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Elinor Constable — “If you want me out of the Foreign Service, you have to fire me”

Elinor Constable had an illustrious career in the State Department from 1955 until 1993, serving not only as Ambassador to Kenya from 1986 to 1989 but also as the first woman Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Economic Bureau and as Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES). She was in many ways a pioneer on women’s issues, dating from the late 1950s when she refused to resign from the Foreign Service when she got married, as was the expectation — not the law — at the time.

While Constable was Deputy Director of the Office of Investment Affairs in the 1970s, Alison Palmer, a Foreign Service Officer, led a class action lawsuit against the State Department regarding discrimination against women in hiring and promotions. She joined reluctantly as she did not believe in such lawsuits and because, as she put it, “For me to argue that the Department was discriminating against me as an individual was ridiculous.” The class action lawsuit was eventually decided in Palmer’s favor.

In this interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy which began in May 1996, Ambassador Constable discusses the importance of French’s Mustard in her family; how she ruffled some feathers as a spouse when she refused the invitation from the ambassador’s wife to be President of the Tea Club; how her husband was singled out as a “traitor” by Vice President Nixon; how she was brought back into the Foreign Service “kicking and screaming;” and the absurd Catch-22 she faced on trying to get into the Economic cone.  Later on, she discusses the Palmer case, being a woman in a key leadership position in the State Department, the differing perceptions of women ambassadors, and her time in Kenya.

You can also read the transcript from the panel discussion on women in the Foreign Service, about Ambassador Terence Todman’s experiences as a black Foreign Service officer, and the 12-year lawsuit against the Department on discrimination against gays.

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“My mother was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Her father, Francis Jackson French, invented French’s Mustard”

CONSTABLE:  My father was a Naval officer… His name was Marshall Greer, and we could spend the whole morning on him. … He married a young woman from Scranton, Pennsylvania. After she died, he met my mother, I guess in the early ‘30s. She came from up-state New York from a very different kind of a family, born with a silver spoon in her mouth.

Her father, Francis Jackson French, invented the yellow French’s Mustard that we put on hot dogs, literally invented it in his laboratory. She was the third of three daughters, much younger than my father. They married in 1932. I was born in 1934 and spent my childhood traveling around the world.

My father was a bit of a hero during the Second World War fighting German submarines in the Atlantic as commander of an aircraft carrier, and then moving to the Pacific where he commanded a carrier division. At the very end of the war, he was the officer on Tinian who signed the final release for the Enola Gay [the plane that dropped the atomic bomb]….

So I grew up all over the world, went to 14 schools…And I swore I would never travel again….I had no defined ambitions. I wanted to go to college. It was assumed that we would go to college. The purpose was not clear. My mother never graduated from high school. My mother was a legendary beauty, and also quite a character. She was about 20, I guess, when she married my father…. So I had no image of what I would be beyond getting married and having children which is what 1951 women were supposed to do.

My parents had selected Bryn Mawr for me because my father knew some people in Pennsylvania. And how the world has changed. College is now very competitive and you’re lucky if you can get in to one of your first five choices. In 1951, on the other hand, I only applied to a single college and it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t get in.

But I decided I didn’t want to go to Bryn Mawr because a history teacher at Punahou said, “You don’t want to go to Bryn Mawr.” So I said, “Oh, okay.” No analysis, nothing. He said, “Wellesley is a wonderful college. Why don’t you go there?” “Oh, all right.” So I applied to Wellesley and I told my father. He said, “Well, get yourself in.” So I said, “All right,” and did.

“I had absolutely no thought of ever being a professional. I was going to get married and have children.”

In my freshman year at Wellesley (at right) I took a course in political science. I didn’t know what political science was, and I don’t even know why I took the course…. I had no particular career ambitions. My idea was to work at something that was interesting and fun. I didn’t want to be a secretary. That was the other thing women were supposed to be, and I would make a terrible secretary. Everything that makes a good secretary good, attention to detail, efficiency — I’d be terrible in all that. And the notion that this was what every woman was destined to be, was nuts. And I refused to do that. I came to Washington while they were processing the [Civil Service] exam and started job hunting.

First question, can you type? And I said, “No,” which wasn’t entirely true. I could type pretty well. But I said, “No, I couldn’t.” “Well, you women get out of college and you think you can just come down here and get a good job. If you’re not going to type, we don’t want you.” It was quite something.

After I passed the exam I was offered a job working in employee relations at the U.S. Geological Survey. Now that sounds as if it would be interesting. I was assigned to the incentive awards program, and my job was to process all of the employees’ suggestions that came in. I remember one vividly about toilet paper. If you put in really poor quality toilet paper you could save money. Anyway, we rejected that particular suggestion. I was in an office with six women–two secretaries and four personnel technicians—supervised by two men:  a frustrated ballet dancer who did not enjoy his job, and a golfer.

 “I can’t join the Foreign Service. They don’t take women.”

It was not a stimulating environment. I’d been there about a month, when the sixth member of the team arrived. She took one look around — I think on the second day — and said, “Elinor, how can you stand this?” And I said it was not much fun, but it’s a job. “Oh, you need to get out right now, right now.” We talked about our interests and she said, “Why don’t you join the Foreign Service?” I said, “I can’t join the Foreign Service. They don’t take women.”

People who read this are going to say, “That doesn’t sound like the Elinor Constable we know.” But the odds were overwhelming in 1955. But she talked me into taking the exam. She said, “What have you got to lose? Preparing for the exam and taking it will be interesting and if they don’t take you, so what?” She had been a Foreign Service secretary to Ellis Briggs and had decided to become a lawyer. She ultimately became a judge in California. So I took the Foreign Service exam, and I passed the written exam with flying colors…

You were tested on a lot of other things, not all of them germane. How you handled yourself. How you behaved under stress…Then they asked that tired, tired old question: If a foreigner, that was the term used, asked you to recommend ten books about the United States, which ten books would you pick?

And I said, “If a foreigner asked me that question, the first thing I would do would be to go to my library. I would tell them, let me think about this and I’ll put something together for you.”

“Yes, but Miss Greer… what books would you recommend?”

I said, “I wouldn’t recommend anything off the top of my head because you’ve got to put together a balanced list. If you’re going to give them Faulkner, then you have to give them something that is more positive and up-beat. If you’re going to give them F. Scott Fitzgerald, then you’ve got to do something else, you want a good balance.”

“Well, but what would you give them?”

And I said, “I’m not going to tell you.”

Then one of them said, “We just want to find out what you know about American literature.”

And I said, “Why don’t you ask me about American literature?” They didn’t, they moved on to something else. I mean, I was insufferable. I don’t know why they took me. I would describe the process as extremely patronizing, particularly towards a woman, and subjective…

When I joined the Foreign Service, I think I must have known — I certainly knew by the statistics — that it wasn’t a woman’s institution, and that people in positions of power were all white men. But I wasn’t really looking for a career. In those days that was heresy….

 “I desperately wanted to go overseas. I thought that was going to be glamorous.”

I wasn’t looking for a spouse. I didn’t know what I was looking for. I cared about international issues and I was looking forward to working in this area. I did say when I was offered the appointment that I would not work in personnel or consular affairs. A little cheeky of me.

Admin in those days was separate, and consular was relatively separate. But female Foreign Service officers were usually assigned to personnel, and I just said, no, that I will not do. But I said I’d do anything else, and I wanted to go overseas, desperately wanted to go overseas. I thought that was going to be glamorous.

Q: Did you take the basic officer’s course?

CONSTABLE: Yes, at the old FSI in some temporary Navy buildings that have since been torn down. The first session was at approximately 9:00 on the 31st of January 1957, and I remember that day vividly because I sat down next to this gorgeous man, Peter Constable. I had trouble getting through the course. We’ve been married for 38 years now. I was just so smitten it was pathetic.

In those days it was a three-month course. They tried to cover everything including the kitchen sink. Once a woman briefed us on immigration and naturalization procedures. A man raised his hand and said, “After you come into the United States, if you’re not a citizen, you’re not a legal immigrant, what happens?” “What do you mean, what happens?” “Well, you just let them all run around loose?” We all fell off our chairs….

When we completed the course, we were given our assignments and Peter and I were both assigned to the Department. I was assigned to the Economic Bureau and given a job which today I wouldn’t want to do. At that point I was willing to do everything, I still had stars in my eyes.

And again, it was one of these things where there was a certain subtle separation — an awkward phrase — an all-female office. It eventually had a man or two assigned to it. Our responsibility was to produce a newsletter on economic issues every two weeks. There was also a daily summary with five or six lines about economic events around the world, and the biweekly would have longer articles. I did that until I left to have a baby. I did not leave when I got married.

“You can’t force me to resign. If you want me out of the Foreign Service, you have to fire me.”

A month or so before we were married, I was summoned to the Executive Director’s office in EB [Economic Bureau].  The Executive Director in those days —  she was the same person when I came back into the Foreign Service in 1973 — was a legendary figure by the name of Frances Wilson. Everybody knows about Frances.

A wonderful woman actually, but a little bit overwhelming. Anyway, Frances had invited me to her office. We were all terrified of Frances, but she congratulated me on my engagement, and I was touched. My goodness, how nice.

And then she said, “When do you plan to resign Miss Greer?”

And I said, “I don’t plan to resign.” Now, I have to tell you, I was quaking inside. But I had heard about this “requirement” that female Foreign Service officers had to resign when they got married, no matter who they married, foreigner, American, Foreign Service officer, it didn’t matter. You had to resign.

She looked at me quite severely, I mean you did not say no to Frances Wilson. And no women had ever done this, in the history of the Foreign Service. I said, “You can’t force me to resign. If you want me out of the Foreign Service, you have to fire me.” Wow!

She said, “Miss Greer, you are required to resign.”

And I said, “Show me the regulation. Show me the law. Where is it?” Well, there wasn’t one. This came as a shock. I was quite prepared for her to pull out a book, and show me some regulation, and at that point I would fight it as far as I could. There was none. There was no regulation. It was custom, plain old custom, buttressed by two practical limitations.

One, you did not have to grant maternity leave to women in those days. So you had to in effect choose between family and work. And second, there was a restriction on the books about family members working together at the same post. So, again, you would have to choose, and if your spouse was sent to Mexico City, you couldn’t go there, and the Department would not lift a finger to help you out. They would probably, just to show you, send you off to Burma. And in those days transportation was difficult. So this was not something you would do lightly.

But we were in Washington, and I said, “This makes no sense. I am not going to be a different person after I am married. Nothing is going to change. And I am going to continue to do this job.”

Well, she had a fit. “I’ll have to go check on this.”

“Fine, you go check on this.” I was very calm externally, but thinking, “Elinor, what have you done?” I think even Peter was a little nervous about this. But we wanted the second income, and I liked what I was doing. And it just didn’t make sense….

Allegedly the issue was taken to the Secretary, then John Foster Dulles. Personally, I don’t believe this, but it obviously went up fairly high.

And the answer came back. “Well, okay, you don’t have to resign. But you have to submit a letter of resignation without a date.”

So I did that. I suppose I could have refused to submit the letter. But one of the things about negotiating is, you’ve got to recognize the deal. When you’ve got it, take it. We got married. We took a short honeymoon, and I went back to work.

And then, of course, we started our family right away, and there was no such thing as maternity leave, so at that point I did resign.

Now, just an interesting footnote. The following year, or later that year, another young woman joined the Foreign Service, Melissa Foelsch [Wells]. She married, but was not asked to resign. Years later, when I got to know her better, we were trading stories and she said, “You know, they never asked me to resign, and that was amazing.”

She chose a different path, which was to have a child and do it on a combination of annual leave and a little bit of sick leave, and come right back to work. I wouldn’t have had the physical stamina to do that. And then she and her husband, then a Foreign Service officer, took separate assignments. They eventually got divorced but they got back together again. But she never left the Service, ever. It was interesting. She has been ambassador to Mozambique, Zaire, UN…

“The Washington Post headlines said , ‘Nixon accuses State Department official of treason'”

In Washington, Peter was assigned to the Public Correspondence branch which was part of Public Affairs… He moved up to be chief of the division at the end of the second year, in charge of answering correspondence. In late ’58 or early ’59, there was a dust-up over Quemoy and Matsu islands off mainland China. And the Chinese were doing a little saber-rattling, and we were responding with some rather aggressive rhetoric. It was making people nervous.

A New York Times reporter by the name of E.W. Kenworthy called Peter, and asked if he could come and interview him about how the mail was going. Peter checked with his boss, and his boss said yes, sure. Peter said, “What do I tell him?” “Well, just tell him the truth,” which Peter did.

The next day there was a headline in the New York Times, “80% of the American public opposes Dulles’ policy on Quemoy-Matsu.” Well, it wasn’t quite right. Some people opposed the saber-rattling, some people opposed the rhetoric, some people thought we should be more aggressive, some people didn’t care. It was more complicated than the headline.

But the headline captured attention. This was a Saturday. Everybody had left town for the weekend, and the only person that the reporters could find was one Richard M. Nixon.

The Vice President of the United States, who said, “Well, anybody who says that has to be a traitor.” There was a banner headline in The Washington Post the next day:  “Nixon accuses State Department official of treason.” So we started looking at other careers. But the upshot was interesting. Peter was called in, explained what had happened, and the Department backed him all the way, refusing to release his name.… It died down and Peter’s career never suffered, which was a miracle.…

“Elinor, you can’t do that.”  I said, “I just did.”

In the meantime, this being 1961 to 1964 [in Tegucigalpa], I had to deal with expectations that existed for Foreign Service wives. I never met a male spouse until the ‘80s, never met a male spouse in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I’m sure there must have been somebody out there.

I don’t want to belabor this because I’m sure it’s been described at length by others, but basically you were a mirror image of your husband. The ambassador’s wife was in charge of the women. The DCM’s wife reported to the Ambassador’s wife, and on down the chain of command, or up or down the chain of command. And there were very clear expectations about what junior officers’ wives, which is what I was, would do.

My view of all of this was that I really wanted to be involved in the community. I think it’s nuts to live somewhere without being deeply engaged. But unless you paid my salary, you could tell me what I couldn’t do. But you could not tell me what I had to do. Nobody could tell me that, and I drew that line the very first day I arrived in Honduras.

A few weeks into our tour, the political counselor’s wife, and the Economic Counselor’s wife, who in those days were high-powered women for a junior officer’s wife, came to call on me. I thought that was really nice. One of the two women became a good friend. They said, “Congratulations.”

“Congratulations for what?”

“Well, you’ve just been elected as Chairwoman of the Tea Committee of the Voluntary Dames of Tegucigalpa.”

“What?!”

They repeated it, and laughed, and said, “Don’t worry, it just means you have to arrange tea for 60 women once a month.” I was speechless. I mean I was genuinely shocked. And I said, “You can’t be serious.” “Oh, yes, but don’t worry about it.”

And then I got mad. Our phone wasn’t hooked up, it always took a couple of months to get a phone when you went to one of these places. I said, “All right. I want the name and phone number of the woman who runs this club, and I want to use your phone.” They started getting nervous. And I said, “Are you going to let me call her?”

It took a while but the upshot was we went to Ruth Amott’s house, I dialed this woman’s number…I’ll never forget, her name was Iris Ulargui. “Hi, this is Elinor Constable.” “Oh, Elinor” (I think this may have been in Spanish because I was pretty fluent by then).

I said, “I not only will not serve as Chairman of your Tea Committee. I will not join your organization.” And actually I used some language I don’t want to repeat here, and I hung up on her.

I thought these two women were going to have strokes right on the spot.

They said, “Elinor, you can’t do that.”

I said, “I just did.”

“But the Ambassador’s wife recommended you.”

“Well, she should have asked me first. And don’t you ever give my name to somebody without my permission, ever. Got that?”

I went home, I told Peter what I’d done. And he was conflicted, to say the least. Intellectually, he agreed with me. But another part of it was, Oh my God, what has she done? I stuck to my guns, and I simply scared them to death. The Ambassador’s wife did not know what to do with me. And I found my own role….

“All of the munitions had blown up. You can imagine what that did to the immediate neighborhood.”

From the summer of ’68 to the summer of ’71 [we were in Lahore.] We didn’t like it one bit. I had decided to resume a career, and I was excited about it. To put this into some perspective, the period from 1968 to 1971 was the last stage of what we refer to as the old Foreign Service where wives were considered to be dependents of their husbands in every sense.

We were mentioned in efficiency reports, and by then not only had I resumed a career but the whole women’s movement had blossomed. And women were trying to change things in the Foreign Service, and there we were back in the dark ages again in Lahore. I was not very nice about it. I found it extremely confining.

We had a nine-month old daughter, we had two sons in grammar school, and it never would have occurred to me not to accompany Peter. And I had fun. But to me life is  — this is corny as all get out, but I think it’s fundamentally true, it’s fun and pleasure, it’s relationships and love, and it’s work for a purpose. And I had the first two. I had wonderful kids and a great husband, and boy, did I have fun.

But I had no purpose and it just drove me nuts. And people kept coming up with wonderful ideas for silly things that I could do that would tie me down, but would not have very much meaning. It was then that I decided that when we came back to DC, I was going to leave the Foreign Service in the sense that I was not ever going to go overseas again with Peter….

[In 1971] India and Pakistan went to war. We knew what was coming, and I know Peter was very anxious to get packed up. He would come home and say, “Got to get packers, got to get our effects down to Karachi and on a ship.” We left before the war actually did break out.

There was a marvelous incident shortly before we left. I was sitting in the library reading and an explosion ripped through the house — shattered every window in the room that I was in. I was covered with glass. I paused, made sure that I was okay, brushed the glass off myself, walked into the main part of the house where all the windows had also been shattered, the front door had been blown off. I checked to make sure our daughter and the servants were all right.

Then I called the office and I said, “Peter, I don’t want to alarm you, but there’s been a very bizarre explosion in the house. Everybody is fine, but all the windows have been blown out, and I’d appreciate it if you could send GSO [General Services Office] out to cover up our windows before the next dust storm hits.”

Silence.

And I said, “Are you there? We’re all okay, dear.” And he said, “We just had an explosion that ripped through the Consulate, and we thought there was a bomb.”

Well, a little more sleuthing and we discovered that windows had been shattered all through this part of Lahore. The munitions depot had exploded. All of the munitions had blown up. You can imagine what that did to the immediate neighborhood. And everybody in the area was going through exactly what we were going through. Did the gas main go, did our gas here go, what happened? Pakistanis wouldn’t admit that anything had happened. And, of course, a lot of it sounded like small artillery.

So people said, the Indians are invading. And I said, “Don’t be ridiculous, there’s no air cover.” What do I know? I’ve never been in the military but it strikes me if they’re going to invade there ought to be a little air cover.

When the explosion hit, there was a Pakistani pedaling his bicycle in front of our house, he’s thrown up into the air, he lands on the dirt road unhurt, leaps to his feet and says, “Oh, it’s war, it’s war, we’ll be in New Delhi tomorrow.“ That was the attitude. Well, finally it came out that the munitions dump had exploded and they never did determine whether it was sabotage or an accident. But boy, were we ready to get out of there….

“I really was dragged back into the Foreign Service kicking and screaming.”

We returned to DC and I went back to work. This time it took 24 hours to find a job. I picked up on what I had been doing in the ‘60s and went to work for an outfit called Trans-century Corporation, running some projects for the Peace Corps and for VISTA. Then I was recruited for the McGovern campaign by a friend of mine on the Democratic National Committee.

Just before that had happened, Peter came home. Remember when telegrams were pink? With a pink copy of a message describing the new policy about women in the Foreign Service, inviting women who had been forced out to reapply. Now, I had been indirectly forced out, but there was no way I wanted to reapply. I wanted to stay with what I was doing.

I mean, I really was dragged back into the Foreign Service kicking and screaming.

I think Peter’s idea in retrospect was that if I rejoined the Foreign Service, this would keep us together. There was no talk of divorce or separation, or anything like that. But he was smart, he saw the potential for our lives to go in very different directions, and talked me into coming back. And, as I say, I didn’t want to, but I did.

Q: What was the procedure? 

CONSTABLE: There was no examination process. You filled out a bunch of papers. You expressed your interest. I can’t tell you now exactly how they were processed. I again recorded the fact that I would not do personnel work. I was able to do the McGovern campaign as a senior advance person working in the East coast, and then when the campaign was over waited a little while while my papers were finally processed and came back in in May of 1973.

You were asked to specify a cone [area of specialty], and I specified the admin cone because in my other jobs I had done program management, and budgeting. And that’s where there was a great need. While it was definitely not my first choice, I thought I could make a contribution and fill a need at the same time, which is always satisfying.

Forget it. Closed shop, absolute closed shop. I couldn’t even get a job as a Special Assistant to the Director of FSI [Foreign Service Institute]. I think partly it was because the admin cone was an old boys’ operation, partly because I was still a Foreign Service wife.

Not being a patient person, I gave this process about two or three months. And then I said, all right, I’ll tell you what. I really want to do economic work, so I’ll do economic work.

“Well, you need the six-months course.”

“Fine, I’ll take the course”. Now, I’m not making this up.

“You can’t take the course unless you’re in the economic cone.”

“Okay, put me in the economic cone.”

“Well, we can’t unless you take the course.” This is a true story.

So I got the list of the committee that selected people for training. I remember John Sprott was on it. There were about five or six people. Now this is exactly what my father would have done. I went and called on all of them. People knew who I was because they knew Peter.

“Hi, I really want to take the econ course. I hope you’ll let me take the econ course.” I can’t vouch for this; but my guess is they put me in the course because they thought I would be trouble.

To make a long story short I got into the course which started in January of 1974. In the meantime I had been working in something called the files project run by Cleo Noel’s widow, Cleo Noel was killed in Khartoum in 197[3], and his wife Lucille was a magnificent woman who had also been in the Foreign Service. There were about eight or nine of us assigned to it, I was assigned to it temporarily.

It was an awful project, going through old personnel folders, putting everything in chronological order, cleaning out the old files, and removing the inadmissible material. I was especially curious about women officers and wives, some of whom I knew. It became kind of a running joke. We would be going through the files, and I would start to giggle. Everybody would look up, and they’d say, “Oh, Elinor has found another one.”

I read these things out loud to them. Things like: Mr. X’s wife does not know how to behave in social situations, but then she’s French….

In the meantime somebody in personnel had the idea to send me over to the Commerce Department to show whether I was “serious” about economics. My attitude was, whoa, three months at Commerce instead of two years, that’s a deal I’ll take.

In those days you didn’t want to go to Commerce. It’s changed some since then. So we negotiated and I took a job in Commerce working for a special energy task force. It was quite interesting actually. Three days before I was supposed to report, I got a call from the fellow who was going to be supervising me saying, “We’ve just got a call from the State Department canceling your detail.”

“What?” I called my then counselor–I don’t want to say who this was, it was a woman–and I said, “Did you cancel my detail to the Commerce Department?”

She said, “Yes.”

And I said, “Look, I’m not going to say anymore now because I’ll regret it, but you stay in your office, I’m coming over there.”

So I went to her office and I said, “Take my file, put it in the bottom drawer of your safe, and don’t ever get it out again. And how dare you do this without talking to me! If there was a reason for this, or if something happened, fine. But you never talked to me.”

“Well,” she said–and I will name this man– ”Ted Curran told me it was all right. Ted figured that now that you’re in the econ course, you don’t need to go to the Commerce Department.”

“Oh, really? I guess I’ll have to go talk to Ted.”

“What are you going to say to him?”

“Pretty much what I’ve just said to you.”

I’d known Ted for years so I went to Ted and I said, “What the hell are you doing?”

“Well, gee, Elinor, I thought you liked the files project.”

“Ted, I’m not going to complain, I’m a professional. I’m going to do it, and I’m going to have as much fun with it as I can have with it. Like it? Are you nuts?”

So I went to the Commerce Department for three months, and it was a lot of fun. And then came back, did the econ course where I refurbished my reputation by graduating first in the class. This is how you get people’s attention….

“I am philosophically a militant feminist, but I happen to like men a lot. I’m not a conflict avoider.”

It’s not an easy thing to do, and the whole business is another whole theme, the business of sexism in the State Department. That’s a tough issue. I had my own approach to it which is a little bit peculiar, I guess. I am philosophically a militant feminist, but I happen to like men a lot. I’m not a conflict avoider. Anybody who knows me will tell you, but it’s not my first preference. My first preference is to be congenial and conciliatory, honest. I say this to anyone who knows my reputation. It makes life much more fun, and more pleasant.

Work is hard enough, without your sitting around glaring over your shoulder, ‘What’s this guy doing?’ You just don’t. You laugh about it.

My first day on the job, Dick Smith, Bill Witting and I were going to a meeting and it happened to be all the way across the building and we walked, and as we got to each door Dick would scoot around in front of me and hold the door for me. And about the second or third door I smiled, and I said, “You know, Dick, you don’t have to do that, and actually I don’t much like it.” He said, “Okay.” Dick is a marvelous fellow.

And at the next door, he let it slam in my face. So the next door I slammed it into his face. By the time we got to the meeting the three of us were laughing so hard we had to pull ourselves together. We would laugh about things, and Dick could come in to me and he’d say, “Elinor, I don’t know. What about this? Is this a problem?” I’d say, “Oh, yes, probably a terrible problem,” and we’d joke about it.

That’s the way I’ve always handled it. Don’t evade, don’t avoid it, don’t suppress it. But make it fun, and it can be fun and silly.

“I was not going to join the suit. I don’t believe in suing the State Department. I didn’t like the style of the people who were in charge.”

And when the women sued the State Department back in the mid-’70s, the class action suit — this is a hard story for me to tell, but let’s be truthful for history. I was not going to join the suit. I don’t believe in suing the State Department. I didn’t like the style of the people who were in charge of the suit.

And I’ve always felt that if you’re a woman or a minority, you need to be very sensitive to the fact that you’re not always promoted because you’re good, and you’re not always left off the list because you’re a minority or a woman. Sometimes you’re just not competent. And sometimes it’s affirmative action. And sometimes it isn’t.

There is a statistical pattern of discrimination which is, I think, clear and well established. And I think by and large it is not just unconscious, but maybe even subconscious. And we need to work on it. But I don’t like the suits. And my husband urged me to join it.

His argument was interesting, and I thought about it and agreed with him. His argument was that the benefits that I was enjoying, the fact that I had been invited back to rejoin the Foreign Service in 1973, the fact that the Department was making an effort to provide opportunities for professional women which, to be fair, it had not made.

If you were a professional, and you were good, you could move ahead. But as a whole the Department was doing what was comfortable. It was because these women had taken risks. You shouldn’t just leave them out there to take all the flak. Okay, so I joined the suit with the idea that if I ever got anything, I’d give it away.

It was a class action suit which was filed by female Foreign Service officers led by Alison Palmer and others. I’m embarrassed to tell you, I haven’t read a lot of the documentation. I’ve obviously read enough of it to give you a general sense of it.

The claim in the suit was that the State Department had discriminated against women in hiring, assigning, promoting, giving incentive awards, every step of the way. That the Department as an institution had discriminated against women. And that the women as a class were entitled to remedies, either retroactive promotions….

“My career took off like a rocket. So for me to argue that the Department was discriminating against me as an individual was ridiculous.”

The class action suit was finally decided in favor of the women and the Department was required to offer up some remedies. I, fortunately or unfortunately, wasn’t eligible for any, and it wasn’t an issue. In any case, my own career had zoomed…

I mean I was promoted as fast as anybody in the Foreign Service. I became an Ambassador, I became an Assistant Secretary. I was the first woman to be a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in EB. I was the first woman to run the International Finance and Development portfolio in the Economic Bureau. Some other firsts which I forget. My career took off like a rocket.

So for me to argue that the Department was discriminating against me as an individual was ridiculous.

Now, there were two occasions when I originally came in and was asked to resign, and then when I rejoined the Foreign Service. I had been in the Civil Service at the GS-13 level, which in those days translated to FS-04.

I was brought back as an FSR-5, and I complained about it. Not because I expected a 4, but because I’m not a door mat, and I wrote a memo to the Director of Personnel and said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate, I should be a 04.” He was furious, and was reliably quoted as saying if she didn’t want the 5, why the hell did she come back in? He was really quite put out with me.

