will go with us’”
The apartment building we lived in at the time was under surveillance by the government of Guinea police. From time to time they would have one of their policeman sit outside of this building in a chair. I arrived. My wife went home with our baby….
We were sitting in the apartment building having a Coke when there was a knock on the door. We opened the door and in marched I think about four Guinean policeman and they wanted to know who let these people [his colleagues] in this building. I said, “I let them in this building. Why are you here?”
They said, “We are part of the government of Guinea and we are the authority here and we have a right to be in this building.”
I said, “You have no right to be in this building. This is U.S. government territory and you should leave immediately.”
They said, “No, you will leave immediately.”
I said, “I will not.”
They said, “You have no right to have allowed these people in this building. This building is under surveillance and you have to get out.” I said, “I’m not going out.” They said, “Yes, you are.”
So, we got into a little back and forth there. They then took a bayonet, they had a machine gun with a bayonet and they put that in my back and they said, “You will go with us.” I said okay and I went with them….
As I descended the steps I passed the Ambassador’s secretary, a woman by the name of Marcella Wheeler. She had her door cracked and she was looking out the door. I said, “Marcella, be sure you tell the Ambassador what has happened to me.” She said, “I will.” They marched me out.
They put me in the back of a little Jeep and then they took me to jail. I got to jail. They sat me in a cell and they gave me a piece of paper and a pen and they said, “You will now write your deposition which is your confession.”
I said, “I will not.”
They said, “Yes, you will.”
I said, “I will not write any deposition.” They said, “You will or you will stay here.”
I said, “I’ll just stay.” I remained there in the cell and the policeman who was outside of the cell would occasionally answer the phone when it rang and each time the phone rang I would say, “Is that my Ambassador?”
He would say to me, “No” in very clear terms. He said, “Are you ready now to do your deposition?”
I said no. So, we went back and forth on that for a while. Each time the phone would ring I would say, “Is that my Ambassador?” “No.” This went on for several hours.
Finally, at one point, we said to them, “You will not receive a single further shipment of food from the United States government.”…I learned later from a friend of mine who was in the White House, Fred Rondon, and Fred said, “I was in the Situation Room and this cable came through that you had been arrested and you were in jail….” It was that leverage of no further shipment of food that persuaded President Sekou Toure to act to get me out of jail….
Now, after the attempted coup and difficulties in the ensuing months, I remember the Ambassador called the staff together and said, “This has been a really rough time for us. Some of you may want to leave and if any of you want to go, I will do everything I can to see that you get good onward assignments, but you don’t have to stay on here if you don’t want to. Just let me know if you want to do it and I will do it for you.”
Not a single person at the mission took the Ambassador up on that offer because they had such great respect and admiration for him. They were prepared to undergo whatever the hardships were at that time in order to continue their work with him at that mission. I’ll never forget him….
“ I was prepared to be used as a symbol”
On December 19, 1997 we arrived in Bahrain. Bahrain’s national day is on the 15th. The town was festooned with red and white lights, which are the national colors of Bahrain. I remember my wife saying, “Oh, Johnny, look at all of these lights. Isn’t it wonderful they have decorated for Christmas?” I had to say, “Honey; this is not for Christmas. These are the national colors of Bahrain.” All of the buildings, red and white lights trimmed in the buildings and they were decked out in the streets and what have you.…
That was quite an assignment for me. Bahrain had never had a Black ambassador from the U.S. It had never had a Black in any senior position frankly in the mission. I learned later they were all curious as to what I was going to be like and how many heads I had and that sort of thing.
Q: Did you carry a spear?
YOUNG: Exactly. There was a lot of watching and observing and seeing what was I going to be like and what was I going to say and how supportive I was going to be. They learned very quickly that they had in me a very good friend impressing on the U.S. what a good friend we had in Bahrain as well. It worked both ways….
I had been promoted to Career Minister [in the Senior Foreign Service] and hadn’t been assigned really as a Career Minister to a new assignment. I made a case once again to the central personnel system that, number one there weren’t that many Blacks at my level in the Service. In fact there was only one other at that point, and that was George Moose. George was already assigned and I said I’m interested and I think the Department wanted to do something with me. They didn’t want to throw me to the wolves at that point.
I was a symbol that they could use frankly. I was prepared to be used as a symbol. I had no problems with that at all, but I did have my limitations. I said I did not want to serve in Africa, that I had done my time in Africa, that I thought it was time once again for the Service to demonstrate that it could assign minority ambassadors to regions other than the traditional places than in Africa.
I had put in my wish list and my wish list consisted of 10 different countries and I remember the order of them very well. Number one on the list was the Netherlands. Number two was Sweden. Number three was Jordan and number four was Slovenia and then I had a whole lot of other ones down the line.
I knew that the Netherlands would go political. I knew that Sweden would go political. Jordan I thought could have been a possibility and Slovenia I frankly thought, well, you never know. It was in Europe, a lovely country, a country doing a lot of things right. A beautiful, nicely situated place so I thought, why not. That’s a possibility….
I got a call that the D [Deputies] Committee had selected me for Slovenia and I was very pleased about that….This was in 2000 that the Committee made its selection….Well, that didn’t go anywhere because all of those selections made by the Committee died because of the [presidential] elections and then they resurfaced again. Some of them had changes in them at that point when they resurfaced and I was lucky that my name was selected when it was resubmitted the second time under the Bush administration. That’s how I got to Slovenia…