The late 1980s saw an alarming decline in U.S.-Libyan relations. A plane hijacking and airport attacks in Rome and Vienna in 1985, all linked to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi further escalated tensions between the two countries. The U.S. discovered that surface-to-air missiles were being deployed in Libya around the same time. In contravention of international sea regulations, Qaddafi also claimed the whole Gulf of Sidra for Libya, drawing the so-called “Line of Death” on the Mediterranean. This led to the United States bombing of Libya on April 15, 1986. Michael Ussery, Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) for Near East Asian Affairs from 1985 to 1988, recounts the run-up to the attack, the plans to topple Qaddafi, how the Libya desk officer refused to participate in the planning on moral grounds, and the blowback encountered over plans to spread disinformation through the American media. Read more
On May 1, 1960, an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union and its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was captured. The Eisenhower administration initially attempted to cover up the incident but was soon forced to admit that the U.S. had been conducting reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union for several years. The ensuing diplomatic crisis ended a period of warmer relations between the two superpowers and heightened Cold War tensions.
During the course of his captivity, Powers was interrogated at length and found guilty of espionage after a show trial. Read more
Philip Habib (February 25, 1920 – May 25, 1992) was a career diplomat known for his work in Vietnam, South Korea and the Middle East. The New York Times described him as “the outstanding professional diplomat of his generation in the United States.” Habib was Lebanese-American and raised in Brooklyn by Lebanese Maronite Catholic parents. He graduated with a Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Berkeley in 1952 then entered the Foreign Service. 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. He was Ambassador to South Korea (1971–1974), Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (1974–1976), and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (1976–1978), during which time he was the chief mediator between Israel and Egypt in the Camp David Peace Accord.
Habib retired from the Foreign Service after suffering a third heart attack but soon returned to public service in 1979 as a special adviser and in 1981 was sent as special envoy by Ronald Reagan to mediate the Lebanese Civil War. Habib negotiated a peace agreement that allowed the PLO to evacuate the besieged city of Beirut.
In 1982 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest official honor given to a U.S. citizen by the U.S. government. John Boykin’s biography of Habib, “Cursed is the Peacemaker” focuses largely on Habib’s mediation between Israel and Lebanon during their war in 1982. In 2006, Habib was featured on a U.S. postage stamp, one of a block of six featuring prominent diplomats.
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.
The Economics of the Peach Market
HABIB: I went straight to the Ph.D….. While I was in Berkeley, I was a research associate assistant to one of the professors. We d
id research on various crop problems. My first publication — I was the co-author of a pamphlet issued by the University of California on the asparagus situation, or the spinach situation in California. I was the co-author, I had done the statistical research.
Q: Filed in the Library of Congress?
HABIB: I filed in a lot of places. There’s another one on the premium peach market in California. My first publication, however, was as co-author of the spinach situation in California. At any rate, it was not bad training in terms of economic reporting in the Foreign Service. Let’s face it. I later wrote hundreds of crop reports as an economic reporting officer in my first post in the Foreign Service…. I was assistant agriculture attaché in Canada.
On Avoiding the Media during the Paris Peace Talks
HABIB: I was assigned temporary duty and I was there all the time, never left except for briefing trips back home. We started out living at the Crillon Hotel and after seven or eight months of eating out all the time, I rented a little pad, a two and a half room pad up in an old house about five minutes from the embassy. I could fall out of bed and be in the embassy in five minutes if anything happened, and we began the negotiations. The negotiations were for the purpose of a total bombing halt, and to negotiate the end of war.
From our standpoint, we were willing to go for a total bombing halt, but we wanted to get a proper negotiation going including the South Vietnamese. We had South Vietnamese liaison guys there in Paris. But the actual negotiations were between us and the North Vietnamese. We started in May and by the fall of that year we had negotiated the total bombing halt under conditions of bringing about full fledged negotiations, and also with certain understandings as to what would not be done. It’s beginning to fade from my memory, but it’s still quite clear what we did, including such things as no major attacks on cities. We had all sorts of things which were quite clear from what had gone on in the negotiations.