He wrote back and said, “No, you have a 05 [a lower grade].” Well, that’s what I expected but at least I had made the point. But then it was interesting.

The first thing I did when I came back was sit on the files project.  And one of the things I did on the files project, was check the files of anyone who had come in laterally. And guess what? The men came in at 04 if they had been a GS-13, and I came in as a 05. Well, my view of that was it came out in the wash so fast, it was almost irrelevant. Who cared?

And I also learned then and later when I was forced to become an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor, that the terms of your initial employment contract are not grievable. I never even considered filing a grievance. I was counseling with someone else who was considering filing a grievance. I never considered it.

I think every organization needs a grievance procedure. I think it is essential, it is appropriate. Having said that, I can’t imagine ever filing one. I have encouraged some other people to file one. I counseled a minority candidate some years ago, and when he told me his story he sheepishly said, “I filed a grievance.”

And I said, “You should, and whether you win it or not, you’ll feel better about yourself having laid out your case.” But I know so many people who have become obsessed by their grievances, and for whom that’s their whole life….

You need a grievance procedure. Institutions do occasionally, whether it’s consciously or not, take decisions about individuals that are arbitrary and unfair, and that’s what the procedure is supposed to deal with. I’m very conflicted about it, and I never would have done it.

 “All of the things being equal, we will hire the person with whom we are the most comfortable”

Q: What was your impression coming from your perspective of Alison Palmer and the leadership of this group?

CONSTABLE: Alison, if you’re reading this, forgive me. I didn’t like them, and I didn’t like her, and I hadn’t even met her. Years later, when I finally met Alison and dealt with her on an issue, I thought she was terrific.

I don’t want to pick on the State Department because we are better than a lot of other institutions on this issue. We were then, and we are now. I’ve popped around government and the private sector and I can tell you we’re not as far as we ought to be, but we don’t have to be ashamed of our record.

I hope my militant feminist friends will forgive me. But I think to change an organization like this somebody has to be willing to stand up, and break a lot of crockery. Because it isn’t going to happen naturally. It doesn’t feel natural.

All of us, if we have to fill a position, and we have five applicants, all of the things being equal, will hire the person with whom we are the most comfortable. And that often means the person that’s most like us. We don’t quite think of it that way. You have a top-notch woman, and a top-notch man, and you’ve known the guy, maybe you went to school with him, maybe you served with him once before, he’s the one you want. And it’s not that you’re actively discriminating against the woman because you think she can’t do the job. You’re just a little more comfortable with this other choice.

And if we’re left undisturbed, and unprovoked, it’s not what each of us does every single time, but it’s what collectively as an institution we do most of the time, and then you just perpetuate this pattern. And somebody has to come in and fight it.

Now, if you’re a Foreign Service officer, or employed full time, trying to keep unfair duties from being imposed against Argentine footwear, you don’t have time for this. You also know that if you’re aggressive and provocative you’re going to make people uncomfortable, and that’s true if you’re a man or a woman. We women are given a little less scope for behaving that way.

So you manage situations, you manage people, you try and be collegial, and it is by definition not very collegial to come in and say, “Hey, you didn’t hire me because you’re discriminating against me.” Well, you’re not going ever to want to hire me after I’ve done that to you. But I think it was necessary, and I’m glad they did it. As I say, I don’t know about the suit, but there was a lot surrounding the suit. There was a lot of agitation, and it wasn’t my style. I think there was a tendency to blame everything that went wrong in one’s career on the system, and that’s not healthy.

I’ll never forget once, it was back in the late ‘70s. I had lunch with a woman of my generation, and the promotion list had just come out and I was on it, and she was not. I felt bad about that, but it was appropriate. She was just not competent. And she looked at me, and she said, swearing a little bit, the State Department just won’t promote women.

Well, I felt a little bit awkward. I’m a woman. I’d just gotten promoted. It was just really sad. No sense of perspective, or proportion. And there was a lot of that. But I think the agitation was necessary. I think we’re not there yet.

“Since I came back in the ‘70s the State Department has changed dramatically”

My own experience has been that once I get the job, I have no problem ever again. Getting the job has been a problem. When I came back in in ’73, I described trying to get a job in admin, and I think people just weren’t comfortable. There weren’t a lot of women working in that area then. But when I got into the Economic Bureau, got my hands on a job, there was no issue. And there literally hasn’t been an issue or a problem since in my career. Since I came back in the ‘70s the State Department has changed dramatically….

If I may be totally indiscreet, when [Secretary] Warren Christopher, came back to the Department in early ’93, and had that meeting…he was asked about equal employment opportunity and said, “Of course, I’m committed to it, and care about it. It goes without saying.”

He should have stopped right there. Because his next sentence was, “You need these people at the table because they bring their special perspective.” All I can say is, I thank God I was not in that room. I would have lost it right there. And if you’re thinking as a diplomat that you want a woman there with her special perspective…

You have to, for the record here, look at the Warren Christopher’s State Department which has more women career Foreign Service assistant secretaries than any State Department in history. And more political appointee women Under Secretaries than any State Department in history. And probably — I haven’t counted this one, more women political Assistant Secretary appointees than any State Department in history. And the Secretary’s immediate staff has included women.

So in terms of what counts, which is putting women in key positions, and letting them perform, he gets very high marks. But I was just astonished…

“We make desperate moves to get minority Foreign Service officers into key positions, and then sometimes just let them hang”

By the way, I make a sharp distinction between women and minorities. I think we are nowhere on minorities, nowhere. And we make sort of desperate moves trying to get minority Foreign Service officers into key positions, and then sometimes just let them hang. We haven’t figured that one out yet.

I think that we need to pay attention, and keep our sense of humor, and just keep working on it. We can’t ignore it. I have had three occasions to sit down with minority officers and secretaries and say, you’re not performing. And in every case the answer was, “You’re the only person who’s ever told me that.” I said, “Of course. Most white people are scared to death to say that to you. They don’t know how. But I’m here to tell you that you’re not cutting it. Now what are we going to do about it?”

The first case was a secretary who ended up working for the Secretary of State. I counseled her. In her case it had nothing to do with her being black. It had everything to do with the fact that her personal life was in a shambles. I took her aside and I said, look, if you’re a woman — this is back in the ‘70s — if you’re a woman and you’ve got personal problems, you have to hide them because the office doesn’t understand. The organization doesn’t understand.

So let’s figure out how you can disguise all of this, and get your professional life, and your personal life, related to each other so that you can function in here. We worked on it. She was a fabulous secretary, she ended up on the Secretary’s staff. I was really thrilled about that.

Then there was a case of a staff assistant to the Assistant Secretary, a political appointee. “We’ve got to get rid of this guy.”

“No, no, you better not.” I said, “I’m going to deal with this, and you just drop out of it.” I took the fellow to lunch, and I said, “You’re not performing. Now we have two choices here.

One, you and I can start every day with a “what’s going to happen today”, and how you handle it, and in the course of the day anytime anything goes wrong, you and I will sit down and we’ll figure it out, and we’ll fix it. Or we can reassign you to a job in the trade area where you can focus on fewer issues, and don’t have these crazy deadlines, but it’s your call. You decide.”

So he went home and talked to his wife, he came back in the next morning, and he said, “I think I’ll do the trade job.”

And several years later, I ran into him in an elevator and he said, “Thank you for doing that. You’re the only person who ever sat down with me and told me that I wasn’t performing.” And, you know, he’s doing fine. His career went along fine, he had fun, he did jobs he could do….

But what struck me in every one of those cases was that nobody had ever talked to these folks, and the performance problems were glaring, they weren’t subtle. It wasn’t a question of taste. You know, you come in late every morning, as the secretary was doing. That’s not a preference. You can’t come in late. The staff assistant was missing deadlines and losing papers. You can’t do that if you’re a staff assistant, etc. So I worry about it. It bothers me the way we do it.

 “I find it hard to talk about being an ambassador because it’s a very tough job. It isn’t what you expect it to be.”

From 1986 to 1989 [I was in Kenya]…I find it a little hard to talk about being an ambassador because it’s a very tough job. It isn’t what you expect it to be. It isn’t what the public at large thinks it is:  glamour and fun, and gadding around. It is excruciatingly hard work. If you’re going to be a good ambassador, you have to get involved in a level of detail that really isn’t interesting all the time.

You have to, in the current Foreign Service, worry about morale — I think much too much.

My philosophy about morale, which is very unpopular, is that you carry your own morale around with you, and that you’re responsible for it. If there are specific external circumstances that are a serious problem, you bring those to somebody’s attention, and you see if there’s a reasonable solution. You don’t whine all the time. I think part of it is the modern Foreign Service, part of it is Kenya.

Kenya, at the time I was there, was one of those posts about which people have unrealistic expectations. Like Paris. It’s supposed to be marvelous. It isn’t marvelous. There are health problems. There are security problems. Your work can be interesting, or less interesting. You could end up working for somebody who is unpleasant.

I think one of the things that happened, particularly with the support staff and the large regional staff, was that they would arrive in Kenya, they would be less than enchanted, and then they would worry that there was something wrong with them because this was supposed to be paradise, and it wasn’t. And then they would focus on remedies that were silly. The one thing that everyone wanted was a commissary…

 “Being a woman is an advantage rather than a disadvantage, once I get my hands on the job”

[Being a woman ambassador] is an issue, not a problem. But it is definitely an issue. I found in most of my career that being a woman is an advantage rather than a disadvantage, once I get my hands on the job. For most of my career being a woman has made it harder to get the job in the first place. I don’t think it had anything to do with my going to Kenya because George Shultz liked me, and he didn’t care.

When I arrived the staff mostly had never worked for a woman. Most of the country team was male…. So I arrived in Kenya, I explained to the country team that they couldn’t call me “madam,” they had to call me “Ambassador.” Then I said, the way to approach working for a woman was to treat her just like a man, except when we needed to look for a bathroom. Other than that, there is no difference. You don’t have to worry about it.  Some of them thought that was funny, who knows what they thought.

 “My feet went out from under me straight up into the air. I landed on my rear end, and slid half way down”

One of my very first field trips was hysterical. I arrived in November. A little later that month a U.S. carrier arrived in Mombasa. We used to use Mombasa as a liberty port. The Admiral commanding the carrier would always invite the Ambassador to come down for a meal, and it was a good thing to do because you could go down, show the flag. I like the Navy, my father was an Admiral in the Navy. It was thrilling the first time I was piped aboard an aircraft carrier. And I could do some work in Mombasa, anyway, it was a good thing to do.

So we flew down to Mombasa, we helicoptered out to the deck of the carrier. And then someone decided, again without consulting me, that I shouldn’t go down the ladder, it might be too steep. I was wearing flat shoes with cork soles that I always wore on field trips, and they took me down the ramp at the rear end of the helicopter, which unfortunately had a very thin coat of oil, or grease of some kind on it.

So I took three steps — it’s too bad somebody didn’t catch this on film, and my feet went out from under me straight up into the air. I landed on my rear end, and slid half way down. The Admiral and all the flag officers were standing at attention waiting to say hello to me.

The look of horror on their faces, which I did see because I did go completely over, and of course several people helped me scramble to my feet, and I got up and turned to my aide and I said, “Don’t you ever take me down a ramp like this again. What’s wrong with a ladder?”

And they never did again. That was just stupid. So I walked across the deck and there was a photographer with me and he said, “Are you all right?”

And I said, “Yes, I’m fine but do not take any pictures of my rear because it was covered with a big oil stain.” And there’s a photograph of me snarling at the photographer which I have. There were silly things like that.

“I think there is a different set of expectations about a woman ambassador with regard to things like morale, family… not necessarily about policy”

The only real problem, and it’s very hard to articulate this. A number of women have tried, and I don’t really think they’ve succeeded. I think there is a different set of expectations about a woman ambassador with regard to things like morale, family, that sort of thing. Not necessarily about policy, you can get through that. (At right, Ambassador Constable presents the Bronze Star to Marine Security Guard Casimir Puchalski.)

The first agency representative, CIA, which in those days was notorious for not having women in any senior positions, was a good buddy of mine. We were very fond of each other, we had no problem doing business together. The same was true of all of the military personnel who worked for me. The military is very sensitive to chain of command, and therefore work for you.

Q: This is something really an ambassador has over a woman officer somewhere else. Because when you’re the ambassador you’re the 500 pound gorilla in the American system, and that’s it.

CONSTABLE: I think that’s right, and the military is very good about that. And I can be fairly tough, and I’m analytically tough. That part wasn’t a problem. I do believe, however, that the community at large expected me to be more sympathetic about things like commissaries, housing, and that sort of thing. It’s very hard to pin that down because it’s very amorphous, and its rather subtle, and I’m not sure people even realize that they’re doing this.

Q: I think the term is they expect you to be more nurturing.

CONSTABLE: Yes, and I’m not, and I’m just the opposite if anything. I used to tell people who whined about Nairobi, “If you don’t like it here why don’t you go to Ouagadougou? Do you want to transfer to Somalia?” That was not smart, I shouldn’t have done that, but that’s how I feel about it. I cannot abide whining. So I think that was the only problem. The Kenyans, of course, didn’t know what to make of me…

“The Kenyans expected me to be soft. So I would let them believe that when it suited me, or I would get very nasty when it suited me.”

The Kenyans, forget the colonials for a minute, the Kenyans I’m sure expected me to be soft, and sweet and nice. So I would let them believe that when it suited me, or I would get very nasty when it suited me. The president of Kenya and I had a very good relationship, partly because as a woman I could get away with things.

I would have private meetings with him, and [President of Kenya Daniel arap] Moi, would say something and I’d lean over and pat him on the knee, and say no, you don’t want to do that, now come on. And do things that no man could ever get away with….

There were many opportunities to take advantage of being a woman. When I first arrived the Political Section wanted to set up a lunch with me and other key women, and I wouldn’t let them do it. They did not understand the point. I said, “First, I have to establish myself as the Ambassador. When I have done that, then we can go back and start doing this sort of thing, but I am not a woman first, I’m an ambassador first, and you better get that through your head.”

They didn’t get that at all. This is less necessary now. My successor was a man, then a black woman, and now a white woman. It is now okay for a woman to be ambassador. But I was the first one….

The American Women’s Organization wanted me to be the honorary president. And I said no. I said this was not a professional organization. It (was then) an organization of spouses, and I am not a spouse. I said, I will come to your events. You can host them at the house, I’ll help you out, but it is not appropriate for you to ask me to run the organization, and many people did not like that. But I couldn’t do that.

But then as I got myself established as the Ambassador, and there was no question about who was in charge, and after having poked Moi in the eyes a couple of times, figuratively, not literally, and some of his ministers, it was very clear they were going to take me seriously.

Then I began to cultivate some of the senior women, and became friends with them. And the other thing I began to do as I traveled around the country (more than any of my predecessors, or probably successors), I would talk about women.

And I would often start speeches in villages in Kenya with “I understand the women do all the work here.” And the women would all smile from ear to ear, and the men would turn to me, “Oh, that’s not right Your Excellency.”

And I’d say, “I don’t know, that’s what they tell me, that’s what I hear.” And do a certain amount of that. It was very touching, rural farm women would come up to me and say how excited they were to see a woman ambassador. And boy, that was just wonderful….

 

Averell Harriman, The Old Crocodile of Diplomacy

W. Averell Harriman was one of the more prominent public figures of the 20th Century, holding major positions in diplomacy, government, and business. Harriman served as Ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1943, and later to Ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1946.  Less than a year into his position of Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Harriman was selected as the Secretary of Commerce by President Harry S. Truman. He was then put in charge of the Marshall Plan to rebuild infrastructure and support the economies of Europe after the destruction of World War II.

His political ambitions came to the fore when he was elected Governor of New York in 1954. He was a candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1952 and again in 1956 but lost out to Adlai Stevenson both times. Although unsuccessful, Harriman became a respected advisor in the Democratic Party and went on to hold numerous positions in the government. In the Kennedy Administration, Harriman served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs and in 1963, he became the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. In these positions, he was a key negotiator in the Vietnam peace talks.

As the following interviews demonstrate, Harriman was at once a brilliant, indefatigable diplomat but one who often could be imposing with those he worked with. A few even note how Harriman had the somewhat annoying habit of removing his hearing aid when he no longer bothered to pay attention to what others were saying. Others mention the pride they felt when they watched him in action, and underscore his honed political instincts and his commitment to service.

In Harriman’s own oral history, at the end of the article, he recalls his whirlwind trip to brief countries on LBJ’s initiative on the Vietnam War. John Melby talks about his impressions with Harriman in Moscow during World War II. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in June 1989. Thomas W. Wilson and Ambassador Ulric Haynes, Jr. discuss Harriman’s roles managing the Marshall Plan and as Governor of New York during interviews with Charles Stuart Kennedy in October 1996 and April 2011, respectively.  John Howard Morrow discusses Harriman’s visit to Guinea and a meeting with President Ahmed Sékou Touré in a May 1981 interview with Celestine Tutt.  Theodore J.C. Heavner, Edward C. Ingraham, Ambassador Henry L.T. Koren, Frank N. Burnet, and Albert Ashton Lakeland, Jr. were all interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy from June 1989 to May 1997.  Thomas L. Hughes, Frederic L. Chapin, and Walter Roberts provide anecdotes about Harriman’s various roles after working on Vietnam during interviews with Charles Stuart Kennedy, Horace G. Torbert, and Cliff Grace in July 1999, May 1989, and September 1990, respectively.

You can also read this short anecdote about Harriman’s meeting with Tito.

Return to Fascinating Figures

Go to Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

 

“He thought he was going to deal with Stalin as he had with Churchill”

John Melby

Moscow, Acting Director for the Office of War Information, 1943-45

What was Harriman like, as a boss?

MELBY: Well, I thought he was pretty good. He had a few misconceptions to get over. When he arrived, he thought he was going to deal with Stalin as he had with Churchill. He was just going to spend weekends at Stalin’s dacha, wherever that would be. And it was going to be “Joe” and “Ave” and so on. And, as it turned out, Harriman didn’t even see Stalin for weeks. It took him a long time before he could present his credentials. Stalin was a busy man, and he wasn’t about to sit around and gossip with one of these upstart ambassadors. Averell never did have anything but correct, pleasant relations — but he got along with Stalin all right.

He used to have to see Stalin when it suited his purposes, which was usually after midnight. Of course, Stalin went to work at midnight. And then he worked all night, the rest of the night. Slept all day. It was a kind of an irregular life. But if the Russians wanted to live that way, that was their business. After all, it was their country. So, Harriman never got to know anybody. I mean, he knew Molotov, the Foreign Minister, but it was strictly on a very formal basis.

Q: How was he as a boss? Did he give you a difficult time? Was he a difficult person to work for?

MELBY: Not at all. He was very easy to work for. He liked the Foreign Service, appreciated it. He had great respect for language officers we had there, whom I was not one. He enjoyed [Deputy Chief of Mission George] Kennan and got along well. He was a man with a lot of peculiarities and strange mannerisms sometimes. He very seldom went to the chancery. He set up his office in his own bedroom. He had a huge bedroom in Spaso [House, the official U.S. Residence], and he worked there. He went down to the chancery only once a month or every other week. So he never had his office in the chancery, which was right on Red Square in those days.

“He was a man who was absolutely totally committed to what he was doing. He worked like a dog.”

Thomas W. Wilson

Information Officer for the Marshall Plan in Paris, 1942 to 1952

WILSON: I did know Harriman very well and worked with him several times. I don’t know anybody who worked with him, if they could work with him, who didn’t love him. He was a man who was absolutely totally committed to what he was doing. He worked like a dog. He expected you to also, but he didn’t expect you to do anything he didn’t do himself.

He was really a wonderfully effective person. Everybody felt they had to respect him. I’m not talking about the non-Americans with which we had to deal. I think quite apart from the fact that sure he was a very welcome man – he was an ambassador, and he was running in this case the Marshall Plan. He was running a program that the Europeans were absolutely dependent on. But I think he was, now that we begin to talk about it, very persuasive in private.

He was never a very good speaker. If you are talking about diplomacy, I’m talking about private diplomacy. He always knew what he was talking about. I think he was probably more responsible than any other individual in forcing the Europeans to take the Marshall Plan in a way that I think became ultimately its most important impact. That is to say, I don’t know if he’s responsible for this but we, the United States Government, refused to deal with the French and the Italians and the rest of them, nation by nation, which they all wanted. They thought they could get more from us I guess.

He insisted that it be a European plan, that they put together their requirements subject to our review and approval, but that they do it themselves; but that they not do what all of them tried to start doing which was to face their terrible economic problems on a national basis. All of them wanted to deal with their problems by cutting imports and exports. They wanted to nationalize their currencies, and in any event, I think he had more to do with it than anybody else, insisting on a daily, practical day-to-day basis that this was a European recovery program. They had to present their combined requirements. We would allocate against it. They would then have to re-divide it among themselves. They could not do it by nationalist priorities.

“JFK asked Harriman to tour Africa to give him advice on the formulation of American foreign policy”

Ulric Haynes Jr.

Ambassador to Algeria, 1977 to 1981

HAYNES: As it turned out, my first job was with the New York State Department of Commerce. I was working as an assistant to their legal counsel and I got that job — oddly enough for two reasons. I got it because Averell Harriman was the Governor of New York State at that time, and he was running for reelection. And he thought — and his people thought — it would be a good idea for him to appoint a young black attorney to his team in order to attract the black vote in New York State. That was one reason. The second reason was as a law student, I had worked as a freshman counselor on the undergraduate campus of Yale University. It was a way of getting my room and board paid. And one of my counselees was a young man named Peter Duchin, the bandleader Eddie Duchin’s son. And Peter Duchin was Averell Harriman’s godson….

So when Peter heard that Harriman was interested in my getting a job in his administration, Peter waded in and told his godfather, “Hey look, you got to hire this guy. He’s my friend.” And the rest is history….

Later on in about 1960, ’61 when I was working for the Ford Foundation in Nigeria, John F. Kennedy asked Averell Harriman to make a tour of the emerging nations of Africa to give him advice on the formulation of American foreign policy in Africa. Harriman got in touch with me in Nigeria and asked me to accompany him on his mission to Africa because I was again, fluent in French and familiar with Africa. And during that fascinating trip I was able to meet Léopold Senghor, Felix Houphouet-Boigny in the Ivory Coast, and Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, as well as Patrice Lumumba in the Congo and the Abbé Fulbert Youlou in the Congo-Brazzaville….

[On] my trip with Harriman to the Congo with Lumumba, you will recall that the Americans, there has always been a suspicion — never proven, yet — that we were — our CIA was — involved with the demise of Patrice Lumumba (with Harriman, at left). And one of the reasons why we wanted Lumumba out of the way was that he was cozying up to the Soviet Union, realizing that, that this was a way of, of playing his cards in a way to get something from both the Soviet Union and the United States.

But it’s interesting, Lumumba was very, very conscious of the fact that the Americans were trying to subvert his government. He was very, very suspicious of the activities of the CIA in the Congo at the time. And I’ll never forget when Harriman went to his office to speak to him (he was prime minister at the time) about U.S. relations, he ushered us both (I was interpreting) into his bathroom.

He would not speak in his formal study because he was suspicious that it was being bugged. And the gist of his conversation was a complaint about the subversive activities of the American government.

Q: How did you find you were received in these places because black African Americans weren’t that plentiful in our Diplomatic Service or represented anywhere.

HAYNES: But I was received — generally received with surprise. And I’ll give you two anecdotes. When I went to the Congo with Averell Harriman just before Kennedy assumed office, I was driven around – I can’t remember how this happened — by a Congolese who was a junior executive in an American oil company in the Congo. In retrospect, I believe that he was one of the CIA contacts in the Congo.

And on one of our drives in the capital city, at that time called Leopoldville, we were at a checkpoint by Congolese soldiers. It was more than a little unnerving for me because one of the soldiers put a gun through the open window on the side where I was sitting. We were in a Volkswagen Beetle. And he said something to the Congolese who was driving me which I could not understand because they were speaking Lingala. And after a heated discussion, we were allowed to pass. And you know, after we passed, I asked my escort, “What was this all about?” He was a little embarrassed and he said, “Well, he, he wanted to know — the soldier wanted to know where I was going with that white man.” And it was a great awakening for me to come to the realization that, to most Africans, looking at African Americans, we are obviously people of mixed race. 

Q: Well, had you been keeping up your political ties?

HAYNES: Keeping up? I had many friends in the State Department, going back to my early days, and I had one benefactor who remembered me well, and that was W. Averell Harriman. He was no slouch when it came to pushing his Secretary of State or his President. He was very much the respected elder statesman. And he was the one who recommended me for the post of ambassador to Algeria.

I was proud to be on the scene that day to witness Harriman in action”

John Howard Morrow

Ambassador to Guinea, 1959 to 1961

MORROW:  Fortunately for the United States, the Presidential candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy, had arranged to send Governor Averell Harriman to Africa on a fact-finding mission in August 1960. Guinea officials did not conceal from me their pleasure at the fact that Harriman was including their country in his tour. Although the Governor came as a private citizen, he was greeted with the pomp and ceremony afforded official visitors. The Guinean Government wanted Harriman to occupy one of President [Ahmed Sekou] Touré’s guest homes, but he decided to stay at the Hotel de France. As already indicated, the official Residence, which we were occupying, had no facilities for visiting dignitaries.

At the Governor’s insistence, I was present at his meeting with the Guinean ministers as well as at his meetings with President Touré and his Cabinet. I made it a point, however, to see to it that Governor Harriman had the opportunity to speak privately with President Touré at the buffet dinner given in his honor at the Présidence. It was during this dinner, apparently, that Touré told his visitor that I was one of the most trusted and respected members of the diplomatic corps in Guinea.

The high point in the Harriman visit came during the meeting involving Touré, his Cabinet, Harriman and myself. We had assembled in the Cabinet Room, upstairs in the Présidence. The meeting started on a humorous note. The Governor had prefaced his remarks by telling the Guineans that he and I were good friends but we had one major difference in that we belonged to different political parties. Upon hearing these remarks, I half rose from my seat and with a perfectly straight face offered to leave the room so that the Governor would feel free to talk to Touré. President Touré and his Cabinet members, Governor Harriman and I joined the hearty laughter that met this gesture, which had been understood by all those present.

I was proud to be on the scene that day to witness Harriman in action. He was at all times direct and to the point and could be very blunt when the occasion warranted it. He made no apologies for those things for which America stood. He spoke the language easily understood and appreciated by Touré, who responded in kind, and also revealed what was on his mind. There was no room for misunderstanding during that meeting.

We caught a glimpse of Harriman as he might have been during his ambassadorship to the Soviet Union. All of us were pleased with the meeting of minds. I had the opportunity to talk with Governor Harriman for a few hours, at least four hours, during a combination breakfast-lunch at the Présidence the day before he left Guinea. We explored the problems confronting the United States not only in Guinea but also in Africa in general. I stressed my belief that America could make a real contribution to Africa in the areas of health, education and social welfare.

Before leaving the Présidence, Governor Harriman graciously presented me with his book, Peace with Russia, on the flyleaf of which he had written, “For John Morrow with admiration for the fine job you are doing and many thanks for your warm hospitality. Averell Harriman, August 1960.”

Q: The other question I wanted to ask had to do with our relations with Guinea after that visit. How did that visit affect future relations between the United States and Guinea?

MORROW: Well, the real impact of and significance of this meeting came actually after Kennedy became President. And a decision was made about the change of ambassador because of the change of party. And the fact that Kennedy had sent Governor Averell Harriman to visit not only Africa but specifically Guinea. And on the recommendations of Harriman — Harriman was there three days; he had very frank talks about the situation — Kennedy paid attention to the observations, I’m sure, made by Harriman, and he also paid attention to some of the reports which we had been sending back all along to Washington that had been ignored. 

Q: What kind of reports?

MORROW: Reports on the fact that some effort really should be made to take Guinea seriously and to set up a type of aid program that would be beneficial to them. You see, my emphasis was always on health and education and Harriman agreed with it. Not military, military suppliers or big stadia or the showy things, but something that really would affect the people…

But then fate came into the picture with [JFK’s] assassination and, of course, after that there was obviously a change. But there was a great hope, I’m sure, among the Guineans, as soon as Kennedy came into office, and then the fact that he had Touré make a visit in 1962 (read about their meeting at Disneyland), and it was in contrast that he was there on the spot and Touré had the chance to feel, ‘Oh I’m meeting a friend.’ It was a different situation altogether.

