Feed on
Posts

Herculaneum-NatGeo.jpg

When Vesuvius erupted on August 24, 79 AD, it famously engulfed the Roman town of Pompeii and, less famously, the richer town of Herculaneum. Both places sat under 50-60 feet of volcanic ash until they were rediscovered in 1748. In contrast to Pompeii, the hot gas and rock flow preserved Herculaneum’s organic-based objects, such as wooden roofs, beds, doors, and food. Until recently, it was believed that almost all of Herculaneum’s inhabitants had been able to evacuate.

However, in the 1980’s, some 300 skeletons were surprisingly discovered along the seashore. This was an incredible archaeological discovery and would lead to greater insight into the lives of the Romans. However, the dig ran into serious financial difficulties. Fortunately, one American diplomat was able to get the National Geographic Society involved. Herculaneum is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Walter J. Silva recalls his time in Naples as a political-military officer and discusses the chance encounter that led to his involvement and the sad loss of one of the site’s more unique finds. Charles Stuart Kennedy interviewed Silva beginning in January 1995. 

00:0000:00

Get_Smart.jpg

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.

00:0000:00

LBJ_shower_head.jpg

Many stars are (in)famous for the lists of must-have items that are to be stocked backstage or in their hotel rooms. During one tour in London, Barbra Streisand demanded rose petals in the toilet and 120 peach-colored towels. Mariah Carey wants gold faucets and new toilet seats installed in her room before she checks in. (We won’t even go into Van Halen’s reputed liquor requirements.) But such demands aren’t limited to those in the entertainment business. Many Foreign Service officers have had to endure visits by high-level officials who have a seemingly endless list of incredible requests. Tom Stern served as Administrative Counselor in Bonn in the mid-1960’s and had to deal with one of the political rock stars of the era, President Lyndon Johnson.

LBJ’s penchant for shower heads was well-known, as shown in this brief Vanity Fair article.

00:0000:00

Rwanda_genocide.jpg

 

Two decades of ethnic tension and a civil war in 1990 laid the groundwork for one of the most savage episodes of wanton slaughter witnessed in the past half century. The day after the airplane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and the president of Burundi was shot down, the Rwandan military responded to the deaths of the two Hutu presidents by starting a murderous campaign to eradicate all the Tutsis they could reach. Thus the Rwandan Genocide began on April 7, 1994, as hundreds of thousands of innocent people were massacred in only a few short months. Robert Gribbin, Ambassador to the Central African Republic at the time and Ambassador to Rwanda in 1996, and Joyce Leader, Deputy Chief of Mission in Kigali from 1991 to 1994, recount the background of ethnic hatred that led to the explosion of violence, their experiences as the genocide broke out, and the massive evacuation they had to oversee to get foreigners out of the country. Gribbin and Leader were interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2000 and 2003, respectively.

00:0000:00

Genghis_Khan.jpg

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.

Lake served as Ambassador to Mongolia from 1990 to 1993. He recounts his experiences in a 1994 interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy.

00:0000:00

A Hamilton for Henry

Kissingers.jpg

When Henry Kissinger became Secretary of State in September 1973, he declined the usual Diplomatic Security (DS) protective detail, preferring the protection of the Secret Service as he was already under its protection as the head of the National Security Council (NSC) and had a good relationship with the detail leader, Walter Bothe. His wife, Nancy, on the other hand, was quite satisfied with the DS agents attached to her detail. Bruce Tully, who was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in July 2015, is a veteran of both the Secret Service and Diplomatic Security and was one of the agents on her detail.

00:0000:00

Refusenik.jpg

As General Secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev authorized the release of thousands of Soviet Jews who wanted to leave the USSR. In 1986 only 914 Soviet Jews were allowed to emigrate; by 1990 the number was 186,815.  A group of about 11,000 who had been denied emigration visas were known as refuseniks. Natan Sharansky, a spokesperson for the refuseniks during the mid-1970s, helped draw global attention to their desire to leave and to human rights abuses in the USSR. Arrested on charges of espionage and treason, in 1978 he was sentenced to 13 years of forced labor. His wife Avital led an international campaign to free him.

Under pressure from President Ronald Reagan, Gorbachev released Sharansky on February 11, 1986. Sharanksy moved to Israel, where he founded the Yisrael BaAliyah party and later represented the Likud Party, serving as Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister of Israel.  He continues to be active as the Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

00:0000:00

POTUS_comes_to_town.jpg

 

One of the most daunting and stressful tasks a Foreign Service Officer abroad can face is supporting a visit by POTUS, the President of the United States. Concerns about security, cultural sensitivities, press coverage and political effectiveness turn such events into an all-encompassing, embassy-wide obsession from the day the idea of the visit is floated until “Wheels Up” when Air Force One departs. There’s plenty of drama, bruised egos, hurry-up-and-wait, and silliness in the planning and implementation of such a visit. The outcome can make or break a career.

00:0000:00

 

Folk_Music.jpg

“But if I really say it/ the radio won’t play it/ unless I lay it between the lines.”  This song made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary was about rock & roll music, but the same principle was applied in conducting public diplomacy programs in Shanghai at a time of censorship and chilly bilateral relations. China had officials whose job was specifically to guard against “American spiritual pollution,” so overcoming these challenges called for a creative bent.

00:0000:00

Which Witch?

witch-doctor-200x200.jpg

 

When stationed abroad, Foreign Service Officers may face dangers such as carjackings, bombings, or even assassination attempts. However, for some, the most serious threat may be a supernatural one:  being cursed by a local witch doctor. The supernatural threats encountered by FSOs must always be taken seriously; otherwise, one risks temporal pain and spiritual punishment (probably even greater than dealing with HR).

00:0000:00

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »