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.
William E. Schaufele, Jr. was the Congo Desk Officer at State
from 1964 to 1965, when 330 people, including the staff of the U.S.consulate, were taken hostage by Congolese rebels in Stanleyville (now Kisangani). Held for 111 days, they were eventually rescued in a joint U.S.-Belgian operation codenamed Dragon Rouge. Schaufele, who later served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, from 1975 to 1977, was interviewed by Lillian Mullin on November 19, 1994.
The Cairo Fire, also known as Black Saturday, was a series of riots that
took place on January 26, 1952, marked by the burning and looting of some 750 buildings and the country’s Opera House in downtown Cairo. It was triggered by the killing of 50 Egyptian auxiliary policemen by British occupation troops a day earlier. The spontaneous anti-British protests that followed these deaths were quickly seized upon by organized elements in the crowd, who burned and ransacked large sectors of Cairo amidst the unexplained absence of security forces. King Farouk appointed a series of short-lived cabinets but they failed to restore public confidence. As a result, instability over the next six months helped pave the way for the Free Officers coup on July 23, 1952. That in turn resulted in Farouk’s forced abdication and the abolition of the monarchy a year later.
Michael Rives joined the Foreign Service in 1950 and served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Brazzaville from 1963 to 1966. In this excerpt from his oral history, he remembers the rather unforgettable Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. G. Mennen Williams, whose grandfather, Gerhard Heinrich Mennen, founded the Mennen line of men’s personal care products, was nicknamed “Soapy” and wore a trademark green bow tie with white polka dots. After serving 12 years as the governor of Michigan, he served in the Kennedy Administration and had a unique way of keeping diplomats on their toes. Read more
As Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army swept through China during the Civil War against the Nationalists in 1948 and 1949, it took over Mukden (now Shenyang), a major trade center. The Communists demanded that American Consul Angus Ward surrender the consulate’s radio transmitter. Ward refused. In response, PLA troops surrounded the consulate on November 20, 1948, putting Ward and 21 staff members under house arrest. For months, without communication, water, and electricity, Ward and the other Americans were completely isolated. Read more
Politics can be a tough, even nasty business. James Jones describes an incident before he joined the Foreign Service when he worked as part of the advance team for Lady Bird Johnson and how one colleague had an unusual idea to dissuade unfriendly protesters.
He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy ADST starting in September 2002.
Harry Barnes had a distinguished Foreign Service career spanning 35 years, serving as Ambassador to India, Romania and most notably Chile. In this excerpt from his oral history, Ambassador Barnes recounts a story of surveillance and footwear in Romania that was mentioned in his Washington Post obituary.
On the night of 20–21 August 1968, the Soviet Union and its allies in the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia in order to quash the liberal reforms instituted by Alexander Dubcek during the Prague Spring. Over 200,000 troops and 5,000 tanks were sent in and were able to occupy the country the very first day. The nation would have to wait another 20 years before those dreams of freedom and democracy were realized. In one of those ironies of history, Czechoslovakia and the invincible Soviet Union would face off, not once but twice, in the March 1969 World Ice Hockey Championships in Stockholm. Hundreds of thousands of Czechs would gather in Prague to bask in a small but satisfying bit of payback.
Stephen F. Dachi had one of the more unusual — and as it turned out, fateful — backgrounds of anyone in the Foreign Service. Born in Hungary in 1933, he was three years old when his parents died, leaving him in the care of his grandparents in Romania. After emigrating to the U.S., he became a forensic dentist, and later joined the Foreign Service. When serving in Sao Paolo in the mid‐1980s, Dachi used his dental expertise to help with the forensic identification of Josef Mengele, the infamous “Angel of Death.”
Mengele came to Auschwitz in 1943 and conducted experiments on prisoners, especially twins, in the name of “science.” He escaped imprisonment after the war and became a citizen of Paraguay in 1959. Read more
It was one of the most horrific events in U.S. diplomatic history. On August 7, 1998, between 10:30 and 10:40 a.m. local time, suicide bombers parked trucks loaded with explosives outside the embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi and almost simultaneously detonated them. In Nairobi, approximately 212 people were killed, and an estimated 4,000 wounded; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85. The attacks were later traced to Saudi exile Osama bin Laden and took place on the eighth anniversary of the deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia.
On August 20, President Bill Clinton ordered cruise missiles launched against bin Laden’s terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and against a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, where bin Laden allegedly made or distributed chemical weapons. In November 1998, the United States indicted bin Laden and 21 others, charging them with bombing the two U.S. embassies and conspiring to commit other acts of terrorism against Americans abroad. To date, nine of the al Qaeda members named in the indictments have been captured. Prudence Bushnell was Ambassador to Kenya at the time and relates the harrowing events of those days. She was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in July 2005. Read more