The tragedy is that Kennedy was removed from the scene … but, then, that affected not only the Guinean situation but affected the American situation. Very unique happening, however, to see a Senator and an African leader establish a type of rapport which was established from that meeting on. The kind of welcome we received in Guinea was carefully noted and reported by diplomats of the West and of the East, for everything that was done by the United States and by any one of the representatives was observed closely with the view of detecting possible implications for the future of U.S. and Guinean relations….

“If you didn’t get his attention in about the first ten seconds, you might as well forget it”

Theodore J. C. Heavner

Member of the State Department’s Vietnam Working Group, 1961 to 1963

Q: Could you talk a bit about your leaders in the Vietnam Working Group and what it was trying to do?

HEAVNER: It was already put together when I came on board in 1961… It was an interagency organization that was clearly led by State in a way that in retrospect seems kind of unusual…It was a very nice organization from my point of view. I thoroughly enjoyed all the people in it.…Harriman was Assistant Secretary then. I thought Averell Harriman was a very remarkable man. I remember him talking on the telephone, reading a draft, and interrogating me at the same time, which I thought was quite a feat.

I also learned very quickly if you didn’t get his attention in about the first ten seconds, you might as well forget it. He used to take out his hearing aid which was kind of a signal of “I’m not interested in what you are saying.” That was when Harriman was Assistant Secretary. He came in with Kennedy, as you may recall, and after a very distinguished career at much higher levels, accepted that Assistant Secretary job under Kennedy. I guess this was a real vote of confidence in Kennedy as well as something interesting for him to do….

I did have a fair amount of contact with both Hilsman and Harriman [on the Vietnam Working Group]. I remember one of the things that Harriman was very much concerned about, and rightly so as we have subsequently learned, was the use of defoliants. He thought that was a very bad idea. That destroying food crops was a form of warfare that would backfire on us. That it would be seen worldwide as an inhumane kind of weapon.

In any event, I ran into him again in 1975 when I was on Caribbean affairs and Carter had decided that all our ambassadors would be vetted and recommended by a panel of distinguished diplomats and other distinguished folks, one of whom was Averell Harriman. They were talking about each area subsequently and in due course the Caribbean came up. It was the custom that the country director, which was me in this case, was asked to join them for their consideration not of specific names but of the requirements of the chiefs of mission jobs there. Although I wasn’t asked for it, I assumed that they also wanted recommendations. Harriman was sitting down at the end of the table and I came in and sat down for my ten minutes and began to talk about the requirements for the job in the Bahamas.

About ten seconds after I began, sure enough, out came the hearing aid. I thought to myself that I had lost him again! 

“His factual knowledge of the area was just about nil but he had the most exquisitely honed political instincts”

Edward C. Ingraham

Indonesian Desk Officer, 1960 to 1965

Q: Averell Harriman was Assistant Secretary for East Asia at that time. How did he deal with you and what was his attitude towards Indonesia? 

INGRAHAM: It was interesting….By this time we could easily have broken relations and taken action against…not quite militarily, although military could have been on the horizon. Harriman fought against this.

He was a strange man. His factual knowledge of the area was just about nil. He learned a bit, but he wasn’t a great student. But he had the most exquisitely honed political instincts. You would go up to him and say, “This, this and this have happened. We think you should do this, this and this.” He would ask some very sharp questions and then say, “Okay go ahead and do it.”

You could ask him, “Well, why do you think we should?” And he would snap, “Never mind. Go ahead and do it.” The “never mind” was a way of saying, “I haven’t the faintest idea about the details of what you have proposed, but my instinct tells me to do it.” And it was a good instinct.

There was no one that Harriman would kowtow to.

“I was pretty much scared to death most of the time”

Henry L. T. Koren

State Department, Southeast Asian Affairs, 1961 to 1964

KOREN: … All of a sudden Averell Harriman called me and said, “We’re assigning you to Southeast Asian Affairs,” and I thought, “Oh, my God.”

Q: Why was that?

KOREN: He just wanted a man that he felt he could trust in Southeast Asian Affairs.

Q:  Harriman had this rather unusual appointment as assistant secretary for Asian Affairs when he was a man who was certainly eligible to have been–well, he aspired to be President, with a good reason, but also to be Secretary of State, and yet he accepted this position in Asian Affairs and it was not a sinecure at all. How would you describe Harriman as an operator, working under Harriman in Asian Affairs? 

KOREN: Well, to be quite frank, I was pretty much scared to death most of the time. I didn’t know Harriman. I had met him before, but it was purely social. His daughter was a friend of mine.

You probably heard that Harriman was considered the crocodile…That’s exactly the way it was. I used to go in and see him once in a while for various things, and I’d come back and I’d hold my arms up to my cheek and wonder where the blood was coming from.

Q: How did he treat you in these things?

KOREN: Roughly. If you didn’t measure up in his opinion and didn’t grasp the fundamental question quickly, he would tear you apart. He’d say, “What are you standing up there for that way? Good God, man.”

You know, he was very rough in language. He didn’t mean anything. He was very kindhearted personally, but he was a very tension-making individual to work for. To give you an example, two or three times he’d say, “Are you going to be in tomorrow?”

I’d say, “Sir, tomorrow’s Sunday.”

And he said, “Oh, yes, that’s right. I forget, you’re a Christer.”

But the first thing I would do in the morning was to get all the messages that had been piled up overnight and race through those just as fast as I could. I would get there well ahead of what I expected the Governor to get there, because he would call up all of a sudden and he would have seen a message and he would jump in the middle of the message and ask you, “What do you think so and so?”

Well, if you didn’t know just what the hell he was talking about, you’d stutter, and so that was something I think we all did. I did it because I had to reply to him. All the people who worked for me had to do it because I would ask them, and the old story.

Q: Yes, it moves down.

KOREN: All around the chain of command, it just moves down. It was exhilarating. You couldn’t work for Harriman without feeling there was something going on. There was not. Not tension, but excitement in the air, electricity, all the time. Anything that Harriman runs, he runs himself. 

“I kind of thought that Harriman had the right idea in what he was trying to do”

Frank N. Burnet

Staff Assistant to Governor Harriman in the Far East Bureau, 1961 to 1963

Q: What was Harriman’s operating style, from your vantage point within the Department and elsewhere?

BURNET: He’s not a man of words. I think he’s pretty much a man of action, in the sense of getting hold of the person who was vital to a particular problem or job that you had to do. Getting the right word to the right person at the right time. He’s very good at that. He, of course, is extremely well connected all over Washington. As part of the job, he made it very plain to me that I was going to be asked to do certain things. He didn’t say so in so many words, but when he wanted something done, it was to be done.

And if it meant sneaking a piece of paper outside of the normal chain in the State Department directly to the White House, he’d say, “Frank, I want you to get this over to so and so in the White House right away.” And he said, “Don’t mention this to anybody in S/S [the Secretariat Staff]”

The paper chain would go from the Assistant Secretary level on up to the Secretary in S/S, where it would be properly recorded and reproduced, and then sent in proper fashion, in their own sweet time, to the White House. Well, lots of times in a fast-breaking situation there wasn’t enough time for that, so he would ask me to take this over to the White House right away, and I’d do that.

But he was frequently on the telephone to the White House, or telephone to God-knows-where. He was quite a doer. Lots of meetings held in his office. We’d have people coming in almost every day from CIA, and certainly from AID [Agency for International Development]. In those days, Laos took up an inordinate amount of time. That was the hot spot and involved all of us quite a bit.

 “He was blaming the whole thing on me. But I must say that I took a certain pleasure in the event.”

Albert Ashton Lakeland, Jr.

Desk Officer at NEA Indian Affairs from 1963 to 1965

ASHTON:  I experienced the kind of amusing thing that happens to Foreign Service officers from time to time where the high and the mighty get their comeuppance when they step on the toes of a Foreign Service officer.

I was given the job of taking Harriman over to Parliament to meet Nehru. He was having these big discussions with Nehru. We got into the Ambassador’s limousine. Now in India they drive on the British side. I used to go to Parliament almost everyday and knew that when cars come in there they are going to open the door on the left hand side and there is little room to open a door on the right hand side. So I got around and sat in the right hand side going there.

Mr. Harriman took great umbrage about this. He asked me what I thought I was doing sitting in the place of honor. I tried to explain to him that when we arrive at Parliament you really want to be on the left hand side because of the way you enter.

He said, “Don’t argue with me young man. This is the flag seat. You get over there and I don’t want to hear another word about it.” I said, “Okay.” He was in a terrible mood about something and he just wouldn’t listen.

Well, we drive up in this narrow space and this Indian in his full guard uniform opens the door and I am sitting there. Nehru is holding out his hand and I step aside and Harriman is across the way sitting there stony faced. He didn’t know what to do. It would have been very difficult for him to slide across because of the big bump in the floor.

So he is sort of sitting there stony faced waiting for somebody to open the door. Finally somebody comes in and gets his door partly opened. He gets out and is standing there on the other side of the car looking very uncomfortable and flustered.

He comes around behind the car and I am standing aside there and he just shot me a dirty look. He never said a word about my being right or anything like that. He was blaming the whole thing on me. But I must say that I took a certain pleasure in the event.

“He also had ups and downs. His influence was episodic.”

Thomas L. Hughes

Assistant to the Under Secretary, 1961; Deputy Director of Intelligence & Research (INR), 1961 to 1963 

Q: What about the role of Averell Harriman at that time?

HUGHES:…Instead of the image others held of him as a grand old man, he thought of himself as eternally young. He was also a wild card, and he was always available. At first Jack Kennedy had doubts about Harriman’s loyalty, because Averell had been so disdainful of Joe Kennedy, his father. But you couldn’t have had a more devoted Kennedy supporter than Averell the morning after the election. I think Kennedy thought he would give him an impossible assignment like Laos to see what he could do with it.

Harriman was quite willing to humble himself to do this, but he was not called “the crocodile” for nothing. He would cut people off with his sharp, quick tongue. He was irascible, rather unpredictable, and not necessarily always coherent. He would snap at this and snap at that. He turned off his hearing aid when people got boring. Kennedy was amused at that. I got to know Averell quite well during the Kennedy-Johnson years, and our friendship continued for years afterwards until his death. Jean and I often saw the Harrimans socially, both with his first wife Marie and later with Pamela. Occasionally we were guests for dinner at their house in Georgetown, or on weekends at their estate in Middleburg.

In April 1963, Kennedy appointed the three of us to new positions at State — Harriman, [Roger] Hilsman, and Hughes — “the three H’s” Rusk called us, when swearing us in at the same ceremony on the Seventh Floor at State. On that occasion Harriman was elevated to an Under Secretary position, having just served as Assistant Secretary for East Asia. Hilsman succeeded him in East Asia, and I succeeded Hilsman in INR [Bureau of Intelligence and Research]. By that time Laos was more or less behind us, and Vietnam was about to become a high priority problem.

Q: Wherever he sat, Harriman brought power with him.

HUGHES: Yes, power of a kind, but he also had ups and downs. His influence was episodic. After the Diem assassination controversy in late 1963 [in Vietnam], he played a lonely and lesser role. He chaired the Special Group (CI) on counter-insurgency, with mixed results. The significance of his assignments rose again in 1968 with the Vietnamese peace negotiations in Paris. Of course this is a man who thought throughout that he should have been President himself…. 

“He worked a full day and had extraordinary hours for a man who was 75.”

Frederic L. Chapin

Special Assistant to Averell Harriman from 1963 to 1965

Q: Averell Harriman still had very considerable political aspirations at that time…

CHAPIN: I don’t know that he had any aspirations to return but he certainly had important clout and he was responsible after Kennedy’s assassination for arranging for Robert Kennedy’s campaign and nomination as Senator from New York. I remember seeing all the fat cats from New York troop into Averell Harriman’s office and, naturally, that was one of the meetings that I did not take part in.

But it was a curious set-up. Just outside the Governor’s office, and it’s still that way today although there’s a curtain that is often drawn across it, is an office where the special assistant sits who controls all traffic to and from the Governor’s desk on official matters. And, there’s a solid glass wall all the way down so that you can see what’s going on and be beckoned to come into the office. Working for Harriman was a most unusual experience.

I had not been sufficiently briefed by Bill Sullivan as to what to expect. He worked a full day and had extraordinary hours for a man who was 75. I had to be there at 8:00 because he would be there before 9:00 and I had to get all his agenda items. He was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. He saw an amazing amount of foreign dignitaries and took part in a lot of high-level meetings so there were a lot of briefing papers to arrange and, of course, there was the overnight cable traffic.

I would go in as soon as the Governor arrived, and he would stand behind his desk and shuffle papers and look at these briefing memoranda and all the time he wanted me to brief him orally on the most important issues on his desk. He was apparently paying no attention whatsoever to what I was saying, shuffling these papers around, looking in his in-box, and I would go on spouting to this person who was apparently paying no attention to what I had to say, and then I would sit in meetings with him later in the day and my sentences would roll out. Incredible!

Q: He didn’t turn his hearing aid off at that time when you were talking to him.

CHAPIN: He didn’t turn it off if he wanted to hear what I had to say, but I have seen him in meetings not only turn his hearing aid off but take it out. It was an extraordinary performance.…

The most interesting case that I got involved in was a speech which G. Mennen Williams (read about Soapy Williams’ predilection for square-dancing) was going to make a speech at Harvard to national radio and T.V. on our policy towards South Africa. Governor Harriman was away on one of his speaking tours when Rudy Agree, who was the Special Assistant for Governor Williams, brought out to my house one evening about 8:30 or 9:00 the text of the speech that the Governor was proposing to make the next afternoon about 2:00 or 3:00 in Boston and I read through the first pages and scanned the rest.

Governor Williams proposed to use language about South Africa which we scarcely used toward the Japanese during World War II, and never used about the Germans. I said that I simply could not clear this for the Governor. I said he was going to be back the next morning and the first order of business I underlined certain passages and would discuss them with the Governor and I’m sorry that the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs would have to wait until Governor Harriman had had a chance to look at this personally. Well, in one of these stand-up sessions that we were having, Abe Chayes, the Legal Advisor came in. His name appeared at the bottom of the list as having cleared it, and Harriman said, “Have you cleared this?”

And Chayes said, “Yes.”

Harriman said to me, “Fred, you read him that sentence.” So I read him the sentence. “Did you approve that?”

Chayes looked very embarrassed. “Fred, read him that next sentence.” And this went on and then Joe Sisco came in. He was then Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and his name appeared as having cleared it.

Harriman said, “Joe, did you clear this?” Joe said, “Yes.”

“Read him the sentence.”

Well, at that point Chayes and Sisco and I adjourned to this glass-walled cubicle that I had outside the Governor’s office and Assistant Secretary G. Mennen Williams came up. Chayes and Sisco began reading this document for the first time. Somebody had cleared it in their offices and they started scratching out great sections and the next thing I knew, this whole party adjourned to the White House to McGeorge Bundy’s office where they cut out huge sections and, meanwhile, cancelled national and radio coverage for the Harvard speech. It was much emasculated…

I had been on that job as Special Assistant for two years and I said that Harriman had work habits that were intensive. He was there until 8:00 every night, five days a week and Saturday he’d come in maybe at 9:30 or so and would stay until 6:00.

In fact, I recall one Saturday afternoon he turned to me as I was sitting in his office and he said, “Fred, what are we going to do this afternoon?” And, I thought we had done quite a lot. And, Sundays I had to go down to the Department and read the telegrams, make a selection, and take them out to his house. I didn’t have the benefit of any State Department driver on Sundays and had to slog through the slush and whatnot of Georgetown.

I was terrified of having an accident and having all this highly classified material on me in transit to the Governor’s house and on return from the Governor’s house to the Department to lock it up securely. So that [on] Sundays I wouldn’t get back to lunch until about 3:00, so this was a 6-1/2 day-a-week job. I rarely saw the children before they went to bed.

“Where do you want me to go?” He said, “That’s for you to decide.””

Averell Harriman

On LBJ and Vietnam

Q: When did your close acquaintance with Lyndon Johnson begin?

HARRIMAN: I don’t know when it began. I think I first met him when he was Congressman during the Roosevelt Administration but I don’t recall. But of course, I knew him well when he was a Senator, when he was Majority Leader, and I had some talks with him during the ’50’s, during the period he was Majority Leader. I took a good deal of interest in the Democratic Party because I was a member of the Advisory Council to the National Committee….

We used to meet regularly and discuss matters of concern to the Democratic Party…The subjects which we discussed were not subjects that were necessarily before the Congress, since there were many issues we felt should be developed that were not before Congress as a platform for the Democratic Party in ’56 and again in ’60….We had some very blunt and heated talks–there were differences of opinion on a number of points which I felt were quite important at the time. I gave it a considerable amount of time, not only at the meetings, but in preparing for the meetings and going over positions on different subjects.

Q: Many of Mr. Johnson’s critics when he was President have made the point that he wasn’t interested in his earlier career in foreign affairs at all. While you served President Truman, either in the White House or as Mutual Security Administrator, did Mr. Johnson ever take any interest in the foreign affairs side? Did he ever come by and talk to you about it?

HARRIMAN:…He used to come to breakfast occasionally, I used to see him. I remember he reminded me of that. He had an extraordinarily good memory. He reminded me of some of the breakfasts we used to have when I had the house on Foxhall Road [in Washington, DC], some of the members of the Senate used to come…I always thought of him as a very loyal supporter of President Truman in the positions that he took. Naturally the people that would be most in my mind were those that took an adverse position.

Of course in the earlier days, 1948, we used to see a great deal of Senator Vandenberg, who was then Republican majority chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate. He played an important role in helping President Truman get the Marshall Plan legislation through–then eventually  the NATO. Those talks I remember rather well. I remember President Johnson very well as an active supporter on the Hill of the basic Democratic party principles, a very close supporter as I recall, in every aspect of business I had anything to do with, of President Truman during that very critical period….

The most intimate relationships that I had with the President  [Johnson], when he became President, related to the peace efforts he made. He sent me on a trip in December 1965 to a number of countries. It was just before New Year’s and I remember very well his calling me on the telephone and he said, ‘Averell, have you got your bags packed?”

I said, ‘Well, it’s always packed, Mr. President.”

He said, “[Secretary of Defense] Bob McNamara is here with me. He’s got an airplane waiting for you to take you to Europe.” I said, ‘Where do you want me to go?” He said, “That’s for you to decide.” Then he explained what he wanted to do. He said he was going to continue the Christmas pause in bombing the North [Vietnam] for a period, and he wanted to get support for his peace move. He wanted to get peace negotiations started, and I left that evening at 8:00 o’clock, as I recall it. I had no instructions, of course, except the general instructions which he gave me….

[T]he Soviet Union helped us both during October to create conditions which made it possible for President Johnson to stop the bombing in North Vietnam as he did in November 1968, and then again in January helped us end this rather ridiculous undignified discussion on the shape of the table. They brought heat to bear on the Hanoi delegation to stop that nonsense and to agree upon a compromise. Actually it wasn’t a compromise. It practically accepted one of the suggestions that had been made from Saigon, so Saigon couldn’t refuse…

I used to talk to the Secretary of State about this, and he said, “Well, if the Russians really want to help end the conflict, all they have to do is stop giving weapons to Hanoi.” I think we’ve got to recognize the Russians, so stated by Mr. Kosygin, look upon North Vietnam as what he calls a “Sister Socialist State.” It is their obligation as the great leader of the Communist movement, it’s their obligation to support North Vietnam just as we considered it our obligation to support South Vietnam…

I remember one very extraordinary day on which I had already stopped at Indonesia and I had seen the three principal members of that government, I stopped at Ceylon, and that was an interesting visit because not very many people visit Ceylon, and I’m glad I did because Ceylon is quite an influential Buddhist state, and they had been attempting to work with the Saigon government and with the Thai government to improve their relations and it was quite interesting. And I went to New Delhi and I saw Mrs. Gandhi and I spent the night. I remember having breakfast with Ambassador Bowles. Then I saw President Ayub, had lunch with him. I had to go to Peshawar and take a separate plane to go down to Rawalpindi. Then on to Tehran. I had tea with the Shah and I arrived in Rome just in time for a live 11:00 o’clock broadcast on television.

Q: That was some day!

HARRIMAN: That was one of the fullest days that I’ve had. But I felt it was very important. I was in a particular hurry on that trip because I thought if I went quickly to places it was important.…

Q: Did any of the visits on that trip result in any initiatives toward negotiations with Hanoi?

HARRIMAN: No. The purpose of this trip was quite a different purpose….The purpose of the trip was to inform them about the Manila Conference; to inform them of the efforts the President was making for peaceful settlement; to get support for the President’s initiative for peace. And I didn’t ask them to take any immediate steps. I emphasized the fact that the President sat at a round table with six Asian leaders as equals, which impressed them; the favorable military developments of South Vietnam; the limited objective that the President had of letting the people of South Vietnam decide their own future. These were all matters which they were interested in–the constitutional procedures which had been established. It was more a general effort to get a more sympathetic attitude towards what we were doing among these countries than it was to ask them to do anything particular for peace….

 

Bill Burns, A Consummate Diplomat

William Joseph Burns, known as Bill to his colleagues, stepped down as Deputy Secretary of State in October 2014 after an illustrious 33-year career in the Foreign Service. Burns earned bipartisan support as a key figure in tackling some of the toughest foreign policy challenges facing the United States. His accomplishments include eliminating Libya’s illicit weapons program, mediating the Middle East peace process, and strengthening the strategic partnerships with Russia and India.

Burns held the rank of Career Ambassador in the Foreign Service, equivalent to a four-star general, and was only the fourth career diplomat to become Deputy Secretary (after Walter Stoessel, John Negroponte, and Larry Eagleburger). Burns also served as the Under Secretary for Political Affairs from 2008 to 2011, Ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from 2001 to 2005, and Ambassador to Jordan from 1998 until 2001.

Born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Burns received a Bachelor of Arts in History from La Salle University and his Masters and PhD degrees from Oxford.  Burns has been given numerous awards for service in the Department of State, including three Presidential Distinguished Service Awards and two Distinguished Honor Awards. He was also Foreign Policy Magazine’s “Diplomat of the Year” in 2013, and earned a position on Time Magazine’s 50 Most Promising American Leaders Under Age 40 list in 1994. Secretary of State John Kerry said Burns had “earned his place on a very short list of American diplomatic legends” and possesses a “rare mix of strategic vision and operational skill.” President Barack Obama described Burns as “a skilled advisor, consummate diplomat, and inspiration to generations of public servants.”

Many individuals in the Foreign Service have had the pleasure of working with Burns in various posts worldwide. In interviews with Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in October 2005, Ambassador Johnny Young discusses the ease of working with Burns and his obvious potential. Insights into Burns’ decision making and devotion to his work in the Middle East are recalled in interviews from Miles S. Pendleton, Jr. in an interview with Kennedy in June 1998. Burns’ character is revealed in an interview with Teresita C. Schaffer by Kennedy beginning in September 1998.  Ambassador Edmund James Hull, in an interview with Kennedy beginning in October 2005, recalls working with Burns in a team to the Middle East.  Finally, during a January 2011 interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy, Ambassador James A. Larocco talks about the widespread respect Burns enjoyed overseas and discusses working with him on reform in the Department and in the Near East Bureau.

Return to Fascinating Figures

Go to Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

 

“You keep your eyes on that young man. He’s going to go far”

Johnny Young
Counselor for Administration in Amman, Jordan, 1983 to 1985 

YOUNG:  A new junior officer on his first assignment was Bill Burns…. I would like to cite a little story. One day I was up in [the] office and I had read a message and I can’t recall the substance of it, but I commented to the Ambassador, “That was a really good message.” (Young at left)

He said, “You liked that message?”

I said, “Yes. I thought it was very well done.”

He said, “It was well done. Who do you think is the best drafter in this mission?”

I said, “Surely you Mr. Ambassador.” He said, “No, not me.”

I thought quickly and I said Young, you better go down the list. I said, “The DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission]?” He said, “No, not the DCM neither.”

I said, “The political counselor?” Sticking to the hierarchy. He said, “No, not the political counselor either.”

I said, “Well, then who?” He said, “You know that new junior officer that just came up from the consular section, Bill Burns?”

I said, “Yes.” He said, “He is the best. You keep your eyes on that young man. He’s going to go far.”

Believe me if ever there was a prediction that came true, that was it. Bill was an extraordinary officer. Everybody loved him because he was so bright and so clever and yet with it all you would never know it because he was so modest and so decent that it was such a contrast with another officer who was there at that time. We had several junior officers, but the other officers, they arrived all about the same time. The other one was ready to tell you in a half a minute that he had a degree from Princeton and he spoke Arabic and he did this and did that and on and on.

Bill would never say anything, ever say anything. You would ask Bill, where did you go to school and he would say well, I went to a small school in Philadelphia. Okay, La Salle College. Did you do any graduate work? Yes, I did some graduate work; he wouldn’t tell you that it was at Oxford University. He wouldn’t tell you that he had written and published a book. He wouldn’t tell you that his father was General Burns. He wouldn’t tell you a lot of things about himself. You literally had to pull it out of him. That was the degree to which he was so modest, but you give him anything to do and he would turn out a piece of work that was just masterful in every sense of the word.

Q: What happened to Bill Burns?

YOUNG: He’s our Ambassador in Russia. Yes. Need I say more?

“He would appear almost every night about 9:15 with a bunch of decisions to be made and see whether I was dumb enough to make any of them”

Miles S. Pendleton, Jr.
Executive Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, 1983 to 1985 

PENDLETON:  I recall when I first went to my desk in this office, that I was both bemused and appalled to see, sitting in my in-box, the latest iteration of a memo on Iranian nuclear issues that I had put in my out-box when I left the Deputy Secretary’s office in 1976.

That was a memo which had been floating around for eight years in one form or another, and it was a warning that what you could have an impact on was probably smaller than you thought.  I suspect even Secretaries of State feel the same way on occasion.

And yet, I discovered that when I had to be there at night, it became clear to others that if you went up to the Under Secretary’s office long after regular working hours, long after, say, seven o’clock at night, you could find somebody who could make a decision. I began calling it “decision shopping.”

Some of the more rambunctious staff members, particularly from Near East Affairs, where Dick Murphy as Assistant Secretary had our ingoing Ambassador to Jordan, were willing to engage at all hours of the day and night.

Bill Burns was staff aide at that point. He would appear almost every night about 9:15 or something with a whole bunch of decisions to be made and see whether I was dumb enough to make any of them. I made a lot of decisions during this period, most of them between six at night and ten at night. If you thought you knew your boss’s views on things, you could decide. And I did.

“Bill had risen through the ranks very rapidly, but never let that go to his head”

Ambassador Teresita C. Schaffer
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Near East Affairs and South Asia from 1989 to 1992

SCHAFFER:  In any event, the negotiations had not come to closure when all of a sudden the political situation changed in Moscow. As I said, [at left, Secretary of State James] Baker went to Moscow right after the aborted coup in the fall of 1991. Baker was accompanied by Bill Burns, who at the time was the Deputy Director of the Policy Planning [S/P] staff. Bill was a young officer who had risen through the ranks very rapidly, but never let that go to his head. He found ways to keep in close touch with the experts in whose issues he was being involved.

After Dennis Ross, the S/P Director, assigned the Afghan problem to Bill, he began a concentrated indoctrination course. Before leaving for Moscow, he wrote down all the telephone numbers where I might conceivably be found — in case he had to get a hold of me in a hurry. That was a clue that Baker wanted to settle the Afghan issue during his stay in Moscow. In fact, Burns did call me a couple of times, essentially to discuss some specific words or phrases.

After each conversation, Burns reminded me that our discussion had never taken place. I should mention that I had given him my entire file on the draft statement that [Under Secretary for Political Affairs Robert] Kimmitt and the Russian ambassador had been working on. I circled some of the key words or phrases which had a history to them and which were deemed to be important to the Afghans and the Pakistanis. The Burns calls were clearly unauthorized and perhaps even in contravention of specific orders not to discuss what Baker was working on with anybody.

In the end, there was a joint statement issued in which both countries pledged that beginning with the new year — which was less than three months away — no arms would be shipped to Afghanistan. By then, I think that was a wise outcome. It seemed to me that a continuing weapons supply program was only contributing to the continuation of hostilities with no certain winner in sight. If the Russians were willing to halt their support of their clients, we should reciprocate and halt all arms shipments to Afghanistan.

We were a group of people Baker dubbed the ‘peace processors’”

Ambassador Edmund James Hull
Counterterrorism Advisor to the Secretary of State, 1999 to 2001 

HULL: We were a group of people  [Secretary of State James] Baker dubbed the “peace processors.” They included Dennis Ross, Bill Burns, Dan Kurtzer, Aaron Miller, and myself. We provided Baker with the substantive details he needed to have effective meetings. We would have a session with the Secretary about the upcoming meeting and what we hope to accomplish wherever we were, be it Tel Aviv or Cairo or Amman. This might end at seven or eight o’clock or it might be on the plane as we were leaving one capital to go to another and then the peace processors late in the night and sometimes in the wee hours of the morning would put the flesh on the bones that Baker had outlined.

Baker would wake up the next morning, and he would have very inclusive talking points tailored to either [Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Shamir, [Jordan’s King ] Hussein, [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, or [Syrian President Hafez] Assad so he could go into a meeting very well prepared. We also kept very close track of what the parties wanted and what we could deliver to the parties. Baker kept score. He would try to take into his accounts whatever the head of government or head of state had stated as his desire. He would see which of those desires he could actually make happen, he would keep track of it and in the next session he would remind Shamir or Hussein or Mubarak just exactly what he had done for them in the interval. He built up steadily and immeasurably a great deal of political capital with the various parties.

We also, of course, did matrices of what the parties wanted from each other and what the trade-offs would be and those were what we used to put together the letters of assurances and really, the deal that amounted to the Madrid Summit….

So we were focused primarily on creating a diplomatic framework for getting the Israelis and the Arabs seated at negotiating tables, and getting a positive dynamic in the Middle East. We envisioned a two-track process. One track would be direct Israeli negotiations with the Palestinians, with the Syrians and with the Lebanese. Secondly, we envisioned a much broader multilateral negotiating process whereby we would bring in Arabs from throughout the Arab world to sit down with the Israelis and talk about issues of general interest. For example, arms control or refugees or economic development, and by so doing create a positive atmosphere in which the elements of a final solution could emerge….

“Bill was one of the finest diplomats of his generation, an extraordinarily competent fellow”

HULL: [After the 9/11 attacks] the Yemenis had spilled their own blood in pursuit of these terrorist targets, [which] was a stronger argument for a potential partnership than any words that we could have had and very interestingly, the reaction in Washington for the first time was that we had serious prospects for working with government of Yemen against al Qaeda.

Well, things moved slowly. Washington was just beginning to wake up to the possibilities that we had been presenting them for some months. The first reaction of Washington was to dispatch Bill Burns, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, to have a meeting with [at right, Yemeni] President Saleh. Bill was one of the finest diplomats of his generation, an extraordinarily competent fellow, someone who had the full trust of Secretary Powell, Deputy Secretary [Richard] Armitage and the respect of the National Security Council so we were absolutely delighted that he was coming out. He came out the following January, and we set up a meeting with President Saleh.

Because it was winter, Saleh was in Aden, and Bill arrived in Sana’a with the intent of getting briefed and then proceeding to Aden for a meeting with the President. During the briefing for Bill, our defense attaché very expertly laid out in a map briefing the operation on December 18, what happened and why Yemeni forces were unable effectively to undertake this counterterrorism operation because they only had capability of moving large forces very slowly. What was needed was for us to engage with the Yemenis in training counterterrorism forces that could operate agilely and effectively.

Bill, of course, needed very little convincing. He had a good picture so we were ready to proceed down to Aden for the meeting with president. Bill was on a tight schedule. He had to meet with President Saleh and then he had meetings in Riyadh with the Saudi princes that evening so he made a plea that his return from Aden be in time to catch the commercial flight to Riyadh to keep those meetings with the Saudis.

To get down to Aden we were offered the presidential helicopter, and we rode in it. Later we realized we were taking our lives in our hands in doing so when a U.S. Air Force team evaluated the Yemeni helicopter fleet and found it, including the presidential helicopter, to be unsafe in the extreme. We didn’t know this at the time so we climbed aboard. We arrived in Aden, met with President Saleh.

President Saleh again was at the top of his game, reiterated what he had said in the Oval Office, said that the December 18 setback did not deter him. He was as determined as ever to eliminate al Qaeda and whatever the U.S. decided he was going to pursue that objective. Bill had from President Saleh exactly what he needed to take back to Washington.

Unfortunately, Bill had now lost his opportunity to catch the commercial flight to Riyadh from Sana’a and so we made a plea to the presidential staff to somehow hold the airplane until Bill could get back. In the event they didn’t do that, but Saleh instead commandeered a Yemeni Air 737, brought it to Aden, put Bill and his one staffer aboard along with an entire lamb that had been prepared for their in-flight meal, and Bill was sent off in style from Aden to be in time for his meeting with the Saudi princes.

Reforming the Department with Tom and Bill 

Ambassador James A. Larocco
Principal Deupty Assistant Secretary for Near East Bureau from 2001 to 2004

LAROCCO:  I completed my Arabic course, and it became clear that nominations were going to take a long time to go through the full process to Senate confirmation. I took some leave back in Chicago, and then one day I got a call from the Executive Secretary of the State Department, Bill Burns, someone I knew of but really didn’t know, and he asked me to come work for [at left, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs] Tom Pickering while I wait for the confirmation process to run its course.

I said, “Doing what?”

He said, “Reform the State Department.” This sounded intriguing, and I had nothing else to do, so I said yes.

I reported to Pickering’s office, and he said that he would meet with me every day at 5pm to review reform issues. He would include Bill, Skip Gnehm, then Director General, the Resource Management chief… and Pat Kennedy, the chief of the Administration Bureau. They didn’t come every day, but Bill did most of the time.

Our first meeting was a session devoted to some longstanding issues, but I also raised the idea of making the office a formal one, so others would pay attention to us. I knew that this was vital in working the bureaucracy. Tom immediately agreed. The designation of P/R was made, the P standing for the Office of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, the R obviously meaning reform, we were given an office space and I was provided with three assistants, all like me.

We had one desk, a phone, a file cabinet. Otherwise, we sat on the floor like in the movies, tossing around a tennis ball as we brainstormed. I felt like I was working for Bill Gates or Steve Jobs rather than for the stodgy State Department. We were on the cutting edge of change. No big studies, as had throughout State’s history ended up on shelves gathering dust. We were going to identify issues, recommend solutions, get decisions and then make things happen. What a novel idea for a government agency.

At the start of the next working day, I provided a memo for all participants, divided into three sections: Old issues, Pending issues and Future Issues. Tom and Bill especially liked this, because they wanted to move as quickly as possible on as many issues as we could identify, seeing this not as a gab exercise but a real exercise at reform. The Department had files and files of reform efforts with massive studies but no follow up. It was time for action. With this one-page work agenda, we could see whether issues agreed upon had been carried out. Follow up was essential. Our work was about results, not just ideas.

Our memos became longer and longer as we came up with long list of items, ranging from moving Canada from Europe to the Western Hemisphere Bureau (a sort of “Well, duh” issue, but much, much more complicated to carry out than one might think) to achieving Secretary [Warren] Christopher and then [Secretary Madeleine] Albright’s vision of a “universal presence,” to reshaping language training for the super-hard languages (my particular passion) to the authorities and responsibilities of chiefs of mission, and many, many more.

We had great fun coming up with options on carrying out the Secretary’s vision of a universal presence (that is, a State Department presence in every country). This flied in the face of the severe budget constraints of the mid-90s and pressure from some to consolidate and create “regional posts.”

I decided to go to the experts: the Directors of the Executive Offices of the Regional Bureaus. I was not disappointed. I ran many ideas by them, and they knew exactly what wouldn’t work, what would work and what might work. Among other things, one day as we were tossing around a tennis ball, we came up with a wonderful concept. We decided it had to have a catchy name so it might grab Tom’s imagination, so we drew up a concept paper on what we called “The American Presence Post.” Tom and the others loved it, and this idea moved quickly. As things turned out, a high-rolling political ambassador, Felix Rohatyn, got credit for this idea. In truth, he did translate the concept into reality, so I applaud him. But like so many stories of success or failure, there is a back story….

Tom and Bill were both ideas people. They had plenty of their own, and they knew immediately whether they would run with our ideas. We drew heavily from them as well as previous studies. It was amazing to me that Tom and Bill could devote an hour a day to this. That’s when I got to know Bill Burns. I didn’t know Bill before this.

Bill loved the ideas, the organization of the ideas, the action plans and the fact that things were getting done. He and I and others had seen so much invested in previous reform efforts that saw few results.

This was a results-oriented operation with no bureaucracy, no long drawn out meetings where nothing was done, no papers that were wordsmithed to death, no clearances that would water down an idea till it drowned.

This exercise, which lasted about five months for me, convinced me that despite the unwieldiness of the bureaucracy and the knee-jerk response of most that something couldn’t be done, things, many things in fact, could be done if you have the right network of people, good and convincing ideas and clear plans for implementation. And, perhaps most importantly, we always matched the mission with resources. If the resources weren’t there, we never moved the reform from the pending file.…I drew on my experience during these five months in everything I did as PDAS in NEA a few years later.

“He was the finest diplomat I had known after Tom Pickering”

[In early 2001] the Middle East was in the doldrums, as the second Palestinian intifada had ground so much to a halt. I saw the Far East as the land of opportunity, the Middle East as the land of problems, so why not go back to Taipei? HR dithered and dithered and dithered over this, since the incumbent director wanted to stay even though senior leadership in Washington was insistent he move on. Week after week I got the same answer from HR: I was the candidate, but we can’t move forward until the incumbent’s departure is confirmed.

Then one day I received a phone call from Bill Burns, who was Ambassador in Jordan at the time. He told me he had been selected by the new Secretary of State, Colin Powell, to be Assistant Secretary for NEA [Near East Affairs], and Bill wanted me to be his Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary.

I was stunned. I had no inkling that Bill would call on me to do this. He knew so many officers, why me? He then told me that the Secretary had given him full authority to assemble a new team, and in addition to me, he had already confirmed that David Satterfield would be the DAS [Deputy Assistant Secretary]  for Israel, Egypt and the Levant, and was working on Ryan Crocker to be DAS for the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq. He asked if I might call Ryan and nudge him to accept.

I must say that Bill Burns, as I may have noted earlier, is not someone who it is easy to say no to. Unlike Baker and his slammed book, Bill wasn’t into drama. He didn’t have to be. He somehow created an atmosphere in which you simply did not want to disappoint him. It was an amazing ability he had, and it was most effective in one-on-one conversations. He conveyed a sense of integrity and sincerity unmatched by anyone I had ever met.

He also conveyed a sense of caring, really caring, about you and what you were saying, that totally disarmed his foreign interlocutors. He was the finest diplomat I had known after Tom Pickering, although their styles were very, very different.

I told Bill I would get back to him. If I would say yes, I would see what I could do to persuade Ryan. I admitted that it would be a great team: four ambassadors experienced in the region. I couldn’t recall a front office like this in any regional bureau. …. I called Bill back and said yes.

Bill being Bill, he assigned me a bunch of work related to my new assignment, which placed me in awkward position with the incumbent PDAS [Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary], someone I highly respected who had done an excellent job for months as Acting Assistant Secretary….

In hindsight, it was a wonderful team to be on. And when I say team, I am speaking of the entire NEA Bureau. I could list so many outstanding officers it would take up pages. Many are ambassadors today. Others are in senior positions in Washington. They were a joy to work with. I will never forget them and will always be grateful for their service to our country.

“There are few who can see this issue in the 360 degree way he does”

Bill is someone who believes not just with his mind but also feels in his soul the importance of a comprehensive peace for stability and security in the region, including and especially a sustained security for the State of Israel. He understands the strategic importance to our country and how consistent this is to our values and the propagation of those values. There are few who can see this issue in the 360 degree way he does.

At the time, the peace process was in shambles. The failure of a new Camp David, this time in the waning days of the Clinton presidency and the launch of a new Intifada swept away almost all the good work of the 90s….

Bill was determined to build from these ashes a new framework, focusing on stanching the hemorrhaging from the Intifada and providing new hope for Palestinian moderates and Israelis determined to not let the peace achieved in the 90s slip away.

Bill began putting the pieces together for a framework and roadmap that would be a new guide. He convinced the Secretary that this was worth the effort and worked with regional leaders, reluctant at best, to support a new initiative. They saw little hope for success, but were motivated as much if not mostly by a fear of total failure. The price to regional stability and security would be steep if that happened.

“Everywhere I go, especially today, his name is spoken with profound respect”

Let me state something again. Personalities do matter, especially in the field of diplomacy and negotiation. Bill conveys sincerity and integrity in such a compelling way that leaders believe in him, trust him, confide in him. Everywhere I go, especially today, his name is spoken with profound respect. He listens more than he speaks, but when he speaks, which is always in his quiet, deliberate way, people not only take note, they inculcate his words. I am convinced to this day that it was his personal relationships and the trust he build up with regional leaders that permitted a new peace process, however limited in scope and results, to emerge in 2002.

I have always been one of those who believes that having a peace process and the hope it brings, however modest the results, is far better than not having one. That seems so un-American; we want results. But wherever I served in the region, when there was a peace process, the temperature went down in our relationships, allowing us more time and latitude in pursuing our other strategic interests, regional or bilateral. This is exactly what happened from 2002-2004, and The Roadmap, as it was called, took pressure off everyone from our soldiers in Afghanistan to our diplomats in Rabat as our priorities shifted to the wards in the east.

Bill’s role as a trusted confidant, however, was most manifest in his work on Libya. Two of our highest strategic priorities had been stymied for decades by Qadhafi:  non-proliferation and counter- terrorism. Libya, to be sure, was low-hanging fruit, as some wags would say, especially following our invasion of Iraq. Qadhafi was clearly spooked, wondering if he was next. We took advantage of this, and talks with his regime, tried by earlier administrations, including Clinton’s, which had not borne fruit, were now poised for possible success.

There were several key actors on our side, one from the [Central Intelligence] Agency, the other Bill, in moving the process forward and eventually coming to closure. The trust that the Libyan leadership had in Bill’s judgment was so manifest throughout the process. Toward the end, when the White House yanked Bill out to put politicos in the lead for the final talks, I marveled at Bill’s modesty, even as he was getting constant phone calls from Libyan leadership seeking his guidance. He never took the credit, even though the credit was truly his.

At the same time, Bill took the time to meet regularly with the families of the victims of the Pan Am 103 disaster [which exploded in Lockerbie, Scotland because of a bomb planted by Libyan-backed terrorists]. He bonded with them, and they felt his sincerity. Once again, I believe his personal role in this key human element of the reconciliation with Libya was never fully recognized.

While Bill was engaging in these historic initiatives, he left me in charge of running the Bureau. I never recall even a single instance in which he questioned my decisions. At the same time, we were of the same mind from the start on what we wanted the Bureau to be, how it would relate to the leadership on the Seventh Floor [where the Secretary of State and other key officials have their offices] and how it would interact with other agencies, The Hill and the media. It was indeed seamless, and I will always be grateful to Bill for his own trust in me and clear guidance.

Q: You mentioned something I imagine particularly in dealing with the Middle East because the problems there are so horrendous and the history is so horrendous, trust has to be an extremely important factor.

LAROCCO: Here’s the thing with the Middle East; their innate distrust of us is profound. You can’t measure it, it is so high. What is counter-intuitive from this is that at the same time, their degree of trust in certain individual Americans is also almost immeasurable. George H. W. Bush, had earned enormous trust from many of the leaders in the Middle East, including the Saudis, and especially the Kuwaitis. I also know the trust the Chinese had in George H.W. He had taken the time to get to know all these people, walk in their shoes, and understand their concerns. He drank the tea and enjoyed it, and they saw this. They trusted him, and this particularly paid off in the Gulf War.

Bill had that relationship with virtually every leader in the Middle East he had interacted with. This was vital at a time where the same could not be said for the White House and when anger over the invasion of Iraq was widespread. Our policies as well as our practices were creating an even deeper mistrust than I had experienced at any time during the previous thirty years of my career.

People in the Middle East, from leaders to those on the street, can and do distinguish between our policies, our practices, our ideals and who we are as individuals. They have long loathed our policies, found our practices hypocritical with those ideals that they admire, while bonding closely with certain individuals irrespective of the messages those individuals convey or the policies they must represent. It’s the nature of the region. Those much vilified “Arabists,” especially during the period right after 9/11, understood this. They had experienced it. Our leadership then and our leadership now do not understand it, with some notable exceptions.

 

 

 

Clifton Wharton — Diplomat and Pioneer

Clifton Reginald Wharton, Sr. was the first African-American Foreign Service Officer to rise to the rank of ambassador without a political appointment.  In four decades as a career Foreign Service Officer, Wharton held positions in various posts worldwide including in Liberia, the Canary Islands, Madagascar, Portugal, France, Romania, and Norway.

With the introduction of the Rogers Act in 1924, the U.S. diplomatic corps was reformed to establish the U.S. Foreign Service.  Under the Rogers Act, those wanting to pursue a career as a Foreign Service Officer would need to pass an exam to test aptitude, which was a step in eliminating elitism and patronage in the organization.

Wharton immediately took the Foreign Service exam and was one of the 20 successful candidates.  However, his success was still marginalized as he was excluded from officer training and was put on the “Negro Circuit” for postings – the routine of relegating African American consulate employees to postings in Liberia, Haiti, or the Canary Islands.  Under President Truman’s executive orders in 1949, the State Department finally broke the unofficial color barrier in the Foreign Service.  Wharton was appointed to Lisbon as a Diplomatic Consul in 1949.

In 1953, Wharton was Consul General in Marseilles, France.  In 1958 Wharton was appointed by President Eisenhower to be Minister to Romania, and thus he became the first black career diplomat to head a U.S. delegation in Europe. American relations with Romania during this time period were becoming increasingly strained due to the actions of the Communist government.  President Kennedy then appointed Wharton as the Ambassador to Norway in 1961, a position that he would hold until his retirement in 1964.

Prior to entering the Foreign Service, Wharton received a law degree from Boston University in 1923.  He practiced law in Boston from 1920 to 1923.  In Washington, D.C., Wharton joined the federal government as an examiner in the Veterans Bureau and a law clerk for the State Department.  In 2006, the United States Postal Service took the rare step of issuing a stamp in his honor.

In a personal memoir released in 1996 which is part of ADST’s oral history collection, William B. Dunham discusses the diplomatic skills and abilities that Wharton possessed, the difficulties he had to go through as an African-American,  and laments that 40 years later, the State Department was still dealing with issues of discrimination.  In an interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy in October 1991, Richard H. Morefield discusses Wharton’s leadership style in Oslo’s Embassy.  Richard C. Barkley was interviewed by Kennedy in May 2003.

For another perspective, read Ambassador Terence Todman’s experiences of “Being black in a lily white State Department.”

Return to Fascinating Figures

Go to Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

 

“I developed the greatest respect for him, both professionally and personally, as a man of the highest qualities”

William B. Dunham
Portuguese and Spanish Affairs from 1945 to 1954

DUNHAM:  On October 12, 1949, the assignment of Clifton R. Wharton to Lisbon as First Secretary and Consul, and, almost a year later on September 25, 1950, his promotion to Consul General marked the lifting of the color bar that had, until then, confined African-American Foreign Service Officers “south of the equator,” so to say. At least that is what we thought at the time. (Photo: Clifford Wharton, Jr.)

Born in Maryland in 1899, Cliff Wharton graduated from Boston University and earned the LL.B. degree in 1920 and the LL.M. degree in 1923. A member of the Massachusetts Bar, he practiced law from 1920 to 1924 when he moved to the Veterans Bureau and later in that year to the State Department as a law clerk.

He was appointed to the Foreign Service on March 20, 1925, and assigned to Monrovia as vice consul and third secretary and then Las Palmas in 1930. He moved between these two posts until 1942 when Tananarive [now known as Antananarivo, Madagascar] became his new post.

In April of 1945, Cliff was transferred to the Azores as the American maritime delegate and consul in Ponta Delgada. In 1946, he was promoted to FSO-4 in May, and to FSO-3 in October, attesting to his superior service. When we began our endeavors in 1947 to find a way to convert our wartime use of military facilities at the Santa Maria airfield in the Azores to peacetime use, we had close at hand the benefit of Cliff’s extensive experience and thorough knowledge of the area.

Cliff and I arrived on the Portuguese scene about the same time, 1945. During the following years, I developed the greatest respect for him, both professionally and personally, as a man of the highest qualities. It was a long time before we had the opportunity to meet, but through letters we had become so well acquainted that our first meeting seemed like just another one of many such meetings.

He was on home leave and came by the office for that visit we both had long been looking forward to. Incidentally, on that occasion he brought along one of his young sons. Unhappily, I can no longer remember which one, but a few of years ago I had to wonder whether it was Clifton, Jr, who became Deputy Secretary of State when Bill Clinton became President in 1992.

Early in 1949 we knew the Consul General in Lisbon would soon be up for transfer. Given Cliff’s extensive experience and long and outstanding career, I thought he would be the ideal person for this post and checked out the idea with Ambassador Mac Veagh. He knew Cliff well, of course, and agreed immediately that he was the man for the job. There was no color bar whatsoever in Portugal and we knew that Cliff, who was highly regarded in Lisbon, would be warmly welcomed and eminently successful as Consul General. So, with no further ado, I put in the request to the Foreign Service Personnel office for Cliff’s transfer to Lisbon as Consul General.

“We don’t need people like him at our posts in Europe”

Then the trouble began. Our request gathered dust for months. Phone calls were not always returned and, when they were, one was fobbed off with all manner of evasive inventions. In those days, the Foreign Service ran their personnel operations and the pre-War Old Guard were still much in evidence. The Ambassador, who had a renowned short fuse, became increasingly annoyed as the date for the presiding Consul General’s departure grew closer.

One day, as I was fulminating about the evident chicanery in the FS personnel office, a colleague in our division (WE [Western Europe]) heard me and offered some advice and a warning. He was one of the Old Guard, too, and told me Cliff’s transfer would never be approved. “We don’t need people like him at our posts in Europe.” Further, he warned me that I was getting into trouble by continuing to insist on Cliff’s assignment to Lisbon and had better back off.

I knew this colleague to be one of that dwindling company of FSOs of a pre-War and waning by-gone era — so unlike contemporaries such as George Kennan, Chip Bohlen, Bob Murphy, and others who had become post-War notables. He often inveighed against the wartime newcomers who had entered the Department and the Foreign Service and there was no way of knowing whether he was an emissary assigned to shut me up or was just making his usual noise. What I did know was that the message was outrageous and totally unacceptable.

I called the personnel people to say that time had run out, the Ambassador was highly annoyed, and any further delays over Cliff’s transfer were bound to bring his wrath down on their heads. In addition, they should know that he and the Secretary were lifelong friends, and that Mac Veagh could easily call on [Dean] Acheson “to lend a hand,” if needs be. Best, therefore, not to rouse those two to action; in that event, they could expect all hell to break loose.

In due time, these considerations proved persuasive and, in the fall of 1949, Cliff’s transfer to Lisbon was approved — but only as First Secretary and Consul. It took almost another year of continuous pressure before he was appointed Consul General.

After that, Cliff’s superior qualities and abilities proved that he was the man for that job and he then proceeded on from one success to another. In 1951 he was promoted to FSO 2; in 1953 he was assigned as Consul General in Marseille. Promoted to FSO 1 in 1956, his highly successful tour in Marseille continued for five years. He was appointed Minister to Rumania in 1958 and finally ended his long and distinguished career as Ambassador to Sweden.

Once the racial road block had been broken with his appointment as Consul General in Lisbon, Cliff’s widely known, admired, and respected personal and professional qualities carried the day thereafter. At the time, we hoped that he had lifted the color bar and broken he trail for succeeding generations of African-Americans in the Foreign Service. But how Cliff’s successors have fared in the Foreign Service since seems a very mixed story indeed.

I was concerned by an article in the May 1994 issue of the Department’s newsletter that reported on a ceremony in honor of Deane R. Hinton on the occasion of his retirement after a 51-year career. He was quoted as saying, that “Representing America requires representative Americans. We can achieve a representative Foreign Service of top quality, if we make an enhanced effort to attract recruits from diverse backgrounds with the requisite moral and intellectual qualities….”

I had hoped that remark did not imply, as it seemed to, that there still exists a color bar that deters qualified minorities from perceiving the Foreign Service as a viable career choice for them.

But, alas, the concern Deane Hinton expressed, and its import for the future, were all too prescient. Forty-seven years after Cliff Wharton had been transferred to Lisbon, The Washington Post carried a front page story on April 5, 1996, Good Friday, under a headline that read: State Department Settles Bias Suit, Black Envoys Get $3.8 Million, 17 Promotions.

The story, written by Thomas W. Lippman with contributions from Toni Locy, reports:

“The State Department has agreed to pay $3.8 million to compensate black Foreign Service officers who alleged they were denied advancement and career opportunities because of their race, and to grant retroactive promotions to 17 of them.

“The agreement was a key part of a negotiated settlement that would end a federal lawsuit that had dragged on since 1986. The case exposed some of the rawest nerves in the diplomatic service as African-American diplomats charged they were pigeonholed in backwater assignments, denied promotions they deserved and unfairly driven out of the service.”

The report, which went on at some length, also quotes the Director General [DG] of the Foreign Service, Anthony Quainton:

“We believe the settlement is a fair one. But more important is the Secretary of State’s commitment and my commitment to a diverse work force….We will be carrying out some really substantial reforms in the personnel system so we can train our supervisors to manage a diverse work force.”

Imagine that! Here we are in 1996 and the DG – and the first one to do so – is only now thinking about training “supervisors to manage a diverse work force.” That should have been done decades ago. At this late date, he should be thinking about hiring supervisors who already have extensive experience in managing a diverse work force!

Meanwhile, the story reports that in 1993 “the Foreign Service consisted of 4,015 officers, of whom 87.6 percent were white and 6.7 percent were black. Only 1.4 percent of the Senior Foreign Service, the diplomatic equivalent of generals and admirals, were black.”

What a wretched, revolting record. Obviously, the hoped-for breakthrough of Cliff Wharton’s transfer to Lisbon in 1949 barely dented the color bar, if at all. How sad — how unforgivable — after almost 50 years. And still we pretend to represent the United States of America. This is the American Foreign Service?

For shame!

“He is proof that you can’t keep talent from rising”

Richard H. Morefield
Embassy Oslo, 1963

MOREFIELD: Then I went to Norway where we had a relatively small mission, in which the Consular section was very closely tied in with the rest of the mission. Partly this was because of the Ambassador, Cliff Wharton, He was the one who gave me the first boost up the ladder, who was willing to pay attention to a junior officer in the consular section.

Cliff Wharton was the first black career ambassador. He spent a majority of his early career bouncing between consular posts in Nigeria and the Azores. He is proof that you can’t keep talent from rising. He got to the top by sheer talent in spite of all of the problems of being a black in the Foreign Service in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.

He was an incredible man in many ways. You always learn something from every person you ever work for, but it has been only recently that I have realized how much subconsciously I had tried to copy many of his management skills. They were varied, and many were ahead of the times.

One was his ability to use a staff meeting for a specific purpose. He ran three distinct types of meetings. The first was to distribute information–the kind of “show and tell” that is so common in many staff meetings. The second was to grapple with a specific task, in which all the interested parties were expected to participate fully and not just to represent their special piece of turf. The last was to give his core officers daily marching orders.

There were two things unique about the last:  the composition and the length. Unless augmented for a special reason it was the DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] and the heads of the Political, Economic and Consular sections. Each picked up a cup of coffee going in and when the Ambassador had finished his, the meeting was over. Good practice in getting to hear of the matter in a hurry. I have had other principals who used these techniques, but none were as good as Wharton in keeping them separate.

He was the best leader I have ever known in building morale and had a number of techniques. One of the most important was a sincere interest in every one at the post. He was able to win loyalty up the chain of command because it was clear that he freely gave loyalty down the chain of command. Much has been said and written about the loss of values of the “old Foreign Service.” Some changes were inevitable — and even desirable.

But I have always felt that the demise of loyalty downwards in the Service has contributed much to the sense of morale loss in the past 25 years. It may have been one of the inevitable changes, an unfortunate concomitant, if you will, of the unlamented demise of the “old boy” network. But Cliff Wharton demonstrated that he cared. And he worked at it.

“The head of our board interestingly enough was Ambassador Clifton Wharton”

Richard C. Barkley
Entered the Foreign Service in 1962

BARKLEY:  In those days they had three particular elements to the [Foreign Service] exam. There was a fourth that you could voluntarily take which was language, and I took it in German.

Most of the kids did take a language, because most of them were there as language students from the army. I never met any of the kids again and I spent some time talking to them. Then they said we are giving the oral examination this time in Europe, at the Consulate General in Frankfurt, in the summer of 1961.

So I arranged to go up and take my orals in Frankfurt. It was once again serendipitous; I had no idea that this was all going to happen. I thought I would have to somehow go home and take the exam, which would have been financially a burden. So I went up. I stayed with friends of friends who had been in the military, went in, took my Foreign Service exam.

The board consisted of three people. The head of our board interestingly enough was Ambassador Clifton Wharton. Clifton Wharton at that time was our Ambassador to Romania. Why he got roped into this I only found out later of course, when you are expected to do certain little things. He was an extraordinarily charming man, and I think I am not wrong in saying that he was the first career African American ambassador.

Q: Do you recall any of the questions?

BARKLEY: There was a question from Ambassador Wharton, and it turns out there had been a real case where he was called to the Foreign Office and he was accused of defending American aggressive policy towards this socialist country by authorizing an American military flight that had come very close to the borders of Czechoslovakia, which I think is something that in fact happened quite often. And he asked me what should have been the proper response to that.

I gave what I thought was a response, in retrospect, probably not an erroneous one. I said, “I would certainly reject the complaint on behalf of my government. It was clear they knew fully well it was never the intent of American policy as they portrayed it.”

He said, “Well, that was certainly an acceptable answer, but his was that he would take it under protest and inform our government.” Anyway, that is the only portion I do remember. I think somebody asked me about [General] Winfield Scott, “Old Fuss and Feathers” in the [1846] Mexican War. I don’t remember much more than that.

It was a very friendly kind of chat. It all lasted, I guess, no more than 40-45 minutes, after which, to my great surprise, the Ambassador said, “We are recommending you for an appointment as an FSO class 7 instead of the usual class 8.” I was given the slightly higher start primarily because I had done military service.

 

“The State Department has always been a whipping boy”

Charles “Chip” Bohlen (August 30, 1904 – January 1, 1974) served in the Foreign Service from 1929 to 1969 and succeeded George Kennan as Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1953–1957). He later served as Ambassador to the Philippines (1957–1959), and to France (1962–1968) and was one of the nonpartisan foreign policy advisors known as “The Wise Men.”

When the United States resumed diplomatic relations with the USSR in 1933, Bohlen was named vice consul under Ambassador William C. Bullitt. In 1939 he learned details of the Russo-German pact which led to the Nazi attack on Poland, starting World War II. Bohlen was assigned to Tokyo in 1940 and he was interned for several months with other embassy personnel after Pearl Harbor. In 1943 he served as FDR’s interpreter at the Tehran Conference and later at Yalta. He attended the United Nations conference at San Francisco and went to the 1945 Potsdam conference as President Harry Truman’s interpreter. Bohlen’s nomination to be Ambassador to the USSR was opposed by Senator Joseph McCarthy, who attacked Bohlen for his role at Yalta; he eventually won Senate confirmation by a vote of 74-13. McCarthy’s performance marked the beginning of McCarthy’s demise. Bohlen later served as Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the Kennedy Administration. He died of cancer in 1973 at age 69.

In these excerpts from his oral history, taken in November 20, 1968, Bohlen discusses the ever-present problem of poor Foreign Service morale, the State Department as whipping boy, the plague of McCarthyism, his dislike of summits, Vietnam, revisionist history, and the role of the U.S. in the world. He was interviewed by Paige Mulhollan of the LBJ Library. This interview is courtesy of the National Archives and Records Service of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library.  You can also read about Robert Strauss’s experiences as Ambassador to Russia.

Return to Fascinating Figures

Go to Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

 

Poor morale and the State Department as “whipping boy”

Q: I’m afraid the State Department doesn’t have a very good press sometimes. 

BOHLEN: Oh, well, the State Department never does. You just find out one thing. The State Department does not have a constituency in the United States politically…. It has always been a natural whipping boy, and I suppose it always will. In the first place, since you’ve raised the subject, it doesn’t have any constituency. By this I mean that it does not employ thousands of people the way the big Departments do all over the United States. Its operations are concentrated in Washington and abroad and nowhere else.

Secondly, since it deals with the foreigner, it is the State Department representative that has to go before Congress and in effect present the case for the foreign country which in their eye somehow makes them look as though they are proponents of the foreign position and not that of an American one. It is the way things inevitably work out, it doesn’t have anything to do with any particular sympathy. But no one else is going to present, say, the case for any country you want to name. It’s got to be made clear why they need this aid or why they need this military assistance and all this. And you have to sort of argue their case.

Now, in general, you know, in any country where patriotism sometimes has a tinge of chauvinism in it, that anybody who does this is regarded as un-American, and this is the case particularly for the operation of this Department, where nine-tenths of its work is abroad. 

Q: The claim that’s frequently made when they talk about what has recently been called the “sad state of State,” is, that it’s unadministerable. Does this have some accuracy in it? 

BOHLEN: Well, there’s no doubt about it, the American system of separation of powers was not designed for the conduct of foreign affairs. It was designed for the conduct of non-foreign affairs, really. If you look at the Constitution and you really read the contemporary writings and opinions that are expressed, you can see that one of the great anxieties of the Founding Fathers, so-called, was that this young, struggling republic would get itself involved in foreign affairs before it was ready to do anything about it.

And, therefore, a certain amount of safeguards were built in, but this was not the reason for the separation of powers, which was to avoid the concentration of too much power in too few hands. But it certainly has not been set up, as I say, for the conduct of foreign relations, and it sometimes has cost the American taxpayer a good deal of money because of the time that it takes to get measures through Congress. In a cabinet system of government, such as the British, the French, Germans — any of them have — as long as the government is in power, it is both legislative and executive.…

Q: The feeling of the career officer, the morale, is frequently mentioned as a weakness of the current State Department. Is that an accurate assessment?

BOHLEN: Well, in a way it is. You see, the Foreign Service of the United States has grown so unbelievably in the last twenty years, and the requirements for admission are so high, and yet an awful lot of the work — I’d say fully 50 percent of the work in the Foreign Service abroad is really routine work. And this is something that no one has licked.

You’ve got to have high requirements to enter because any one of the young people coming in could rise to positions of responsibility. And when you’re abroad, even a vice consul can do things that can harm or help the reputation and standing of the United States in a given country.

But then when you get this high degree of qualifications, education and so forth, and then you have to apply them to really routine tasks, you get a certain amount of discontent. It’s bad for morale. For example, when I joined the Foreign Service in 1929, the total officer corps of the Foreign Service, including Ministers and Ambassadors, was 732.…

Now, there are 3,500 officers in the Foreign Service proper. I couldn’t tell you how many there are in the USIA [the now defunct U.S. Information Agency], or how many there are in AID [Agency for International Development], but certainly the total must run up around 7-8,000 at least. Now, they’re not all competing in the same personnel system because the 3,500 are the ones who are really, so to speak, competing; but you can see the enormous increase in the broadening of the base, and this does create problems which have not yet been licked.… [Note:  The Foreign Service today has some 15,000 people; AID about 3,900.]

McCarthyism

Q: You yourself were one of the victims of the attacks that have been made on the Americanism in McCarthy times. 

BOHLEN: McCarthy was a product of sixteen years of being out of office. This is what it was. And therefore McCarthy came along — and there’s no point, he’s dead now, so let him stay in his grave — but this was a purely sort of a opportunistic — I mean he didn’t have any deep conviction on this stuff about Communism in government.

The story that I believe to be true was that there was a luncheon held across from the Mayflower Hotel at which there was a Catholic priest, a fired correspondent from the old Times Herald in Washington, and somebody else, and McCarthy.

And McCarthy was complaining of the fact that he’d been 10 years, something like that, in the Senate and hadn’t made a name for himself, at all, and somebody mentioned the fact that Communists in government was a good thesis, and the correspondent offered to write him a speech to be delivered in Wheeling, West Virginia, which he did.…That’s the start of it [in 1950].

And it grew and it grew and it grew, and as I say, part of it — the reason that he got a certain amount of support from the Republican Party is that the Republican Party was just avid for power at that time. And the country for the first time in history was a little bit scared by the fact that you could have war with a country that could reach you, namely the Soviet Union.

And then the discovery of a number of Communists in government all fed this thing. And for the first time in the history of the United States the people felt alarmed. And this is what produced this disagreeable and very unfortunate aberration known as McCarthyism because I think we’re still living with some of the consequences. 

Q: Do you think that McCarthyism did have a long-term effect on the State Department and upon Foreign Service particularly? 

BOHLEN: I would say no. I wouldn’t say it had a long-term effect. I think it had much more an effect over the period on the national consciousness, particularly in the academic world because that was one of his targets, you know; he was always after professors. I think this had a certain effect. I remember telling Senator [Karl] Mundt [R-South Dakota] at the time when the McCarthy thing was on, saying, you know, this thing is going to make it impossible for us to do any serious job of analysis of the Communist problem. It’s going to so sicken the people when they turn against McCarthy on the idea that it’s going to make anything that’s anti-Communist very discredited.

Q: But the departure of a great number of Foreign Service Officers in the long run?

BOHLEN: There were some victims. There were some very, very bad cases of rank injustices that were done, I think, due to McCarthy. One of them, of course, is John Davies, who used to be one of the best Foreign Service Officers we had. [Read about his colleague John S. Service, who also was a victim of McCarthyism.] But because of the pressures of the time and things like that, he was let go — not on any grounds of disloyalty but simply on the grounds of that they called “bad judgment” about China.

But damn it, all of the judgments seemed to be accurate. He said that the Communists, the way things stood in China, were going to win their fight, and they did.…

Q: You went to Russia in April 1957. Just out of curiosity really, what was the Russian reaction to McCarthyism? 

BOHLEN: They were very much against it, at least publicly. It was too easy a thing, and they thought the United States was going fascist and all this sort of stuff. You’ve always got to remember that the Russians–we had been Public Enemy Number One as far as Soviet propaganda has been concerned ever since about June 1944, and that this is part of the normal procedure. They would never give the U.S. a favorable break ever, and they still don’t.

We are the chief opponent of what they are trying to do, although often what they are trying to do is not what they profess to be trying to do in the sense that they are a Communist country, that is to say, they are run by a Communist party; and ideology still plays an enormous part in their — but not as much in their foreign affairs, as much as one might think. It’s a very complicated subject…..

Summits are “a bad way of doing business”

Q: You mentioned the importance of Yalta, and of course it will be a major part of any work you write. What about the general topic, and Mr. Johnson has been involved in this, of summitry? …

BOHLEN: The Secretary of State wrote an article for Foreign Affairs before he was Secretary of State in which he disapproved of summitry. He said it was a bad way of doing business, and it is a bad way of doing business. And naturally anybody who has been in this business as long as I have, you develop some professional distortions, if you want to call it that, or perhaps experience and knowledge of things a little better than you might if you didn’t have it. And certainly the orderly processes of diplomacy would best be carried out by your ambassadors and by the quiet processes. But given the nature of the Soviet structure where only the very top can make decisions, can do anything, I think summitry is inevitable.…

The difficulty is, and any Western leader ought to be fully aware of it, the fact that you have a free public opinion in your own country means that you are under a certain amount of disability when you meet with a dictator who doesn’t have the same problem. Because it’s very much harder for a Western president, for example, coming from our society or from that of any of the democratic societies in Western Europe, to have a meeting that’s a failure.

There’s always the temptation to try to reach some form of agreement; the dictator doesn’t have that at all. But simply because the Soviet structure is built that way, there’s not much point in trying to do business, say, with [Andrei] Gromyko, whereas you can occasionally with Kosygin. This was truer in the days of Stalin than I think it is now when you really have a collective leadership.

Q: Does the personality compatibility or incompatibility sometimes loom very important? 

BOHLEN: Very little. I think it can work in a negative sense if some guy, if there were really a personality clash, if they just disliked each other instinctively, why this would hamper business; but by and large the Bolsheviks are very impersonal in their dealings….

Yalta and Revisionist History

Q: You said about Yalta publicly at the time of your appointment as Ambassador to Moscow that it was not the settlements at Yalta but the Russian violation of them that caused problems in the post-war world. 

BOHLEN: Yalta had nothing to do with sort of freezing the Eastern Europe in Russian hands. This is where the Red Army moved certain places. The agreement at Yalta merely confirmed the zonal agreements, and the only change it made was the allocation of a zone to France and a seat for France on the control council of Germany. This had nothing to do with the division of Europe which is the big question that remains unsolved and will remain unsolved as long as the Soviet Union exists in its present form. This was the imposition on these countries on the Soviet form of government. 

Q: A group of scholars sometimes referred to as the New Left or the Revisionists have argued that it was the American overreaction to certain things after 1945 that exacerbated the Cold War. I take it you disagree with that.

BOHLEN: This is perfect nonsense. I never read anything — it’s just a sign that certain scholars always want to find a new angle, a new slant to anything. This had nothing whatsoever to do with the imposition of the Soviet system in Eastern Europe which was done by the Soviets in various degrees:  in Czechoslovakia it was done in 1948; in

Hungary it came along a little earlier or later; in Bulgaria, all these things are perfectly clear. Romania was done long before there was any U.S. reaction to anything. This is really, I think, a very strained interpretation of the events.

The only place that the Russians could have done it and didn’t do it was in Finland, and there perfectly clearly they didn’t do it because they realized that Finland was just a little bit too tough a nut to crack, that there would be a lot of trouble, that there would be guerrilla warfare. In fact, Stalin said that once in a conversation with Churchill. He said, “You cannot but admire people who would be willing to fight for their country the way the Finns have.” And this has nothing to do with the reaction of the United States towards — there was no NATO at all when Czechoslovakia was taken over by the Communists.

Well, now, they go as far as to argue that we exaggerated the degree of aggressiveness of Russia after World War II. Is that a tenable argument? Well, I don’t know if you could be much more aggressive. Obviously no one thought that the Russians were prepared to go to war. In correspondence between the Central Committee of the Communist party of the Soviet Union and [Yugoslav leader] Tito, you’ll see a statement that we couldn’t use the Red Army to help enforce Communism in France and Italy because it would have meant a war with the United States. This was the statement of the Soviets.

And I really haven’t read many of these books. I think it would make me too mad.

They’re just beginning to come out and they are obviously written out of the framework of Vietnam, I think. But is apparently going to be a field of scholarship that those of you who went through those years and have expert knowledge are going to have to deal with.…

I went through this whole period there, the very beginning of it, the first meeting with the Russians, continuous all the way through, and I saw a series of American attempts to really find some Basis with the Soviet Union and that every time we were thrown for a loss because the system is impenetrable….

LBJ

I think I first met Mr. Johnson when he was a Senator. He was Majority Leader.…The first time I really was associated with him was in 1961 when President Kennedy called me up and asked me if I would go to Berlin with the Vice President who he was sending over there to the building of the Wall. And we rushed over there in a relatively hurried trip. And there I saw him continuously for about 48 hours, maybe a little more.

I must say he was a very impressive man when he was on this because he was having to project his personality to the people of Berlin, and it was very well received, what he had to say was well received….

Q: What do you think if there is one that you can pick out, has been Mr. Johnson’s chief weakness as a foreign policy leader? 

BOHLEN: I don’t really know what his chief weakness is. I think it is perhaps his apparently rather strong desire for secrecy. It has been detrimental to him in his dealings with the press and the public, the fact that he has created the impression of being a sort of a contriver, a wheeler-dealer, stuff like that. I don’t know whether I can judge him from just what you hear and read in the press, and stuff like that.

This so-called credibility gap is largely a lot of nonsense but on the other hand, the very fact that you can use this is one of the impressions. But I don’t think he has ever had any sort of unworthy ambitions or unworthy aims at all. I think that he has done more than any President in the field of race relationships and domestic things. I think it’s only tragic that this damned Vietnamese thing took so much of his time and energy and so much money and all this sort of stuff as to really take it away from what I know he would want to do which would really be to deal with the domestic problems in the United States….

The Russians — they prefer to have people, sort of working and trying to get along with them, than to have a blast of Cold War stuff going on. I think they have a perfectly good regard for Mr. Johnson as President of the United States.

They naturally have built up Kennedy a little more than they would if he had remained alive as President, but then this is a — you see, the Russians are well aware that the purposes of the United States and what the purposes must be and those of the Soviet Union which stem from the system that is set up in Russia are really not compatible. But there is one thing that I think that is accepted by both sides and that is the total impossibility of having a nuclear war.…

Vietnam and U.S. involvement in the world

There’s no doubt about it but that the Vietnamese thing — [LBJ] inherited it, he did not start it, he inherited it, it came all the way down from Eisenhower through Kennedy. And the beginning in the increase of troops, it was done under President Kennedy, and so I don’t think in any way you can blame — if I can use that term — Johnson for the initiation of the Vietnamese War. It had just turned into active U.S. participation there.

My personal opinion is, and I haven’t been in the whole act so perhaps I’m not qualified to talk about it, is that we took on something that was a little more than we could really handle correctly, simply because of the limitations imposed on our actions by our own civilization and our own thoughts and the nature of guerrilla warfare is something that we were not particularly trained or equipped to handle….

The reality of the impulse that put us in there was a perfectly sound one. It didn’t have any overtones of imperialism or desire to acquire military positions or anything like that. It was simply to defend the right of a small, weak, ineffective in a sense, government, to really get the people to choose their own fate for them and not have it imposed on them by armed action from without.

Q: Why do you think it has been so difficult to explain this, not just to the general public but to a substantial portion of the informed political community?

BOHLEN: I think one of the reasons is that the United States had really a very short time to develop a national consciousness as to what world involvement meant. What are the prices that you pay for being in the world? We’d had 170 years or so of isolationism where we could stand back and take extreme positions criticizing others without being in the game.

When you are in the game, it requires a certain understanding of the fact that you are not going to win every bout, that you are not going to have 100 percent total success every time you turn around. Sometimes it is going to be bloody and long and onerous, as it is in Vietnam.

Also, the fact that this is impossible to relate to the security of the United States. You see, we are a great big country, they are a little country and whatever it is, how many thousands of miles away — 8,000 miles away from us — and it is very, very complicated — it requires a certain amount of sophisticated understanding of what a Communist system does. This domino theory which is very much discredited now is not really very untrue at all.

Engels once said that the trouble with a military frontier is one 100 kilometers farther out is preferable, and this is the same thing for us as for the Communists. When you get a Communist thing here or there, this is the frontier of the clash with the non-Communist world; and if you move it out each step it goes farther.

Q: Do you think the analogies between Asian aggression then hold to European aggression that occurred in the time that you were there? 

BOHLEN: I don’t think you can make quite the analogy with Hitler that you make with the Communists because it was a different proposition entirely. Certainly in all these weak, sort of shaky countries in eastern Asia, if we had not really done what we did in Vietnam I don’t know what would have happened. It’s very difficult for me to see that Indonesia would be turned against the Communists the way they did. And in all of them I think the tide would be running that way.

U.S. rise to dominant role

Q: Do you think it is possible within the system we have to educate public opinion? You mentioned a couple of times the shortness of time to get used to our responsibilities, and so on.

BOHLEN: I don’t know. I think it is going to take a very long time and everything goes so much quicker now. Of course, it ought to be quicker. But the point is that most countries that rose to an eminent position in the world had generations, even centuries, to become accustomed to it — like Great Britain, for example.

But we really had this dumped on us since 1947, is when it happened, when the British revealed that they did not have the strength left to play the role, and they asked and we had to pick it up. And this decision was made at the time of the Greek-Turkish thing. But that was not a provocative decision on our part? I don’t think so at all. It was a question of saving Greece and saving Turkey. The Russians obviously — at that time they had an open claim to two provinces of Turkey and there was a civil war going on in Greece.

I don’t know what these revisionists would have us do. One thing that they ought to remember is that there has never been a recorded case where the majority of the people ever voted the Communist regime in power.…And also that Communism is a room with no exit. None have ever been able to overcome it.

Every President has his own characteristics, and I think one of the difficulties of President Johnson was to come after such a President as John F. Kennedy to whom I was personally devoted. And he brought a whole new breath of change, a different thing. He was young, he was attractive, and it was very difficult for the President who comes after him, particularly in the sort of deification that occurred after his assassination.

 

Dean Acheson – Architect of the Cold War

Dean Gooderham Acheson served as Secretary of State under President Truman from 1949-1953. Noting his enormous influence, historian Randall Woods described Acheson as “a primary architect” of the Cold War. A lifelong Democrat, he began his career in public service as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. He was appointed Under Secretary of the Treasury by President Roosevelt in 1933, but resigned within the year and returned to his position in a Washington law firm.

In 1941, Acheson entered the State Department as an Assistant Secretary, responsible for much of American economic policy during and after World War II, including the Lend-Lease policy, the IMF, the World Bank, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). He became an Under Secretary of State under President Truman and played a key role during the beginnings of the Cold War. A close advisor to the President, he was the primary author of both the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan.

Acheson was appointed Secretary of State in 1949. In the following years, he helped craft U.S. containment policy, the formation of the NATO alliance, and American intervention in the Korean War. Lucius D. Battle (who later rose to become Assistant Secretary) was all of 30 years old when he served as Special Assistant to Secretary Acheson throughout his term. In an interview with Dayton Mak beginning in July 1991, he described his relationship to the Secretary, his impressions of the Department at the time, and the tension between Acheson and his successor, John Foster Dulles.

He also discussed a notable incident of decision-making during the Korean War, when Acheson signed off on authorization for General MacArthur to cross the Korean border at the 38th parallel and move into North Korean territory. This provoked China to carry out its earlier threat to enter the conflict if the U.S. crossed the 38th parallel. Chinese forces invaded through the Yalu River and, in the first encounter of the war between Chinese and U.S. forces, caused one of the worst American losses in the Korean War.

Although he returned to his private law practice, Acheson later advised Presidents Johnson and Kennedy during the Vietnam War and Cuban Missile Crisis. His son, David C. Acheson, who was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in May 2008, discusses his father’s early career path and personality, as well as the disagreement with President Roosevelt that led to his resignation.

Secretary Lawrence S. Eagleburger served as Special Assistant to Acheson while he was acting as an advisor to President Johnson from 1965-1967. In an interview with Leonard J. Saccio beginning in August 1988, Eagleburger explained Acheson’s role in the Johnson administration, particularly when French President Charles de Gaulle chose to leave NATO’s military command in 1966.

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Go to Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

 

“He was an interesting combination”

David C. Acheson

ACHESON: He was an interesting combination. At Yale…. most people would have called him a playboy, very social, loved parties, had many, many friends and was regarded as a – I think the word used then would have been sport. He was a sport. And his interest in academics was fairly modest and he did fairly modestly in academics….

It kind of surprised Dad’s friends when he went to Harvard Law School, that he was either the first or second in his class at Harvard Law School. He was on the Harvard Law Review as editor; treasurer of the Harvard Law Review, and he attracted the interest of members of the faculty there, in his intellect and his writing skills, which were very, very good. He was heavily influenced there by Professor Felix Frankfurter [later Supreme Court Justice], who was then quite a young professor, but taught him.

Dad was a strong liberal in his early days. He thought about specializing in labor law and representing labor unions when he got out of law school. But, he said that never happened because, on account of his marks and the recommendations that he got from faculty, he was asked to come to Washington and be the law clerk to Justice Brandeis of the Supreme Court….

My father thought Hoover was doing everything wrong and making the Depression worse and that… Hoover’s determination to hold onto a balanced budget was not very opportune – that was not the time. So my father, who was always a Democrat, became a strong Roosevelt supporter….

Roosevelt asked my father to be Under Secretary for the Treasury at a time when the newly appointed Secretary, William Wooden, had just discovered that he was fatally ill. So, my father was the Secretary of the Treasury, for all practical purposes, for the first year and a quarter of the Roosevelt administration….

They came to disagreement on something Roosevelt wanted to do toward the end of Dad’s first year in the Treasury. And, Roosevelt asked my father to give him an opinion that it would be lawful for the President to use the funds of the RFC (Reconstruction Finance Corporation) to buy gold at an enhanced price. And the theory that the President had been advised on, but not by my father, was that doing that would enhance the prices of commodities generally and that would lead to prosperity and greater employment.

My father said, “Mr. President, I have to tell you that theory is nonsense. Whoever advised you to that effect really was totally wrong; it would not have that effect at all.” But he said, “If you wish to do it, I could not stand in the way. The trouble is that Congress has explicitly made it unlawful for you to do what you want to do and this is what the statute says.”

And the President said, “Well, isn’t there a little wiggle in that statute?” My father said, “No, I don’t think so and the intent of Congress was to prevent it, certainly.”

And he said, “As long as you own the Congress, Mr. President, why don’t you go to Congress and get the law changed?” And the President said, “Well, I’m going to see if I can’t do it by executive authority.”

And Dad said, “Well, in that case, I think you are entitled to have a new Under Secretary of the Treasury.” And he resigned….

He was pretty strict about fundamental things like telling the truth and trying to be prudent about personal finances, and stuff like that. But he was very personable, very witty, and he liked fun and he’d take us ice-skating. He took me skeet shooting, took me quail shooting, and did a lot of things that… he enjoyed. He liked people, liked having fun. He loved humor; he had a keen wit and loved using it and it made him very popular with his friends. Socially, he was a very attractive, popular, personable guy and my mother, although she was a very beautiful woman, was quite shy and rather withdrawn. So Dad was really sort of the point person in their social interaction with other people.

“I was in awe of Acheson”

Special Assistant Lucius Battle

BATTLE: That was the opening of a whole new world to me, working for Acheson. (Battle pictured at left.) He was a very engaging man, so bright, so difficult at times, but it was an experience. Working for him was a real experience. During the first days I was with him, I was a little scared. I was afraid I would do the wrong thing. But I was greatly impressed. He gave a speech in New York and asked me to go with him. He said he would be working on the speech and asked me to drop by that evening. He had something else to do before then.

He said, “I have started to work on this speech for New York, but I had a strange experience. I used a quotation from the Bible–the New Testament–and then I thought I’d better double check the source. I did that and couldn’t find it. Then I remembered that Lincoln had used that verse in one of his speeches. I found the quotation in the Lincoln speech and found out that he had misquoted the New Testament. I had been remembering all these years what Lincoln had said and not what was in the Bible.” I was deeply impressed with his scholarship; I was knocked out by it.

We went to New York. It was a party honoring General [George C.] Marshall, perhaps at the Freedom House. It was probably in the second week of March. That was the first time I had traveled with him. From then, we had one of the most marvelous relationships imaginable. We became very, very friendly. We laughed a lot. He was often difficult, but he gave me total trust and delegation. He told me to deal with anything that he reached his office with which I felt comfortable.

What he didn’t know is that I feel comfortable with almost everything, except big issues. I never bothered him with small issues and never had any trouble. I used to sign his name on lots of papers. On the back, I would put a code on the file copies of the papers that could be used subsequently to know what I had handled. I knew from that code that Dean Acheson had never seen the original paper, but that I had signed off for him. I would never have done it on any major policy issues….

Acheson had just returned to government. He was being re-briefed after an absence of a year or so. So we were reviewing everything. There meetings on all sorts of subjects–Europe, Far East, etc. I sat in on all those meetings. I traveled with him wherever he went. If he had appointments in London or Paris or wherever, he would always take me with him. There was never any question about my going. Sometimes the U.S. ambassador in the country would also go, but Acheson wanted me at these meetings.

