ADST Facebook Page ADST Twitter Feed RSS Feed ADST Youtube

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.

The Suez Crisis — And A Different Side of Nasser

suez cartoon with camelGamal Abdel Nasser was one of the most influential modern-day leaders in the Middle East. As part of the Free Officers Movement, he helped overthrow King Farouk I in 1952 [read about the U.S. embassy’s response to the 1952 Cairo riots] and began modernizing Egypt. He took a hard-line approach towards Western domination of Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. On July 26, 1956 he announced he was nationalizing the Suez Canal Company.

This came on the heels of strengthened ties with the Soviet Union and recognition of the People’s Republic of China, which in turn led the United Kingdom and the U.S. to withdraw funding to build the Aswan Dam, seen as integral to Nasser’s plans for modernization. Nationalization of the Suez Canal Company prompted an attack by the Israeli, British, and French military forces of Sinai and the bombing of Cairo with the objective of reestablishing Western control of the Suez Canal as well as removing Nasser from office. continue reading »


An American Diplomat in Vichy France

petain-hitlerShortly after Nazi Germany invaded France in May 1940, the French government surrendered and signed the Second Armistice. Under its terms, the north of France was occupied and directly administered by the Nazis, while the south remained nominally independent under a government seated in Vichy, but which was still under suzerainty of the Nazis; it was led by the 84-year-old Marshal Henri Phillipe Petain, the World War I hero turned collaborator. The American embassy moved from Paris to Vichy and had to conduct its increasingly important work under dangerous circumstances.

Douglas MacArthur II, nephew of the famed general, was assigned to the American embassy in Paris prior to the invasion, and moved to Vichy with the rest of the embassy. continue reading »


After D-Day — Life in Paris After Liberation

Crowds_of_French_patriots_line_the_Champs_Elysees-edit2The Allied invasion of France under the Supreme Command of General Dwight Eisenhower began on D-Day, June 6th ,1944. As the Allies advanced through France, they had to administer liberated areas and plan for the post-war political future. Douglas MacArthur II had been stationed in the Paris embassy prior to the war. Because of his experience, he was recruited to be the political advisor to Eisenhower in the coming invasion.

In these excerpts he talks about being in Paris right after liberation on August 25, 1944, working with the myriad groups and political parties that were vying for influence, his suspicion about the French Communists as well as the difficulty of working with General Charles de Gaulle.  continue reading »


Combating Blatant Racism during an Evacuation from Liberia

evac plane_abidjanThe process of evacuating a country is filled with unexpected challenges. Many of these are logistical, while others include safety concerns that arise as a result of the unstable conditions. In this excerpt from a November 1995 interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy, Ambassador James Bishop, Jr. discusses a different type of challenge: a social issue wherein racism and domestic politics complicated the evacuation plans. continue reading »


A Secret Betrayal — Kurdish Refugees in Iran

kurdish refugeesBetween 1961 and 1975, the relationship between the Kurds and the Iraqi government was especially tumultuous.  In 1961, the First Kurdish-Iraqi War, an attempt to create an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq led by Mustafa Barzani, began and soon escalated into a full-fledged war. It ended in a stalemate in 1970 with some 100,000 people dead or wounded. The Shah of Iran had supported Barzani and asked the U.S. to help, which it did. A Second Kurdish-Iraqi War soon followed, after the 1970 peace plan for Kurdish autonomy was not implemented. continue reading »


Jimmy Carter’s “Malaise” Speech

Carter MalaiseIn the late 1970’s, in the wake of the Iranian Revolution and the ongoing hostage crisis, a massive oil shortage swept across the nation. For the first time in decades, lines formed at convenience stores and gas stations as people desperately tried to fill their cars with gas. In the midst of what called a “crisis of confidence,” President Carter addressed the nation July 15, 1979 in what later became known as the “malaise” speech.  continue reading »


As If Getting a Venereal Disease Weren’t Bad Enough…

doctors rounds.600Chas Freeman had an extraordinary career in the Foreign Service. He accomplished the unparalleled feat of becoming nearly bilingual in less than two years of training and served as one of President Nixon’s interpreters on his historic trip to China.

He then helped open the Liaison Office in Beijing in the 1970s, where he had a range of responsibilities, including helping the Marine Security Guards posted there. In this excerpt he describes how one MSG got into a rather prickly situation. continue reading »


The Truth Behind “Midnight Express”

Midnight ExpressIt was one of the travel nightmares of the 1970s, along with being hijacked to Cuba or being stuck behind the Iron Curtain – being thrown into a Turkish prison and left to rot. The 1978 movie “Midnight Express,” based on a book by Billy Hayes, and adapted into a screenplay by Oliver Stone, shows Hayes’ arrest for trafficking in hashish, his beatings and the squalid prison conditions. Though originally sentenced to a relatively mild four years, just two months before his release date, a superior court overturned the decision and sentenced him to 30 years. Other prisoners try to escape (which gives the book and movie their name), while Hayes remains, going slowly insane until his girlfriend visits him and urges him to escape as well. After an attempt to bribe the guard fails, he attacks the guard, who is accidentally killed. Hayes is then able to flee prison. According to Robert Dillon, who was deputy chief of mission at the embassy, the real story was a bit less lurid. continue reading »


Guests of the Gestapo

interned BrennersHotelNazi Germany launched the Spring Offensive against France, Belgium, and the Netherlands in May 1940. Within six weeks it had achieved complete military dominance. The French government agreed to sign the Second Armistice agreement, whereby France was divided into two parts:  the North was occupied by the Germans, while Vichy France was nominally independent.

During this time, the American Embassy moved to Vichy and American consulates continued operations. Following the Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942, Germany decided to occupy the South as well. American diplomatic personnel in Vichy France were arrested and held in Baden-Baden, Germany until they were exchanged for German personnel. continue reading »


Being Gay in the Foreign Service

gay_pride_flag_kimiko_rPublic perception of gay rights, including the right to marry and to serve in the military, has undergone a sea change in the last few years, so much so that President Obama nominated five openly gay ambassadors. However, it was not that long ago when simply being gay meant automatic suspicion as a security risk and often harassment or worse. In these excerpts, Russell Sveda talks about persecution from the Diplomatic Security (DS) bureau, the ensuing bureaucratic battles, and his subsequent 14-year grievance case, the longest in State Department history. He also discusses the fear he and others had when they started the Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) in 1992 and the support he received from other FSOs. continue reading »