EMBASSY KID: A MEMOIR Chapter One: Revolution, January 23, 1958

[This is a condensed version of my book about being raised in the Foreign Service during the Cold War. EMBASSY KID is being evaluated for publication by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training]

Read the Preface: EMBASSY KID: Preface

Part I: The Dictator Flies Over Our House

They were awakened by the telephone. My father was on his feet and halfway to the living room as my mother glanced at the clock. 3AM. It must be family back home in Minnesota, a very long way from Venezuela. She reached for her robe and hurried to join my father as he spoke into the receiver.

“Bob Amerson here.”

My mother’s eyes widened as she waited. 

“Roger that.” My father hung up. “That was Harry.” Harry Casler, Dad’s boss, was covering the Embassy lines this week. 

Mom exhaled in relief as she plopped down on the sofa. It wasn’t a death in the family. Dad continued. “It’s happening — PJ is finally out.” 

“Oh,” Mom said, her voice tight. 

President Pérez Jiménez — PJ, as they called him at the Embassy — was the ruthless Venezuelan dictator who’d wielded power since before we’d arrived in Caracas.  Clandestine political movements and dissident elements within the military had risen up against the Pérez Jiménez regime, because of corruption, restrictions on civil rights, downright torture. Everybody knew of something that they could blame the Pérez Jiménez regime for. Finally, on January 23, the pressure had forced the dictator out.

Ernest Hamlin Baker, TIME magazine cover 2/28/55
Ernest Hamlin Baker, TIME magazine cover 2/28/55

“Harry said he’s flying into exile, just took off from La Carlota near the palace.” Dad spoke over his shoulder as he went to retrieve his slippers and bathrobe. “So we should hear him overhead in a couple of minutes.” 

“The girls,” my mother said, trying to keep her voice low but insistent. He was going to wake up my baby sister and three-year-old me. 

Dad rejoined her in the living room. “Okay,” he said. “We knew things were about to break loose. The Junta Patriótica strike got all that rioting going on downtown, and they’ve finally succeeded in ousting PJ.”

Dad’s network of contacts within the underground resistance had kept the Embassy abreast of what was a highly combustible situation. 

“But who’s going to stop the rioters now?” Mom said. If Pérez Jiménez was out, so was his security police. 

“That’s what makes this moment so interesting,” Dad said. 

Mom’s nostrils flared. This was not an academic exercise. Her family’s safety came first. “With Janie and Susie down the hall?” 

Dad gave her a quick hug. “The bad guy is out. The good guys are in,” he said. “There might even be a chance for democracy. And what a front-row seat. Just think, this might have happened while we were on home leave last year back in the States.”

“Yes, that would have been…” Mom’s words trailed off.  It would have been so much better to be safely in the Midwest while this crazy country figured itself out. But that wasn’t the deal they’d signed up for with Washington. The deal was adventure, and this was sure it.

“I’ll go see to the girls.” 

Mom walked down the short hallway to the second bedroom and swung open the door. Susie was soundly asleep, curled around her baby blanket. And if the telephone had awakened me, I had dropped back into toddler dreams.

“¿Señora?”

My mother jumped. Josefina’s unshod feet hadn’t given her away as the maid approached from her room behind the kitchen. Like us, Fina, as we called her, was one of the many European migrants that had flooded oil-rich Venezuela seeking work. Maybe because we were all foreigners, maybe because we needed each other, or maybe because Fina simply adored us girls, she’d become part of our little family. 

Me, Fina, Susie

My mother closed the bedroom door and assumed the authoritative role that she’d grown into over the past three years. La señora de la casa, the lady of the house, couldn’t betray her nerves, even though it still felt pretty unreal to this modest Midwesterner to have a maid.

“Josefina,” Mom said quietly. “Pérez Jiménez se va.” 

The long-awaited news of the dictator’s departure alarmed the maid. “¡Ay Dios mio!” 

Cálmese,” my mother said. She put a steadying hand on Fina’s sturdy shoulder. 

Las niñas.” Fina made a move toward the bedroom door.

Mom tightened her grip. The last thing they needed right now was two kids worrying about why they were awake in the middle of the night. 

My mother looked Fina in the eye. “Cálmese,” she repeated, as if she were telling one of us girls to settle down. She could do more with a quiet tone and a look than an excitable mother could do with a yell. 

Mom steered Fina down the hall and into the living room, where Dad had settled into the soft, pheasant-print sofa, a wedding gift from his parents back on the farm in South Dakota. The contrast between the Midwestern prairie images and the bright colors and fruity smells of Caracas normally coaxed a smile, but tonight the distance felt much farther than 3,000 miles. Sitting and waiting didn’t help.

“How about some coffee?” Mom said.

My father opened his mouth to respond, then looked up to the ceiling, and he raised an index finger. “Harry said we’d hear the plane. And here it comes.”

The two women followed his gaze. A palmetto bug scurried across the ceiling toward the corner over the bookcase. The faint rumble of a propeller airplane sounded in the distance, growing louder as it approached. It built to a roar. As the airplane thundered overhead, the bug dropped to the linoleum, and the glass ashtray on the coffee table trembled. The sound slowly diminished into nothing.  

Dad half-raised a hand. “Adios, el presidente.”

Next Tuesday: Chapter One, Part II: The mob comes roving.

Family Friday: What Makes Me a Third Culture Kid?

There was a letter to the editor in my newspaper this week from a Palm Beach County neighbor who was born in the United States but grew up in Asia as the result of her parents’ missionary work.

Like the children of military members, diplomats, and, in my case, missionaries, I became what is called a TCK, a Third Culture Kid. Our backgrounds are different from that of our parents’ home country and from the country where we grew up.

