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Our web series of over 800 "Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History" captures key historical events -- and humorous aspects of diplomatic life, using our extensive collection of oral histories.

Note:  These oral histories contain the personal recollections and opinions of the individual interviewed.  The views expressed should not be considered official statements of the U.S. government or the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. To read the entire interview, go to our Oral History page.
 

The Passing of Charles Stuart “Stu” Kennedy

We are saddened to share the news that Charles Stuart “Stu” Kennedy died on Sunday, January 2. As Jim Dandridge notes, one is never prepared for the passing of a professional colleague and friend. Stu was and is a pillar of ADST’s excellence. We are grateful that we were able to celebrate Stu and his wonderful important legacy – ADST’s Foreign Affairs Oral History program and collection – on the occasion of ADST’s and Stu’s 35th anniversary at DACOR on December 7.

Stu Kennedy at the 35th Anniversary celebration of Stu and ADST
Stu Kennedy at the 35th Anniversary celebration of Stu and ADST

To read more about Stu and his life and legacy, see this tribute from his 2014 AFSA Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy award and the FSJ interview by Shawn Dorman.

AFSA Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award to Stu Kennedy

For thirty-five years Stu was an inspiration to several generations of those he interviewed, to ADST staff, and to hundreds of ADST interns. The way he lived his life makes it only natural for us to celebrate Stu, his spirit and his vision. His legacy will continue to inspire us for the next thirty-five years and beyond.

In lieu of flowers the family ask that you donate to support the work of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training that he cared so much about, using this link: https://adst.org/donation-page/

Captivating Times in India—What it Means to Travel Across the World as a Foreign Service Officer

Upon joining the Foreign Service, most officers are immediately assigned to locations all over the world. Postings can vary from serving in a democratic country where the government runs efficiently, to a country where the government is struggling to maintain power, to even an active war zone. Wherever the assignment, foreign service officers must be prepared for anything. In this “Moment in U.S. Diplomatic History,” we see that James Leader joined the Foreign Service with the Labor Department in 1962 and embarked on an exciting career that sent him all over the world.

State Bank of India at Madras. Taken on February 20, 2011 by Williamsatish25. Source: Wikimedia Commons
State Bank of India at Madras. Taken on February 20, 2011 by Williamsatish25. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Leader’s first assignment was in Madras, India where he learned a number of skills that he would later use in his career. Like most officers, he started off as a consul where he was actively training to master a new language. However, when the code clerk got sick, he was tapped as the replacement and began a rotational assignment that exposed him to working in different parts of the embassy, such as the consular, commercial, and political sections where he learned the value of networking. After his two years in Madras, India he continued his career in London. Read more

First Assignment—Thailand During the Vietnam War

Harlan Lee first became a foreign service officer in 1968 during the Vietnam War, and he was immediately dispatched to an active hotspot. Knowing he would be sent to Southeast Asia, Lee prepared himself for his first position as vice consul in Udorn, Thailand. Like many foreign service officers on their first assignment, he had no idea what to expect.

A farmer at work in Kenya's Mount Kenya region (2010) | Neil Palmer (CIAT) | Wikimedia Commons
A farmer at work in Kenya's Mount Kenya region (2010) | Neil Palmer (CIAT) | Wikimedia Commons

During this time period, the Vietnam War was at its peak with constant battle and struggle all around. Thailand hosted several military aircraft bases, and Lee was sent there to help support those bases and complete numerous missions.

