Stuart Kennedy, a retired Foreign Service officer, is director of the Foreign Affairs Oral History Program, based at the Foreign Service Institute outside Washington, D.C.
In a previous issue of American Diplomacy (Vol. I, No. 2), Mr. Kennedy, described the Program and its offerings.
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||An Update –
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
by Charles Stuart Kennedy
The Foreign Affairs Oral History Program reached a certain stage of maturity in October of 1997 with its name appearing on the front pages of most Canadian newspapers. There were articles with leads such as:
They’re our prime ministers, and while we’ve seen them gripping- and-grinning with their U.S. counterparts, we’ve never known how American leaders felt about them. Until now.
The startlingly frank U.S. perceptions of Canadian prime ministers are found in the rich and revealing details of a series of recollections by American diplomats who served in Canada from the 1930s to the 1985.
Recollections by U.S. foreign service officers who served in Canada show the diplomats often had remarkable sympathy for Canadian positions.
The genesis of these “revelations” was the head of the Canada Press Agency “discovering” our Canadian Collection by chance in the Georgetown University Lauinger Library and writing a series of articles on his findings. Not to be outdone, a rival Canadian press agency rushed over to the reading room. I am told there was a certain amount of polite pushing and shoving to get to the collection by interested Canadian newspeople. Another spate of stories came out. Of course, the Canadians are sensitive about what American officials think of them, but other countries have the same interests and we expect some further press flurries.
Wait till the Middle Eastern press services read the comments about their clients!
The program is not, however, aimed at the sensational; rather, it is intended to make the public and the academic world more aware of the work of American diplomats and consuls. These articles do make the officials more human and will attract more serious researchers to the collection.
We continue to add transcripts to the collection, with some 850 now completed and another 120 or so in progress. The latest set of interviews in progress range from a code clerk at the American embassy in Moscow during the 1930s to the just-retired assistant secretary for Latin American affairs. We have the story of how our consul general at Sao Paulo, who just happened to have been a professor of dentistry in a previous incarnation, was put on a team to identify the body of a notorious Nazi war criminal who died in Brazil. We also have captured the impressions on the role of French politicians of those who have served in NATO. Included is the story of one high American official in NATO who was barely restrained by his wife from making the toast at a French diplomatic dinner, right after the U.S. bombing of Libya (the French refused the passage through French air space): “To the British for their strong support in a time of need, and to the French for their excellent cuisine.”
We have sponsored a day’s seminar with Warren Christopher and some of his principal aides who took a look at their four years in the Department of State. The subjects covered were relations with Asia, Latin America, and NATO, as well as the role of leadership during that period. We plan to have a further session dealing with the Middle East and Russia.
This discussion was taped and transcribed. It will not be released until Secretary Christopher finishes his book, but will eventually be part of our archives. We hope this will set a pattern for future secretaries of state.
We are still working on making most of the collection available on a CDROM. Currently we are checking each interview, some 850 in all, for spelling and typos. We have chosen a search engine and a publisher. Our plan is to sell this CD to research libraries both in the United States and internationally. The CD will also contain about forty of our country collections.
These country collections consist of excerpts from the interviews that deal with specific countries (our attention-gathering one on Canada is an example) or organizations, such as the United Nations. These are done by volunteer interns located in Washington, D.C. Most are seniors or graduate students who are interested in foreign affairs. We are interested in volunteers. Working in an office in the Department of State’s National Foreign Affairs Training Center at Arlington, Virginia, they can get an excellent exposure to the people who deal in foreign relations. Those who have worked with us have expressed their satisfaction with the program and have found it extremely useful in their assignments; for those who are preparing for the Foreign Service, it is a unique look at that profession.
The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training has a new president, Edward Rowell. Ed is a retired Foreign Service officer who was ambassador to Bolivia, Portugal, and Luxembourg. Beyond the oral history program, the Association is assisting the Department of State with setting up an exhibit hall that tourists to Washington, D.C., can visit. The facility will give some idea on the diversity of the work of the State Department and its Foreign Service, as well as the history of the department.
Eventually it is hoped that a museum devoted to American foreign affairs can be established so that there is some recognition of the role diplomats and consuls have played over the years. (There are over 200 museums extolling the U.S. military but none that deals with American diplomacy over the past 222 years.) How to present events in the history of foreign relations presents a challenge. There are few artifacts, no rifles, captured flags, tanks or the like, and a display of pens would not attract the public, but we are working on the concept.
As mentioned in a previous article in American Diplomacy, the Foreign Affairs Oral History Program can use volunteer interviewers in areas beyond the Washington, D.C., area, from the academic community as well as that of the retired Foreign Service. Anyone interested should contact the director:
Charles Stuart Kennedy
Foreign Affairs Oral History Program
Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training
4000 Arlington Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22204.
Tel. (703) 3026990
Fax. (703) 3026799
or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.