Angela Grant, The Palm Beach Post, 7/15/21

I’m a TCK, too. I was born in the USA to Midwesterners, but we flew into the Foreign Service when I was just six months old, and my sister (born in Caracas) and I grew up mostly in Europe and Latin America. We were professional Americans overseas, but our international experiences made us an odd fit when we moved to the States. I’ve been trying to bridge the gap my entire adult life.

Cross-cultural expert Tanya Crossman

TCK’s deal with some unique challenges in integrating that experience into what we’ve done with the rest of our lives. It’s the subject of research being conducted by Tanya Crossman, an Australian who lived in China for over a decade.

Tanya is a noted cross-cultural consultant and TCK/Cross Culture Kid advocate, and the author of Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century. She writes that the term Third Culture Kid was coined by in the 1950’s by Dr. Ruth Hill Useem while studying children of American families living in India.

These children were not Indian, though they lived in India. They were American – though they weren’t experiencing that country. This childhood experience was neither that of an Indian child nor that of an American child. It was somewhere in between – in a Third Culture.

Tanya Crossman, July 2016 blog post

Legal, geographic, and relational culture

Tanya writes that culture can be defined in three ways:

  • Legal: the place in which you have a passport or permanent residency
  • Geographic: the place(s) in which you live.
  • Relational: the experiences woven together from life lived in between cultures.

Legal representative of America overseas

I had an American diplomatic passport, and, as an embassy kid, understood that I represented the USA. Sarah Mansfield Taber, whose overseas childhood as the daughter of a CIA officer is an almost exact match with mine, writes this about having a diplomatic passport:

Only representatives of foreign governments were issued these, my father told us. I could feel an American flag waving inside me.

Sarah Mansfield Taber, Born Under An Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy’s Daughter

But not a geographic American

I was an official American when I lived in Venezuela, Italy, Colombia, and Spain. But my identity morphed when we moved to the States.

Though I looked American, I was not; I was a sort of clandestine foreigner.

Sarah Mansfield Taber, Born Under An Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy’s Daughter

I am from the Third Culture

The connection I feel with Sarah Mansfield Taber is the TCK’s relational cultural identity.

The Third Culture is the childhood home of those who did not experience comprehensive connection to a single place as children.

Tanya Crossman, July 2016 blog post

My memoir, Embassy Kid (being assessed for publication by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training), looks back at where I am from. I have shared the Preface and will be sharing chapters in the coming weeks.

I cannot imagine being a citizen of any other nation. We are the freest, the most fortunate people on earth. Whether our people arrived on a recent flight or a wooden boat, and whether we choose to wear hijab or a yarmulke or spray paint our hair with the colors of the rainbow, we are all from somewhere else, and we are all here now.

Angela Grant, letter to The Palm Beach Post

Family Friday: What My Mother Did During My Father’s Foreign Service Career

Robert and Nancy Amerson, Cape Cod
Robert and Nancy Amerson, Cape Cod

So, Nancy, what did you do while you were overseas?

A question posed to my mother, Nancy Robb Amerson, at a Cape Cod dinner party of accomplished retirees

Here’s what she wrote in 2004 about that encounter.

Nothing

Feeling wicked, I found myself answering, “Nothing.” I don’t usually consider myself capable of irony, but this answer could only have been understood by another Foreign Service wife. To soften my rather abrupt response, I continued with the usual recounting that no Embassy wife could work in a foreign post without the ambassador’s approval, and that the only jobs we could accept were as a teacher or nurse.

My answer seemed to satisfy the casual curiosity about how I could have spent 20 years overseas, unoccupied.

Since that night, I have tossed over in my mind just how I could have responded to the women who were years younger than I. In their generation, almost all women have held some paying job and that is, as it has always been for men, the peg that identifies their place in the larger community. So DOING equals BEING PAID.

Homemaker

The women of the early 50s, when we were first married, still were mostly, for want of a better term, homemakers. Some had a taste of earning a salary during a few years of teaching after college, as I did, though few in later years have ever identified themselves as teachers, as I think would be the case now.

Ten moves, four countries, two languages

So, during our 20 odd years overseas, I continued in my homemaker role in an ever expanding way. I was responsible for resettling our family during our 10 moves. For learning to shop in four foreign countries using two new languages. For seeing that our girls were settled in the many different schools.

Hostess, guide, ambassador support

For running large and small parties in our home to fulfill our obligation to promote our country. For being an unofficial guide for visiting official visitors, be they pleasant or unbearable. And for being available to the ambassador’s wife when she required help.

Having a ball

Of course, I was not paid, nor would I have ever even considered such to be a thing. The truth is, I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to be having all of these new experiences. I was having a ball.

State Department “Pink Paper” changed it all

A new generation of wives joined our ranks, women who were wary about “being taken advantage of for no pay.“ The old idea of a foreign service team of husband and wife just was not in their vocabulary. No need to go into detail here, it changed the community feeling we felt within the embassies. The state department geared up to produce what was called within the ranks The Pink Paper, delineating rules on the roles of wife overseas.

A killer of fun times was what it amounted to.

Robert and Nancy Amerson served in the United States Information Agency from 1955 to 1979, representing our country through public diplomacy in Venezuela, Italy, Colombia, and Spain.

Robert and Nancy Amerson, Jane and Susan, 1962, Rome
Robert and Nancy Amerson, Jane and Susan 1962, Rome

Embassy Kid: Preface

I am completing a memoir about my childhood, which I spent in Latin America, Europe, and Washington DC during my father’s career in the Foreign Service. Here is the preface from Embassy Kid: A Memoir, which I hope to publish within the year.

Jane Kelly Amerson López

Alone in America

I watched the tail lights of the rental car vanish down the elm-lined street on that August afternoon in 1973, taking my parents and my sister back into the Foreign Service landscape without me. I should have been in that backseat, eyes forward, hands folded, as America vanished behind us, the self-contained, four-person unit jetting back into our Real World.  Instead, here I was, stranded alone in America, astonished to find myself broken apart from the family unit with which I’d negotiated 18 years in Latin America, Europe, and the even stranger land of the Washington DC suburbs. 

