Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

ben_cool (2)

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.

Chile’s Coup Against Salvador Allende and the Truth Behind “Missing”

In 1973, political tensions were high in Chile, with conflict arising between the socialist President Salvador Allende and the more conservative Congress of Chile. The Chilean economy was failing, the Supreme Court had denounced Allende’s government, and perhaps more importantly, the military had lost its respect for Allende. During the summer, there had been several failed coup attempts [read about the Tanquetazo], which led to the ouster of Arturo Prats as commander of the Chilean army and the rise of Augusto Pinochet; by September, Chile reached the final breaking point. On September 11 the military opened fire on the Presidential Palace; by the end of the day, Allende was dead and the stage was set for over a decade of Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship  Read more

Come Spy with Me: Cold War Espionage Against China

Intelligence services spend a great deal of time trying to recruit new assets, spies who have access to sensitive information and who are willing to provide that intel for ideological or financial reasons. Foreign diplomats often make for attractive targets, especially during the Cold War. Stephen Dachi, who was Public Affairs Officer in Hungary from 1973 to 1977, recounts an attempt to recruit him as a spy for the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior. Read more

Burma’s 8888 Demonstrations and the Rise of Aung San Suu Kyi

Political activist. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Political prisoner and inspiration to millions of people around the world. Aung San Suu Kyi won 59% of the national votes in the 1990 general election and 81% of the seats in Parliament. But she was seen as a threat to the ruling military junta and was placed under house arrest from July 20, 1989 until her release on November 13, 2010. Marshall Adair was the Political/Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon (now Yangon) and witnessed the military crackdown and massacre under General Saw Maung as well as the mass demonstrations for democracy beginning August 8, 1988, which led to the rise to prominence of Burma’s Iron Lady. Read more

Qaddafi – The Man and His Rise to Power

On September 1st, 1969 Muammar Qaddafi along with a group of officers part of the Free Officers Movement staged a bloodless coup d’état against King Idris I of Libya who at that time was in Greece undergoing medical treatment.

The coup was staged in the city of Benghazi and was over within two hours. Qaddafi was careful not to promote himself to general after seizing power but rather ceremoniously adopted the promotion to colonel. With the help of the newly created governing body the Revolutionary Command Council, Qaddafi nullified the monarchy and declared the new Libyan Arab Republic a free and sovereign state. Read more

The Assassination of Ambassador John Gordon Mein, Guatemala, 1968

Eight U.S. Ambassadors have died while on duty, six of whom were killed in armed attacks. The most recent was Chris Stevens, who died during the September 11, 2012 attack on Benghazi. (The other two ambassadors died in airplane crashes.) On August 28, 1968, Ambassador John Gordon Mein became the first U.S. ambassador to be assassinated when he was shot and killed just a block away from the consulate.

Mein began serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala in 1965, in the midst of the Guatemalan Civil War. Rebels of the Fuerzas Armadas Rebeldes (FAR), a local guerrilla organization, forced Mein out of his limousine on his way to the embassy. FAR had assassinated two U.S. military aides on their way to the embassy a few months earlier. It is believed that this time FAR only intended to kidnap Mein and hold him hostage while demanding the release of a recently arrested guerrilla leader. When Mein tried to run, however, the rebels shot and killed him, leaving him on the side of the street with eight bullets in his back. Read more

A Cold End to the Prague Spring

In 1968, growing opposition to the failing sociopolitical and economic policies of hard-line Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, led by Antonín Novotný, finally came to a breaking point. Reformist politician Alexander Dubček replaced Novotný as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Slovakia. The period that followed, known as the Prague Spring, saw an expansion in freedom of expression, economic liberalization and sociopolitical reform that took the country by storm and was ultimately seen as an existential threat in Moscow. As a result, four countries of the Warsaw Pact — Soviet Union, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria —  invaded Czechoslovakia on August 20th, 1968 to stop Czechoslovakia from further liberalizing its government. Read more

Prague Spring as Seen from the Outside – The Utter Impotence of U.S. Policy

Newspapers that had long been the Party mouthpiece were allowed to criticism the government, labor unions were given more rights to speak for their members, people were allowed to speak more freely. The shackles of Soviet totalitarianism were loosened. But only briefly. The Prague Spring, that period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia beginning in January of 1968, came to a swift end when Soviet troops, aided by other members of the Warsaw Pact, invaded the country on August 20-21. Dubček’s reforms were abandoned as he was arrested and sent to Moscow and was removed from office in April 1969. In the end, Prague 1968, like East Berlin 1953 and Hungary 1956, became just another poignant reminder of what could have been. Read more

Stalin’s Legacy: The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Nagorno-Karabakh is a highly contested, landlocked region in the South Caucasus of the former Soviet Union. The present-day conflict has its roots in the decisions made by Joseph Stalin when he was the acting Commissar of Nationalities for the Soviet Union during the early 1920s. In April 1920, Azerbaijan was taken over by the Bolsheviks;  Armenia and Georgia were taken over in 1921. To garner public support, the Bolsheviks promised Karabakh to Armenia. At the same time, in order to placate Turkey, the Soviet Union agreed to a division under which Karabakh would be under the control of Azerbaijan. With the Soviet Union firmly in control of the region, the conflict over the region died down for several decades.

When the USSR began to collapse, the question of Nagorno-Karabakh re-emerged. In August 1987 Karabakh Armenians sent petition for union with Armenia tens of thousands of signatures to Moscow. The struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh escalated after both Armenia and Azerbaijan attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Read more

Princess of Monaco, Full of Grace

Grace Kelly was known for her beauty, success and passion even before becoming Princess of Monaco. Before her untimely death in 1982, Princess Grace had become involved in, and even founded, various charity organizations to help people through the world. During an oral history interview conducted in 1994 by William D. Morgan, Peter Murphy describes one of the lesser known acts of kindness Princess Grace would perform for those in need. Read more

Cyprus — August 1974: “It was a blind shot that got the Ambassador”

On August 19th, 1974, recently appointed Ambassador to Cyprus, Rodger Davies, was shot dead during a Greek Cypriot protest outside the U.S. Embassy. The demonstration brought out over 300 people who were protesting against the U.S.’s failure to prevent the Turkish invasion of the northern part of the island the week before. Davies was seeking shelter in a hallway at the embassy building in Nicosia when a sniper struck him in the chest. When Antoinette Varnava—a Maronite consular employee—rushed to his aid, she too was struck dead, with a bullet to the head. Read more