In this “Moment in U.S. Diplomatic History,” we see that Harlan Lee’s posting to Thailand turned out to be a unique experience. Not only did he have to combat the active rise of communist insurgency, but he also assisted in dealing with every issue that emerged between U.S. and Thai forces. There was no official status of forces agreement between the two countries, so Lee and those who worked alongside him resolved constantly occurring disputes. He did his best to keep the peace with both the military forces and the locals. Read more

Colin Powell—Kuwait and the Gulf War

In early August 1990, the president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, ordered the invasion of Kuwait. Some of Hussein’s contentious justifications ranged from accusing Kuwait of stealing crude oil from Iraqi territory to the idea that Kuwait was an artificial state originally a part of Iraq carved out by western powers. In the eyes of many countries, this reasoning did not justify Iraq’s actions; in addition, Iraq’s failure to adhere to the UN Security Council’s resolution calling for its withdrawal from Kuwait resulted in NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] allies, as well as several Arab nations, conducting Operation Desert Storm and the beginning of the Gulf War. Nearly a year after Iraq invaded Kuwait, Iraqi forces were pushed out and forced to retreat on February 28, 1991. President Bush then declared a ceasefire.

Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney motions for Gen. Powell, Chairman of the joint chief of staffs, to take the podium during a press briefing (1991) JO2 Oscar Sosa | U.S. National Archives
Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney motions for Gen. Powell, Chairman of the joint chief of staffs, to take the podium during a press briefing (1991) JO2 Oscar Sosa | U.S. National Archives

Colin Powell remained deeply involved throughout the Gulf War conflict as he was serving as the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff. During this time, he developed the Powell Doctrine, which was based upon the U.S. experience in Vietnam. It stated that if the United States goes to war, it needs to have a clear military objective. The Doctrine’s purpose is to ensure an appropriate amount of troops are deployed, the military has popular public support, and that it has an exit strategy. This was to ensure that the function of troops would be solely focused on military operations rather than non-military activities, like building schools. Read more

Secretary of State Colin Powell and 9/11

Imagine being secretary of state during the deadliest attack on American soil since 1941. This was Colin Powell’s job on September 11, 2001 when the terrorist attack occurred. Nearly 3,000 people were killed after four passenger planes were hijacked and crashed against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. A third plane hit the Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia, while the fourth crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Organization of American states flag  |  Wikimedia commons
Organization of American states flag | Wikimedia commons

The event triggered President George W. Bush to intensify U.S. efforts to combat terrorism. Powell’s role, therefore, became increasingly important in handling U.S. foreign relations in order to maintain a cohesive “coalition of the willing” in the War on Terrorism.

On the day of the attack, Powell was in Lima, Peru, trying to get the OAS [Organization of American States] to sign the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which is the document that established the norms for representative democracy for countries in the Western Hemisphere.

John Maisto served as Senior Director for Latin America in the National Security Council. He and Powell were having breakfast with Alejandro Toledo, the president of Peru, when the first messages of the attack came in. Read more

Commemorating Colin Powell

On October 18, 2021 America lost a remarkable leader and public servant. Colin Powell served as the highest ranking soldier, national security advisor, and diplomat. Powell served the U.S. Army for thirty-five years, rising through the ranks to become a four-star general. Additionally, Powell was the first Black national security advisor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and secretary of state. Not only do we grieve a profoundly successful leader, but a problem-solver who helped pave new pathways for America and those who succeed him.

           
January 27, 2003: Secretary Powell gives a briefing on Iraqi non-cooperation and continued defiance of the will of the UN (2003) | State Department Archives by Michael Gross
January 27, 2003: Secretary Powell gives a briefing on Iraqi non-cooperation and continued defiance of the will of the UN (2003) | State Department Archives by Michael Gross

Powell was born in Harlem, New York to Luther and Maud Powell, both Jamaican immigrants, in 1937. After growing up in the South Bronx and graduating from City College of New York, Powell joined the Army through the ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] program and was commissioned as second lieutenant. Powell served two decorated tours in Vietnam, where he received the soldier’s medal for pulling his comrades from a burning helicopter. Throughout his military career, Powell held many high level positions including the commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command. Even as a top military official, Powell was a dedicated leader and a great listener. When describing leadership he said, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” Read more

A Look Back—First Director of the Population, Refugees, and Migrations Bureau

The Biden administration nominated Ambassador Julieta Valls Noyes to serve as assistant secretary of state for the department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). A career diplomat, Noyes previously served as deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, where she managed relations between Western Europe and the EU from 2014 to 2015––a time in which refugees fleeing conflict from the Middle East were streaming into Europe seeking asylum.