Most American kids leave home to go to college. My home had just left me. I was an Embassy kid. 

Finding My Way

It would take me the better part of a decade to sort myself out. While my family completed my father’s Foreign Service career abroad, I switched to my middle name and wandered through the United States, accumulating college credits at five institutions, working a series of hourly jobs, and training as a modern dancer, a trajectory that eventually landed me in New York City. There, in the city that felt like all the places in the Real World at once, the nicest man I know called me by my Spanish name and something clicked in my heart. We’ve been married for forty years, during which we’ve created our own real world rich in rewards, the greatest of which is our daughter. We’ve traveled, but America is home.

Third Culture Kid

 It wasn’t always. When I was younger, I struggled to answer the most American of questions: “Where are you from?”  I lived in eight places in six countries on three continents before I was 18, but none of them was home. I was born in Minnesota and my Norwegian ancestry shows in my fair coloring, but I grew up in Latin countries. I was an American kid with the mystique of a diplomatic passport overseas, but I felt like a foreigner in the United States. I sink my roots fast and make friends quickly, but I up-root easily and don’t ever look back. I’m never from here, but I’m also not from there. Neither a true-blue American like my parents, nor a member of any other nation, I’m a Third Culture Kid. 

Archeological Exploration

When I was in second grade in the magical ancient city of Rome, I was sure I’d be an archeologist. Although that idea evaporated when we moved to another part of the world, I realize now that I’ve spent the better part of my adult life sifting like an archeologist through the detritus of my childhood, looking for the evidence of where I was from. 

I wove childhood memories and family anecdotes into stories about my parents, Robert and Nancy Amerson, my sister, Susie, and me. I dove into the journals, letters, and interviews my parents left behind containing their personal observations about a quarter-century with the United States Information Agency. My father’s book about Venezuela, How Democracy Triumphed Over Dictatorship, and the oral histories of other Foreign Service officers who served alongside my father during the Cold War, have allowed me to breathe life into historical events and to recover personal experiences that would otherwise have been lost to time. Finding a way to share these stories has been a thrill, a comfort, and an honor. And reflecting on the impression of these experiences on the Embassy kid that I was and the adult I have become has been a rewarding journey. 

An Homage to My Parents

This book is an homage to my parents, two patriots in the firmament of Embassy people, men and women who, then and now, serve as America’s emissaries abroad, raising their children in foreign lands far from family and friends in order that the world get to know us.

These are the stories of an ordinary American family living through extraordinary times in the service of their country. 

This is where I am from. I am an Embassy kid.

America is back

Together, these public servants will restore America globally, its global leadership and its moral leadership. It’s a team that reflects the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it.

President-Elect Joe Biden, in announcing his foreign policy team

The President-Elect’s national security nominees are smart, ethical, and experienced government professionals committed to returning America to its position as a global leader.

experience is back

Three are distinguished US State Department veterans — John Kerry, former Secretary of State (and Foreign Service kid); Antony Blinken, former Deputy Secretary of State; and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career Foreign Service officer. National Security Advisor nominees Jake Sullivan is an Obama White House alumnus. Director of National Intelligence nominee Avril Haines is a former deputy director of the CIA. Alejandro Mayorcas, Homeland Security nominee, a Cuban refugee brought to America at age 1, was Homeland Security deputy secretary.

Diplomacy is back

Here are the words I will remember when Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20, 2021.

My fellow career diplomats and public servants around the world, I want to say to you, ‘America is back, multilateralism is back, diplomacy is back.’

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, UN Ambassador nominee

My father and mother brought me to this country to escape communism [in Cuba]. They cherished our democracy, and were intensely proud to become United States citizens, as was I.

Alejandro Mayorcas, Homeland Security nominee

[My stepfather, the only one of 900 children in his Polish school to survive WWII] got down on his knees and said the only three words he knew in English that his mother had taught him before the war. God bless America.

Antony Blinken, Secretary of State nominee

Public service is back

In his remarks, Kerry did homage to President Kennedy, gunned down 57 years ago. I’ve written about being in Washington that day.

57 years ago this week, Joe Biden and I were college kids when we lost the president who inspired us both to make a difference, a president who reminded us that, here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own. Joe Biden will trust in God, and he will also trust in science to guide our work on Earth to protect God’s creation.

John Kerry, Presidential Envoy on Climate Change

To a person, Biden’s nominees have careers that answer Kennedy’s ringing challenge.

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

John F. Kennedy’s inauguration address, January 20, 1961.

Sixty years later, on January 20, 2021, we will celebrate the return to public service.

#FSProud, Foreign Service Proud

This was a week that showcased the brilliant and honorable Foreign Service officers that represent us around the globe. As David Brooks said in The New York Times, Yovanovitch, Taylor, Kent and Hill showed us what public service looks like:

Let me tell you a secret. The public buildings of Washington are filled with very good people working hard for low pay and the public good. There are thousands of them and they are very much like the Foreign Service officers that we’ve seen or are expected to see testifying at the impeachment hearings: William Taylor, George Kent, Marie Yovanovitch and Fiona Hill.

David Brooks, NYT
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

After Ambassador Yovanovitch’s testimony yesterday, the Foreign Service community rose as one on Twitter to stand proud. Here’s some of what they said:

Thanks to the dedicated, brilliant, exhausted, energetic foreign officers I met and worked with. So grateful for what they do to keep us safe and represent us.

KAREN KORNBLUH, GERMAN MARSHALL FUND
@KarenKornbluh

As the daughter of Cuban refugees I am forever grateful to the United States of America for all it gave to me and my family. Now I am able to give back and represent my country and tell our story around the world!

