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Day of Atonement, Day of Animosity – The 1973 Yom Kippur War

For Egypt and Syria, the 1967 Six-Day War was a bitter defeat at the hands of long-time foe Israel. They wanted to regain the Sinai and the Golan Heights while Egyptian President Anwar Sadat also wanted to reopen the Suez Canal. On October 6, 1973 they launched a surprise attack on Israeli positions in the Israeli-occupied territories on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, which also occurred that year during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The hostilities in turn led to even greater tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, which began to rearm their allies, Israel and Egypt. Fears of a large-scale battle in the Middle East, perhaps escalating to the Cold War superpowers themselves, ultimately persuaded all involved to back away from the abyss and negotiate a peaceful resolution. Read more

So Many Soldiers, So Little Protection — The Pillaging of Iraqi Culture, 2003

As the cradle of civilization, Iraq has thousands of years of history and artifacts that provide a glimpse into the origins of human civilization and customs. When the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, thousands of artifacts, priceless pieces from centuries of different cultures and civilizations, were destroyed and stolen as U.S. forces made little effort to try to preserve Iraq’s cultural artifacts. While many artifacts were eventually recovered or returned, it is difficult to ascertain the true scope of the pillaging as the Ministry of Culture did not have a complete inventory.      Read more

A Dissident for Dinner — George H.W. Bush’s Ill-Fated Banquet in China

An essential part of being an ambassador is knowing how to push the envelope when it comes to dealing with repressive regimes and opening up to human rights, while also ensuring that these efforts do not cross the line and detrimentally impact the relations between the two countries. Succeeding in such policies requires a delicate touch, especially so when it comes to a nation as tough on dissent and free speech as China.

Winston Lord had to walk this tightrope as Ambassador to China, when Embassy Beijing was preparing for President George H.W. Bush’s state visit. The Embassy had proposed inviting several people to the February 26, 1989 state dinner, including renowned scientist and dissident Fang Lizhi. Although the Chinese had given their approval for the guest list, they reneged just a few days before the start of the visit. Read more

Negotiating the End of the Yom Kippur War

Israel’s resounding victory in the Six-Day War of 1967 left the Arab states humiliated and looking to regain the swathes of territory they had lost. On October 6, 1973, Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Egyptian and Syrian forces attacked Israeli positions in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights, shocking Israel and the United States.

The Egyptian and Syrian militaries had performed maneuvers in the months leading up to the initial strike against Israel, but they were not seen as a threat. As fighting continued, the United States worked to arrange a ceasefire agreement acceptable to both Israel and the Arab states. Read more

The Yom Kippur War — An Evacuation of the Ungrateful

Consular officers must sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to ensure the safety and well-being of Americans overseas. One such officer was Dean Dizikes, who orchestrated the evacuation of 450 Americans from Egypt during the Yom Kippur War. On October 6, 1973, Arab coalition forces attacked Israeli-held territory, and Israel swiftly retaliated. American citizens in Arab countries were in danger of being caught in the crossfire, and Dizikes was sent from the U.S. Embassy in Athens to extract American tourists from Alexandria. Surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges he faced in bringing Americans to safety was the behavior of the Americans themselves. Read more

Congo in Crisis: The Rise and Fall of Katangan Secession

When the Republic of the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) became independent from Belgium in June 1960, the new country immediately descended into a political chaos known as the “Congo Crisis.” The arbitrary boundaries drawn by Colonial powers combined with leftover racial tensions and general uncertainty led to violence along racial lines and widespread mutiny in the Belgian-led army. Belgian troops sent in to protect Belgian citizens clashed with Congolese forces, leading to the U.N. ordering the Belgian forces out of the country.

On July 11, 1960, less than two weeks after the country formally gained independence, a politician named Moise Tshombe declared the southernmost province of the Congo to be an independent nation called the State of Katanga. Katanga, with its copperbelt and lucrative mining operations was the wealthiest province of the Congo. The Belgians, French, and British, wanting influence in the wealthy region, supported the Katanga movement in practice, if not in name. Read more

The Sabra and Shatila Massacre

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) had invaded Lebanon in June 1982 with the goal of pushing out the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). After newly-elected President Bashir Gemayel was assassinated on September 14th, the IDF invaded West Beirut, which included the Sabra neighborhood and the Shatila refugee camp, which predominately housed Muslim refugees. The IDF ordered their allies in Lebanon, the Kataeb Party (also called the Phalange), a right-wing Maronite Christian party, to clear the area of PLO militants to facilitate the IDF advance.

On the night of September 16th, Phalange militants entered the camp and began to massacre refugees. The killing continued throughout the night until a halt was called by the IDF the next day. Read more

Establishing Relations with the Holy See

The Catholic Church has been a political force in Europe for more than a millennium and more than a fifth of all Americans were either raised or are practicing Catholics. Bilateral ties with the Papal States were established in 1848 but lapsed in 1867, in large part because of increasing anti-Catholic sentiment in the United States, which was fueled by the conviction and hanging of Mary Surratt, a Catholic who was part of the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.

Re-establishing relations with the Vatican turned out to be a long and often bumpy road, as many Americans, including some Catholics, opposed bilateral ties on the grounds they would somehow undermine Constitutional separation of church and state. The United States and the Holy See finally announced the establishment of diplomatic relations on January 10, 1984 during the Reagan Administration. Read more

Little Boy Lost: The Case of Elian Gonzalez

In early 2000, the custody case surrounding Cuban child Elian Gonzalez dominated the American news cycle. Combining U.S.-Cuba immigration policies, custody issues and the 2000 American presidential campaign, the case of Elian Gonzalez became highly publicized and politicized.

The story began when the raft carrying Elian and his mother from Cuba to the U.S. sank in a storm, killing his mother and all but two other passengers. After being picked up by the Coast Guard and brought to live with relatives in the Miami area, a lengthy legal battle began. After months of publicity and legal wrangling, Elian was finally allowed on June 28, 2000 to return to Cuba in his father’s custody, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a lower court decision that Elian was too young to file for asylum. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

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Opening an Embassy in the Land of Genghis Khan

Getting a new embassy up and running is a tremendous task, especially when the host city has an annual average temperature of thirty degrees Fahrenheit. Joseph Edward Lake was the second U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia, and the first to reside permanently in the country. He was charged with establishing a functional embassy in Ulaanbaatar and coordinating greater communication between the U.S. and Mongolia.

Mongolia was historically a socialist state with very strong ties to the Soviet Union. The U.S. officially recognized Mongolia on January 27, 1987, and the first embassy was opened the following year. In late 1989, Mongolian students engaged in large protests against the government, leading to a call for democratic elections the following year. Ambassador Lake oversaw the first democratic elections and the coordination of U.S. and international aid for Mongolia.

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