I kept a record of all the meetings. I did the reporting telegrams, which I never showed him. I wrote the record of the meeting and sent it. As I look back on it, it was crazy. But that is what I did. Acheson never objected. I would write little notes on papers saying that I thought it was a good idea or that I didn’t think it was a good idea, that everyone thought he should the following. He then would ask me why I thought it was not a good idea; I never hesitated in defending my position.

As much as I was in awe of Acheson, I thought that he was sometimes unreasonable and was about to do something terrible. He would tell people that he had gotten mad at some of the correspondence he had gotten and had dictated scathing replies, but that I would tear them up. Which was quite true. When he dictated–which he didn’t do very often– the dictation would always come back to me before it went to the Secretary for signature. Sometimes, I would take the letter back to him and tell him that it was not wise to send it. It is amazing that he would accept my judgment, most of the time.

He would get indignant with me from time to time, but in the main, we got along beautifully. It was a great three and half years, which I wouldn’t have traded for anything.

“There was one big issue which I lost on”

Looking back on it, the Department was quite interesting in general. A lot of things happened. In 1948 elections, no one expected Harry Truman to be re-elected. No one contributed a penny to him. Therefore he had an absolutely free hand. He could do anything he wanted, make any appointments he wanted. He had no obligations; he had no long list of contributors.

So Dean Acheson, having known the Department and the Foreign Service–he knew the people. He could appoint Foreign Service people to key posts and needed not to look to the outside. He appointed from within the Service wherever he possibly could. [Deputy Under Secretaries] Jack Puerifoy and Carl Humelsine did most of the appointments of ambassadors and assistant secretaries. From time to time, I would get involved if the position to be filled was to be near the Secretary. Acheson would ask me what I thought of the candidate and I would tell him. There were times when this became touchy, but he wanted my views on a lot of things. I would sometimes fight for one point of view or another; sometimes not. Invariably he would say that what I had said made sense. That is not why I thought Acheson was wonderful.

There was one big issue which I lost on, much to my regret. I think it is also mentioned in his book. It took place after the Inchon landing in Korea. The Joint Chiefs and everybody else had had great misgivings about the landing. But no one wanted to tell [General Douglas] MacArthur he couldn’t do it. It was a landing weakly supplied and weakly backed up. All the military force we had in the world was committed to Korea. Acheson was worried about the Inchon landing, but no one wanted to interject negativism in conversations with MacArthur. The military treated him like a big god.

The landing was brilliant and after that no one wanted to control MacArthur. The big issue then became why the President and the Secretary of State were preventing MacArthur from crossing the 38th parallel. MacArthur had gotten to the parallel and paused. I was in New York with Acheson at a U.N. meeting. Dean Rusk, then Assistant Secretary for the Far East, brought the new instruction to MacArthur. There were no teletypes at that time, no faxes, no computers. The typing load was unbelievable. But messages to New York could be hand carried as quickly as by any other communications means. I shared a suite with Mr. and Mrs. Acheson. When she was with him, we did that everywhere we went. The new instructions came after we had been in New York for about two and half weeks.

So Rusk came to the New York office and I was sitting outside Acheson’s office. Rusk handed me the telegram which I read. In effect, the instructions left the decision to cross the 38th parallel up to MacArthur. The telegram said that the parallel had no sanctity; we had never accepted it as demarcation line. It did not hold MacArthur back.

When Acheson was free–he had someone in the office with him–I took the telegram in. I handed it to him and told him that the instructions gave General MacArthur much too much latitude. The decision on how far north he should go was being left up to him. I told him that by putting no restraints on MacArthur, we were committing a great mistake. He got absolutely livid. He was already upset with me because for three weeks I had tried to make him do something that he didn’t want to do.

Acheson looked at me and said, “How old are you, Luke?” I told him that I was thirty.

He said, “At age thirty you are willing to take on the Joint Chiefs? This is their judgment.” That telegram was interpreted by MacArthur as authorization to move north to the Yalu River, with all the attending horrors that followed. If he had done what we eventually did–that is, dig in and hold at the 38th parallel–it would have not given the Chinese an excuse to enter the conflict. I regret that I did not fight harder….

Scotch and Bourbon in the Afternoons

The telegram was sent; MacArthur moved north and by the end of the year we were in desperate straits. The whole enterprise was falling apart. But this was an illustration of interjecting myself. I did not want to be a “house plant”–the current description for a non-entity. I held my own pretty well. I had to give in sometimes, but Acheson was so bright, so intelligent and so decent to work for, that it was a pleasure.

I loved his jokes. We used to settle down in the late afternoons–in those days, we didn’t work as long as they do today. We often had a drink; we kept scotch and bourbon in the safe. We would pour ourselves a drink and sit down to talk. Sometimes, he would invite someone else to join us. We had a drink and then he would go home…. He would take me when he went to see Churchill or [French Foreign Minister] Schuman. I didn’t necessarily stay with them the whole time. I could tell when I was not welcomed. He usually preferred to have me there with him because he wanted to make sure that matters were followed up on. He also wanted witnesses and a record of conversations so that he could deal effectively with any subsequent arguments. That was my role essentially. For a young man my age, it was a heady experience….

There were some interesting aspects of this period:  the McCarthy period –very difficult. One would not have expected that an attack from the outside would induce people to turn around and run. And it did not happen except in one case. I never suspected that any of the assistant secretaries would do anything improper. We had George Perkins, a Republican, who came in as Assistant Secretary for European Affairs. He couldn’t have been better. Everybody who worked there closed ranks. It was good for the Department and the people in it.

A Tense Relationship with John Foster Dulles

[John Foster] Dulles came to work, which was interesting in itself. Acheson had told me that it was not necessary for Dulles to be involved in everything. He should only see selected telegrams. I told the Secretary that it wouldn’t work. He had been brought in as a general advisor. He had to see the same traffic that the senior staff saw. Acheson didn’t like that response, but we proceeded on that basis….

He and Acheson never liked each other. I was frequently the go-between. In the beginning, Dulles resented it. He would ask for an appointment with the Secretary and I would escort him to the door to let him in. I didn’t go in with him. Obviously, Dulles resented me. He thought I was a young squirt and didn’t want to have anything to do with me. So he had a couple of private meetings with the Secretary. Whatever he asked for didn’t happen. They were minor requests, but nothing happened.

Finally, Dulles came to me and said that the Secretary had told him that “a, b, and c” would happen, but that nothing had taken place. So I told him that I would see what I could do. So I got his requests honored, after asking the Secretary if it was all right. After that, Dulles became aware of the fact that he needed me to be in on his meetings with the Secretary. When he would have an appointment with Acheson, he would pass my office, which was right outside the Secretary’s, and say, “Luke, come on in.” And I would say, “All right, Mr. Dulles, if you wish.” So I did. As time went on, the relationship between the two became dicey and tricky.

The big issue of course became the Korean War in 1950. Dulles was in Japan working on the Peace Treaty when the war broke out. He immediately returned to Washington. I went to see him in his office.

Eleanor Dulles, his sister, was in there with him. Dulles asked me to come in to his office. He was on the phone with Bob Taft, telling him how much he approved what the U.S. government had done in Korea. He thought that we had made the United Nations a living, breathing organization and he approved heartily of the Truman-Acheson decision…. He held that line for the first few weeks and then starting in the first week of December 1950 he talked to a lot of reporters.

Several of them called me — Mark Childs and others — to tell me that Dulles was now opposing the war and that he was saying that he never would have handled the crisis in that way. If he had been in charge, if he had anything at all, he would have used air power alone. I was furious. The story was confirmed by at least two press people.

“One of the greats of American foreign policy in the 20th century”

Secretary Lawrence Eagleburger

EAGLEBURGER: President Johnson asked Dean Acheson to come back into the Department to be special advisor to him, that is to the President, at the time that [President] de Gaulle decided to pull France out of the integrated command structure of NATO.  I ended up being Acheson’s assistant during that period. (Eagleburger pictured at left.)

First of all, I developed tremendous respect and affection for someone I think is one of the greats of American foreign policy in the 20th century, Acheson was, even in those years, and that was when he was in his early 70s and had long since left the government, a superb human being and clearly substantially more capable of coherent thought than most of those around him in the Johnson administration.

He took a very tough view of how the U.S. ought to react to the de Gaulle move, and recommended that the administration ought to take sanctions against France:  we should, he argued, state that we were unprepared to carry out our defense commitment under the NATO treaty since France had removed itself from the military structure. None of these recommendations were accepted by the President, by the way, and indeed, [Secretary of State] Dean Rusk didn’t agree with most of Acheson’s recommendations. [Secretary of Defense] Bob McNamara, to my recollection, didn’t either, and it was a very frustrating time for Acheson.

While it is true that most of his recommendations were not accepted, it was also interesting to watch, because it was only because Acheson was there pushing and, in effect, on occasion proposing some pretty stringent reactions that the administration was forced to think through how, in fact, it would deal with the crisis. So Acheson, though not the man who developed the policy, forced the administration to take a hard look at some real questions.

Part of the thing about the Acheson period that interested me most was watching Acheson deal with the President of the United States. He had supported Lyndon Johnson for President when Kennedy got the nomination, largely because, as he himself told me, he had such distrust for John Kennedy and felt he was less than up to the task. In fact, he one time described John Kennedy as reminding him of “an amateur boomerang-thrower practicing his art in a crowded room.” So he was close to Johnson. But with all of that, the period when he came back into the government was difficult for him, and particularly difficult because he and Johnson did not get along well….

I remember one time there was a discussion with Johnson, Rusk, [Under Secretary of State George] Ball, and McNamara in the White House. I had told Acheson I would wait for him outside at the southwest Executive Avenue entrance and he could brief me on what had gone on, and we could figure out what we were going to do next.

He was driving his own car, and he pulled out, and I got in the car, and he was crying. Tears were running down his cheeks. I said, “Mr. Secretary, what in the world is wrong?”

He said, “Larry, I hate to tell you, but I have just told off the President of the United States.” I learned later from George Ball, I think it was, that, in fact, Acheson had gone up one side and down the other of Lyndon Johnson. They’d had a real battle. But what impressed me, and what I have seen a lot less of in later generations in Washington, is the degree to which Acheson venerated the office of the President.

He was crying because he had had a battle with the President and had shown less respect for the President than he thought, in the aftermath, he should have shown.

 

Dean Rusk — A “Silent Buddha” Amidst Chaos

Dean Rusk served as Secretary of State for eight controversial years, from 1961 through 1969, when public discomfort over his daughter’s interracial marriage prompted him to offer his resignation. (LBJ refused to accept it.) He ended up serving through the end of Johnson’s term. Born February 9, 1909, David Dean Rusk spent his early years in Cherokee County, Georgia, but relocated to North Carolina to study at Davidson College. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa, Rusk studied in England as a Rhodes Scholar at St. John’s College, Oxford. Following a few years as a staff officer in the China-Burma-India Theater during World War II and a brief stint in the War Department, Rusk joined the Department of State in February 1945.

Secretary Rusk’s term extended through the darkest days of the Cold War and included such conflicts and crises as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam War, the Six-Day War and the Biafra famine. Remembered by his Special Assistant, Emory C. Swank, as “even-tempered, considerate, and kind….with natural reserve and reticence and no fondness for small talk” and by historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s as Buddha-like in ”A Thousand Days,” Dean Rusk was an interesting antithesis to the violent and unpredictable times in which he lived. Both valued and condemned for his reticence and equanimity, Secretary Rusk directed his skills at cementing compromises and avoiding the type of diplomatic fiasco which would trigger nuclear warfare. In this interview with Paige E. Mulhollan beginning back in July 1969, Mr. Rusk interprets his time in office, highlighting his respect for President Lyndon B. Johnson, his opinions on various regions and his predictions for the future.

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LBJ and Vietnam –“We did not create a war psychology in the United States”

Q: Suppose we begin with just a general question–the type of man that you found President Lyndon Johnson to be.

RUSK: To begin with, he had an all-consuming commitment to his job as President. He had become President through the great tragedy of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and it was as though he felt that since he had not been the first choice for President, he was going to do everything that he possibly could to be a good President and to be a great President. He worked late at night, he worked early mornings, he took his evening reading to his bedside with him, and that kept him up frequently most of the time until one or two o’clock in the night. He would wake up at four or five o’clock in the morning and call the Operations Room of the Department or the White House to see how things were going in Vietnam….

[A]s far as Vietnam is concerned, President Johnson was his own desk officer. He was actually the Commander-in-Chief…. [T]here were times when the President would simply look around the room and say, “Now, gentlemen, I’m not going to do this so just don’t fret me about this, because I’m not going to do it.”

Q: Why do you think that Mr. Johnson never allowed his subordinates to really go out and sell the Vietnam policy?

RUSK:  Oh, I don’t think that he imposed limitations on us in that regard. I made more speeches than any Secretary of State….What we did not do was to take steps to create a war psychology in the United States. Now, that was an important decision. It was not made all at once, but it was a matter that we talked about on a number of occasions. We did not lay on big military parades. We did not put on big bond drives or [have] movie actors going around the country whooping up war-fever, and things of that sort. The reason we didn’t was because there’s too much power in the world to let the American people become too mad….We did not go out to whip up the anger of the American people over Vietnam….

Some people had the view that somehow the United States unilaterally could make peace in Vietnam, regardless of what Hanoi did. That on the face of it is an absurdity, but it’s not apparent as an absurdity to some critics….Well, a good deal of it was wishful thinking, hoping that somehow the problem would just go away if we got out of it; that maybe Laos and Vietnam and Cambodia and Thailand would survive whether we did anything about it or not; that Ho Chi Minh was just a good old Nationalist and that all he was wanting to do was to set up a kind of Yugoslavia out there, free from China, and free from the Soviet Union….

Then, as the war dragged on, and it was a slow-bleed, there was no clear indication that the war was going to come to a finite conclusion. So some people just got weary of the war and wanted to bring it to an end and to bring the casualties to an end, and that led them to embrace points of view that, in calmer moments, they would not have embraced….

“The tragic price”

Q: If you had known what the ultimate cost of lives and resources and dollars and public opinion was going to be with our activity in Vietnam, do you think looking back that you would have advised any differently? 

RUSK:  Well, every American casualty takes a little piece out of those who carry the responsibility, and I’ve felt that it was a great tragedy that it was necessary to ask our young men to undertake this fighting after all that has happened in the last four decades. On the other hand, the overriding problem before all of mankind is to prevent World War III. We learned the lessons from World War II and wrote them into the United Nations Charter and into our great security treaties. The principal lesson we learned from World War II is that if a course of aggression is allowed to gather momentum…it continues to build and leads eventually to a general conflict….I said we learned the lessons of World War II, but no one is going to learn any lessons from World War III. There won’t be enough left….

There’s another point that is highly relevant. Two-thirds of the world’s people live in Asia. Half of them are free; half of them are in Communist China. During this period in which we have made a stand in Vietnam, the free nations of Asia have made remarkable progress, not only in terms of what is happening in each particular country but in the cohesion which has been developing among the free nations themselves in regional activities, such as the ASPAC grouping of Pacific powers, and such as the ASEAN grouping of the Southeast Asian powers, and the Asian Development Bank, and the initiatives taken by Japan to stimulate agricultural production. All sorts of things have been happening out there, so that behind the cover of our resistance in Vietnam has been a steady strengthening of the forces of free Asia.

Now, they face the prospect of living next to a billion Chinese armed with nuclear weapons and proclaiming a doctrine of militant Communism–militant world revolution. It was my hope that the Vietnamese experience would give them some time in which they could strengthen themselves to be able to survive the implicit pressures of a Communist China and maintain some peace in Asia of the sort that is conformable to the national interests of the United States….[I]f the free nations of Asia ten years from now are surviving as independent nations—making their own decisions about their own national life and their own orientation in world affairs— then the Vietnamese experience will have been worth the tragic price that has been paid for it. If, on the other hand, we are moving down the chute—the chute toward World War III— then at least we can say that we tried to stop it by stopping it in Vietnam….

Stalemate in Asia

Q: The rest of Asia sometimes, I’m afraid, gets overlooked in the emphasis on Vietnam. Was there a major attempt during the Johnson Administration to move toward regularizing our relations with Communist China?

RUSK:  We repeated the effort made by the Eisenhower Administration to bring about an exchange of newspapermen. We proposed the exchange of scientists, scholars, of professional men–doctors. We proposed the exchange of weather information….Peking always came back with the answer that there was nothing to discuss until we are ready to surrender Taiwan. This has been the great problem about improving relations with mainland China. They insist that Taiwan, sometimes known as Formosa, is a part of China–their China. They don’t recognize that China was split in a civil war and that the Republic of China on Taiwan has an existence of its own….This simple attitude forces everyone to ask themselves what they’re prepared to do about Taiwan, because if you’re not prepared to surrender these thirteen million people on Taiwan to mainland China, then you’re not in business with China—with Peking [Beijing]. Peking won’t talk to you, won’t do anything….

Q: What about Korea? When did the renewed tensions along the armistice line in Korea become serious again?

RUSK:  When the North Korean leaders began making militant speeches about unifying the country by 1970 and making very bellicose statements about their own policy and attitude, we became very much concerned because we had fifty thousand American troops in Korea. We had a very flat and direct security treaty with Korea. A renewal of the Korean War would be something that we would look upon with the greatest dismay because we had enough of a struggle going on in Southeast Asia. We didn’t want a second struggle up in Korea. But throughout ’67 and ’68 we were very much concerned about North Korea.

I will never fully understand just why the North Koreans seized the Pueblo. It’s one of those situations where a small belligerent country can act with a lack of responsibility simply because other countries don’t want war. The Pueblo was in international waters.

[President Johnson] was, of course, furious with the North Koreans, and, like me, [he] failed to understand just why they went out of their way to be so disagreeable about it. Nevertheless President Johnson did not want a war with North Korea. He made a prompt decision to try to get the ship and its men back by diplomatic means rather than by military means. We were faced with the fact that if you tried to use military force to rescue the men you might pick up dead bodies, but you wouldn’t pick up live men and that you might well start a war….

So we decided to swallow hard and try to get these men back by diplomatic means, and that took a great deal of doing. We had meeting after meeting that made no progress and we finally released the men by a device which I described at the time as being without precedent in international affairs. We signed a statement which the North Koreans insisted we sign, but at the very time we signed it we made a statement saying that we denounced the signature and the statement itself was false.

“This hemisphere is our home”

Q: Would you like to switch over a world away to Latin America? You mentioned the Alliance for Progress programs.

The Alliance for Progress was an effort to mobilize the resources…of Latin America for development. The American aid was never to be more than about two percent of the gross national product of Latin America….We expected the Latin Americans to take far-reaching steps in their own behalf in terms of investment, tax programs, the elimination of corruption, improvement in the agricultural sector, improvement in education, improvement in public health across the broad iron of development. We wanted them to move fast, but on the other hand we wanted them to move by democratic processes as much as possible….

Now, these Latin American countries also have their internal politics. They have vested interests. They have inertia. They have resistance to social change so that changes did not occur as fast as we hoped they might. Nevertheless the total effect of the Alliance for Progress was very constructive….I think that if you look at what was accomplished during the period of Alliance for Progress in investment, in new tax systems, in education, in public health, in increased agricultural productivity, you can see that it was a period of substantial progress in Latin America….I myself appeared before Congressional committees thirty-two times in public testimony on behalf of foreign aid–four times each year….

President Johnson always looked upon the hemisphere as, in a certain sense his priority area, despite the war in Vietnam and despite our obvious major involvements in Europe. He used to say that “This hemisphere is our home. This is where we live. These are our neighbors. If we can’t get along with our neighbors, with whom can we get along?”

The Six-Day War

Q: Was the President also able to master the details of a problem like the Middle East?

RUSK:  Oh, yes. He worked intensely on the Middle East….[At the time] you had a three-cornered rivalry in the Middle East. You had on the one hand a contest between the so-called progressive Arab States, the extreme Arab States and the moderate and conservative Arab states such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia—the more progressive or more extreme Arab states being primarily Egypt, Syria, and Algeria. So we were interested in peace in the Middle East. In 1967 we became disturbed because we found that the Soviets were circulating rumors of Israeli mobilization against Syria, which did not check out as being factually true when we looked at the situation on the ground. But those rumors excited the grabs and probably had something to do with the formation of the alliance between Syria and Egypt, and later Jordan and Egypt. The Soviets played a considerable role in stirring up the sense of hostility and crisis in the Middle East just prior to the June war.

Then when President Nasser [of Egypt] closed the Strait of Tiran and insisted on the departure of the U.N. forces, I think the Soviets became concerned that the situation was moving too far and too fast. So they then tried to work with the United States to cool off the situation. We and they were in touch with each other, and we tried to get commitments from both sides that hostilities would not begin. They got such commitments from the Egyptians, for example; we got such a commitment from the Israelis. And when the Israelis then launched their attack in June 1967, it was in the face of a commitment to us that they would not do so, so we were very disappointed. The views in the Israeli cabinet were closely divided–there was almost a tie vote on most of these issues. But the so-called hawks in the Israeli Cabinet carried the day and precipitated the hostilities there, which caused the crisis of ’67….

We tried to arrange a cease-fire on the first day. Had we been able to do so, there would not have been any fighting between Israel and Jordan and Israel and Syria. And Israeli forces would only have been maybe thirty miles or so into the Sinai Desert as far as Egypt was concerned. Had we been able to get a cease-fire on that first day, the situation would have been much [easier] to solve than it is today! But the Russians and the Arabs delayed in the Security Council in moves toward a cease-fire; they tried to link it with withdrawal of forces, and they tried to inject other elements into the situation….It was not until about a week had passed that an actual cease-fire resolution succeeded in passing the Security Council. By that time the Israelis were already well-established in Jordan-Syria, as well as Egypt.

NATO, Non-Proliferation and the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia

RUSK:  [In Europe] we had long discussions with the Soviets on the key articles of the Nonproliferation Treaty. The chief objective of the Soviet Union was to be sure that the Germans never got their finger on any trigger under any circumstances, or by any combination of voting, or anything of that sort. Now the way the Nonproliferation Treaty eventually wound up was on the basis of the idea that there would be no new entity that had control of nuclear weapons. If the countries of Western Europe were to merge, if they were to create a unified Europe which had control of foreign and military policy, then that Europe would be nuclear by direct succession—by inheritance from Britain and France. Now the Soviets had some objections even to that interpretation of the treaty, and we made it clear to them that we were going to announce that that was our interpretation of the treaty, and if they publicly objected to it then we’d have to go back to the drawing board and negotiate the treaty again; because there would be no treaty if that interpretation were counterbalanced. In fact they did not object to that interpretation; I suppose that the Soviets predict that it’s going to be a long, long time before Europe ever gets to that degree of unity.

Q: The most sensational event I suppose in NATO affairs during the Johnson presidency was General de Gaulle’s demand that the headquarters be moved out of France.

RUSK:  Well, we were disappointed of course that France withdrew from the military arrangements of NATO; it made a big difference in matters of convenience, matters of logistic support, matters of headquarters locations, and things of that sort….

We were very anxious that Europe recover from its tendency to withdraw into itself and assume the role that was waiting for Europe in world affairs. You see, decolonization had been quite a shock to both France and Great Britain, and the tendency to become a little France or a little England was very pronounced. And there grew up in Europe a strong feeling of isolationism in the sense that Europe would look after its own affairs and not pay too much attention to wharfs going on in other parts of the world. We were concerned about this because that would leave the United States more or less alone as great power in the free world able to act in any part of the world where an action was required. We wanted some help in this role….

Q: All the experts say that the big problem in Europe is to settle the German problem.

RUSK:  The settlement of the German problem is basically a problem with the Soviet Union. There isn’t going to be any settlement of the German problem to which the Soviets don’t agree. I talked with [Andrei A.] Gromyko [Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs] many times about the German problem and tried to show him what vast changes in the situation could take place if we got the German problem behind us. And the only thing that the Soviets had to do was to allow the East Germans a chance to choose for themselves whether they wanted to be independent as a separate East German state, or become a part of the united Germany; and that if that question was settled by plebiscite, that then there would be far-reaching opportunities for a disarmament as between the two sides, and for intimate trade relations between the two sides, and a new era of peace in Central Europe.

You see, the German question is probably the only question on which the Soviet Union and the United States might be drawn into a nuclear war….President Johnson did such things as bring the Consular Treaty negotiations to a conclusion, the Civil Air Agreement to a conclusion, the Nonproliferation Treaty, the space treaties; he did his best to get the SALT [Strategic Arms Limitation Talks] talks started before he left office….[This] was to reduce tensions by trying to find points on which agreement could be reached, whether they were small points or large points, simply because President Johnson wanted to reduce the dangers in the world.

Q: You mentioned the SALT talks that got interrupted by Czechoslovakia. How far had the agreement gone prior to the August invasion of Czechoslovakia?

RUSK:  The Soviets moved into Czechoslovakia on a Tuesday night. It had been agreed between us and the Soviet Union that on the Wednesday morning–the next day–we were both going to announce in our respective capitals a summit meeting to launch the SALT talks. And one of the first things that we had to do when they moved into Czechoslovakia was to cancel that announcement. So we were just on the point of announcing a summit meeting to start the talks on offensive and defensive missiles. So we had gone a long way down that trail. Now one wonders why the Soviets felt that they could go ahead with the SALT talks and at the same time move into Czechoslovakia.

[Of course] we had no commitments to Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was a Communist country that was very active in pursuing the world revolution in terms of interfering in the affairs of other countries and doing things to stimulate dissident groups here and there. Czechoslovakia had been almost as active as Red China and the Soviet Union itself. So we did not feel that we owed any obligation to Czechoslovakia.

Anyhow it was covered by the Warsaw Pact, and any overt move by us to support Czechoslovakia would have meant war, and we were not prepared to go to war over the issue of the internal arrangements in Czechoslovakia….But a move by the Soviets into Yugoslavia would have created a crisis of first-class proportions because the threat of the movement of Soviet armies to the Adriatic would have been of great concern to all of NATO as well as to the United States. So President Johnson tried to warn the Soviet Union against any further Czechoslovakias.

The Famine in Biafra

Q: What about a much more long-lasting and serious, in terms of human costs, problem: the Nigerian difficulties?

RUSK:  We thought this was an African problem that ought to be handled by the Africans in an African way. In general we felt that it would be a great misfortune if Nigeria were to split on tribal grounds. We felt that the repercussions of that throughout Africa would be very severe. If you reorganized Africa politically on the basis of tribes, you might have four or five hundred petty principalities that could not sustain themselves; and you’d have political confusion in Africa that would make it very difficult indeed to sort things out. And this was generally the view of the other African states.

By and large American policy toward Nigeria was the policy of the overwhelming majority of the Organization of African Unity; only four of the more than thirty-five African states recognized Biafra or showed sympathy toward Biafra. The rest of them were in favor of the unified Nigeria, partly because they all shuddered at the thought of breaking up over tribal grounds, you see. So we favored the Federal Republic; we favored the central government of Nigeria.

But in the interest of trying to get the two sides to settle the matter through palaver–through talk–we decided not to send arms in there, and not to involve ourselves in the fighting in any way, but to remain at some distance. I think in retrospect that was the correct policy, although now the federal government of Nigeria looks upon us as somewhat at arms-length because we did not give them the arms that the Russians did and that the British did while they were having their battle with Biafra.

Q: I guess the issue in Africa then that has excited the longest political interest here was the whole complex of issues involving Rhodesia and the U.N. policy.

RUSK:  We had some domestic reaction toward the Rhodesian situation. In general we felt this was a British problem–we tried to stay one or two steps behind Britain in it because we did not want to buy the Rhodesian problem as being one of our own. We have a commitment to human rights that generally makes us feel that the Rhodesians ought to give some sort of political representation to the blacks in Rhodesia; we felt that it would have been desirable for the problem of the blacks to be settled between Britain and Rhodesia before Rhodesia became fully independent. But in general we acted in support of the general attitude in the U.N. on Rhodesia, and our sanctions on Rhodesia were part of U.N. sanctions. But we didn’t crusade on the subject, and we didn’t–what we were trying to do was to keep ourselves from getting very much involved in it….

Peace in a nuclear world

Someone once asked me what I considered to be the most important achievement during my years as Secretary of State, and I answered that I helped to add eight years to the time since the nuclear weapon had been used in anger. Now I think that the historian will probably have other evidence at his disposal; but as it looked to us in the 1960’s and still looks to me in March 1970, the overriding issue for the human race is how to avoid a nuclear war.

