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.

Christ and Communism: How Rev. Billy Graham Helped Improve U.S.-North Korean Relations

Reverend Billy Graham visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 1992. The evangelist met with the Supreme Leader Kim Il-Sung and was permitted to preach the Christian Gospel in the officially atheist hermit kingdom.  The visit led to a brief opening, including charity work by Christian non-governmental organizations. Graham was accompanied by Dr. […]



Strobe Talbott: From Foreign Affairs Journalist to Number Two at the Department of State

What is it like to transition from the senior ranks of American journalism to a top job in an agency you once covered?  Strobe Talbott found out when his old Oxford roommate, newly-elected President Bill Clinton, asked him to join the State Department.  Talbott went on to serve for seven years as Deputy Secretary of […]



Lessons Learned: USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the 1985 Mexico City Earthquake

USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is perhaps the world’s premier international disaster assistance agency.  It was not always that way. OFDA administrator Oliver “Ollie” Davidson knows this better than most. OFDA’s response to the devastating 1985 Mexico City earthquake was ernest and energetic, but not always well-targeted.  In his oral history, Davidson recalls […]



Frank Carlucci: Helping Block the Communists in Portugal

After decades of right-wing dictatorship, Portugal faced a threat of a takeover by communists in the mid-1970s.  Ambassador Frank Carlucci, who went on to become Secretary of Defense, headed up efforts to prevent the first loss of a NATO member state to the alliance’s political and ideological foes.  That meant engaging with parties and politicians […]



Cooperating with the Taliban to Fight Opium Production in Afghanistan Before 9/11

Fighting opium production in Afghanistan before 9/11 meant working with the Taliban.  Veteran foreign service officer James P. Callahan found ways to do that. He recalls a time when U.S. interests in combating the heroin trade aligned with those of the Taliban, and when efforts to curb opium production had some success.   From 1999 […]



A Reluctant Welcome From Notorious Warlords in Afghanistan

A USAID officer secured a meeting with two senior and notorious Afghan warlords in the late 1980s when he appeared as an unexpected (and unwanted) guest in their homes. Adhering to the Pashtun code of conduct requiring hospitality be offered to every guest.  Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayaaf reluctantly — but courteously — welcomed […]



A Diplomat Recalls Escape From a Kidnapping in Uruguay

Kidnappings, particularly those of high-ranking political officials, were not uncommon in 1970s Uruguay given the prominence of an urban guerilla group called the Tupamaros. Mistaken as someone with great importance, junior diplomat Mark Gordon Jones was kidnapped by the group in 1970. In “one of the dumbest luck things that could ever happen,” Jones was […]



Sheila Platt: A Diplomatic Life Bridging Both Sides of China’s Divide

Few Americans have met personally with the leadership of both Mao Zedong’s China and Chiang Kai-shek’s Taiwan. Sheila Platt, and her husband Nicholas Platt, are among that select group.  Sheila Platt dropped out of Radcliffe in 1957 to join her Foreign Service husband in a storied diplomatic career that led him to ambassadorships in Zambia, […]



Whistle-Blowing on American Corruption in Russia

USAID unearthed a major corruption scandal in Russia in the late 1990s involving Harvard University’s Institute for International Development.  Dr. Janet Ballantyne, USAID’s mission director, blew the whistle. In her oral history, Ballantyne discusses the consternation this caused with U.S. Embassy leadership, and the repercussions of her reporting on relationships with key Russian officials. Throughout […]



Helping Rebuild Rwanda After the 1994 Genocide

Rebuilding Rwanda after the genocide was no easy task.  USAID tasked George Lewis to head up that agency’s efforts to help a nation heal after one of the most horrific episodes in recent history.  He faced extreme ethnic animosity, a destroyed country, and an “epic event in the history of human movement,” the return of […]