The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2003

younger members of the Foreign Service, who can learn from their retired colleagues how difficult situations were handled, policies were formulated and implemented, and insights were gained into foreign cultures and personalities. Using a military analogy, Oral History Program Director Kennedy sees the collection as continuing and inspiring the Foreign Service’s own “long grey line” of tradition and link- ing past generations of American diplomats to their succes- sors. “All of the interviewees have something valuable to impart to current members of the service and to anyone else interested in U.S. diplomacy,” Kennedy adds. “Most are candid as well, and the subjects mentioned run the gamut of issues important to the United States since the 1920s and the problems of daily life and career common to the Foreign Service.” Former ambassador to Israel and ADST board member Samuel Lewis notes that “the most significant diplo- matic exchanges rarely get into offi- cial documents in this age of secure telephones and overwhelming fear of leaks.” He believes that without oral histories to draw on, “tomorrow’s scholars would get much of the history wrong.” In the past, the great majority of interviewees were white males, but that has changed with the shift in the demo- graphics of the Foreign Service. The number of women and minorities interviewed has increased significantly. Jim Dandridge, a retired senior Foreign Service officer and a Senior Fellow at ADST, is documenting an important ele- ment in the changes in demographics as he heads up a pro- ject to interview retired minority officers under a grant from the Mellon Foundation. Dandridge’s interviews will also be available on videotape. To give some idea of the scope of the program, here are just a few excerpts from the hundreds of oral histories added to ADST’s collection in the past few years. A mbassador Frances D. Cook recalls her first tour as a U.S. Information Service officer in Paris dur- ing the Vietnam peace talks. I was commandeered to work in our press center (because I was a USIS officer), which was the entire ball- room of the Hotel Crillon. I forget how many hundreds, I think at least six hundred journalists came from the United States to cover the opening of the Vietnam peace talks. Every journalist that I had ever heard of or seen on televi- sion the whole time I was growing up was there. Walter Cronkite, Charles Collingwood, you name it, they were there. And I was working with them a week after I got off the plane. It was a very exciting way to start. I was sent as the American government representative to the North Vietnamese press conferences. Now, they were held, the peace talks were generally on Thursday, and the North Vietnamese would give their press briefing in one place and we would give ours in another afterwards. But we would wait until theirs was over. So I had to go with a tape recorder and take full notes on their press conference, and then call our delegation to give them a briefing on what they had said. … I had to basically then fight the journalists because there were only a certain number of pay phones at this site where the North Vietnamese had their press confer- ence, and I would have to compose my cable in my head from the time I left my chair until I got to the tele- phone and then fight the journalists to use the phone. All I can say is, if somebody asked me to do that now, I’d be too nervous to do it. But when you’re 22, you can do any- thing. The press conferences were only in Vietnamese and French. There was no English used, so I’d be translating and writing my cable in my head and running to the telephone and really, basically competing with the wires to try to do something. Then I would have to go back to the embassy, and I’d com- pletely transcribe the entire text from French to English and do a textual transmission to Washington by immediate [cable] of the press conference. A mbassador Tony Quainton found himself in Nicaragua among nuns and priests calling for the overthrow of the U.S. government in 1982. Throughout the time, I maintained an open-door policy. Any American citizen who wanted to come and see me could do so. There were enormous numbers that came. They came from all sorts of different perspectives, although the vast majority were hostile to the Reagan administration. There was a steady stream of journalists, church men and women from all the major denominations, etc. They were very suspicious of the Reagan administration’s policy toward Central America. They were much caught up with the social justice agenda propounded by the Sandinista gov- ernment. I remember one of the very first groups that came to see me was a group of priests and nuns. After I had laid out for them our policy with regard to Nicaragua, they asked if they might pray. This was a new experience for me, at least in the ambassador’s office, but we all stood up. They asked to join hands. So there was the American ambassador holding J U LY- A U G U S T 2 0 0 3 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 49 The personal oral histories of more than 1,400 former career Foreign Service members and political appointees have been recorded thus far.