LESLIE GOODMAN @GoodmanLesNunez




WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 15: Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is sworn in prior to providing testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the second impeachment hearing held by the committee, House Democrats continue to build a case against U.S. President Donald Trumps efforts to link U.S. military aid for Ukraine to the nations investigation of his political rivals. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP
🇺🇸

I am #FSProud of George Kent, Masha Yovanovitch, Bill Taylor and Mike McKinley for their patriotism. They were true to their oath of office in choosing to testify before Congress against the wishes of the White House and Secretary of State. These four are profiles in courage.

HARVARD PROFESSOR NICHOLAS BURNS @RNicholasBurns


Mandatory Credit: Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP/Shutterstock (10473936g) Career Foreign Service officer George Kent and top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor, right, are sworn in to testify during the first public impeachment hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington Trump Impeachment, Washington, USA – 13 Nov 2019

Reinforced my faith in decency of American public who responded so enthusiastically to the heroic performance of Amb Yovanovitch- can’t remember another time when audience breaks into applause at a Congressional hearing.

AMBASSADOR LAURA KENNEDY @AmbKennedy_ret

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testifies during the second public hearing of the House impeachment inquiry. Image: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

In an otherwise dark moment for our country, I have been inspired by the selfless service of George Kent, Bill Taylor, Marie Yovanovitch who this week refused to be intimidated and did their duty to defend the truth and uphold the constitution. I am truly #FSProud..


Madeleine Albright

@madeleine


For 31 years I have been #FSproud to represent & advance America’s interests as a Foreign Service Officer. Serving abroad often in hardship, under threat, away from family, we promote freedom, peace, human rights, the rule of law & US business around the world. #Patriots

Mike Hammer
@MikeHammerUSA

I’m #FSProud to be serving my country around the world, and grateful to be working alongside so many dedicated and talented colleagues.

CEDAR PHILLIPS @CedarImboden

So moving to read the #FSProud tweets from US Foreign Service folks today, telling their stories of working on our behalf around the world. I’m the daughter of a career FS officer, & a former @StateDept appointee who worked alongside stellar career officers; I too am #FSProud

Tamara Cofman Wittes
@tcwittes

💗

One side effect of these public impeachment hearings is that America has had a two day crash course in what American diplomats actually do day-to-day. Some see that as a silver lining to all the clouds hanging over State right now.

Robbie Gramer
@RobbieGramer
My father, Foreign Service Officer Robert C. Amerson.

I became an American diplomat to thank this great nation, a beacon of hope for the world, for taking in my parents when they fled communism & oppression. US diplomats advance our nation’s security, prosperity & values. I am honored to be one of them. #FSProud AMBASSADOR JULIETA VALLS NOYES

Julieta Valls Noyes
@JVNoyes

And heed the warning inherent in their testimony. In his Washington Post column on Ambassador Yovanovitch’s testimony, Dana Milbank said:

As a U.S. diplomat, Marie Yovanovitch braved gunfire in Moscow, the violence of Somalia’s civil war, an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan and 10 trips to the front line of Ukraine’s war with Russia.

But her greatest service to country may well have been what Yovanovitch did on Friday before the House Intelligence Committee. All Americans — however they feel about impeachment — should care deeply about her warning.

She used her moment in the spotlight at the impeachment inquiry to make a passionate plea for American diplomacy, which is being destroyed under the Trump administration, with dire consequences for U.S. influence and security.

DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST

Foreign Service Training

I’m happy to be following a fellow blogger who is a Foreign Service Officer. She connected with me yesterday to say that she got her government start at the Voice of America, after serving in the Peace Corps in Macedonia. She’s been posted to our embassies and consular offices in Uzbekistan and Australia, and she is on her way to Mexico. Her clear and candid writing brings us beyond the headlines and behind the scenes to experience who this diplomat is and how she carries out her life as she represents us abroad.

She is midway through an intensive Spanish language course at the Foreign Service Institute, the State Department’s training institution in Washington, DC. Here’s some of what she’s written about that experience:

“I just finished the fourth week of Spanish language training at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Arlington, where the State Department sends its diplomats and staff for training ahead of overseas assignments, sometimes for months at a time. In my case, late next spring I will become Deputy American Citizen Services (ACS) Chief at our consulate in Cuidad Juárez, México, so I get six months (24 weeks) of Spanish. FSI teaches dozens of languages and tradecraft courses, so you’ll find employees from across the U.S. government studying there, too …”

“…This is my third time studying at FSI. I was there full-time for nearly a year from the time I joined the Department in mid-2014. I did A-100 (the introductory course for all new diplomats as they come in), then six months of Russian, followed by area studies, ConGen, and various other courses before departing for my first tour in Tashkent in May 2015. I also came back in mid-2017 before my second tour in Canberra to take political and economic tradecraft training. Last month I hit 14 total years of federal service, and I have to say that never in my career have I had as much excellent training as the State Department provides. It is truly an incredible opportunity to be paid to assemble the skills you need to be better at your job.

When Dad was hired by USIA in 1956 to work at our Embassy in Caracas, his Spanish-language proficiency was not tested. America was in good hands, however: Dad was born, as Mom said, with languages on his lips, and his summers in Mexico during his journalism studies at Macalester College had given him a strong base. He’d teach himself Italian via his Caraqueño barber before being posted to Italy, and he learned Portuguese via tape during his commute when his responsibilities included Brazil while we were in Washington, DC. Italian and Spanish remained in-family code for the rest of his life.