We had two levels of negotiations. We had the formal talks every Thursday. We would convene at the Majestic Hotel at Avenue Kleber. The delegation would file into this magnificent conference hall, and we’d sit there and read statements to each other, and go out and talk to the TV cameras, and go back to the office and meet again the next Thursday.
Well, that went on for a while, and obviously we weren’t going to do anything under that spotlight, so we had a couple of private meetings, and then we set up the formal secret negotiations. They had a safe house, and we had a safe house. Our safe house was staffed by the CIA, but with Defense people living there, and a couple of secretaries took care of the safe house. And they had a safe house which was supplied to them by the French Communist Party. Sometimes we’d meet in our safe house, sometimes we’d meet in their safe house.
HABIB: [Theirs was on the] outside, on the fringe of the city. That was the Kissinger thing. Now, we ran it secretly. Nobody knew, nobody had a clue where they were. They knew that something was wrong, but couldn’t figure out what. I remember one CBS reporter said, “Now we’ve figured it out, you’re meeting on a houseboat on the Seine.” Yes, that’s right, on a houseboat, you get a rowboat and follow us out. They never discovered it, and why? We ran it, we were professionals. Nothing ever leaked from them, or from us. We had a whole series of good meetings.
Q: Maintaining secrecy on both sides.
HABIB: That’s right, and we held I don’t know how many dozens of these meetings until we negotiated the terms of understanding. As a matter of fact, they were finally initialed and signed on the last day, but I wasn’t there. When they were finalized and initialed I had been ordered back to brief the president, because there was a lot going on back here. So I came back to Washington to brief people here on where things stood. I didn’t attend the last secret meetings with Harriman and Vance, which was the only time that they allowed photographs up until that time. There were photographs taken at the last meeting. I don’t have a copy because I wasn’t there — one of the photographs I really would have liked to have because I had been one of the players right from the beginning.
Cy Vance and I had carried on most of the secret negotiations. We would bring Harriman in for the key ones. Cy and I had meeting after meeting, and a couple of times I had meetings alone, at the last stages when we were drafting terms in getting the agreement on the shape of the table. All that was done in that period under the secret negotiation.
Q: So you would have the press come around for those once-a-week meetings.
HABIB: That’s right. The press was there for the once-a-week meetings.
The time when the press arrived, after the formal once-a-week negotiations, with nothing going on, we were having intensive 7-8-hour-long meetings with the Vietnamese that the press knew nothing about. Now the way we managed it, I set up the system.
For example, let’s say the meeting was in our safe house–we had a safe house in a place called St. Cloud. We had one somewhere else and a third one in another place, then the Vietnamese had a safe house out at Choissy-le-Roi. Harriman would stay out in Auteuil. Vance would be at the embassy with me. We had a CIA guy, with an unmarked car rented by this CIA guy. He was not a guy from the station. He was a special guy brought in nobody knew….
He would rent a private car. He would park the car up by the Madeleine. The meetings usually consisted of Harriman, Vance, and myself, John Negroponte and Dave Engel, Bill Jordan. Negroponte and Engel would do the notes, and I would take notes too. If it was just Vance, it would be Vance, myself, and probably Negroponte, the three of us, or maybe Engel would.
Q: Did you each talk in your own language and then use a translator?
HABIB: That’s right. They wouldn’t negotiate in French. They wouldn’t do it even in the big meetings, they would not negotiate in French. The only time they would speak French and negotiate was privately. One night I had the deputy guy over for dinner at my apartment, and we spoke French….
At any rate, the guy would park the car up there at a given hour; let’s say the meeting was going to be at 10:00, a half-hour drive or so. At 9:00 Dave Engel, carrying the documents in a satchel, would wander up toward the Madeleine, get into the car, the driver would then drive down and he would go up the Champs-Elysées.
Meanwhile, Cy Vance and I would go out the back door of the embassy and we would walk as if we were taking a stroll in the park along the Champs-Elysées, and at a given moment we would be at the curb on a certain spot on the Champs-Elysées, the car would stop, and he and I would get in the car, and we would then drive out to where Ambassador Harriman would be outside of a flower shop at a certain time. We would pick him up and we would head out. Of course, nobody knew where the hell we were going.
“The war would have been over much sooner”
We did that from May until October, and then we finished the negotiations. We finished them actually in October. Of course, at that point we thought we were going to be a big success. Of course, Harriman was very anxious to get this done before the elections to avert, as he put it, the greatest disaster: Richard Nixon. That was the way he felt. So he was doing everything to get Humphrey elected.
Vance was marvelous. They were very political. Of course, we stayed out of the politics. In fact, I think most of those at the meetings wanted to get it done before the election too, because the Vietnamese were being stubborn as hell. From May, June, July, August, they wouldn’t give a thing. And all of a sudden, one day, we had been pressing them: What would we get if we gave a total bombing halt? For the total bombing halt we wanted, specific things had to happen. And finally, one day, the head of their delegation, a member of the Politburo, said to Harriman and Vance, “If we do so and so and so, will you stop the bombing?” At that point, you knew you had it.
It was just that stubbornness and reading reams of propaganda bullshit, even in the secret talks. They finally agreed to what we needed, and what we wanted, and the deal was cooked. And then something happened.
Q: Before the election.
HABIB: Before the election. First of all somebody got to [South Vietnamese President Ngyuen Van] Thieu on behalf of Nixon and said, “Don’t agree, come to Paris.”
It was done right here in Washington. A Republican went to a famous woman called Anna Chennault. Anna Chennault went to the Vietnamese and told the Vietnamese, “We’ll get a better deal under Nixon.” So Thieu refused to accept the agreement and sent a delegation to Paris. Clark Clifford was fit to be tied, particularly Clark. Harriman was about to climb the wall. Well finally, of course, the election was held and Humphrey lost.
Q: It could have turned out differently.
HABIB: That’s correct. I’m convinced that if Humphrey had won the election the war would have been over much sooner. I know what we were going to negotiate under Harriman and Vance, and that was not what we negotiated under the later generation, basically under Henry Kissinger and Nixon.
Kissinger was somewhat familiar because he had been a consultant. As a matter of fact, the great article that Kissinger had written about the negotiations, he really stole that from us. It was in the form of a briefing which I gave him in Paris before he wrote the article. It was exactly the position that I had in some way espoused. And also I had written a special paper for Harriman on what to do about getting the negotiations on track, which he was going to buy.
Of course, the election was held and a new group came along. First of all, Henry Cabot Lodge was appointed head. You couldn’t get the thing cranked up until after the inauguration, which meant you marked time until January. Meanwhile the Vietnamese agreed to come, so they formed their delegation, and the Viet Cong came with their delegation.
Q: I remember the table problem.
HABIB: A round table, with no sides, our side, your side, was the formula we used. It was a simple thing to arrange. People said it took them three months to decide on the shape of the table, that was a bunch of shit. We knew what the table was going to be from the beginning; it was going to be a round table. It was the only way you were going to solve the problem. We knew that but we had to go through this whole routine of satisfying the South Vietnamese, and beating down the arguments of the North Vietnamese who wanted the VC [Viet Cong] as an equal delegation. They talked about a four-party negotiation, and we talked about an “our side, your side” negotiation.
We finally resolved the problem by a round table. We knew we were going to do that. But you couldn’t solve anything when you didn’t have delegations. And then we had an election and we had to wait until the new administration was in. The new administration appointed Cabot Lodge as head of the delegation and, of course, he had a so-called number two called Walsh, a lawyer from New York who didn’t know anything about the problem. He was a Republican lawyer from New York who was in the early Nixon administration. But Cabot insisted that I had to remain. At this point I wanted my just rewards. I could have an embassy anywhere I wanted; I might as well get an embassy….
Cabot came and we began sort of floundering around. At that point Henry Kissinger entered the negotiations by deciding that he’s going to run the secret negotiating…. He had Dick Walters, who was then the military attaché, set up the goddamn negotiation, and said nothing to us. Henry lacked confidence in the secrecy of the Foreign Service. Here I had run the secret negotiations, and he knew me. He knew me for a long time. Hell, I knew him when he was at Harvard.
And yet, instead of getting me to set up the secret negotiations, he gets a military attaché, this secretive fellow called Dick Walters, to set up the negotiations through a Frenchmen, mind you, who was a friend of Kissinger’s. I should say his wife was a friend of Kissinger’s, a guy called Jean Sainteny who was an old Indo-Chinese hand.
He gets the goddamn first secret meeting with them set up through Walters and Sainteny in Sainteny’s apartment. And they go to the meeting and Henry thinks Walters is going to do the interpreting and speak French. He finds out the guys won’t speak French in the negotiations. So he didn’t have them, instead of taking my man, Dave Engel, whom I had offered him. I said to him I knew that they were doing this. He had with him Winston Lord, Tony Lake, and this character, Walters. None of them knew anything about anything at that point compared to us…. I had Dave Engel, I had John Negroponte, I had Dick Holbrooke, Dick Smyser, and he decided to do it this way. Of course, he soon learned that he had to have Dave Engel.
Years later, years later, John Negroponte was head of the delegation, but he was working for Kissinger, not for me. He was on the NSC at that time. He wouldn’t use the mechanism that we had…. They ended up by not being secret. Lodge left because he didn’t want to hang around any longer. I became acting head of the division and lasted about nine months, and then they decided to make it appear as if we were upgrading our interest and had David Bruce come. David lasted several months; I forget how long. He was there for about nine months, and he got fed up and he left. I was acting again, and then I finally broke loose and went as ambassador to Korea….
“Professor Kissinger, you don’t know a goddamn thing about this place”
Q: Had Kissinger come on missions to Vietnam while you were there?
. The first time I met him was when he came to Vietnam. You probably never heard him tell that story about the time I threw him out of my office. The first time he ever came in, the first time I ever saw him. He was a professor and Henry Cabot Lodge called me in and said that Johnson was sending this professor out. Did I know this Professor Kissinger? I said, I don’t know him but I know who he is, he’s written that book that everybody knew about, Nuclear weapons and Foreign Policy.
So this guy shows up at my door one morning. I was in one of my particular moods, so I looked at him and said, “Professor, you don’t know a goddamn thing about this place. I’m a very busy fellow. If you want to learn something about it, I’ll give you a couple of my guys who know the language, know the country. You go around the country, spend a couple of weeks looking the situation over, then you come back and I’ll have time to talk to you. In the meantime, get the hell out of my office.”
That’s exactly the way I greeted him. He tells the story all the time. I literally told him to get the hell out of my office, I didn’t have time for him. But he followed my advice. As a matter of fact, I gave him Dave Engel, and I gave him Vlad Lehovich to take him around, take him up country and show him around. I think John Negroponte went with him too to show him a little bit about what the hell the war was all about. Interesting enough, Henry hated to fly, you know, at that time. He was literally pained flying, but he would do it. He would grit his teeth and he’d go up in these goddamn little airplanes and flit around the countryside. Then he came back and we became very good friends.
Having a Heart Attack before a White House Meeting
I was due at the White House for breakfast, [Israeli Prime Minister] Menachem Begin, [Secretary of State] Cy Vance and the president. And I had told Cy the night before when we got in to Andrews, “I’ll meet you at the office at 7:00 and we’ll go over together.” But I got to the office at 7:00 and barely made it to the room, collapsed, and they called an ambulance and I got hauled out to Walter Reed. So I didn’t make the breakfast with Begin and the president. They put me in intensive care in Walter Reed….
Q: They had your file.
HABIB: Yes, and I had a [cardiac] arrest that day. They had sedated me so they shocked me back with the paddles. They
kept me there for a few days, and by golly I had another arrest. I got over it, and they put me on a lot of pills, I was taking at one time something like 36 pills, each a different kind, in one day. I’d have to get up in the middle of the night and take a pill.
They were trying to adjust the rhythm of my heart by pills. What had happened, of course, the first heart attack left a scar and a bulge in my heart and that would always stay with me, and the pain. So the next thing I know, they said I’m in the hospital recuperating and when I recuperated I came back to the Department. Oh well, now you can go back to work, other people do.
And I said, no, I don’t think so. I’ll take some time off to see if I can get my health back. So I went out to Stanford as Diplomat in Residence.
