The Foreign Service Journal, September 2018
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | SEPTEMBER 2018 73 Shining Much-Needed Light Raising the Flag: America’s First Envoys in Faraway Lands Peter D. Eicher, Potomac Books (an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press), 2018, $36.95/hardcover, $31.93/ Kindle, 416 pages. Reviewed By Steven Alan Honley Faithful readers of The Foreign Service Journal —particularly its FS Heritage department—may recognize at least a few of the 12 names profiled in Raising the Flag: America’s First Envoys in Faraway Lands. I’m thinking of Samuel Shaw (Chapter 1), James Cathcart and William Eaton (Chapter 2), and Joel Poinsett (Chapter 4), in particular. In addition, depending on where your Foreign Service career has taken you, you may have heard at least passing mention of some of the other figures during area studies courses at the Foreign Service Institute. But most of them have languished in obscurity (well-deserved in a few cases, I believe) for two centuries or more. So the Foreign Service, along with any- one interested in U.S. history, owes a sub- stantial debt to retired FSO Peter D. Eicher for conducting the prodigious research, much of it drawn from primary-source materials, required to shine a light on these men and their work representing the United States in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East so long ago. (I just wish he had included an index, particularly given that several of these figures reappear in later chapters.) Early U.S. envoys routinely faced hostile governments, physical priva- tions, disease, isolation and the daunt- ing challenge of explaining American democracy to foreign rulers. Many suffered physical threats from tyrannical despots; some were held as slaves or hos- tages; and others led foreign armies into battle. Several of them died overseas or not long after returning home. During his own diplo- matic career, Mr. Eicher—who previ- ously published Elections in Bangladesh , 2006–2009: Transforming Failure into Success (United Nations Development Program, 2010) and “Emperor Dead” and Other Historic American Diplomatic Dis- patches (iUniverse, 2012)—specialized in political affairs, particularly human rights, conflict resolution and international organizations. But he is also highly knowledgeable about economics, which is crucial to understanding U.S. diplomacy during its formative years. As Raising the Flag documents, early American envoys focused almost entirely on promoting U.S. exports and protecting American sailors and mer- chants all over the world. Their European counterparts were, of course, doing the same, but had the twin advantages of already being well-estab- lished in countries like China and being more comfortable utilizing what we would recognize as traditional diplomacy— including the artful use of bribery. In contrast, several of these Ameri- can diplomatic pioneers suffered from debilitating inferiority complexes, and spent more time and energy striving for status, recognition and wealth than car- rying out their actual missions. Edmund Roberts (Chap- ter 5) and David Porter (Chapter 6) are especially instructive examples of this tendency. Both envoys torpedoed opportunities to negotiate agreements with their host governments because of perceived insults that very likely were unintended, such as requests to kowtow. Overall, however, it is remarkable how successful most of these diplomats were, at least in terms of achieving their immediate, short-term objectives—and how little credit they received. There is no better example of that injustice than the one Eicher uses to close his book: “Shimoda and the Shogun: Townshend Harris and the Opening of Japan.” If you’re like me, you probably did a double take when you saw that name instead of Commodore Matthew Perry’s, but I came away utterly convinced that Harris (along with his right-hand man, Henry Heusken) deserves the lion’s share of the credit for establishing, and nurtur- ing, U.S.-Japan ties. It is a remarkable saga that has to be read to be believed—as is the rest of Raising the Flag. n Steven Alan Honley, a State Department Foreign Service officer from 1985 to 1997, and editor-in-chief of The Foreign Service Journal from 2001 to 2014, is a regular contributor to the Journal . He is the author of Future Forward: FSI at 70—A History of the Foreign Service Institute (Arlington Hall Press, 2017). It is remarkable how successful most of these diplomats were, at least in terms of achieving their immediate, short-term objectives—and how little credit they received.
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