The American University Press, 1995

Where he did feel at sea, however, was filling the role of “diplomat.” He reflected on that concern in his book about serving as Press Attaché in Caracas, How Democracy Triumphed Over Dictatorship, recounting his feelings during his first day on the job. It was July 4, 1956, at the Ambassador’s annual Fourth of July reception for the who’s who of Venezuelan diplomatic relations:

Back home [on the farm in South Dakota], ask anybody to associate a descriptive word with “diplomat,” and you would most likely hear “elite” or “striped pants” or something similar. All I had ever read about the US Foreign Service suggested that American diplomacy traditionally meant Eastern Establishment, professional practitioners trained at exclusive prep schools and Ivy League universities. People born to the social graces, accustomed to cocktail parties and big receptions. One simply assumed that those assigned abroad to an American embassy personified — or should — years of applied preparation: mature men truly educated on the major aspects of our own history and culture; conversant with the most erudite thinking of our greatest institutions; skilled in negotiation and able to articulate all this fluently in the language of the host country.

Instead, here was I, expected to assume duties tomorrow at Press Attaché and Information Officer, American Embassy, Caracas, Venezuela — after only two months of practical orientation in Washington, preceded by five years of corporate public relations, a BA from Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota, and roots reaching all the way back to a one-room school on the prairies of South Dakota. Not exactly elite.

His start may not have been elite, but Dad had what Eisenhower was looking for when he created USIA in 1953 to help project America’s image overseas and deal with the public aspects of diplomacy. Augmenting VOA direct broadcasts, USIA officers would handle cultural programs as well as placement in foreign media of information favoring US interests. Dad wrote:

Word got around regarding opportunities for employment overseas. Hundreds of us with modest professional experience in fields of communication — men and women who had never considered working as civilians for the government, but who had developed deep interests in international relations — found ourselves querying Washington about this new line of “foreign service” work. Not that many of us aspired to instant conversion into polished diplomats … Nevertheless, amazingly, Washington seemed hungry. Overseas employment became an imminent reality.”

Mom (and me) in her passport picture
Dad’s first diplomatic passport picture

Dad worked for USIA from 1955 to 1979, serving in Caracas, Milan, Bologna, Rome, Bogotá, Washington DC, Madrid, and Rome (again!). He rose through the ranks from Press Attaché in Venezuela and Italy; Director of USIS in Colombia; Public Affairs Advisor to the Latin American Bureau of the Department of State; Assistant Director of USIA for Latin America; and Public Affairs Officer in Spain and Italy. His final position was as the Murrow Fellow in Public Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

The farm boy became a professor at one of those Ivy League schools of diplomacy.

Project Neighbours

I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed by writer Zuzanna Fiminska, creator of Project Neighbours, a series of interviews with people from around the world about diversity and a world fit for purpose. This unique initiative is demostrating that there are many ways to see the world, and that they’re all right. Please subscribe to Project Neighbours !

Project Neighbours

Zuzanna asked open-ended questions: Where are you from? What was it like to be somewhere other than your passport country? What did going “home” mean? I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and collaborating on the resulting essay. While Zuzanna is queueing this in the pipeline to post on the Project Neighbours website, I wanted share to the results of our conversation.

overseas, I was american

Most Americans have roots in another country, and we are inclined to leave the place of our birth for college, for work, for another life. I was born in Minnesota, not far from where my parents met. My roots are there. It was where we visited family every few years. My extended family there is my rock.

Although I grew up mostly in other countries, it’s always been very clear to me that I am from the United States. My father was with the United States Information Agency, the public diplomacy arm of the State Department, from 1955 (when I was 6 months old) to 1979. We lived in Venezuela, where my sister was born; then in Italy (Milan, Bologna, and Rome); and Colombia before moving to the United States (Washington, DC) for junior and most of senior high. I finished high school and began university in Spain, before returning to the US on my own for college.

An early passport picture

Being an American Embassy kid is one of the common categories — like business, ex-pat, or military kids — when you’re at an English-speaking school abroad.

in america, i felt like a foreigner

When we moved to the States in the mid 1960s, the identity question became more complicated. I did not have the same generic American suburbs background as the other kids in our new neighborhood outside Washington, and I just wanted to blend in.

Here’s an example: We’d been in Bogotá for nearly three years right before moving to the States. The junior high school guidance counselor had put me in the advanced Spanish class with kids two years older than me. On the first day of class, I took a seat against the wall toward the front of the class, trying to shrink: imagine a skinny little twelve year-old surrounded by all these adult-looking strangers.

When the teacher started the class with buenos dias, I blurted out a loud buenos dias sounding straight-up Colombian. The class laughed and one of the boys said, “Hey, how’d you get so smart?” I wanted to die. The teacher pulled me aside as the bell rang: “You don’t belong in this class.” Yes, I agreed! “You belong in the high school Spanish classes.” Nooooo. I pictured myself walking alone to the high school across the enormous sports fields. No way. I switched to beginning French and never let on that some of the vocabulary was familiar from Spanish. I was careful not to sound too good at the accent either. I just wanted to belong.

By the time I turned 16, I had nailed the whole American suburbs act: I had long blond hair and a tall, blond boyfriend, and I was in line to become the next captain of the popular pompon marching team. I had made it. Of course, it was time to move on. And it felt like we were returning to normal.

let’s go find out

My mother used to say that Dad had itchy feet: like the Norwegian pioneers who were his ancestors, he was always ready to move forward. The next post, the next life. And, like those courageous men and women, he took a leap of faith in leaving home behind for an overseas venture. He was headed out into the world to represent America.[I did a blog post about the similarities between Foreign Service wives of my mother’s era and pioneer women; these were the true heroines.]

My sister Susan and me in the folklore outfits our maid, Julia, made for us

We were guests, not occupiers. We plugged into the local character as much as we could. Mom and Dad wanted to understand wherever it was we were living, the people who were around us, their music, their language, their customs. We were aware of the “ugly Americans” clustering together, underdressed, speaking English louder and louder. We were not that. We took trips, read guidebooks, did whatever we could to be part of where we were. Learning the local language was essential.

