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Edward Elson: Entrepreneurial Ambassador to Denmark

The fall of the Soviet Union upset long-established power dynamics, leaving East and Central Europe, in particular, in uncharted waters. The creation of the Nordic-Baltic Eight (NB8), a regional cooperation consisting of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden, helped the Baltics transition away from Cold War-style self-identification toward a more regionally-focused identity.

President Bill Clinton appointed Edward E. Elson U.S. Ambassador to Denmark. During his tenure from 1994-1998, Elson helped to strengthen the bonds of the Nordic-Baltic region and secure American alliances in the region. Elson came to the job with impressive credentials. An entrepreneur, Elson pioneered retail outlets in airports and hotels, creating a lucrative retail empire among other businesses. Elson’s many interests led him to become a Charter Trustee of Phillips Academy, director of Hampton Investments, Rector of the University of Virginia, First Chairman of National Public Radio and Chairman of the Jewish Publication Society.

Elson discussed his experiences in Denmark, including an attempted assassination, creating a Baltic-Nordic hub in Copenhagen and having a Russian son foist upon him, with Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2012 and with Mark Tauber in 2017. Read more

Unexploded Ordnance, Spam and Moonshine–Life as Ambassador to Micronesia

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), sometimes known simply as Micronesia, consists of four states — Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae – spread across the Western Pacific Ocean. They are north of Australia, south of Guam, west of the Marshall Islands and almost 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. Together, the states comprise 607 islands spread across a distance of almost 1,700 miles. The capital is Palikir, located on Pohnpei Island. The first Micronesians settled on the islands 4,000 years ago. 

The FSM was formerly a part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, (TTPI), a United Nations Trust Territory under U.S. administration, but it formed its own constitutional government on May 10, 1979.  FSM became a sovereign state after independence was attained on November 3, 1986 under a Compact of Free Association with the United States. Read more

Picturing the “War of Ideas”: Wartime Film-Making in Korea

Throughout the Cold War, democratic and communist nations waged a “war of ideas.” The United States, seeking to expose the disadvantages of communism and to encourage democracy, engaged in numerous media campaigns targeted at influencing peoples in zones of Cold War conflict. The U.S. State Department, along with branches of the American military and other government agencies, published leaflets, newsreels, films, articles, and cartoons in numerous languages around the world.

During the Korean War (1950-1953), this use of soft power was intended, in the words of Public Affairs Officer James L. Stewart, “to create democratic-minded people in Korea friendly to the United States.” For much of the war, the State Department’s domestic film-making campaign in Korea was headed by a single American, William G. Ridgeway, and staffed by dozens of South Koreans who had reinvented themselves as film industry workers.

Ridgeway played a key role in sharing American ideas and shifting South Korean sentiment against communists as the Motion Picture Officer in Korea from 1950-1958. It was far from an easy task; he contended with an evacuation from Seoul, a severe dearth of equipment, and local cultural norms. Read more

Getting the U.S. President to Write to the President of Guatemala About Human Rights (Hint – It’s Who You Know)

With the end of the Cold War, the U.S. began to put greater emphasis on enforcing its policy of protecting human rights worldwide, based on the core belief that people have a set of inviolable rights simply on grounds of being human. Some foreign counterparts were skeptical that the U.S. would give priority to human rights at the expense of other goals. Among them was President Vinicio Cerezo Anevalo of Guatemala, who refused to accept the word of Ambassador Thomas F. Stroock that the U.S. would no longer tolerate human rights abuses in his country. This led Ambassador Stroock to devise a plan to prove that his admonitions did in fact reflect the official stance of the U.S. Government. He decided a letter of support from President George H.W. Bush would persuade Guatemala’s president. The question now was how to get President Bush to sign it, and it had to be done in less than a week.

Getting a letter signed by the President requires the right connections and a lot of persistence. Stroock had made his fortune in the oil business and became heavily involved in Wyoming politics. As chairman of the Western States Republican Organization, Stroock fervently supported George H.W. Bush, who had been a classmate at Yale. After Bush was elected President in 1988, he named Stroock ambassador to Guatemala, a role in which he served from 1989 to 1992. Read more

Basketball: the Fifth Basket of the Helsinki Final Act

The Helsinki Final Act, an agreement signed by 35 nations at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) on August 1, 1975, addressed a spectrum of global problems and had a lasting impact on U.S.-Soviet relations. The Helsinki Final Act dealt with a variety of issues divided into four “baskets.” The first basket dealt with political and military issues, the second economic issues, trade and scientific cooperation. The third basket emphasized human rights, and the fourth formalized procedures for implementing the agreements.

