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Fascinating Figures

Diplomacy and foreign policy have attracted some of the most dedicated, brilliant, and colorful people of their generation. In this feature, ADST focuses on some of the more enthralling ones.


Averell Harriman, The Old Crocodile of Diplomacy

W. Averell Harriman was one of the more prominent public figures of the 20th Century, holding major positions in diplomacy, government, and business. Harriman served as Ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1943, and later to Ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1946. He was put in charge of the Marshall Plan to rebuild infrastructure and support the economies of Europe after the destruction of World War II. He was elected Governor of New York in 1954. He was a candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1952 and again in 1956. Harriman served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs and in 1963, he became the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. In these positions, he was a key negotiator in the Vietnam peace talks. Harriman was at once a brilliant, indefatigable diplomat but one who often could be imposing with those he worked with.


Bill Burns, A Consummate Diplomat

William Joseph Burns, known as Bill to his colleagues, stepped down as Deputy Secretary of State in October 2014 after an illustrious 33-year career in the Foreign Service. Burns earned bipartisan support as a key figure in tackling some of the toughest foreign policy challenges facing the United States. His accomplishments include eliminating Libya’s illicit weapons program, mediating the Middle East peace process, and strengthening the strategic partnerships with Russia and India. Burns held the rank of Career Ambassador in the Foreign Service, equivalent to a four-star general, and was only the second career diplomat to become Deputy Secretary (after Larry Eagleburger). Burns also served as the Under Secretary for Political Affairs from 2008 to 2011, Ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from 2001 to 2005, and Ambassador to Jordan from 1998 until 2001.

Clifton Wharton — Diplomat and Pioneer

Clifton Reginald Wharton, Sr. was the first African-American Foreign Service Officer to rise to the rank of ambassador without a political appointment.  In four decades as a career Foreign Service Officer, Wharton held positions in various posts worldwide including in Liberia, the Canary Islands, Madagascar, Portugal, France, Romania, and Norway. Initially, Wharton was excluded from officer training and was put on the “Negro Circuit” for postings – the routine of relegating African American consulate employees to postings in Liberia, Haiti, or the Canary Islands.  Under President Truman’s executive orders in 1949, the State Department finally broke the unofficial color barrier in the Foreign Service. In 1958 Wharton was appointed by President Eisenhower to be Minister to Romania, and thus became the first black career diplomat to head a U.S. delegation in Europe.


Chip Bohlen — “The State Department has always been a whipping boy”

Charles “Chip” Bohlen served in the Foreign Service from 1929 to 1969 and succeeded George Kennan as Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1953–1957). In 1943 he served as FDR’s interpreter at the Tehran Conference and later at Yalta. Bohlen’s nomination to be Ambassador to the USSR was opposed by Senator Joseph McCarthy, who attacked Bohlen for his role at Yalta. In these excerpts, Bohlen discusses the ever-present problem of poor Foreign Service morale, the State Department as whipping boy, the plague of McCarthyism, his dislike of summits, Vietnam, revisionist history, and the role of the U.S. in the world.



Dean Acheson, Architect of the Cold War

served as Secretary of State under President Truman from 1949-1953. Noting his enormous influence, historian Randall Woods described Acheson as “a primary architect” of the Cold War. During his tenure, he helped craft U.S. containment policy, the formation of the NATO alliance, and American intervention in the Korean War. Although he returned to his private law practice, Acheson later advised Presidents Johnson and Kennedy during the Vietnam War and Cuban Missile Crisis. 



Dean Rusk — A “Silent Buddha” Amidst Chaos

served as Secretary of State for eight controversial years, from 1961 through 1969, when public discomfort over his daughter’s interracial marriage prompted his resignation. Secretary Rusk’s term extended through the darkest days of the Cold War and included such conflicts and crises as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam War, the Six-Day War and the Biafra famine. Both valued and condemned for his reticence and equanimity, Secretary Rusk directed his skills at cementing compromises and avoiding the type of diplomatic fiasco which would trigger nuclear warfare.


James A. Baker III — The Velvet Hammer

James A. Baker served as the Secretary of State during the Presidency of George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1992. During his time in office bore witness to such events as the collapse of the Soviet Union, the First Gulf War, and renewed Arab-Israeli peace talks. Secretary Baker is remembered as somewhat detached from the workings of the Foreign Service, but a skilled diplomat and negotiator all the same. In May 2014 he was given the Ralph Bunche Award for Diplomatic Excellence for his many contributions to foreign policy at ADST’s biennial gala dinner.




Oliver Platt — Actor and Foreign Service Brat

Oliver Platt is a talented character actor who has appeared on stage, screen and television. He has starred in major blockbusters such as X-Men — First Class, musicals, and biopics, such as Frost/Nixon and Kinsey. He was born in Canada and grew up in Hong Kong, China, and Japan. His father, Nicholas, served as Ambassador to Pakistan, Zambia, and the Philippines.  In this interview, he discusses growing up in the Foreign Service, including a rather bloody “interaction” with an old generator.



Frank Carlucci, Cold Warrior

Frank Carlucci III is best known for his tenure as Secretary of Defense under the Reagan administration, yet in these excerpts, he narrates his journey through the Foreign Service, CIA, and prominent defense roles that span the course of the Cold War. Carlucci discusses the Congo’s volatile communist regime under Patrick Lumumba, and his efforts to fight communism in Brazil and Portugal. His previous dealings with the USSR provided the necessary experience for his promotion to the Deputy Director of the CIA, then to President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor and eventually to Secretary of Defense, where he dealt with a myriad of sensitive issues, including arms control with the USSR, budget cuts and base closings.

Constance Ray Harvey — Diplomat and World War II Heroine

The life of Constance Ray Harvey at times sounded like something from the movie Casablanca. During World War II, after tours in Milan and Bern, she was stationed in Lyons, where she worked with the Belgian and French Resistance,which included getting members of the Belgian government out of France. She smuggled documents to the U.S. Military Attaché in Switzerland, Barnwell R. Legge (at left), who helped arrange the escape of many interned U.S. fliers and was awarded the Legion of Merit for his work. In November 1942, Harvey was interned along with other American diplomats when the Nazis took direct control of Vichy France. After the war she received the Medal of Freedom for her courageous efforts; her medal is now with ADST.

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