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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.

The 1958 U.S. Marine Invasion of Lebanon – It was no day at the beach

leban Beirut_beach1958 — Lebanon was yet again at the forefront of foreign policy concerns. Gamal Abdel Nasser, one of the most prominent politicians of the postwar world, was powerful not only in Egypt, but also in much of the Arab World. Known for his Arab nationalism and sharp criticism of Western power, his influence reached many throughout the Middle East. In the wake of the 1956 Suez Crisis, the Christian leader of Lebanon, President Chamille Chamoun, was sharply criticized by Nasser and Lebanese Muslims for maintaining diplomatic ties with the involved Western powers. Tensions escalated with the creation of the United Arab Republic, a union between Egypt and Syria and led by Nasser, as Chamoun refused to join despite pressure from Lebanese Muslims. Mindful of the recent overthrow of the pro-Western king of Iraq and threatened by civil war, Chamoun asked for help. President Eisenhower authorized Operation Blue Bat on July 15, 1958. U.S. troops landed on the beaches of Beirut and remained in the city until October. continue reading »


A Book you can Swear By: Becoming Ambassador in the Most Unusual of Circumstances

swear witness-taking-oathTraditionally, U.S. government officials put their hand on the Bible for their swearing-in.  In recent years, some have used alternatives, such as the Qur’an or the U.S. Constitution.  In June 2014 Suzi LeVine was the first ambassador to be sworn in on an e-reader. Ambassador Peter de Vos, however, had nothing readily available when he was rushed off to Liberia in 1990, set to take over the post in the midst of a raging civil war.  continue reading »


The Headache That Is the Fourth of July Party

4th tired statueThe Fourth of July is a celebration of the United States’ independence.  It is a day of family, friends, food, and a few beers.  However, this is not typically the case for those representing the United States overseas.  When the time comes, members of an embassy overseas are charged with putting on a big party to showcase the American pride and unity that comes with this historic day.  Yet, these parties often come with more headaches and fake smiles than one would expect. Hosting a Fourth of July party comes with the responsibility of representing the United States to the host country; this type of party could help mend or, possibly, worsen relations between the two countries. Below are a collection of stories from Fourth of July parties all over the world, including an embarrassing speech in Zimbabwe in front of former President Carter, the clever ways ambassadors signal guests that it’s time to go, and a well-meaning, but criticized, hot dog reception. continue reading »


“We’re in East Germany! We better get the hell out quick!”

pow Missions_prohibited_signIt began as a routine trip to test artillery battalions. It ended as a minor international incident that lasted several weeks and potentially could have been even worse. In 1958 Colonel Frank Athanason, then a captain, and eight others lost their way and crashed in a forest in East Germany. They were picked up by the East Germans and interrogated by the Soviets. In these excerpts, Athanason talks about spending July 4th in captivity, their eventual release, and the surprising revelation regarding a counter-intelligence agent. continue reading »


The Nazis Take Paris

paris hitlerAfter German troops invaded Poland in September 1939, Britain and France declared war on Nazi Germany. Despite this, there were no major battles between the three countries for several months, the so-called “Sitzkrieg” or “phony war.” That changed drastically with the German invasion of France in May 1940. In six short weeks, the Germans defeated the French Army, taking almost two million prisoners. On June 14th, the Nazis occupied Paris. French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned on June 16th, and was replaced by World War I hero Marshal Phillipe Petain, who asked the Germans for an armistice. The agreement was signed on June 22nd. According to the terms of the agreement, the North of France would be occupied by the Germans; the rest of the country would remain nominally independent, but a de facto German puppet state, with its capital in Vichy. continue reading »


No-tell CODELs

codel US Congress SealOne of the more important tasks that an embassy deals with is the Congressional delegation or CODEL in Washington-speak. These visits by Members of Congress, usually during recess, are meant to give — theoretically, at least — a first-hand view of some of the more pressing foreign policy issues. They are usually short but can be very intense and in some instances, require thick skin and a great deal of diplomacy. For Michael Boorstein, then an Administrative Officer, his first CODEL to Sicily soon turned into a minor disaster. Vladimir Lehovich talks about his time in Saigon, where he was to do or get anything – anything — that Teddy Kennedy wanted during his visit there. Laurence Silverman, then Ambassador to Yugoslavia, recalls a similar encounter with the Speaker of the House.

continue reading »


The Little Emergency that was the Korean War

korea inv headlines KoreanWar4There was a lot of unfinished business on the Korean peninsula in the 1940’s. It had been ruled by the Empire of Japan from 1910 until the end of World War II, when it was divided by American administrators along the 38th parallel, with U.S. military forces occupying the southern half and Soviet military forces occupying the northern half. The failure to hold free elections throughout the Korean Peninsula in 1948 deepened the division between the two sides; the North established a communist government, while the South established a right-wing government under Syngman Rhee. Cross-border skirmishes and raids at the 38th Parallel persisted until North Korean forces invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950. continue reading »


Hungary Escapes the Shadow of the Soviet Union

hung flag barbed wireFor those trapped in Eastern Europe in the 20th century, the horrors of World War II were supplanted by the rigors of oppression that was life behind the Iron Curtain. Lawrence Cohen, who was in Budapest from 1991-94, discusses the plight of Jews and Hungarians’ reaction — especially when it came to statuary — when the Soviets eventually withdrew from Hungary on June 30, 1991.  continue reading »


El Tanquetazo — Chile’s Coup That Wasn’t

tankIn the early 70’s, Chile was in a state of political unrest— its socialist president Salvador Allende and largely conservative congress were at odds, and by June 1973, the Chilean Armed Forces were plotting against the Allende government. On June 29, Lt. Col. Roberto Souper led a failed coup attempt now known as El Tanquetazo. General Carlos Prats, a frequent member of Allende’s cabinet and commander-in-chief of the Army, responded to the coup attempt. (He was killed in a car bomb in 1974.) Samuel Hart was stationed in Santiago during these years of unrest, and gives his account of the abortive coup and Prats’ resignation. You can read Hart’s account of the successful coup against Allendecontinue reading »


Car Troubles: Caught in the Crosshairs of a Greek pro-democracy Protest

Stu Kennedy - consular officerFrom 1970 to 1974, Charles Stuart Kennedy served as Consul General in Athens. While there, his wife Ellen, who wanted a quiet night out, was inadvertently caught in a political protest against the Regime of the Colonels, a series of right-wing military juntas that ruled Greece following the 1967 Greek coup d’état; the dictatorship ended in July 1974. Charles Stuart Kennedy recalls the event in an oral history conducted by Victor Wolf in 1986. Stu has been the Director of the Oral History Program at ADST since its inception in 1985. continue reading »