The Lebanese Civil War – “That’s when I resigned for the last time”
There was practically no evidence of any hostile action from Lebanese territory directly into Israel. The Israelis won’t admit that, but it’s true. We kept track of those damn things. Now, they had this plan, [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon had this plan that had been made in Lebanon to crush the Palestinian movement. That’s what he told me when he told me about this plan, and showed me what it was.
I told him it was no goddamn good, and I was right, but he didn’t pay any attention. The next day you know the war is on and everything that goes with it. At that point we began to question, how do you stop the war? I had eleven ceasefires, then the twelfth one. Sometimes a ceasefire would last for a day, sometimes an hour, sometimes three days, it never would last.
And it was not always the Arabs’ fault. The Israelis had this strange notion that if you declared a ceasefire you could move your troops around. So they would accept the ceasefire and then they would move their troops, and the other guys would shoot at them and they’d say, “They broke the ceasefire.” I once said to the prime minister, a friend of the defense minister and the foreign minister, that I was going to have to get this new definition of a ceasefire written up in the annals of the War College.
But that’s wh
at happened. I was terribly busy running from country to country. Trying to get the Saudis and the Syrians to do things, talking to the Syrians directly to get them clued in, keeping the Israelis on board, flying in and around and up and down. It wasn’t too bad.
Well, I then got to talk ceasefire and it held [for a while] but I got to a point where I was really fed up with the senselessness that was going on. I had practically got an agreement with the PLO and the Syrians to get their troops out of Beirut. I was negotiating the details and what follows and all that, and still the Israelis were hitting the cities.
So I used to call Washington up on a secure line and said I wanted to talk to the Secretary. When they got the Secretary on the phone, I said, “Now this has got to stop. Its just can’t go on this way.” He said, “What do you recommend?”
I said, “I recommend the President pick up the telephone and talk to Menachem Begin.”
That’s what happened. That led to a disengagement of forces, and bringing in the multinational force and a ceasefire that held long enough to get an election in Lebanon. Things seemed to be going in the right direction, and the war started all over again.
At that point, we were in negotiation involving Israel, the Lebanese, a negotiation which I opposed. The Israelis insisted they wanted a negotiation. So I’m not getting anywhere. I went to the president and secretary and said, “My idea is that I should go over there now with a solution and say, ‘Look, fellows, tell me what you want and we’ll put it together’.”
I talked to the Lebanese; they were all right, I had a pretty good understanding with agreement to them. I go to Israel and I had the whole cabinet, the senior members of the cabinet. I started talking about my ideas…and Sharif pulled out a piece of paper and he said, in effect we’re way ahead of you, we’ve got this working paper with the Lebanese, this is the start of the settlement [talks] in Washington.
I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t know anything about it. I had not been in that part of the world in several months. I was out in California….
At any rate, it was a bad turn of events. So we began plodding back to the negotiations, and finally got them through. By the time they were finished, they weren’t worth the paper they were written on, because they obviously couldn’t be implemented. I remember I used to sometimes say to the Lebanese, you can’t demand this. You can’t demand [that] because if you do the Syrians won’t accept it. They wanted to get the maximum benefits to justify the war. But by now the war had turned sour. Those attitudes were very sour towards the war.
Q: And the Syrians were very proud of their negative reality.
HABIB: All of this took so much time. The Syrians get reinforced…. The Israelis supported the Christians; they supported that other group. The fighting began to stir up again. After the agreement was signed I was going over to Syria to talk with Assad.
I got the word back that I wasn’t welcome because I had misled him in the early days on the ceasefire. I didn’t mislead him. The Israelis would agree to the terms and then they would break them. But he held that against me.
Q: That you had deceived him on the ceasefire.
HABIB: So I said to the President, well, if he doesn’t want to see me — that’s when I resigned for the last time.
