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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.

“Without respect, America’s power just seeps away”

Walter Mondale was the 42nd Vice President of the U.S. under Jimmy Carter, after having served 12 years as a senator from Minnesota. He later ran against Ronald Reagan as the Democratic Party candidate for President in 1984. After the loss, he spent a few years working for a Minnesota law firm and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs until he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Japan by President Clinton in 1993.  He was in Tokyo for three years, after which he returned to the law firm of Dorsey & Whitney. In an interview with ADST’s David Reuther in April 2004, Senator Mondale discusses his long career in the U.S. government:  his time in the Senate, his tenure as Vice President, including his dealings with South Africa, China, and the Iran Crisis, and his frustrations and insights from his years as Ambassador to Japan.


“The U.S. values amateurism over professionalism in diplomacy”

Chas W. Freeman, Jr. is one of those rare diplomats with brilliant language abilities who also was involved in an astonishing range of key events in the last 30 years of the 20th century. While his ancestors may have been a bit rakish, he grew up in the Bahamas in a household where it was expected to speak a foreign language at dinner. He joined the Foreign Service as “a perfect escape from boredom and monotony” and somehow became almost bilingual in Mandarin in two years (an unheard-of accomplishment) and then served as one of the interpreters during Nixon’s historic trip to China. In these excerpts, Ambassador Freeman frankly (and often critically) discusses his observations about the Foreign Service as a “proto-profession which is unable to learn from its mistakes; Public Diplomacy officers vs. FSOs;  the problem with “Africanists;”; the lack of a war-termination strategy for Desert Storm; and his hope that the Foreign Service will one day become truly professional.



Clare Boothe Luce, A Woman for All TIME

Born in New York City in 1903, Clare Boothe Luce led a diverse career as a playwright, journalist, editor, and congresswoman, and became the first woman to ever be ambassador to a major diplomatic post. Though she was a talented writer in all genres, her sharp wit and biting sense of humor served her best in playwriting. (She is famous for such tart one-liners as “No good deed goes unpunished” and “Widowhood is a fringe benefit of marriage” as well as for her famed rivalry with writer Dorothy Parker.) Clare married Henry Luce, the publisher of TimeLife, and Fortune, who gave his wife many opportunities to work as a correspondent for those magazines during World War II. She won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1942 as a Republican and outspoken critic of FDR’s foreign policy. In 1953, after campaigning for Dwight Eisenhower, Luce was rewarded with an appointment as Ambassador to Italy. Luce discusses her time in Congress, how she worked the Washington bureaucracy, and the difficulties of being a woman in the State Department and Congress.



Max Kampelman, A Hard-Nosed Pacifist

Max Kampelman was a key negotiator for the United States on major issues with the Soviet Union. He was asked to lead the U.S. delegation to the Madrid Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in 1980, a forum for dialogue on human rights and military issues which helped bridge a divided Europe. In 1985 President Reagan asked Kampelman to lead arms-control talks with the Soviet Union. Kampelman’s negotiations ultimately led to the signing of treaties which succeeded in reducing nuclear arms for the first time. President Bill Clinton in 1999 awarded Kampelman the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He passed away on January 25, 2013. In these excerpts, Kampelman discusses the Quaker influence which led him to become a conscientious objector, his participation in the (in)famous Minnesota Starvation Experiment, and his work on the CSCE and in Geneva.



Terence Todman — Being Black in a “Lily White” State Department

Terence Todman is one of the relatively few people to attain the rank of career ambassador – the equivalent of a four-star general – in the Department of State, having served as ambassador to six different countries. He is also one of the few African Americans to be so honored and was known for his outspokenness during a time of segregated dining facilities, when few minorities could be found at any level of the Department. Terence Todman was born on March 13, 1926, in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands as one of 13 siblings. In these excerpts from his oral history, Ambassador Todman talked about the difficulties he encountered as a black man in the Department in the 1950s, the ignominy of “ghetto assignments” to Africa, his appointment to assistant secretary, the integration of human rights issues into foreign policy, and the frustration he felt over the lack of major progress on minority hiring and respect for Foreign Service officers in general.


Philip Habib — Cursed is the Peacemaker

Philip Habib was a career diplomat known for his work in Vietnam, South Korea and the Middle East. He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 1967–1969 and was part of the Vietnamese peace talk delegation in 1968 and was the chief mediator between Israel and Egypt in the Camp David Peace Accord. He negotiated a peace agreement that allowed the PLO to evacuate the besieged city of Beirut. In these excerpts, he talks about his beginnings doing crop reports, the measures taken to avoid the media during the Paris Peace Talks, the breakthrough in negotiations that was undone at the last minute, his heart attack, and the frustrations during the Lebanon negotiations in the 1980s that led to his eventual resignation.


“Hell, Mr. President, I didn’t even vote for you”

Ambassador Robert S. Strauss is one of the giants of twentieth century American politics and

diplomacy, whose service dates back to Lyndon Johnson’s first congressional campaign in 1937. He served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee between 1972 and 1977 and served under President Jimmy Carter as the Special Envoy to the Middle East. He was chosen by President George H. W. Bush to be the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, and later Russia, in 1991. In this interview, he gives his impressions of LBJ, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, and his time in Moscow, including his speech supporting Mikhail Gorbachev and his own less-than-stellar grades on Russian culture.



“I’m still a Dip Kid”

Kathleen Turner was one of the iconic actresses of the 1980’s, starring in such movies as Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?War of the Roses, and the movie that started it all, Body Heat. After a debilitating bout with rheumatoid arthritis, she made a string of cameos on Friends before getting the title role in John Waters’ dark comedy Serial Mom. She returned to the stage, earning a Tony for Best Actress for her performance in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and rave reviews for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  In 2012 she starred in the critically acclaimed one-woman show Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. In this interview, she discusses her father’s internment in China by the Japanese, her life in Cuba during the revolution (and how she prayed to Castro and got candy), her grim memories of charity work in Venezuela, and life in London, where she got the acting bug and protested the Vietnam War, all to her father’s chagrin.


“It was an Unwinnable War”

George Ball was the Under Secretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.  He supported the 1963 overthrow of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in 1968, where he passionately criticized the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. However, he is most well known for his strong opposition to the escalation of the Vietnam War. In this 1971 interview, part of the ADST collection courtesy of the National Archives and Records Service at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Ball recounts his lonely opposition to escalating the Vietnam War, starting in 1964.





 A Moveable Feast with a Renowned Foreign Service Spouse

Julia Child, who would have celebrated her 100th birthday on August 15, 2012, was a pioneer in bringing French cuisine to Americans at a time when most people were content with white bread and TV dinners. But before she rose to prominence, she had served in the OSS during World War II and experienced the life of a Foreign Service spouse when she married Paul Child, who served in the U.S. Information Agency (USIA). Click here to read excerpts from her 1991 oral history.



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