Mom and Dad were ordinary Americans from a world in which my sister and I were only tourists. He was a South Dakota farm boy and she, the shopkeeper’s daughter from a Minnesota river town. They were pioneers in the U.S government’s post-War initiative to win the hearts and minds of people around the world by simply shining a light on American democracy. Through free public libraries, in countries where only the rich had access to books; cultural events showcasing American writers, artists, musicians and dancers; and candid conversation with leaders across the political spectrum, USIA reflected, as Neal Gabler recently wrote, “our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, and decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity – all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.” (Farewell, America, Moyers & Company).
My sister and I are indebted to our parents, ordinary Americans who made the most of an extraordinary opportunity and did so with such grace. And we all owe a debt of gratitude to the thousands of Foreign Service families around the world today who are meeting the world face-to-face, giving humanity to international relations.