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Agent Orange and the Vietnam War

In 1961, United States forces in Vietnam began to use chemical herbicides and defoliants on South Vietnamese crops, bushes, and trees in order to deprive the Vietcong of both food and cover for ambushes. Code-named Operation Ranch Hand, the campaign used a variety of herbicides but the most commonly used, and most effective, was Agent Orange, named for the orange stripe painted on the 55-gallon drums in which the mixture was stored. It was one of several “Rainbow Herbicides” used, along with Agents White, Purple, Pink, Green and Blue.

Ultimately spraying more than 20 million gallons of herbicide on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the campaign destroyed five millions acres of forest and untold millions of acres of crops. Many of those exposed to Agent Orange, Vietnamese and Americans alike, suffered health complications as a result, and scores of children were born with severe birth defects which were believed to be linked to the herbicides. Read more

Bad Blood: The Sino-Soviet Split and the U.S. Normalization with China

In the 1960s, in the depths of the Cold War, the world was viewed in terms of a zero-sum game: wherever the USSR won, the U.S. by definition lost. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), despite its massive size, was considered to be the Soviets’ little brother and thus not a real player. The State Department and others were hesitant to improve relations with China as they believed it was more important to focus on the Soviet Union which, after all, was a nuclear superpower. Cracks in the USSR-China relationship then began appearing, which led President Richard Nixon to pursue improving ties with Beijing, a move which drastically altered the dynamics of the trilateral power game. Read more

Observing the Fiftieth Anniversary of VJ-Day in Japan

How to commemorate an important anniversary of the country in which you’re posted when it marks a low point in the bilateral relationship? World War II came to an end when Imperial Japan announced its surrender on August 15, 1945; officials from its government signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on September 2 aboard the USS Missouri. It was the end of a series of losses for Japan, including the detonation of an atomic bomb over Hiroshima on August 6, the declaration of war on Japan by the Soviet Union on August 8, and the launch of a second bomb on Nagasaki by the U.S. on August 9.

Fifty years later, American diplomats in Japan struggled with acknowledging the events of that fateful year in a way that would strengthen ties with an enemy-turned-ally yet not minimize the sacrifices of Americans who fought in the war. Read more

Thailand’s Bloodless Coups d’état

When a country undergoes internal conflict and something as dramatic as a coup d’etat, the results can often lead to a dizzying shift in policies as well as an abrupt change in those who are in charge. In Thailand, the situation is different. The country has gone through 12 coups since 1932 (not counting a number that had failed or were thwarted), the process – though far from democratic — is usually bloodless and the change in government is often minimal.

The first successful coup in the 20th century occurred in 1932. In the Siam Revolution of 1932, military leaders overthrew King Prajadhipok and established a constitutional monarchy. This resulted in the first drafting of the constitution. Read more

Jesse Helms: The Senator Who Just Said No

Jesse Alexander Helms, a five-term Republican Senator (1973- 2003) from North Carolina, was known not only for his conservative beliefs but for the lengths he would go in support of them. A proponent of the conservative resurgence movement in the 1970s, Helms cherished his nickname: “Senator No,” granted for his obstructionist tendencies. As a member and later chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms demanded a staunchly anti-communist, anti-leftist foreign policy. He took a special interest in Latin American affairs.

To that end, he obstructed the appointment of dozens of State Department appointments over his three decades in the Senate. Helms’ staff shared their boss’ conservatism and could be as tough to deal with as the Senator himself. Read more

The U.S. Returns Okinawa to Japan, 1971

In 1945, towards the end of World War II, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps invaded Okinawa with 185,000 troops; a third of the civilian population was killed. After the war, Okinawa became a de facto trustee of the U.S. government, which established several military bases there and on other Ryukyu islands. In addition, the U.S. Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands altered the currency and culture of the region, causing tensions between native Ryukyuans and U.S. officials.

In 1960 the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty was signed, which stipulated that the U.S. would come to Japan’s aid should it be attacked. In turn, the Japanese allowed more access to base and ports for the U.S., provided that the U.S. government confer with the Japanese regarding any significant military action. The treaty was up for renewal in 1970. However, in the years preceding renewal, Japanese officials began to pressure the United States to return the Ryukyu Islands to Japan. The possibility that the Japanese might not renew the Security Treaty if the reversion was not addressed gave Tokyo additional leverage and made the Ryukyu Islands a pressing issue for Washington. Read more

It’s Feng Shui or the Highway: Building the Chinese Embassy in Washington with I. M. Pei

Feng shui seeks to promote prosperity, good health, and general well-being by examining how energy, qi, (pronounced “chee”), flows through a particular room, house, building, or garden. Feng means “wind” and “shui” means water; in Chinese culture, wind and water are associated with good health so that good feng shui means good fortune, and bad feng shui means bad luck.

Micheal Boorstein served as the Director of the Beijing Program Office from 1999-2000 in the State Department’s Foreign Buildings Office and oversaw the construction of China’s embassy in Washington, DC. Boorstein describes his experience with bad feng shui and the renowned architect I.M. Pei in his interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy, which began in September 2005.

 

 

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Hong Kong Returns to China, Part II

As the formal handover of Hong Kong to China approached, many grew concerned about Beijing’s intentions. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens emigrated in the late 1980s and early 1990s for places like the UK and Vancouver while several came to the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong with claims of American citizenship. The event of the formal handover, which took place on June 30-July 1, 1997, was a glitzy affair. The Prince of Wales read a farewell speech on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II; newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, and the departing Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten also attended.

Richard Boucher served as Consul General in Hong Kong from 1996-1999. He describes the crush of Congressional delegations and the fear mongering in the American media, which he found especially frustrating when he learned that no one read his cables. Read more

Hong Kong Returns to China, Part I

In September 1982, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher went to Beijing to begin a dialogue on the issue of Hong Kong, a small nation that had been a colony of Great Britain for over a century. At issue was the 99-year lease which gave Britain authority over the islands was set to expire in 1997, raising a host of questions on what the future of the territory would look like. In 1984, after two years of negotiations, a Joint Declaration was released in which Britain agreed to cede Hong Kong at the expiration of the lease, while China guaranteed to allow the small nation to maintain an amount of political autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy. Read more

Getting on the Seoul Train — The 1988 Summer Olympic Games

The Olympic Games represent the height of sporting diplomacy, with thousands of athletes transcending politics for two weeks as they represent their countries on the world stage. While the athletic spectacles entrance and amaze on television, without the behind-the-scenes political efforts and negotiations, there would be no Olympic Games. For many countries, hosting the Olympics is an opportunity to show the world its culture, hospitality, and innovation. The 1988 Summer Games served as just such an opportunity for South Korea, as they gave the world a preview of South Korea’s impending economic boom, as the country moved alongside Japan to become a leader in technological development.

Moreover, the 1980 and 1984 summer Olympic Games, held in Moscow and Los Angeles respectively, were marred by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent boycotts.By 1988, there were no such issues and Seoul had one of the highest participation rates to date, with 159 countries and 8400 athletes attending. It also marked the swan song for Olympics powers the USSR and East Germany. as both ceased to exist before the next Olympic Games. Read more