Dad’s job was to promote American democracy: human rights, open elections, a free press, free speech. Diplomats do their best to carry out directives, whether they agree with them or not. Trump has made representing this country so much more difficult: his attacks — on the media, on his challengers, on NATO, on immigrants — do not represent what our country stands for. We don’t disparage people who are willing to come to our country to work and build a life. We support the media. We don’t buy “alternate facts.” We speak truth to power.

As I said in a recent blog post about diplomacy, those were the very things that my father spent his career supporting.

From our years in South America

a special connection

Of all the places we lived, I really connected with Madrid. I was a confident seventeen year-old and there were a million good looking Spanish boys around. I loved the dramatic Spanish character, the late-night lifestyle, wandering from bar to bar savoring tapas, flamenco. What sealed the relationship was being able to spend a year at the Universidad de Madrid. By the time I left for college, a friend said my Castellano was crazy good: “mas papista que el Papa,” more papist that the Pope.

My husband’s mother was from Barcelona. We’ve both felt a special connection when we’ve traveled to Spain.

From outside Granada

Telling my story

I began writing about growing up in the Foreign Service many years ago: When the Dictator Flew Over Our House & Other True Stories: Growing Up in the Foreign Service is nearing completion. Excerpts from the book and other essays are on RaisedintheForeignService blog

The book started as a search for a home, an attempt at understanding what happened and what it all meant. I had lots of memories and family stories to draw on. My sister has added her perspective and reminds me of stories I’ve forgotten. Although our parents are no longer alive, they left behind an extensive archive of the Foreign Service years: letters my mother wrote to her family every Monday for twenty years; my father’s two books and volumes of notes; and boxes of photographs, videotapes, movie reels.

I am very fortunate to have a lot of support in writing the book. My husband, my daughter, and my sister are my first readers, and I get a lot of encouragement from my extended family and my peers in the Florida Writers Association.

The journey to find home is over. I’m from there, wherever I was the past; and I’m at home here, wherever I am now.

Diplomacy: America’s Quiet Power

In the lead-in to her March 19 interview with former Deputy Secretary of State William J Burns regarding his book The Back Channel: a Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for its Renewal, Judy Woodruff of the PBS News Hour posed this question: “You say [diplomacy] is an unheroic, quiet endeavor unfolding in back channels, out of sight and out of mind. If that’s the case, in this noisy 24/7 world we live in, why do we need to restore it?”

we became complacent

William J Burns: “After the end of the Cold War, when we were the singular dominant player on the landscape, I think we became a little complacent. Diplomacy didn’t seem quite as important.

Then came 9/11, a huge shock to our system, and an even greater emphasis on the military and relatively less emphasis on diplomacy. What I would argue President Trump has done is taken that drift and accelerated it and made it infinitely worse.”

An exercise in narcissim

WJB: “What you see in President Trump is a tendency to see diplomacy more as an exercise in narcissism than the kind of hard work and reliance on institutions that his predecessors, in different ways, I think, all appreciated as well.

I’m the only one who matters

“President Trump was asked a little more than a year ago about the number of senior vacancies in the State Department, and he said I don’t really care about that. I’m the only one who matters. And I don’t — I think that’s a very ineffective way of looking at the way in which the United States promotes its interests in the world.”

leaving the field open to our adversaries

JW: “You talk about [Trump’s] erratic leadership leaving America and its diplomats dangerously adrift. Can that be fixed?

WJB: “I think we’re digging a deep hole for ourselves today. And my concern is, when we stop digging, which we eventually will — the sooner, the better, I hope — we’re going to climb back to the surface and look out over a landscape that I think in some ways will have hardened against our interests and our values, because adversaries are taking advantage, rivals are taking advantage.”

China’s “New Silk Road” (courtesy of Australian International Education)

Losing our allies

WJB: “I think many of our closest allies are beginning to lose faith and beginning to hedge a little bit. And the institutions that we worked so hard to shape, in our own enlightened self-interest over the last seven decades, are beginning to teeter.So what I worry about is the long-term corrosive damage we’re doing to ourselves. You know, if we understand the significance of diplomacy, we can certainly repair a lot of the damage …”

selling us citizens on diplomacy

It’s never been easy to sell diplomacy. As Burns says, it works best when it’s least visible. Dad’s agency, the United States Information Agency (USIA), was a yet harder sell: the public relations arm of diplomacy, what Joseph S. Nye at Harvard University called the “soft power [that] helped to win the Cold War” and Wilson P. Dizard, Jr., in his book about USIA, Inventing Public Diplomacy,called “the uncertain art of winning public support abroad for one’s government and its foreign policies.”

Eisenhower created USIA in 1953 (just five years before Dad signed up) after to build an American bulwark against the Russians: championing the tenets of democracy abroad would defend the world from Russian communist control. Dad and his peers showed how Americans lived in a democracy: a free press; freedom of speech; human rights; open elections; transparency. The United States was an open book even as we struggled with civil rights, Vietnam war protests. But that was the whole idea: a real country dealing with the challenges of a living democracy, and far from perfect.

As Burns notes, the end of the Cold War diffused diplomacy: without a known adversary, the stakes became more difficult to find; and as the two super-powers were overcome by a proliferation of independent nation states and power became diffused, the old Good Guys-Bad Guys equation no longer worked. USIA was able to justify its independent existence until 1999, when most of its functions were shifted into the Department of State.

The shock of 9/11 thrust military intervention to the fore, with, as Burns says in his March 8 opinion piece in the NY Times, diplomacy as an underfunded afterthought.

“We buried our agility and initiative with layer upon layer of bureaucracy. And as the costs of misadventures abroad became more obvious, a yawning gap emerged between a Washington establishment preaching the gospel of American indispensability and a skeptical American public.

the global order we did so much to shape and defend is teetering.