Jonestown, Guyana was the scene of one of the most harrowing tragedies in American history. On November 18, 1978, at the direction of charismatic cult leader Jim Jones, 909 members of the People’s Temple died, all but two from apparent cyanide poisoning, in a “revolutionary suicide.” They included over 200 murdered children. The poisonings in Jonestown followed the murder of five others, including Congressman Leo Ryan, by Temple members at the nearby Port Kaituma airstrip. It was the largest mass suicide in modern history and resulted in the largest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until September 11, 2001. Read more
November 4, 1979 – Radical Iranian students take over the U.S. embassy in Tehran and hold 52 Americans hostage. The embassy had been seized in February of that year, shortly after the Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile in Paris, but that was resolved quickly; few suspected that this diplomatic crisis would end up lasting 444 days and cost the lives of eight soldiers who died during the ill-fated Operation Eagle Claw rescue attempt on April 24, 1980.
Bruce Laingen was Charge d’affaires of the embassy and was one of three people who spent most of that time held hostage at the Foreign Ministry. In this interview, conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy starting in January 1993, he discusses the run-up to the takeover, his stay at the Ministry, the “Canadian caper,” which became the inspiration for the movie Argo, and the negotiations which led to their eventual release. Read more
Michael Hoyt was Commercial Officer in Leopoldville from 1962 until 1965 and was serving as interim Principal Officer in Stanleyville (now Kisangani) when he and his staff, along with 320 other people, were taken hostage by the rebel Simbas. Held for 111 days, they were eventually rescued in a joint U.S.-Belgian operation code-named Dragon Rouge on November 24, 1964. He talks of how they had to destroy classified material and fight off the rebels at the consulate before they were taken hostage, the many times they thought they would be executed or fed to the crocodiles, the daring rescue, and the less-than-positive feelings he had toward the ambassador who ordered him to stay at the consulate. Hoyt is a recipient of the Secretary’s Award for his actions and was interviewed by Ray Sadler in 1995. These excerpts were taken from the Democratic Republic of the Congo Country Reader.
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).
Below are excerpts from a brief 1991 oral history in which she discusses her love of French cuisine and the ugly shadow of McCarthyism, including the notorious trip made by Roy Cohn and David Schine in 1953 to USIS libraries in Western European countries. The two reported that over 30,000 books, including works by Herman Melville, John Steinbeck, and Henry Thoreau, were “pro-communist.” The State Department immediately ordered thousands of books removed.
Go here to read her
Falling in Love with French Cuisine
When I was in the Foreign Service, they didn’t really pay attention to wives at all. A lot of them never learned the language, or did anything….We were in World War II, we were in the OSS [Office of Strategic Services] and we met in Ceylon, or Sri Lanka, it was Ceylon then. Then we went up to China and we were there when the bomb dropped. Then we came back to Washington and Paul’s OSS Department — they called it visual presentation, maps, diagrams, war rooms and things like that — became the U.S. Information Agency. So we were there in Washington. Paul had spent a lot of his young manhood in France and spoke beautiful French, really practically bilingual.
When they were setting up the USIS [United States Information Service] in Paris, he was asked to go over, which was of course wonderful for us. Outside of the Far East, I had only been to Tijuana (Mexico). And I had had French all of my life, but when I got over there I could neither speak it nor understand it. So I went to Berlitz two hours every day. And then we had some friends from New Haven who were medieval art historians, and they introduced us to their colleagues in France…. We said that we would meet every Monday for an exchange of lessons, but of course it turned out to be entirely French. They had medieval Wednesday evenings and Paul and I always went to them and everything was in French, which was good. There would be long, long discussions about whether the false transepts had been built in 1123 or 1131, and things like that.
But that was wonderful just to be drowned in French. And then, I had never had French food before. I loved the Chinese food, it was just delicious. And I just fell in love with French food from the first bite. We came over, I think it was on the SS America with our old blue Buick, and our first French meal, or my French meal was in Rouen and I never, never turned back after that.
After we had gotten settled [the Childs rented “a comfortable third-floor apartment on the Rue de l’Université behind the Chambre de Députés. Paul could walk across the Pont de la Concorde to his office…”], I enrolled in the Cordon Bleu [the French cooking school originally founded to give orphans a profession] and I was fortunately able to join a group of GIs on the [GI] Bill of Rights and we had a wonderful old chef [Max Bugnard] who had trained under Escoffier and was a real classicist and a wonderful man. We would start at seven in the morning and cook until about eleven. Then I would rush home and cook Paul a fancy lunch and go back again. I think it was the Cordon Bleu that helped me a great deal also because that was all in French.
