Moments Posted in A Moment in U.S. Diplomatic History

This is an archive of Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History posted in the A Moment in U.S. Diplomatic History category.

Development and Defoliation During the Vietnam War: A USAID Officer’s Tale

How do you reconcile the goals of the U.S. military, USAID development workers and State Department diplomats in the midst of an active conflict?  USAID Officer George Laudato faced that dilemma in a particularly challenging way when U.S. military officials shared plans to defoliate a village in Vietnam where USAID had been working for over […]



South Korea’s 1987 “Tear Gas Festival:” The Path to Democratic Elections

South Korea was in a haze in 1987—both literally and figuratively. After years of de facto military dictatorship, the populace was demanding greater political freedom.  The path to more democracy was marked by massive protests and the pervasive haze of tear gas. For weeks, police clashed each night with up to three million people crowding […]



Guatemala in the 1960s: Vigilantes or Government Operatives?

Young political officer William Newlin arrived in Guatemala in early 1966 amidst worsening political and social chaos.  As the civil war raged, thousands of people began disappearing from universities, churches, and media institutions. The Guatemalan government claimed that a right-wing insurgency group was orchestrating the disappearances—the Mano Blanca (White Hand).  An official, top-secret U.S. government […]



A Foe in Need: Famine in North Korea

A disastrous famine struck the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1997.  Dubbed “The March of Suffering” by the North Korean government, hundreds of thousands of people in the countryside starved. The famine arose after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pyongyang’s former patron, and was exacerbated by a series of floods.  It also came […]



A USAID Officer Recalls Vietnam’s Tet Offensive

It wasn’t just soldiers.  USAID officer George Laudato was at his home in Mỹ Tho in 1968 when mortars started landing.  The Tet Offensive had begun. Laudato’s vehicle was destroyed early in the fighting, and he had to make his way on foot to South Vietnam’s nearby 7th Division military headquarters.  He and other civilians […]



Building a USAID Program in a Country With No Roads: The Case of South Sudan

USAID Mission Director William Hammink’s troubles began shortly before his 2009 arrival in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital; President Omar al-Bashir had just expelled 13 international organizations providing humanitarian assistance in Darfur.  While negotiating to permit the return of these organizations, Hammink’s team also had to help a new, inexperienced government in southern Sudan build infrastructure, […]



Embassies: “An Artifact of an Earlier Age?”

Do embassies still matter?  Donna Oglesby, a senior official at the United States Information Agency (before it was incorporated into the State Department), argues that globalization and the communications revolution make embassies and field officers more important than ever.   Donna Oglesby served 26 years in the Foreign Service, with a focus on Latin America. […]



Hurricane Mitch Devastated Nicaragua, But Helped Improve Relations With the U.S.

Slow-moving, coast-hugging Hurricane Mitch devastated Nicaragua in October 1998. The United States organized a massive disaster response, and President Clinton and a host of other dignitaries visited to see the results. Our aid improved military-to-military ties and helped Ambassador Lino Gutierrez pursue better relations twenty years after Nicaragua’s bitter civil war. A Category 5 hurricane, […]



“A Sea of Golden Grain”: USAID’s Response to Russia’s Invasion of Georgia

In the aftermath of Russia’s five-day war with Georgia in 2008, the National Security Council (NSC) met to review U.S. policy toward both countries.  Some urged elimination of USAID’s program in Russia. But USAID’s Russia program promoted democracy and development in Chechnya–a program Russia’s leaders would be all too happy to eliminate.  Susumu Ken Yamashita, […]



Migrating with Iran’s Bakhtiari Tribe Before the Revolution: A Tale From the Foreign Service

Back when the United States had diplomatic missions in Iran, a young Foreign Service Officer  travelled with members of the nomadic Bakhtiari tribe to better understand their culture and politics.  Malcolm Butler recalls camping with the Bakhtiari at the time of the 1969 Apollo IX moon landing — and trying to convince his skeptical hosts […]