“President Trump channeled those frustrations and difficulties, fed them and made them infinitely worse. At precisely the time when diplomacy matters more than ever to American interests — when we are no longer the only country calling the shots — the president is engaged in unilateral diplomatic disarmament: hollowing out the idea of America, retreating from international commitments and disdaining the institutions and practitioners of diplomacy. Not surprisingly, adversaries are taking advantage, allies are hedging and the global order we did so much to shape and defend is teetering.”

The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) is committed to strengthening public appreciation of diplomacy’s contribution to America’s national interests. In its extensive archives, ADST has captured, preserved, and shared the experiences of America’s diplomats, “classic organizers, harnessing the levers of American influence, investing in alliances, adapting institutions and managing the gray area between peace and war … with a nuanced grasp of history, mastering foreign languages and facility in negotiations. … with an unmatched capacity for alliances and coalition building.” Burns’ March 10 NYT piece.

Yale Richmond’s Practicing Public Diplomacy, like Dizard’s Inventing Public Diplomacyis one of ADST’s many volumes of personal narratives published in partnership with DACOR, an organization of foreign affairs professionals united in their belief that diplomatic relationships based on deep understanding can solve international problems.

Here are some additional titles to whet your appetite: Abroad for Her Country: Tales of a Pioneer Woman AmbassadorJean Wilkowsky; Ambassador Brandon Grove’s Behind Embassy Walls; Bush Hat, Black Tie by Howard Simpson, whose press calls him the David Niven of Foreign Service officers. There are dozens more, all candid recounting by the men and women who’ve chosen to be our Foreign Service servants. This treasure trove is yet another remarkable exibit of America’s open-book democracy.

Dad’s exit interview from USIA is in the ADST oral history collection. This very blog is also linked there. I’m completing a memoir — When the Dictator Flew Over Our House & Other True Stories — some of which you’ll see exerpted in this blog. Sharing the stories that I feel need to be told is my small contribution to the challenge of promoting one of our country’s biggest assets.

“we can help shape international order to safeguard our interests and values, before others shape it for us.

“Diplomacy at its best rarely swaggers. It’s about quiet power. But if we’re not louder about one of our nation’s biggest assets and best-kept secrets, we risk losing it.”Burns’ March 10 NYT piece.

The Valentine’s Day Assassination in Afghanistan of Ambassador Spike Dubs

 [This account, along with hundreds of other true first-person narratives by America’s diplomats, is from the Moments in US Diplomatic History of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.https://adst.org/2013/01/the-assassination-of-ambassador-spike-dubs-kabul-1979/

Adolph “Spike” Dubs was a career diplomat who served in Germany, Liberia, and the Soviet Union. In 1978, he was appointed Ambassador to Afghanistan following a coup d’etat which brought the Soviet-aligned Khalq faction to power.

On February 14, 1979, Dubs was kidnapped by armed militants posing as police. The kidnappers demanded the release of the imprisoned leader of their party. Hafizullah Amin’s government refused to negotiate with the militants. Dubs was then assassinated. A successor to Dubs was not named and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. The U.S. embassy was finally closed in 1989 as security deteriorated.

Documents released from KGB archives in the 1990s showed that the Afghan government clearly authorized an assault on the kidnappers despite forceful U.S. demands for peaceful negotiations and that the KGB adviser on the scene may have recommended the assault as well as the execution of a kidnapper before U.S. experts could interrogate him. Dubs is buried in Arlington National Cemetery; Camp Dubs, a U.S. base in southwest Kabul, was named in his honor.

Bruce Flatin was the Political Counselor in Kabul at the time of Dubs’ assassination. He was interviewed by ADST’s Charles Stuart Kennedy in 1993. Read about other Foreign Service officers who died in the line of duty and other Moments on Afghanistan. Listen to the podcast here. Learn more through the Washington Post’s article here.

Bruce Flatin: Spike Dubs was murdered on Valentine’s Day, 1979. I was at the embassy as political counselor meeting with Bruce Amstutz, the DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission], shortly before 9:00 a.m. to discuss the staff meeting we’d be holding at 9:00. The ambassador was not yet in. The security officer and the ambassador’s chauffeur burst into the DCM’s office to announce that the ambassador had been “arrested by the Afghan government” and was being held at the Kabul Hotel.

Well, by this time in Kabul one could be paranoid enough not to be surprised that an ambassador would be arrested by the host government. In other places that may strike you as being unusual, but in Afghanistan that was not a concept that was impossible to grasp.

I told Bruce I’d go to the Kabul Hotel and call him from there. When I passed my office I   told Jim Taylor, my deputy, where I was going and what had happened. His first reaction   was it must have been the human rights report. We’d just delivered it shortly before. It   was not a very pleasant report. Once again, it may seem strange, but it was not out of the question that such an unpredictable government would react in that kind of a fashion.

Kabul_downtown

I traveled to the Kabul Hotel with a couple of other people from the embassy. We used the ambassador’s car. I saw letters he had been prepared to post — and noted that he had   been reading the New York Times.

When we got there the hotel lobby was swarming with police and troops. We were told that terrorists had seized the ambassador. They had   one down in the lobby as a prisoner, and the other ones — they didn’t tell me how many   there were — were up in a room with the ambassador on the second floor. (The original   report stated that four men had seized the ambassador.)

It struck us as odd that the terrorists would come to a hotel in the center of town to hole up with the ambassador. Soviet embassy people were there as well. I was talking to the Soviet official and the Afghan police and military leadership on the scene. They told me that these people were demanding the release of some anti-regime people in return for Ambassador Dubs, specifically a man named Yunus Khalis.

The important point to note is that we Americans never ever had any direct contact with the people holding the ambassador. Everything we knew, about who was holding him,   and what they wanted, was through the Afghan communist leadership and the Soviets. This is an important point. We brought up our embassy doctor, ambulance, nurse, and the ambassador’s blood type, just to be ready in case there were problems with his being   injured. We wanted to make certain we could take care of him right away.…

“Talk to your ambassador in German so that they can’t understand”

The DCM was trying to reach Foreign Minister Hafizullah Amin. We sent officers out trying to find him like process servers. He was not available anywhere and couldn’t be reached on the telephone. At the hotel, I kept telling the police that our embassy was trying to reach Hafizullah Amin with a special message from Secretary of State [Cyrus] Vance urging that there be no precipitous action. This was the theme we repeated all morning.