We have thousands of megatons lying around in the hands of frail human beings, and if those megatons are fired–if they go off–then there’s a real question as to how much of the human race can survive. Certainly there will be nothing but rubble in most of the northern hemisphere. Everything that you do in foreign policy has to be measured therefore by whether it contributes to or detracts from the possibility of maintaining peace in a nuclear world.

Close behind it are other great problems like the population explosion. By the time this transcript is available to the reader, the impact of the population problem will be clear for everybody to see; but that is something that the human race has got to deal with, and it is not yet dealing with it in an effective way. The relations between the races is another great problem–the white race is a minority race in the world, and it has got to come to terms with the colored races of the world. We are making some progress on that, but we still have not gone far enough. And if we have a division in the world between the colored and the white races, then we’ll have the problems of an enormous impact upon our hands.

Then the gap between the developing countries and the developed countries is a matter of great concern. It has been estimated that the per capita gross national product favors the developed countries at a ratio of about twelve-to-one compared to the developing countries. That gap is widening instead of closing. By the end of the century it might be twenty-to-one, so you may have a great division in the world between the haves and the have-nots that will be a source of friction and maybe even violence before the end of the century….

Q: Did you ever try to answer the question, what was your greatest failure in eight years?

RUSK: I think the greatest mistake was the Bay of Pigs. I think the greatest failure we had was in failing to bring the Vietnam War to a conclusion while we were still in office. The greatest crisis we had was the Cuban missile crisis. But I think the greatest satisfaction comes out of the thousands of little things that were done every week that built toward peace in the world.

 

James A. Baker III — The Velvet Hammer

James A. Baker served as the Secretary of State during the Presidency of George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1992, a period that included such events as the collapse of the Soviet Union, the First Gulf War, and renewed Arab-Israeli peace talks. Remembered as a skilled diplomat and negotiator, Secretary Baker was given the Ralph Bunche Award for Diplomatic Excellence for his many contributions to foreign policy at ADST’s biennial gala dinner in May 2014 .

Ambassador Edmund James Hull served in the National Security Council and gives insight into Baker’s methods of diplomacy during the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations held in Madrid. Daniel Whitman was working as an assistant Information Officer in Madrid at the time of the Madrid Middle East Conference in 1991. They were both interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in October 2005 and November 2012 respectively. William E. Ryerson was the first United States Ambassador to Albania following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and gives a firsthand account of Secretary Baker’s enthusiastic reception during his historic visit to Tirana, recently democratic after nearly 50 years of communist rule.  He was interviewed by William Morgan beginning in  June 1992.

John A. Bushnell discusses how, as Chargé d’Affaires in Panama, he worked personally with Secretary Baker on the American intervention in Panama and the eventual ouster of Manuel Noriega from power. He was interviewed by John Harter beginning in December 1997. Joseph Lake, Ambassador to Mongolia, discusses Secretary Baker’s role in fostering ties between the United States and Mongolia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in September 1994. You can read Secretary “Baker’s Half Dozen,” his six precepts on foreign policy, given during remarks at the 2014 ADST gala dinner, and about his efforts to broker peace in the Western Sahara.

 

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“Baker was a brilliant negotiator”

Edmund Hull
NSC 

HULL:  Baker was a brilliant negotiator. He had clearly in mind what he wanted to accomplish, but he had a human touch and was appreciated by Arabs for his willingness to take the time and make the effort to establish personal relations.

I remember in particular on a visit to Cairo [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak would lay out a lavish spread and always insist that we eat with him, which of course was traditional Arab hospitality. Baker was very adventuresome in terms of culinary experiments, and he would try everything, and he would ask questions and Mubarak would delight in explaining what the various dishes amounted to. Little things like that helped Baker establish a comfortable relationship.

King Hussein of Jordan, of course, had been our long time friend, but Hussein had backed Saddam Hussein in the war and had really torn his relationships in Washington. It was more in sorrow than in anger that President Bush, Jim Baker and others had to deal with King Hussein as an adversary, at least initially. After the war, King Hussein obviously realized a mistake had been made and undertook a very long and ultimately successful effort to reestablish those close ties in Washington.  On the shuttles Baker was positively disposed to laying out for King Hussein a path of redemption and that path of redemption really was a positive role in the Arab-Israeli peace process which King Hussein did play with significant results.

In turn, Baker tried to be helpful to King Hussein. I remember one of our early shuttles in Amman we had an appeal from the King to help reopen relations with Saudi Arabia and trade with Saudi Arabia. Baker intervened with the Saudi royal family and ultimately got a relaxation on border controls vis-à-vis Amman. Baker was always quite keen on hearing what an interlocutor needed or wanted and then if it was reasonable, Baker would make a sustained effort to deliver something, knowing that effort would build a relationship and pave the way for his interlocutor to do something on his behalf later on. I was fortunate in the shuttle as the White House representative. I was almost always in the meetings with the heads of state or government. I think this willingness of Bush (41) and Baker not to hold grudges, to give people who had crossed them an opportunity to redeem themselves really was a hallmark of their diplomacy and in the end proved a very wise course of action.

“What a skillful, powerful personality he was”

Daniel Whitman
Madrid, 1991 

WHITMAN: I do remember quite vividly James Baker. My gosh, what a skillful, powerful personality he was. I remember him putting his hands on the table and leaning forward, looking very threatening, something like a threatening lizard. This was a scary man I think, in a benevolent way. He always knew what he wanted. Enormously skilled diplomat.

I remember when everybody was in the room at that first session, he leaned forward in an extremely threatening way and said, “The United States government has brought you together to a table. If you leave this conference without a result, it will be your responsibility. Not ours.” And I remember the sense of awe and frankly terror in the room because of the power of James Baker’s personality. I very much admire what he did that day.

 

“The crowd mobbed the motorcade, kissing the windshield of his car”

William Ryerson 
Tirana, Albania, 1991

RYERSON:  There’s a curious parallel with Berlin [and Albania]. And as far as I know, I’m the only person who would have seen both the visit of John F. Kennedy to Berlin and James Baker to Tirana. The reception was different, obviously. Berlin and Tirana are vastly different cities. And Albanians lived in isolation and self-isolation for half a century, basically. But an enormous outpouring of people, this huge emotional gushing forth that happened when Kennedy went to Berlin and happened again when Secretary Baker came to Tirana in June of ’91. They’re very similar kinds of experiences. They’re kind of like exclamation marks on both ends of my career, as it were….

Baker turned his three- and-a-half-hour visit into about a six-hour visit….I was in Tirana as sort of the door stop. They needed somebody in Tirana. I spoke a little Albanian, which I’d learned on my own in Belgrade. And I was there just holding a place until we could get an ambassador named. Got word, with six days notice, that the Secretary of State was coming. Honk! And please be at the airport tomorrow to pick up three, no make that five people from the advance team that are coming in.

Basically [we were] trying to see what was necessary to set up a new post. Well we knew what we were going to do to set it up. Because we owned property. We owned, it’s about five acres, and a house that was built for us…in the 1929-30’s. It was built by the American School of Tirana. Founded by the American Junior Red Cross. You want trivia about Albania? I can give you trivia about Albania….

We got mobbed. Have you ever been cheered at by a crowd of about 7,000 people?… And [you] had babies thrust at you to be kissed, actually people holding up children and pushing them toward us to be kissed!

Q: Rather than an autograph, they wanted you to kiss their child?

RYERSON: Kiss their child, and we got in touch with the Secretary’s party and said, you know, tighten your wigs, because when you get here there’s going to be quite a do. The Secretary heard about this, and decided that if that many people were coming out to greet him, he ought to say a few words to them. And that was the origin of him speaking to roughly ten percent of the population of Albania, which turned out in Tirana to meet him.

And the most sort of touching thing of it all, was one sign in the crowd, in English, “Mr. Baker, we’ve waited 50 years for your visit!”

Q: Wow! He had to be moved. Some of us look at Mr. Baker as semi-cold fish, but that must have been a very emotional…

RYERSON: I’ve had other people tell me that he’s not often stirred; he was stirred. Almost shaken. The crowd mobbed the motorcade, kissing the windshield of his car. They were kissing the windshield of the car I was riding in, and I was four cars back!…The wife of a senior official, a member of the communist party, said that when he was on the platform with Mr. Baker in the square, that that was the first time in his life he felt he could speak freely about what he thought.

Q: It was truly a captive nation, wasn’t it!

RYERSON: It was a captive nation, and that visit was a catharsis. It was just pouring out!

 

“I’m your desk officer”

John A. Bushnell
Chargé d’Affaires, Panama, 1989

Q: On Sunday about five-thirty in the afternoon you got a call from Jim Baker.

BUSHNELL: I spent the afternoon in the embassy working on my plan to deny Panama banks, which laundered drug money access to wire transfers. I needed something to keep my mind off the discussions I imagined were going on in Washington and the potential results any decision would have in Panama.

I got a call from Secretary Baker on the secure line. He said, “John, you seem to know more about all the military planning than anybody in the State Department does, than I do, but the President has agreed to launch something called Blue Spoon late Tuesday night. There are only two people in the entire State Department who are going to know about this, and we are on this phone. Operational secrecy is essential to success. Your job is to have a government stand up as  the troops land. Can you do that?” I said, “I think so. Those that were elected are brave individuals; they want to rule, but they don’t want to be killed. When they understand the concept of Blue Spoon, they will do their duty.”

He said, “There are going to be a lot of things you’re going to have to deal with, so I’m your desk officer. You can’t talk to anybody else about this. Anything you need, anything you want done, call me anytime….

I recall several conversations with the Secretary. On Tuesday morning just as the Panama Coordinating Committee meeting was breaking up – people were milling around my office because our most secure conference area was a part of the ambassador’s office which I used – my secretary came in and said, “Secretary Baker is on the secure line for you.” Of course, it is not often that the Secretary calls a chief of mission anywhere on the phone, although my secretary knew I had spoken with the Secretary on Monday. I had to shoo everybody out of my office before picking up for my desk officer….

The Secretary had given me his personal secure numbers on Sunday. Of course, we couldn’t communicate in writing as many additional people in the communications channels would have found out about the operation. As I recall, we had two discussions on Monday. I told him how I was handling the new leadership, that they would be sworn into office by midnight Tuesday, that a radio station would start broadcasting their messages to their people by 1:00PM.

I asked him how we were going to deal with the international legal aspects and the legal authority for the operation. He said, “Oh, dammit, I’ll have to get the legal precedents. I can’t get the lawyers involved yet. I’ll work on it.” Later he told me he found a way to get the lawyers involved without telling them what country. I didn’t have much that I needed him to do, although it was rather nice to have the Secretary of State as a desk officer, rather comforting. Fortunately, the cover hints that we were going to have important visitors explained and were reinforced by calls from the Secretary; word of which undoubtedly spread through the embassy and probably to Noriega’s intelligence people.

 

“Secretary Baker played such a key role”

Joseph Lake
Ambassador, Mongolia, 1991

LAKE:  Secretary Baker came to believe that we should support the Mongolian people in their efforts [to modernize]. I saw very quickly that this was going to blossom incredibly in terms of the U.S. efforts, as it did. In the course of FY ’91, we went from zero planned aid at the beginning of the year to over $30 million in assistance by the end of the year. Anyone who has worked in the bureaucracy, particularly with the AID [Agency for International Development] bureaucracy, knows what an incredible task this became.

The other thing was that just analyzing what was happening you could see that Mongolia as it existed in the summer of 1990 was going to cease to exist. This was a country sustained by an incredible volume of Soviet aid. Things were going to change and we had to be prepared for the worst. Remember, this is a country with a capital city where a temperature in January of forty below is considered normal. The average temperature in Ulaanbaatar is twenty-seven degrees Fahrenheit — the coldest capital in the world. From the point of view of sheer survival, not to mention all the other events that took place in the course of change we had to be prepared….

Secretary Baker had an interest in Mongolia and part of my problem was convincing people in the bureaucracy that this was a reason to be interested. You can only call the Secretary so many times. Baker made a second trip to Mongolia in the summer of 1991 and that finally began to get people’s attention. People really did begin to believe he was interested in Mongolia….

That’s where Secretary Baker played such a key role. Let’s face it, Mongolia is the end of the earth as far as they’re concerned. Here is a country which when I went there was the largest land-locked country in the world. In the United States, it would stretch from New York to Denver, from Minneapolis to Dallas, with a population of two and a half million people. It is the least densely populated country in the world. And between Russia and China. How much more forgotten and obscure can you be in terms of the rest of the world?…

We were able to launch a very successful coordination effort involving the international financial institutions, the World Bank,  IMF [International Monetary Fund], as well as the donor countries that were resident in Ulaanbaatar.

 

Oliver Platt — Actor and Foreign Service Brat

Oliver Platt is a talented character actor who has appeared in major blockbusters (X-Men: First Class), critically acclaimed TV series (West Wing, The Big C, starring Laura Linney), Broadway musical (Guys and Dolls), a movie with Charlie Sheen (1993’s The Three Musketeers) and a range of biopics (Casanova, Kinsey, Frost/Nixon).  Oliver grew up in the Foreign Service — he was born in Windsor, Ontario, where his father, Nicholas, was posted.  His father, who accompanied President Nixon on his famous 1972 trip to China, eventually served as ambassador to Pakistan, Zambia, and the Philippines. (His book, China Boys, is offered by ADST.) In addition to his accomplished father, through his great-great-grandparents he is second cousin once removed of Diana, Princess of Wales, though they never met.

After graduating high school, he attended Tufts University, where he became friends with Hank Azaria, voice actor from The Simpsons, and a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. He started his career doing Shakespeare in Massachusetts before moving to do theater in New York. His first big break came when he got a part in the 1988 Jonathan Demme movie Married to the Mob, starring Michelle Pfeiffer. (For those trivia buffs out there, he is one of at least four Foreign Service kids who became actors, the other three being Kathleen Turner, William Hurt, and Greg Kinnear.) Recently, he has done cameos on such shows as The Good Wife and Modern Family.

In this interview, Oliver discusses life in China and Japan, including “an interaction with a generator” that led to some loss of blood, going to boarding schools, and how he developed a love of acting when he was eight. He was interviewed in October 2013 by ADST’s David Reuther.

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Go to Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

 

PLATT: I started out in Windsor, Ontario. I think I was only there for a matter of months before my mom and dad moved back to Washington. I think we actually lived in Alexandria, Virginia. I cannot say I have any memory of it. And then when I was three we moved to Taiwan for a year of language training — Chinese language training….

Q: Because by then let’s see you have an older brother.

PLATT: Yes, an older brother and a younger brother….We went to a Chinese kindergarten and we were literally picked up in a huge tricycle that had a tin box on the back and we wore pinafores and we all got in the back of this massive tricycle bus. And you wouldn’t blame me for remembering that! And it wasn’t an unpleasant memory it was just sort of what it was.

And then I also remember Christmas morning, my dad, who was a trickster, taking us out and showing us reindeer tracks in the mud outside of our house. Even though if you really think about it, they should have been on the roof, so what’s up with that?

Q. And I think that’s probably the Foreign Service parents’ problem — how do you keep the kids connected to the U.S. and its ceremonies and that sort of thing.

PLATT: And you know that’s really the most — they were very good at that. We have a strong, close extended family. My parents’ particular brilliance was in making sure we also really explored the cultures that we were in. There were a lot of empty families. The kids would basically spend most of their time around the embassy swimming pool eating cheeseburgers and listening to Led Zeppelin — not that there is anything wrong with that but they were definitely trying to pretend that they were not where they were. My parents were very aggressive about getting added into the culture.

Q. After language training you moved to Hong Kong for your father’s assignment. 

PLATT: Hong Kong is where you can sort of imagine based on my age — where I became aware of the world. And the truth is that the mid sixties, Hong Kong was a beautiful island in the south China Sea with white sandy beaches. There were four years between when we left Hong Kong in 1968 to when we revisited. In those days, to get to the mainland you had to go to Hong Kong and go to Kowloon and then take a train to the border and spend the night in Canton and fly. We called it Canton back then now of course it’s Guangzhou.

We used to live in this beautiful apartment building that overlooked the botanical gardens and had a view of the bay and the harbor and literally just in the four years from 1968 to ‘72 when we went back and we went back to our old apartment, you could no longer see the harbor because of all the construction in those four years. I can’t remember the next time we went to Hong Kong but it was just astonishing, the development. But I have very pleasant memories of Hong Kong….

I think there was a big international community in Hong Kong. And more importantly, the international community was free to go where they wanted, as opposed to China back then — your movements were pretty proscribed.

Q:  I read about how you went to a performance at the Kennedy Center at the age of 8 and became quite focused on the idea of acting.

PLATT: That’s true. That was when I was a little bit older but the first experience that I had of acting — I was not a very skilled new kid and the transition from Hong Kong back to the States was not an easy one. For whatever reason I was the only new kid in my class and for all intents and purposes I was a little hybrid, a weird British kid who spoke funny and wore knee socks.

And I ended up in the Christmas pageant as the innkeeper. And I had one line, turning Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus away from the inn. And you know, I’m sure I massacred it. But there was this big response. And I knew what being laughed at was and this was not that. This was a dose of the positive.

It’s a disorienting thing being in a new culture — you’re trying to figure out the rules and not even knowing that there were going to be a new set of rules, you know? And what happened as a result of that — because I kept on of course being a new kid every three or four years — I figured out that if I went and auditioned for a play, then of course people tend to gravitate toward what they’re good at and you tend to like what you’re good at. I liked doing it but it was a survival mechanism. It was a way of instant camaraderie, instant sub-culture that I could plug into. And that’s a powerful thing when you’re a kid.

Q: Isn’t that what a lot of your contemporary Foreign Service friends probably said? ‘I come back to the States, I don’t know the music, I don’t know the dance steps and whatnot.’ 

PLATT: That’s right. That’s absolutely right. Because I sort of became conscious as a human being in Hong Kong, the first move back to DC was particularly startling.

Q. Once you were able to adjust to the States, then you’re off again and you have all this stuff about Nixon’s trip to China and your dad’s involved in all of that. How much did you understand at that time of what he was about and doing?

PLATT: Precisely because my parents always made sure that we celebrated and did as much as we could to involve ourselves and absorb as much of the culture of whatever environment we were in and also because we were a close family, I remember very, very clearly the excitement for him of all of those successive visits — [Secretary of State William] Rogers and [National Security Advisor Henry] Kissinger and then Nixon and then being actually assigned to go to work there — for him that was an extraordinarily exciting thing.

Q. And isn’t that the point? Sometimes the parents set the tone. “Oh boy, we’re going to a new post, you guys are going to really like this!,” instead of “Oh my god, we’ve been moved again.”

PLATT: That’s right and you make a very good point. For us it was always an exciting thing. And obviously it’s not to say that in retrospect there weren’t tradeoffs? But two things happen to families that move around a lot like that. They either disintegrate very quickly or they get very, very close and fortunately our family fell on the latter category. But as you can imagine as I’m sure you know, the divorce rate in the Foreign Service is high.

Q: As you’re back in the States from ‘69 to ‘73 what kinds of summer vacations did you guys take?

PLATT: We went to camp, we would visit family, and we had a certain amount of structured activities, a certain amount of messing around. We would always end the summer up in Maine….

We were all pretty good readers. I was a bit of an Agatha Christie guy. You could imagine in the early days we had Tintin backwards and forwards and then when I was older I actually got into Elmore Leonard. Loved me some Elmore Leonard, became an Elmore Leonard freak. I would say I was an eclectic reader. I would not call myself a voracious, high-minded reader — War and Peace probably wasn’t on my syllabus. A fair amount of Archie, Batman, that sort of thing.

Q: Now in the summer of 73, you leave the States and you go to Beijing and this in itself is quite an adventure. As you say, you got there via Hong Kong, plane from Guangzhou. Your dad in his book says he comes down from Beijing to meet you, meet the family.

PLATT: We’ll never, ever forget that. You had to spend the night in Canton at the hotel and we got there and we got in a car and my parents wanted to go out into the city. I think we were taken into maybe an antique store or something like that. I remember a big, wide empty street — not a lot of cars, you know — and we get out of the car and we go into the antique store. And I was 13 years old, I was not wildly interested in antiques, I don’t remember what I was looking at, maybe my shoes, but all of a sudden the room became perceptibly darker. It just got strangely dark and so I thought thunderstorm, eclipse?

And we looked out the window and the street was literally full of people and these people were pressed up against this window looking in at us because my younger brother had blonde hair and we were tall, we were weird looking and they just hadn’t seen a lot of foreigners.

Maybe it was this particular neighborhood. Chinese are very polite, gracious people but it was literally as if they were looking at Martians. And you can imagine as a teenager you’re self conscious. It was startling. We got used to it but I’ll never forget that.

PLATT: [In Beijing] we had an apartment but you know it was comfortable. We were pretty adaptable. I took it for granted that my parents were the way they were but I’m realizing talking to you how skillful they were, how good they were, at creating a sense of excitement about every new place. They were these brilliant spinmasters. But they did make it fun. They made it fun and that’s a gift.

Q: You’re arriving in July. It’s the American July 4th and obviously the embassy would have some sort of reception or shindig. Did you get involved in that right off the bat?

PLATT: Whatever happened I’m sure we were involved. You know it was not a big community. It wasn’t even an embassy when we were there. It was a Liaison Office because President Nixon had to let the Taiwanese down slowly and that had yet to happen so it couldn’t be an embassy yet formally because we still had an embassy in Taipei. That didn’t happen for a few years until after we left.

I remember my heroes  — the people that were the Marine Security Guards, who were just the coolest. And we did stuff together. The Marine Security Guards, if they were off duty they came to our parties. It was a small community….

We went everywhere on bicycles. We had a small, red Toyota but you know it was used sparingly because there was a proscribed — there literally was a diplomatic ghetto where we could sort of travel pretty freely but I think when we — and you know I’m sure I’m probably remembering this, what the actual regulations were, you would need to check — but I very much had this sense that there were certain places we could go without having to check in with the government. But again, that was a proscribed area. Forget about just having to check if you wanted to travel, you had to permission to literally go to the other side of the city.

His “Little Interaction with the Generator”

Q: At the end of July, the family begins to travel around China and this is where you’ve got to get the permission and that becomes quite the difficult thing to do. Unfortunately, your participation in this trip is interrupted.

PLATT: Yes, by my little interaction with the generator. We were at Wuhan University, which is the geographical and industrial equivalent of Pittsburgh in the sense that two rivers, the Yangtze River and the Yellow River, met and formed. It was a huge steel production. Steel was the industry of the region. It was the steel capital, certainly one of the steel capitals of China.

There was a famous technical university there. We were having a tour of this technical university and we were up on this tower. It had a view of the river at this university and it had a little balcony on it and there was a manual generator for the lights in case anybody important ever got up there and it was dark.

Like a lot of the technology at that time it was very dated. We all thought it was beautiful. It was very Buck Rogers, you know? It looked very different than anything from a refrigerator to a car.  Their concept of “modern” was relative. This thing — there was a very heavy fixed wheel. I don’t know how to describe how a generator works but there was a fixed wheel and there was a moving wheel. And you would move the wheel and it made a really cool noise.

And you could imagine, I was not terribly interested in whatever the wise guide was droning on about  and just as I was telling my brother to be careful not to get his finger caught in it, it stopped and I pulled out this bloody nub and I looked at it for about a second and I literally could see the bone sticking out and then I howled like a banshee.

I think we still have this souvenir. I was reading “Ten Little Indians,” the Agatha Christie novel and it got slimed. The other interesting thing was that you have your guide who is taking you around and explaining things to you and then you have your minder, somebody who is usually following at a distance just wanting you to know that you were being watched.

But when this happened and I made this blood curdling yell of probably much more terror than pain at that point, it was amazing how many people seemed to literally pop out of closets, or rather, cars. All of a  sudden, I mean in an instant, much fast than if somebody could have called them than if one of us had called them. There were two or three cars there. In retrospect, it spoke to the fact that, yeah, there was one person following us and keeping an eye on us that we knew about but many, many more that we didn’t.

Q: Now this was actually summer vacation for you because even though the folks were going to be stationed in Beijing, you and your brother were to go to boarding school.

PLATT: I went to boarding school for a year. That was Eaglebrook in Deerfield, Massachusetts….I did stay at Eaglebrooke for a year because they didn’t leave Beijing until the spring or the late winter.

Q: The accident was in November but it took some time for the consequences to emerge. [Nicholas Platt was involved in a car accident in 1973 in which a girl on a bicycle was killed, which caused a lot of difficulty with the Chinese government.]

PLATT: Yeah. My dad — his account is the one to go by, but it was a complicated affair. The way they dealt with situations like that was somewhat Orwellian….

I think it was a fine school. The important thing was, through no fault of Eaglebrook’s, I didn’t want to be there. Despite what an incredibly exciting thing it was for my dad, the fact was that there literally was no school there for my older brother and me. We could have correspondence courses, which is what my younger brother did. There were boarding schools for kids our age and the decision was made that we would go to them. For me and for our family, that was a low moment. That was when the double-edged sword was sharpest for me….

I was a little knocked off my act. I was pretty homesick. But in terms of being a school, it was a very good school. The subjects I’m sure were similar subjects to what everybody was studying in that sort of setup.

Q. After that year in Eaglebrook and your father’s career stabilizes, the family is sent out to the embassy in Tokyo and you and Adam joined them then?

PLATT: Yes.

Q: In ’74. Here you’ve gone to China which has basically just opened up and now you’re in Japan. You’ve gone from un-modern China to very modern Japan. How did that strike you at the time? 

PLATT: I remember Tokyo was incredibly exciting. You can imagine the contrast, right? All of a sudden we’re turning into teenagers and we have the freedom that comes with that. Also, Tokyo is not only a really exciting city but it’s also an extraordinarily safe city. We were turned loose a little bit. It was such a fascinating culture and it was a great place to be a teenager.

Once again, you know, my parents also were very, very aggressive about assimilation. My parents — the way we’d travel, we’d take a trip and then there would be side trips and then there would be side trips to the side trips. My parents were voracious travelers, which was a wonderful thing.

[I was] in Tokyo for a year, but it was still my home. So you know, back there for the summers. We lived in Japan until I was seventeen or so.

Q: After you graduated from the Rocky Mountain school in Colorado, you got into Tufts University. Why did you pick Tufts?

PLATT: I wanted to go to school in the Northeast, I wanted to go to school in Boston. I became fixated on going to school in the Boston area. Tufts had a really good drama department. I was looking for the best possible combination between liberal arts and drama and Tufts really checked that box. It had a really, really strong drama program. I was smart enough, I was wise enough to not want to go to a conservatory. I had wise people tell me that conservatory at that young an age was a bad idea, that you needed to go get an education. That was really a good idea for life but that’s a good idea for an actor too, to have the best broad-based education you could.

Q: In all this moving around as a Foreign Service kid, did things like the Boy Scouts get organized overseas or back in Washington?

PLATT: No and that was a casualty of the lifestyle. You’re never in one place long enough to get involved in that kind of thing in any sort of consistent basis. And who knows? Maybe my parents avoided that because they knew that you’d be interrupting it. So they probably were concentrating on that kind of thing that they knew were designed to be short-term programs.

Q: Now you’ve had a stellar career on stage, and in the movies, and on television, but let me ask you this: Were any of the characters drawn from your Foreign Service experience?

PLATT: No. Not in a specific sense at all. I’ve played a few sort of functionary, heavy-hitting, sort of government types, and the only thing that growing up in that environment did was that it made you realize how human all those people were. And everybody of course is a human being, but it de-mystified that culture for me.

Q. I see one of the most recent things you’ve done is something called “Chinese Zodiac” with Jackie Chan. Did that have Hong Kong aspects to it? 

PLATT: No, no. Of course I was always a huge Jackie Chan fan and Jackie asked me to go and do that. It was a movie that was always only going to be released in China. For me, it was a really fun opportunity to work in a kind of style in a movie that is literally a sort of Jackie Chan, Hong Kong-movie style.