1994 Cairo Conference on Population | UNFPA
1994 Cairo Conference on Population | UNFPA

Coordinating with international organizations like the UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the International Organization for Migration, PRM provides relief and resettlement to displaced populations around the world and promotes policies aimed at increasing life-sustaining aid and family planning. Issues of refugees and family planning are not only critically important in the foreign policy realm, but often carry with them a political charge here at home. Read more

A Dramatic Turning Point: Turkey’s Last Pride Parade

On the same day that the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, US diplomat Chuck Hunter witnessed police forces violently crack down on a peaceful celebration of LGBTQ+ rights in Istanbul—essentially Turkey’s last legal pride parade.

The annual pride parade in Istanbul, which had been going for decades, had been the largest in the Muslim world—notably attracting thousands of people celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer social and self-acceptance, achievements, legal rights, and pride.

Pride Parade, Istanbul (2012) Wikipedia Commons
Pride Parade, Istanbul (2012) Wikipedia Commons

However, the pride parade in 2015 turned out differently, ending with police shooting water cannons, tear gas, and rubber pellets at the peaceful marchers to disperse the annual celebration, which that year coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Ever since that year, the parade has been banned by the local authority citing security concerns and the need to uphold public order. In 2018, 2019, and 2021 people nevertheless showed up to celebrate LGBTQ+ rights, only to be met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and arrests by the police. Read more

Peace Corps to Ambassador: Thomas Hull in Sierra Leone

Thomas Hull was undaunted by Sierra Leone’s reputation as “the white man’s grave” when he set out as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1964. After all, he was seeking an adventure––but he ended up coming away with a much deeper understanding of the country and its people. This experience afforded him insight that would serve him well in the Foreign Service, including an essential understanding of the challenges facing people in the country and the continent at large, as well as knowledge of how U.S. embassies operated through his relationships with people there, and even a slight notion of what kind of ambassador he himself would someday like to be––which he would, in 2003.

PCV Thomas Hull teaching a class in Gbinti, Sierra Leone. The photo was taken on an inspection day––hence the necktie. | Courtesy of Ambassador Thomas Hull
PCV Thomas Hull teaching a class in Gbinti, Sierra Leone. The photo was taken on an inspection day––hence the necktie. | Courtesy of Ambassador Thomas Hull

This Moment in diplomatic history includes some excerpts from a larger and more fruitful recollection of Ambassador Hull’s time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone, and how that set him up to eventually be the U.S. ambassador to the country many years later. Also included is a sampling of some of the aid projects Ambassador Hull was able to implement for Sierra Leone, which had only just emerged from eleven years of civil war. Read more

Peace Corps to Ambassador: David Greenlee and Bolivia

It’s very common for Peace Corps volunteers to feel disheartened, as David Greenlee did as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia during the 1960s, when they seemingly fail to make a difference in the communities they serve. It’s also never clear right in the middle of a volunteer’s two-year tour what impact the experience will have on their own lives—that often only becomes clear in retrospect, after leaving the country and spending some time away.

Evo Morales (left), Ambassador Greenlee (right) | Reportage Without Frontiers
Evo Morales (left), Ambassador Greenlee (right) | Reportage Without Frontiers

It’s also relatively common for many Peace Corps volunteers, like Greenlee, to go into the Foreign Service. But among diplomats, his professional life is remarkable in how intertwined it was with the country of Bolivia. He first returned in the 1970s as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia, then as deputy chief of mission in the 1980s under Ambassador Robert Gelbard––a fellow Peace Corps volunteer who had served in Bolivia just one year behind Greenlee––and then finally as ambassador himself, in 2003. Read more