Q: And you were the only woman in the class?
CHILD: I was the only woman in that class with the men. I just became passionate, I had been looking for a career all my life. I wanted to be on the New Yorker or something like that. Well, this was it. I was passionately interested in it, the tremendous care that all the chefs and teachers took. It was art for art’s sake. It made no difference how long it took. If it came out beautifully, that was it. That was very appealing. After I had been to the Cordon Bleu, heavens, [after] about six or eight months, it began repeating. You can just do a chaud froid [fowl or game cooked as a hot dish, but served cold]. Well, about the third time you feel that, you have had it.
Luckily at that time I had met my French colleague, Simone Beck. Of course that was ’48-’49 and all of the Americans [in France] could hire servants for practically nothing. And the French bourgeoisie all had their little femmes de ménage, and I was so enthusiastic about this profession, but there wasn’t anyone to talk to of my own type. We had mutual friends who introduced me to Simca, as she was known, and Jean at a cocktail party and we literally embraced each other immediately because she felt the same way about, “Whom can I talk to!” She had a colleague, Louisette Bertholle, and the two of them were working together on a book on French cooking for Americans. They had a collaborator who died. I was delighted with that.
That was after we had started our little cooking school. We had some American friends who knew what I was doing and they said, “Well, we don’t speak any French, so why don’t you teach us?” I felt that I didn’t know nearly enough. But Simca, who had been cooking all of her life, and had worked with Henri Pellaprat [pre-World War II chef/ teacher at Cordon Bleu] and so forth, said, “Well, why not.”
So we started our cooking school about the next day and we called it the École des Trois Gourmandes, the School of the Three Hearty Eaters. That really started us seriously. Then their collaborator died, and that pleased me very much. I never knew him. Good timing.
So we started in on our book together, and that took a long gestation period. It wasn’t done until our last post in Norway, which was in ’59. When we got to Oslo there was an American Women’s Club and I remember the first luncheon I went to, which would have been in probably ’59. It was a
typical ladies’ luncheon.
They had a salad made out of Jell-O, I guess, and it had bananas and grapes and marshmallows and it was shaped — and really it looked like a phallic symbol! It was sitting on a little piece of lettuce, you couldn’t hide it under anything. Then it ended with one of those cake mix cakes with a white mountain of coconut frosting. Horrible! And some of us got together and said, “Never again!” So we had a cooking committee so we couldn’t end up with anything like that again.
I gave cooking lessons there in Norway with a mixed — Norway was an awfully nice post. Oslo, we just loved it. So many nice people and then of course they all spoke English. Even though you were learning Norwegian, so it was very easy to get along with them, and they are such nice people anyway. So we loved our last post. After Norway, Paul had said that when he was sixty, he was going to retire because he never really liked the bureaucracy at all. And so we left when he was sixty, and that’s when my book [Mastering the Art of French Cooking] came out. And he helped me with all of that. He helped me with proof reading and the index. He’s a wonderful photographer, so he did photographs from which we had a sketch artist do drawings. So it was wonderful having him.
Q: He was very supportive, wasn’t he?
CHILD: Oh, very, in everything. He was a prime dishwasher and baggage carrier. And then he was good intellectually for me, for I was rather messy intellectually. But he would always talk about the operational proof, and things like that. We had a very good time together.…
Q: And also, to be able to go from your lessons to all of the delightful little restaurants around Paris.
CHILD: Yes, and what was wonderful. Those were the days of the classic cuisine, and it was so good. It was delicious. Just a plain roast chicken was so good. That was before they had learned to do battery raised chicken. They really tasted like chicken. And delicious vegetables and salads and cheeses, and so forth.
Q: While you were learning at class, you must have gone to little restaurants.
CHILD: Oh, in the old days, I think Paul’s salary was $6,000 and I got $100 a month from my family. But we had envelopes, and we each had $2 a week allowance, and we had everything budgeted out and we very carefully saved everything for going out. But even so we could go out two or three times a week, and even a great restaurant like the Grand Véfour was only about $3.50. Or was it $10? I think maybe it was $10. But you could eat beautifully for a reasonable price. But we had to watch every penny.