But also my father was going to be in Beijing during those dates and so it was a bit of a junket. It was really fun to work with Jackie. What’s really fun for me as an actor is when you get to work in different movie cultures and different movie styles and that was something that was a really far afield for me and yet at the same time sort of home.

 

Constance Ray Harvey, Diplomat and World War II Heroine

The life of Constance Ray Harvey at times sounded like something from the movie Casablanca. During World War II, after tours in Milan and Bern, she was stationed in Lyon, where she worked with the Belgian and French Resistance,which included getting members of the Belgian government out of France. She smuggled documents to the U.S. Military Attaché in Switzerland, Barnwell R. Legge (at left in the photo), who helped arrange the escape of many interned U.S. fliers and was awarded the Legion of Merit for his work.

In November 1942, Harvey was interned along with other American diplomats when the Nazis took direct control of Vichy France (read more here about their experiences). After the war she received the Medal of Freedom for her courageous efforts; her medal is now with ADST. (See photo at bottom of page)

In these excerpts, she also talks about the friends and colleagues she knew and respected who were imprisoned in concentration camps.  She also discusses the remarkable General Henri Giraud, who was captured during both World Wars and managed to escape. After his second escape in 1942,when he climbed down the side of the mountain fortress where he had been kept for two years in prison, some of the Vichy ministers tried to send him back to Germany and probable execution.

But Eisenhower secretly asked him to take command of French troops in North Africa and direct them to join the Allies. Only after Admiral of the Fleet François Darlan’s assassination in 1942 was he able to attain this post, and he took part in the Casablanca Conference with de Gaulle, Churchill and Roosevelt in January 1943. He served as co-head with de Gaulle of the Free French Forces but was forced out after continual disagreements with de Gaulle.

Constance Ray Harvey was interviewed by Dr. Milton Colvin and Ann Miller Morin beginning in 1988. You can read more accounts from World War II and about Frances Willis, the first career female ambassador.

Return to Fascinating Figures

 

Getting Information Back to Washington

Colvin Interview

Q: Constance, now the war is on, France has been defeated and Great Britain driven from the continent. You have moved from Switzerland to Lyon, where the French Government of Marshal [Henri Philippe] Petain is in power.

HARVEY: I was vice consul in Lyon under the Vichy Government, of course. I went there on New Year’s Day of ’41. I still had an apartment in Bern, but I rented it to the British military attaché. I went back to Bern…rather frequently. I had a car and I sometimes drove back and forth…

I have something to tell you about the demarcation line…It was one of the cleverest things that they [the Germans] ever did…not to overrun the whole of the country. Because what happened was, of course, that the real resistance developed in occupied France, and the people in the south who hadn’t lost everything were doing everything they could not to lose the rest of the country. France, at that time, had a million and a half prisoners of war in Germany, and the threat of something happening to the prisoners or the south being overrun was a tremendous psychological grasp that Germany had over the rest of France.

After France was completely occupied, then the resistance of the French picked up….

Q:…[T]he military attaché in Switzerland, Barnwell R. Legge, did he stay in Switzerland or did he then come to France?

HARVEY: No, he was in Switzerland all during the war. Years later, when I was back in Washington after the war was over, I learned, not from him, but from somebody quite different, that he sent the best information our government got during the whole of the war about what was going on on the eastern front. Legge had people all over Europe, a network of people, and I became one of his people. Early on…[the British] attaché for air, a very brilliant Englishman, asked me if I would work for him. I said, “Oh, Freddy, no. I love you, Freddy, but I couldn’t do that. I have to be with my own people. I couldn’t work for you, Freddy.”

But when Legge asked me, I said, “Oh, sure. What do you want to know, brother?” (Laughter)

What I did, we had a very good arrangement. The pouch went through Geneva and Vichy and then back through Lyon to Bern and then on the way across Spain to Portugal and on to Washington. When the pouch came back from Vichy to Switzerland, I was the last person in Lyon to buckle up this big bag. I put into it whatever I thought was suitable. Not even my chief knew all that went into that bag. But I knew it went straight to Legge and that that was one of the best possible, quickest, and surest ways of communicating with our government in Washington. There wasn’t any doubt about it, because Switzerland had other means also.

Moreover, I had a lot of people who came to me on various errands. [A Swiss man who had] been in the business of industrial diamonds for years and he just kept on buying industrial diamonds, even in German-occupied territories…Instead of taking them to Switzerland, he brought them to me, and I would supply them to our government in this underhanded fashion. (Laughter) That was one of the jobs I had for Legge.

There were all kinds of information which could be brought to our office. One of my chief tasks was taking charge of Belgian interests….Our office was also in charge of all of British Commonwealth interests, but the other vice consul, George Whittinghill, handled that and had a vacated British office across the Rhone River. I was doing the Belgians in our office in the Place Beauvau, which was on the right bank of the river.

Smuggling People Out of France

George was very active and probably knew more about the real French Resistance than I did. [When he was transferred in ‘42]…I took over British interests also and went over to that office for a certain number of hours a day.

I knew a lot about the Belgian situation. One of my clerks had been for many years the economic advisor to the American embassy in Brussels, and when Belgium was occupied, he was transferred to Lyon….

We had a lovely time getting out…prominent people, practically all of the Belgian Government in exile…When we got out the man who was the former Belgian military attaché in Vichy, with a nice passport under a false name to go across Spain, we thought we’d done quite a good job. These were all, of course, Belgian passports which had been fixed up, usually arranged by Jacques Lagrange and his wife. Jacques was the Belgian clerk who usually created these works of art at home with the proper photographs and descriptions, which were quite imaginative. It looked right and official. And all of these people went out with nice Belgian passports issued by the kindly protecting power, and signed by C.R. Harvey.

After the war, one of these people came into our embassy in Brussels and said, “Here’s the passport that was given to me by Miss Harvey. I’ve always remembered her.” (Laughter)… 

The Belgians had a very good underground network. As a matter of fact, our office sometimes looked like a recruiting office, because when the Belgian radio, which broadcasted from London to Belgium, began to urge young people who wanted to go out to join either the Belgian Army in the Congo or to come to London, they’d say, “Make for the American consulate in Lyon.” They would come in. Sometimes these people certainly looked rather “suspicious,” and were the ones that we could not get out with passports. They had to be taken out “black”, i.e., by special guides….

Q: Did you not have to worry that your link would be broken through an informer? Were you not constantly on guard?

HARVEY: …Nobody knew of my connection with Legge …except George Whittinghill [who was also working for him]. Nobody else…

Except that…my final consul general, Marshall Vance, came out from the States just before it became impossible to get into France, he sort of closed his eyes to what was going on. The day after Pearl Harbor, he called George and me into his office and he said, “I know, kids, what you’ve been up to. I was told before I left home.” (Laughter) “Now that we’re in the war, you can tell me what you’re doing…”

French Attitudes to Petain, the Brits, the Americans and the War

Q: [What were] your impressions of that time, particularly of your impressions of the attitude of the French toward Marshal Petain?

HARVEY: Of course, the French were very divided, right in families. You had to know intimately the person you were speaking to, because it was really a civil war in France. There were the people who were very anti-Petain, others who felt they couldn’t do anything but put up with him, and others who clung to him emotionally. That was what surprised me, because I knew my Italians and how emotional they were, how they decided things according to their feelings. They became great admirers of their dictator. But I could never imagine the critical, rational French falling for this situation, but they certainly did.

I think that one story which I may have told you off the cuff explains it pretty well. I was very pro-English, pro-British, although I personally never lived or was stationed in England, and I remember saying to one of my close French friends one day, who had been in the Army himself, had been captured and escaped in the very first days of the war, “Why doesn’t France pull itself together and continue to join up with England, to help save England? Why doesn’t France get back into the war?”

And he looked at me and said, “Oh, you don’t know what it was to see men running.” And I felt deeply, deeply ashamed of myself when I realized what the defeat and humiliation had meant to that country. Of course, in a sense, that also explains the power of de Gaulle later.

Q: It just was a wrenching experience for the nation, with this great military history, to essentially be defeated and be humiliated in the process.

HARVEY: Yes, and so rapidly. In World War I, it was a terrible, murderous war, but in a sense, at that time, the country wasn’t overrun. You see, practically overnight, in 1940, in such a short time, a complete collapse. This was really very, very shocking to the French. They weren’t really prepared for that sort of thing at all psychologically. I think a great many of them just had to have a “father figure” to hang onto psychologically, and the general was there.

Q: Was there to some degree an anti-British feeling because Britain had not been defeated? 

HARVEY: I think, above all, latently there’s a great deal of anti-British feeling still in France, probably even today. This is something that goes way, way back, and you can find it in England, too, definitely, even before Napoleon. That was reactivated by various things, as you say. The British bombing at Mers el Kébir [off the coast of French Algeria in July 1940], of course, had been a shock to them, especially to the French Navy. Of course, of all people, it was the French Navy who hated the British more than anybody else….

We Americans were not frequented by the people who were anti-Anglo-Saxon… I mean, we knew that they existed and we knew we had to be careful…I happened to have some very good friends in Lyon, because I went with one letter of introduction to a prominent family when I arrived there, which was very helpful. They were very pro-British. But you had to know who in a family was pro-Vichy, and who was against it. You couldn’t trust anyone just because he was related to or had a certain position…You had to know each individual well, and you had to be very careful what you said….

The people I knew kept up their hope that the British were going to hang in there, and they did admire them, even some people that didn’t like them that much. That doesn’t mean that they necessarily liked de Gaulle. That was quite a different story. Of course, anyone who had anything to do with the Navy was not likely to like the British in any case, but I don’t think I ran across many naval people there in the middle of the country.

I had one French friend, this family I knew well, very well indeed. He did business with the Germans right up to the last moment. All the time I was there, he was going up to Paris and further north on business with the Germans. I knew perfectly well he was betting on the British winning the war, but he wasn’t giving up his business because of that. They, of course, wanted very much for the Americans to come…

I had a house in the country because I couldn’t have an apartment or anything in the city; I just had a room in a hotel. But I had a house in the country in the department of the Ain, and there I had people down for weekends to this country house. To get food, you had to go scrounging. I would go around to one place where they sold butter right from where they made it black market. The man who ran this, the fruitier, as they called the man who does butter and cheese in the country, he would call me aside. He’d say, “Mademoiselle, come, come. Let’s have a little drink in the room above the shop. I want to talk to you.”

So I would go up with him to this little room above the shop, and he’d put his great hands and arms on the table, lean forward earnestly, and say, “When? When? What should we do in the meantime? When are the Americans coming? Are we supposed to work now?” This was just one of the common people. But there were lots of people who were looking for their real savior…the Americans… 

There was always a feeling of friendliness, in general, for the Americans…You see, the Americans were not just Anglo-Saxons to them; they were the people with whom they’d been involved in our Revolution and then we’d taken on theirs and so forth. They remembered that, and they remembered us as friends.

People were divided about the Vichy Government. We couldn’t help but see both kinds in a way, but people made little waves. They didn’t dare talk too openly, you see, because they never knew when the Gestapo would arrive and scoop you up. We had Gestapo coming into the office constantly. We were very careful not to find out too closely who came into that office. We didn’t ask too many questions. We found it better not to know always. Some of them, we knew pretty well were members of the Gestapo, which was quartered right across the street from my hotel, in the hotel where my consul general was lodged.

People got around things in funny ways. There was nothing to be bought in the shops….I had a maid whom I would send to buy anything she could find, and one day she came back with a teapot. She said, “It was the only thing I could buy anywhere.” I said, “That’s great.” I’m still using it….

In a picture shop where they did beautiful picture framing and sold pictures, they had nothing left to offer because no merchandise was created during all this period. But in one window they had a great big picture of Petain, and in another was a great big picture of Laval. Under the picture of Petain was “Epuisé. [Exhausted]” And under the picture of Laval was a sign “Vendu. [Sellout]…” 

One day, a horse came down the main street of Lyon…where our office was, and everybody stopped and clapped. (Laughter) Nobody had seen a horse in they didn’t know how long!

One had to be very careful with whom one spoke, because they might be on one side or the other and go and tell what you said. So before you got into politics of any kind, you had to know the person really well with whom you were speaking. The French are apt to chatter a bit too much. I was traveling on a train from Vichy back to Lyon once, and happened to sit next to one of the rather famous French generals, General De La Laurencie, and he started to talk to me, you see, because he was very anti-Petain. I was terrified with what he was talking about…

General Giraud vs. General de Gaulle

Q: What you can tell us about your meeting with General Giraud?

HARVEY: Before I talk to you about Giraud, whom I got to know probably in late July of ’42, I want to back up a bit and tell you a little bit more about the work I’d been doing regularly for our attaché in Bern, General Legge. I told you about one or two things that I did for him, but I went personally to Switzerland every once in a while, carrying documents to him and reports which we had from the occupied zone and from other places and, of course, from Belgium and so forth.

Once, for instance, I arrived and we met in a field outside of Geneva. I presented him with some documents which I knew what they were, and which had been brought down to me by one of the agents that we had working in the north, who brought information to us. They were the maps of all the emplacements of the antiaircraft equipment of Germans all in and around Paris. He turned sort of white and said, “Oh, for goodness sake, you just brought this in by hand?”

I said, “Oh, yes, no problem…”I had a Ford car, and when you crossed the frontier, there was always a member of the Gestapo right at the frontier with a French officer, watching as you went back and forth…That Ford car had a glove compartment for which there was a separate key, not the key to the rest of the car, the ignition…

So when I went in, I…just locked up papers inside the glove compartment and turned the key down inside my bosom. When I went into the place to check out with the French officer and the Gestapo to go into Switzerland, I left my car open, with the keys just hanging from the ignition. … Sometimes people had hidden things in the machinery under the hood, and they sometimes looked under the hood. I thought that was something to avoid…

I remember the general said, “I shall remember that, Constance.” So later, when he gave me the Medal of Freedom, I guess he remembered…

Toward the end of the summer of 1942, Giraud had arrived in France and having escaped from a German prison east of Dresden. We didn’t know much more than that, I had a good friend, Leon de Rosen, a Frenchman working with the American Red Cross, helping distribute milk and other supplies….He got Red Cross parcels and other things to people in the occupied zone. He moved around a good deal, and he was a very patriotic Frenchman.

One day he said to me, “Constance, you know Giraud is here in this area, and I’ve told him about you and he wants to meet you. He’s very anxious to have a way of communicating safely with the Americans, and he doesn’t see any way in which he can do that…” He was at Vichy, but he left …in May… “He is here and staying at the Chateau de Fromente outside of town, and I could take you up there if you would like to meet him.”

I said, “Oh, yes, sure, I’d love to. That would be very interesting…” I didn’t say anything to anybody…

He said, “I will stay outside in the car. You are to go in. Just go in, open the door, go in. Don’t stop to ring the bell. Just walk in.”

I went in. It was, to me, a memory I shan’t forget. It was a beautiful entryway, black and white marble floor, a staircase, and there was no one there but this very tall,… elegant-looking gentleman. Apparently there was no one else in the whole building. I think the servants had all been sent away. Then we met and talked, and he said that he was very anxious to try to get in touch with Americans, but didn’t see how he could. He couldn’t go back to Vichy… There had been attempts to assassinate him….

He said, “My young friend thought maybe you might be able to help me.”

I said, “Yes. A good friend of mine is the military attaché in Bern, and I see him, and I could easily take a message if you want to send one…”

So we talked for a little while, and I told him I had gone to school in France, and then he said, “Let’s get De Rosen in, and we’ll talk together.” So De Rosen came in, we strolled in the garden, and had a nice chat about things, and I departed.

I went back once more some weeks later. I guess I got another request to go. I went alone that time, and I didn’t take my American car. I had, by that time, also acquired a little old dirty Peugeot for such occasions and thought that was better. So I drove up the hill outside of town to the Château, and went in and saw him once more there.

Then I saw him a third time, a few weeks later, by appointment. He sent word that he wanted to see me. I was to go to a very humble part of Lyon, the working-class quarter, and just go in the door and up to the apartment on the second floor….

When I arrived, I found a room with nothing in it but a couple of chairs and a table and an enormous bouquet of carnations on the table. Carnations from a French gentleman for a lady visitor, you see, just to make it look attractive. So we talked again, and both times he gave me papers to take to Legge. One of the times, I don’t remember which time, but probably during that third visit, he gave me the papers which were his proposals for the landing in the south of France. He had mapped out exactly how he wanted to have it done and how he would personally take command. I took those papers to Legge. That was the last time I saw Giraud.

One of Giraud’s adjutants was Colonel de Linarès. I went to see de Linarès a couple of times, and he always gave me documents to take to Legge. Sometimes I think I had messages from Legge to hand in the other direction.

Then toward the end of October 1942, Giraud left the area and went to join his family near Aix-en-Provence, and I didn’t see him again until after the war, when he came to see me in Zurich.

Q: How was that meeting after the war, when he came to see you in Switzerland?

HARVEY: Oh, that was fascinating. When he came back to Switzerland, I think it was in ’48, my last year at Zurich. Here he is back, seeing friends in Zurich. [Looking at photographs] These are some of them, the people he saw when he was brought through Switzerland, when he escaped from Königstein fortress on the Elbe… He spoke German very well, and he got himself across the border out of Germany and first into a part of Switzerland.

Q: He climbed out on a rope or something, didn’t he? And here he is, this extremely tall man.

HARVEY: Yes, very tall for a Frenchman. He shaved his moustache off when he escaped. Here he is with his moustache, but this is when he came to see me. He came to my office to see me.

Q: Tell us a little bit about that meeting, when he came to see you. Was it to thank you?

HARVEY: Yes, yes, and to talk to me about lots of things. In any case, that was the last time. He said, “Do come and see me in Paris sometime,” but I never did get to that. I was very shortly afterwards transferred to Athens.

I had a letter from him not very long before he died. He died thinking he’d been poisoned. I heard this afterward. But he didn’t; he died of internal cancer.

When in 1942 he joined the troops in North Africa, he took one son with him, leaving his wife, a daughter, and another son, I guess, behind. They were taken to Germany. His daughter died in Germany in a concentration camp… 

After the assassination of Darlan, he sort of took charge, in a sense, in Africa. He claimed, I think, to me, and he certainly claimed in his second book, of which I do not have a copy, that he had sent a message to President Roosevelt, and something had come back… “Okay. Roosevelt.” I think he certainly wanted, before he actually got to Africa, and expected that he would be…in command of any force landing on French soil, because he was the ranking French general….But whether he ever got any real acceptance of that, I very much doubt. I knew what Eisenhower did. ..but I didn’t go over this with him…

Q: He may very well have gotten a letter from Roosevelt which could be read in several different ways, Roosevelt keeping his hands open to de Gaulle or Giraud.

HARVEY: Yes. I don’t think he thought so much about de Gaulle, but the command was to be Eisenhower’s, obviously. I think that knowing, at least at a distance, a little about Roosevelt, I think his being equivocal was quite possible. And knowing Giraud, I think Giraud interpreted it the way he ardently desired it to be. But that is only, of course, what I deduce….

I don’t remember any kind of comment about de Gaulle…He said to me often an idea which was virtually the title of his second book, Un Seul But: La Victoire. Translated, “My Only Objective: Victory.” I think it expresses him and his attitude very strongly. He was a soldier, and he wasn’t interested in, nor had a real concept of, the political future of France. Of course, that is the difference between him and de Gaulle, the real difference….

I don’t think he had any real political ambition in that sense whatsoever. I don’t think it occurred to him. I think he thought that he had the right and station to be the general, you see. When I saw him after the war, I don’t think that he ever mentioned de Gaulle to me. I don’t remember that. Nothing striking….

Q: There was no unity in terms of the French Army, in terms of supporting de Gaulle, until after the North African landing.

HARVEY: He wasn’t that popular, as I gathered it, when I was there, with the leading officers in the French Army. This is something that I was interested in myself. I think our government understood this, and that’s one reason they were perhaps interested [in Giraud]… I think that they felt that many French officers…would follow Giraud rather than de Gaulle, and I think that that was possible.

The ones who wanted to follow de Gaulle had already gone to London…and also there was a certain jealousy among the people who hadn’t gone, I think. It wasn’t quite the same thing. Masses of people and the younger people were perhaps attracted to de Gaulle. Of course, there were people who were de Gaullists. One of them was the young daughter of the subsequent ambassador to Washington…

I think the trouble…with Petain was that he was…too old….It was generally known while I was Lyon that one of the tricks was to get him to sign papers late in the afternoon when he was vague, that they didn’t give him important documents in the morning when he was more alert. This became a sort of practice. He was surrounded by [many] people who… were really playing the German game….After all, the country was divided. One forgets this, that there were people who were afraid of Communism, and there were the extreme right who existed in France, and a good many of them were really virtually pro-German and thought that, after all, they could work things out with Germany…

There was always the group which was the far right. They were, as always, interested in their positions. They were sure the Germans were going to win, and they didn’t want to be on the losing side…

Then there were these other people, like my industrial friend, who would talk with and do business with the Germans, who told me once, while I was still there, that he had been in a conference in Alsace. This was sometime in ’42, before I was interned. He said, “One of those Germans said, ‘We know what’s going on with the Jews. Even if we lose the war, we should have gained the annihilation of the Jews….’

In… August of ’42, a woman from the Swiss Red Cross came to my office and said that their group…sometimes got permission to go in to see the really sick people in some of the German concentration [and] prisoner of war camps. She said, “We have learned that they’re actually taking their victims and making soap of Jews…” Actually, the Swiss Red Cross got out quite a number of elderly people into Switzerland…toward the end of the war. One of them had been my dressmaker… She was almost 60…They brought her out, dying of tuberculosis. She finally recovered, and I saw her before she went to the hospital…[She] told me about some other people, what had gone on in the camps….I had eight people I knew who went to concentration camps. Two of them that went were clerks at the consulate in Lyon….

A Friend Hanged as a Spy

Also, I must say just a few words about one of our Canadian friends, a young man, Frank Pickersgill. He stayed in my house out in the country for a number of weeks, quite a while in 1942. He had been studying for the Canadian Diplomatic in Paris…and been picked up by the invaders and taken to the prison at St. Denis. There’s a big prison there just north of Paris. He and another Canadian boy were there for a year and a half, and they escaped.

You couldn’t have told he wasn’t a Frenchman; he spoke absolutely flawless French. My French friends couldn’t believe he wasn’t French. He didn’t have a drop of French blood. He’d been brought up, I think, in Manitoba, and he had learned French from a French governess. He didn’t have French blood, but he sure knew how to talk French, and he knew Frenchmen all over the country, all over France.

He stayed at my place quite a while because he had escaped, and we picked him up and said he was not to try to go out on one of those “lines” that people had rigged up for people to go out, that we’d get him out with a passport. We were pretty sure we could, with a proper passport and a permit, because he was deaf in one ear and therefore a non-combatant. Very unfortunately, he’d had a gun go off near his ear….

We did get him off to go through Spain to Portugal, and on to England….After intelligence and communications training, he was parachuted back into France by the English, with a number of other people. I’ve heard that about 20 were parachuted at the same time….They were all picked up almost immediately, and put in prison again in Paris. He almost liberated the whole bunch of them, but he fell and broke his leg… so they got him again.

They finally took him to Buchenwald, the concentration camp, where he was hanged as a spy. The man who was our consular clerk, and who also had been in that camp, told me later, “When he walked in, he was just the same old chap we had known before in Lyon. He was just as cheerful as anything, and he acted in a perfectly normal way.” That was our last news of him. He was a brave guy.…

Working with the French and Belgian Resistance

From the Morin Interview:

HARVEY: We had all kinds of people coming. I had someone coming in from the Belgian secret service who was parachuted in all the time; and, I think, I knew him by his real name… name was Dewind. He used to come to my apartment and have a drink or a meal with me in the hotel, and tell me all about his wife and children.

The Belgians were running a very good shop; they did several things I learned more about after the war. They had several lines to different parts.

Q: How did they get them out…?

HARVEY: Well, usually people had to walk, of course. But, there was something in a book called Le Passage de l’Iraty…which describes some kind of conveyance that went almost up to the Spanish border….It had something to do with logging…or something like that. The people would go and they…got mixed up with the logs…and got pushed up…I can’t quite remember what the story was… I didn’t know about that at the time. I just knew that it was working… 

I also had the privilege of [staying in the same hotel as Virginia Hall] who took the Foreign Service exams [with me], but [failed]. She was there, now with an artificial leg, because she had been in a shooting accident and shot off part of her foot and had to have it amputated. She was…officially working for some…newspaper — but she was really working for the British…She did a lot about getting people organized to blow up bridges…[and other things]. She had a whole squad of people working for her….She only had one artificial leg with her; unfortunately, when something went wrong with it, I had to put Ginny to bed and send for the tinsmith…. 

She was not allowed to join us when we were interned. I was told firmly that she could not join herself to our group. So in the end she had to walk over the Pyrenees…One of the bravest people I’ve ever known…. 

Later, when she was back in this country, she worked for the CIA for a number of years. And she married a Frenchman, whom I think she knew…during the war….

The French resistance was not very well organized. I can’t really say that I had any direct connections with it. The Belgian resistance was very well organized, and I knew a lot about that. Even some French people I knew worked for the Belgian resistance.

As a matter-of-fact, the daughter of the man who was later de Gaulle’s representative in Washington — his 17-year-old daughter, Violaine Hoppenot — we knew each other well, and she was working for the Belgian underground. My last night in Lyon I wasn’t in my hotel. I was asked by friends who thought it was safer to be at their house, and that’s where Violaine was too, the last night that we were there.

After we returned and got onto the train to go to be interned, she went back to Paris and worked in one of the undergrounds in northern France which were much better organized than the things in the south. She was arrested walking on the street with one of the members of her underground, but they weren’t speaking to each other. They were taken to the German police. First I think they were put into the same compartment, where they interrogated them. They said, “We didn’t know each other. After all, there we were, two people on the street; what can you do?”

But Violaine said to me, “I gave him his last cigarette. He was taken into the room next door, and I heard him die. Then they didn’t seem to have anything on me, so they let me go, probably because they thought I’d show them where there were others.” But she went underground for a number of months and dyed her hair and looked completely different, and disappeared from the scene. Then she surfaced and started working with another group, until Paris was taken. Then she got on a bomber and came to see her father, who was then de Gaulle’s representative in Washington, whom I’d gotten to know right well already….

Colleagues Taken to Concentration Camps

HARVEY: I want to remember, at this time, two of our clerks in our office in Lyon. People we have often referred to as “locals,” an epithet I dislike. Throughout the service we have been blessed by nationals of the host country who have done incredible services for the United States.

One of these was Henry Crooks; half Belgian, half British, with a British passport, who had been at the office in Lyon for a number of years, as had, also, Madame Marguerite Sandoz, who was French. After the three Americans were interned in November of 1942, they stayed on in the office, which was taken over by the Swiss government and which had our interests….

I don’t know what services actually they could have rendered at that time, because many Americans had already been taken away for various camps. But the office was kept open for American business right straight through as far as I am aware.

But sometime in the very early spring of 1944, both Crooks and Mrs. Sandoz were arrested by the Germans. Mrs. Sandoz was entering the consulate and the officer came up to her and said, “Are you Madame Sandoz?”

She said, “Bien sur.” And was taken away to prison. Mr. Crooks was too. They were interrogated separately, and together, and then again separately. And there is no doubt from what was reported to us later by Crooks that the Germans were very much interested to know what they had been doing for the Americans. Madame Sandoz was taken to Mauthausen, where she died a few months later of starvation and dysentery, leaving behind a husband and a young son.

Crooks was put in a [cattle] car with probably almost 100 other men, all stripped naked, and shipped off to Buchenwald….Some of them died in that car. He said if you raised your foot you couldn’t even find a place to put it down.

He was in Buchenwald until he was liberated by the American troops, and he finally got back to Lyon. I saw him afterward a number of times. He also came up to see me when I was in Zurich. He said, “You know when Pickersgill came into that camp, he was just the same old chap we’d always known. He was full of life and vigor and interested in everything.” But it didn’t last long for him.

Crooks lived about 14 years after he got back to Lyon, but his health was never very good. He worked almost till the end at the consulate.….

We could have done something for [Sandoz’s] son, but we never did….[She] should have liked very much to have his son go on a scholarship to the United States, but it was never possible to arrange it.

These were probably two of many people who had given their lives for the United States.