The multilateral negotiations were stressful and demanding. In this case, one means of reaching decisions on the four baskets came in the form of basketball. But just as in the case of diplomacy, in basketball you can run across “ringers”  – people whose abilities may not be readily apparent. Not everyone knew that Soumi – Finland – had its share of athletic diplomats who could make a lay up. Jonathan Greenwald, who served as the Legal Advisor to the U.S. Mission in West Berlin from 1973-1977, highlighted the role that basketball played in bringing together different delegations during the negotiating process of the Helsinki Final Act, in an interview with Raymond Ewing in March 1998. Read more

The 2000 Presidential Election – The Florida Recount

The presidential election of November 7, 2000 was one of the most memorable – and controversial – in the history of the United States. It pitted Republican candidate George W. Bush, then governor of Texas and son of former president George H. W. Bush (1989–1993), and Democratic candidate Al Gore, then Bill Clinton’s Vice President. Around 2:15 a.m. numerous news sources and television networks called the State of Florida for Bush and declared him the winner. At 2:30 a.m., Gore called Bush and conceded the election.

However, Gore advisors continued to maintain that with a mere 600 vote margin, no clear winner had emerged. At 3:30 a.m., Gore called Bush back and retracted his concession. Ultimately the 2000 presidential election would hinge on the vote in Florida.  The outcome was one of the closest in U.S. presidential history. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

By November 10th election officials calculated that Bush led by around 400 votes out of almost 6 million cast. In such a close contest Florida law demands a full machine recount in all its 67 counties. But such laws and mechanisms were open to interpretation. Numerous lawsuits and hearings ensued. Voters became familiar with butterfly ballots and hanging chads. Read more

Cannabis and Cabbages: Serving at the Last Stop of the Hippie Trail

In the late sixties – early seventies, the “Hippie Trail” started in Europe, crossed over to Istanbul, ventured into Iran and Afghanistan and, for many adventurous souls, ended in Nepal. It was an era of experimentation, reflection and free love. Sandal-clad hippies with backpacks from throughout the world sought enlightenment amid the fumes of cannabis and charms of Kathmandu. Classic rocker Bob Seger had a 1975 hit song about escaping to kkkkkk-Kathmandu.

The hippies even developed their own vernacular for their newly-adopted city: the ancient Buddhist shrine Swayambhunath was called “The Monkey Temple” and Jhochhen lane, in the heart of the capital city, was known as “Freak Street.” Freak Street was considered hippie heaven, where marijuana and hashish were legal and sold openly in government-licensed shops.

But the higher you get, the harder you may crash, and those serving at the U.S. Embassy were often called on to help Americans who got into trouble in paradise. Read more

Regarding Henry, Protecting Nancy – On Security Detail with the Kissingers

Traditionally, Secretaries of State receive a personal protection detail from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). However, Henry Kissinger eschewed the DS detail in favor of the Secret Service protection he had as the National Security Advisor at the White House. His wife Nancy, a brilliant and glamorous New York aristocrat who spent years as a top aide to future Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, on the other hand, was very appreciative of the work and professionalism exhibited by her DSS agents and they were quite fond of her as well.

Bruce Tully, interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in July 2015, was one of the DSS agents assigned to Nancy Kissinger’s personal security detail. He offers a rare insider’s look into their lives, discusses his awkward first meeting with the regal Mrs. Kissinger, what it was like protecting her in the U.S. and abroad, as well as dealing with her sometimes cantankerous husband. (Photo: People Magazine) Read more

The Charismatic Dalai Lama

Born into a humble farming family on July 6, 1935, Lhamo Dhondup (Tenzin Gyatso), had subtle beginnings before he became the leader of an entire people. After the thirteenth Dalai Lama’s passing, the high lamas searched for his next reincarnation among the Tibetan people. Tibetan Buddhists monks journeyed to a small village and found a boy about the age of two who, after passing numerous trials, was determined to be the next Dalai Lama. He commenced his training in the study of Tibetan culture and philosophy soon after his trials.

The Dalai Lamas are considered to be the protectors of Tibet and the reincarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Living in a time of turmoil for the Tibetan people, Tenzin Gyatso assumed political power in 1950 as Chinese troops invaded Tibet and brought it under its control. In 1959, thousands of Tibetans revolted against Chinese rule, but were quickly suppressed. Some 15,000 were killed. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India with thousands of followers, creating a Tibetan diaspora near Dharamsala, where they have remained for the past half century. Read more

Give and you Shall Receive…a Signature from Henry Kissinger

When Henry Kissinger became Secretary of State in September 1973, he declined the usual Diplomatic Security (DS) protective detail, preferring the protection of the Secret Service as he was already under its protection as the head of the National Security Council (NSC) and had a good relationship with the detail leader, Walter Bothe. His wife, Nancy, on the other hand, was quite satisfied with the DS agents attached to her detail. Bruce Tully, who was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in July 2015, is a veteran of both the Secret Service and Diplomatic Security and was one of the agents on her detail.

One day, the Kissingers were having lunch at Vice President Nelson Rockefeller’s Washington estate. Nancy and Nelson’s families knew each other from New York, and Nancy was a long-time aide to Vice President Rockefeller. However, this lunch was a bit rockier than most. Read more