Dealing with McCarthyism and U.S. Government Bureaucracy
When it broke, we were in Marseilles. During the McCarthy thing we were in Marseilles, and when [Roy] Cohn and [David] Schine [reference to an infamous European trip made by McCarthy’s two bullying assistants] came through, I think we were still there. We went up to Paris shortly afterwards and I remember our cultural attaché, Larry Morris — he was an older man, I guess he was in his fifties. They [Cohn and Schine] had arrived in Paris and of course they went out to all the nightclubs and so forth, and it happened to be during Easter, and on Easter Sunday they had called a meeting that everyone was to get there at eight o’clock a.m. at the USIS office.
Of course, they didn’t appear. It turned out that when they finally got hold of them, they were sleeping off a night at Montmartre. They had ruined everyone’s weekend. I remember they were charging though the USIS and Larry Morris came in and saw Cohn sitting at his desk with his feet on his desk. Larry Morris said, “Get out of that chair. Get your feet off my desk.” But most people were scared to do anything. They were also the kind of people that if you really came at them, they would back right off. But most people didn’t dare. I remember Allen Dulles [Director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the early 1950s], as I was told, when they wanted to investigate the CIA, he said, “If you are going to investigate anyone, you can investigate me.” They never touched him.
But if you cringed, they were right on top of you. I never met them myself. There were also the people who just cravenly fell down in front of them. And we had quite a number of people who were just ruined by them. John Carter Vincent [Minister to Switzerland (1947-51] was one of the China Hands drummed out of the Foreign Service by McCarthy’s tactics. Vincent and others were accused of “losing China” to the Chinese communists led by Mao Tse-tung. [He] was a good friend of ours. He was drummed out. I remember we were back in Paris I guess when were stationed in Marseilles, John Carter Vincent came over and gave a talk at the American Club, and he had a standing ovation. It was horrible what they did to him.…
We were free to live a normal life. That was the nice thing about being down in the middle ranks, which we always were. And in Germany we had a boss whom we called Wooden Head the First, and his assistant was Wooden Head the Second. The man who was in charge of the whole thing was an alcoholic and so was his wife. Paul’s favorite thing was “Eye on Target” and you didn’t feel that anyone had EOT there. They were all trying to get ahead, and you had no feeling that anyone had much of any purpose, except for the younger people who were all full of idealism and so forth on the whole. But the upper ones were people you did not admire, and I think it’s horrid working for people you don’t admire.…
And you must learn the language. In those days, before we went over to Germany — In those days it was all slots and bodies — you got someone who was a Cultural Affairs Officer who had the mind of a mechanic, who knew nothing, didn’t speak the language. I think that was regrettable, because when you think of the Russian heyday, they had to learn various languages and I think that in the Foreign Service you should have two major languages and two minor ones. You should really concentrate on those things so that when you send somebody over they could go right in and talk. Because what good are you if you can’t talk to the people. Absolutely none. I think maybe now that we are not top dog, we may begin to take things a little more seriously. I think we always thought that we were so wonderful and that everyone could learn English.
But it was interesting as an example, too, when we were in Kunming. At about two o’clock in the morning, the Chinese came around to everybody’s compound and said, “We would like you all to stay in. We are having a little revolution.” They went, I think, to the Dutch, the English and the French, nobody knew anything about it. So I think it was probably because we didn’t really have people who were speaking Chinese and penetrating in.…
We had a very interesting and good time. Of course if you want to make money you don’t go into the diplomatic service. But it is a fascinating time. You were in Sierra Leone and all those places. I think if we had stayed in longer we probably would have ended up in deepest Africa, I’m sure.
ll, maybe one post there, who knows. Your husband sounds like a very interesting man.
CHILD: Black belt in judo, and photographer and painter. He was not a bureaucratic man. What he liked to do was have his work and do it. And he was never ambitious. I know there were some of them in the Paris embassy who would go in on Sundays and Saturdays, busy work, so people could see they were there. Paul left as soon as he could leave, and did his work, and he just didn’t get into the politics of the bureaucracy at all, so he never rose very far.
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