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Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

ADST BenSeveral times a month, ADST highlights compelling moments in U.S. diplomatic history, using our substantial collection of oral histories.

Note: These oral histories contain the personal recollections and opinions of the individual(s) interviewed. The views expressed should not be considered official statements of the U.S. government or the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.

Khrushchev Visits America – A Cold War Comedy of Errors, Act I

nikita-mouseAmid the descent of the Iron Curtain, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and the conflict in Vietnam lies one of the more bizarre moments of the Cold War – Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s goodwill tour of the United States that began on September 15, 1959.

While some may have heard of Khrushchev’s failed attempt to visit Disneyland, many do not realize that this was just one of a hundred things that went wrong on this trip, one that stands in stark contrast to the highly scripted photo ops of today’s politicians. From angry journalists to scandalous movie stars, the entirety of the visit was cloaked by barely concealed threats and marked by chaos – almost to the point of political farce. continue reading »


The Assassination of Anwar Sadat, Part II

ASSASSINATION PRESIDENT SADATAs a result of Anwar Sadat’s growing authoritarianism and treatment of his opposition, tensions in Egypt began rising shortly after the Camp David Accords were signed. Regular Egyptians were unsatisfied with the treaty’s results in addition to the state of the economy. His own security people had become increasingly concerned, as Sadat did not like to be told that he had to be on his guard or take safety precautions, and there had been plots against him. Sadat continually made his circle of advisors smaller, and there was no clear way to solve the tension. On October 6th, 1981, just three years after signing the Camp David Accords, Sadat was assassinated. Ambassador Alfred Leroy Atherton, Jr. was in the reviewing stands with Sadat that day and recounts the assassination, its aftermath, and dealing with one of the highest-ranking delegations the U.S. has ever sent abroad. Read Part I about the growing disenchantment with Sadat. continue reading »


The Assassination of Anwar Sadat, Part I

SadatWhen Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Accords along with President Jimmy Carter in September 1978, it was hailed as a major breakthrough, a hard-won compromise that was meant to bring peace to the region and serve as a building block for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

However, instead of building better relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, it ended up alienating the Arab world and many of Sadat’s own people. His commitment to peace created deep schisms and increased tensions within Egypt. Just three years after the signing, Sadat was assassinated, on October 6th, 1981, at Egypt’s annual parade, ironically celebrating the October 1973 Yom Kippur War with Israel. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images) continue reading »


A Ride to Remember: Exploring Cold War Russia via the Trans-Siberian Railroad

trans-siberian-railwayIt was unusual for any Americans during the Cold War to travel in the Soviet Union but Russell Sveda did just that in 1969. After serving for two years as a Peace Corps (PC) volunteer in Korea, he decided to make his way home by taking the path less traveled and riding the Trans-Siberian railroad. He talks about meeting ethnic Koreans in Samarkand, his offer of marriage by a woman he didn’t even know, and an hours-long “interview” with a KGB agent posing as a journalist.  continue reading »


The Hunt for Che Guevara

Che HeroicoHe is arguably the most well-known revolutionary in modern history and his now iconic photo can be seen on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs. He has been the subject of many romanticized books and movies, which often gloss over the brutal methods he and others employed to achieve their objectives. Ernesto “Che” Guevara was a medical student who became radicalized by the poverty and injustice he saw in Latin America in the 1950s.

While living in Mexico City, he met Raul and Fidel Castro and sailed to Cuba aboard the yacht, Granma, to fight Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Guevara soon rose to prominence and was promoted to second-in-command, playing a pivotal role in the victorious two-year guerrilla campaign that deposed the Batista regime. Following the Cuban Revolution, Guevara performed a number of key roles in the new government, including major changes in the agricultural sector and reviewing the appeals and firing squads for those convicted as war criminals during the revolutionary tribunals. continue reading »


The Birth of the Chemical Weapons Convention (and the OPCW)

CWC signing first-review-conference-cwc-01-lg_1Recent events in Syria have once again spotlighted the dangers of chemical weapons and international efforts to catalog and destroy them. The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (otherwise known as the Chemical Weapons Convention or CWC) was opened for signature with a ceremony in Paris in January 1993 — 130 States signed the Convention within the first two days. Four years later, in April 1997, the Convention entered into force with 87 States Parties. Currently, the CWC comprises 184 States Parties, as well as an implementing body, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), located in Brussels. The OPCW as awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for its work. continue reading »


“Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” — The Tumultuous Times of Juan and Evita Peron

Eva and Juan Waving to CrowdsJuly 26, 1952: The people of Argentina are glued to their radios and fall silent as an official broadcast comes from the Subsecretary of Information:  “It is our sad duty to inform the people of the Republic that Eva Peron, the Spiritual Leader of the Nation, died at 8:25 p.m.

The silence is broken as the sound of sobbing and corks popping ensue. The working-class people of Argentina are heartbroken, and a weeping cacophony echoes throughout the streets. Meanwhile, the wealthy elite sip their champagne privately, toasting to a future free of “the whore.” The sounds of mourning and celebrating reflect both the love and hate that Eva Peron, the wife of Argentine President Juan Peron, inspired in her 33 years. Fast-forward several years to September 19, 1955:  After a decade in power, Juan Peron is overthrown in a coup.

continue reading »


Microwaving Embassy Moscow — Another Perspective

us-embasy moscow oldADST’s post on Microwaving Embassy Moscow brought back a flood of memories to James Schumaker, who served most of his career in the USSR and later Russia and Ukraine. In this account, he describes how U.S. Ambassador to the USSR Walter Stoessel threatened to resign, the widespread concern many Americans posted at the embassy had regarding potential health problems, especially when two ambassadors died of cancer, and his own experience with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. This comes from his blog and is used with his permission. continue reading »


A Gamble for Peace – Negotiating the Camp David Accords

Camp DavidUnrest in the Middle East has been an unrelenting problem for centuries, the Gordian knot that cannot be cut. The founding of Israel in May 1948 further complicated matters, leading to several wars and a state of heightened tension. While there have been many international efforts to find a lasting peace in the Middle East, the Camp David Accords marked the first substantive step toward that end and still stand as a watershed moment. After meeting in secret at Camp David for 13 days of negations, the parties were able to make a breakthrough in the talks. President Jimmy Carter, President Anwar El Sadat of Egypt, and Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Accords on September 17, 1978. continue reading »


War of the Waves: Combating Espionage in Embassy Moscow

us_embassy_moscowU.S. relations with Moscow through the decades have been problematic at best while the embassy itself has been the subject of spy scandals, eavesdropping and other Cold War intrigue. One of the strangest episodes was revealed in the 1970s, when the U.S. confirmed that the USSR had been beaming microwaves at the embassy for the past 15 years. One concern was that the Soviets were trying to inflict physical harm on the Americans working there. Famed columnist Jack Anderson wrote that a CIA file named “Operation Pandora” described the Soviets’ attempt to “brainwash” Americans.

The level of microwaves was actually lower than what was considered safe in the U.S. at the time; another explanation is that the USSR was apparently trying to jam electronic monitoring devices located at the embassy. continue reading »