I was assured by the Afghans and the Soviets that they would not endanger the ambassador. I was assured they were going to do their best to negotiate. I said that we would like to get someone up to the second floor to talk to the ambassador so we could reassure him that things were going all right. They did not respond to this initially, but later at a certain point a Soviet officer came up to me. The Soviet I’m referring to was a person whom I knew to be a Soviet security type.

He asked me, “What languages does your ambassador know besides English?”

I replied, “His best language, of course, is Russian.”

He responded, “Besides Russian?” I said, “He knows German rather well.”

He asked, “Do you know German?” When I replied that I did, he went away.

Then a little later, the chief Afghan police official came up to me and he said, “Would you please come upstairs with me?” This was finally the moment to see what the situation was upstairs.

He said, “We’d like to have you talk to your ambassador in German so that the people inside the room will not be able to understand what’s being said.”

I replied, “Fine.”

As we walked down the hallway, I could see a group of troops and police outside this one room. I noted that the suite next to it was open too. I asked, “Do you want me to   talk through the wall from this suite on the other side?” The police official replied, “No,   it’s best if you talk right through the door into the suite where the ambassador is being held.”

When I looked at this keyhole through which he wanted me to talk, I could imagine myself swallowing a bunch of bullets. I said, “Are you sure the people inside the room have agreed to this procedure?” And he replied, “Yes.”….

And when that was made clear, I knelt by the keyhole, and I said in German, “Good morning, Mr. Ambassador. How is it with you?”

And the ambassador replied in a strong voice, “I am all right.” Then the police instructed, “Now ask him what kind of weapons   they have.”

So I asked, “What kind of weapons do they have?”

The ambassador started to answer but unfortunately in his German he used words close to “pistol” and “revolver.”   By that time, his captors caught on to the fact that English was not being used, and they ordered, “Stop this conversation! We won’t stand for any tricks. There’ll be no further conversation.”

The ambassador then remained silent. The police tried to get the captors   to loosen their controls, but they refused to let any more conversation continue.

Hafizullah_Amin

Then the police official said to me, “Tell your ambassador that exactly ten minutes from now he’s either to try to go to the bathroom, or he is to fall to the floor.”

I replied, “Just a minute, I want to talk to you elsewhere.” So we went down to a cross hallway where I said, “We’ve spent the whole morning telling you that we don’t want any precipitous action here, and you’re now telling me to help you light a fuse that’s going to go off in  exactly ten minutes?” I said, “I want to repeat once again that we’re trying to find Foreign Minister Amin to deliver an urgent request from Secretary Vance that there be no attack on this room.”

He shrugged his shoulders, and muttered, “I have my orders.”

So then I went to the Soviet security officer, and I said, “Once again, I want to tell you that we have said this many times that we don’t want any precipitous action here.” The Soviet then talked to the Afghans and that particular raid appeared to have been called off.

“He was taken out on the stretcher, clearly dead”

But later in the morning, I’d say about an hour and a half later, it was clear they had received an order to hit the room. They got prepared. The Soviets came forward and   provided some with some special weaponry. They had police and troops on a building across the street who were responding to hand signals from the Soviets in our building.

At a certain point there was a loud shot and then a gun fight lasted exactly 40 seconds; I checked this with my watch. That’s a long time. The floor just shook with the gunfire coming from the hallway where I was standing and from the bank building across the street into the room.

When the whole thing was over there could not have been one cubic centimeter in that room that didn’t have a bullet pass through it. A gnat flying in that room would have been hit.

Other Americans had in the meantime come up the stairs and were on the opposite side from this cross corridor with me, and they had the stretcher. When the initial burst of   firing stopped we were ready to go to the room with the stretcher, and the Afghans told us to wait a minute. Then there were four more loud shots.

Then we were told to come. When we looked in the room, the room had water all over the floor because the gunfire had shot up the radiator. There were some two or three inches of water on the floor. The ambassador was slumped in a chair against the wall, but one-half of his body was wet as though he had been lying on the floor. He was taken out on the stretcher, clearly dead. He had many bullet holes in him.

There were two men in the room; they were brought out and dumped at my feet. One was probably dead, and the other one looked definitely dead; they were taken away. The third man they had held as a prisoner, who appeared to be a confederate of theirs and had been used from time to time to talk to them through the door, was held nearby in the hallway — as alive as you are. They put a brown bag over his head and took him away screaming and kicking.

Then I went downstairs and saw the police official in charge and said, “I just want you to know our Ambassador is dead.” He’s the one who had kept assuring me that if anything happened there would be a very small chance of any problem.

He said, “I’m very sorry.” He did not sound very convincing.

I went back to the embassy then and after about an hour I got a call from the Afghan authorities asking me if I wanted to come to the military hospital to see the dead bodies. So I went there with the security officer and our consular officer. We were brought into a  hallway where there were four nude, dead bodies on the concrete floor. I should point out, incidentally, that one of the earlier reports, including that of the ambassador’s driver, was that four people had seized the ambassador….

USAID_vertical_rgb_600

There were only two “captors” in the room, and both were now definitely dead. The man who was just as alive as you are with a brown bag over his head was now dead too. He had contusions all over his body, and was turning grayish blue. Then there was a fourth person whom I had never seen before in my life lying there.

The police colonel, who was showing us this display, said, “These are the four men shot in the room during the shoot-out.” He and I had been standing together in the hallway, outside the room.

He knew perfectly well what we’d seen. But this was going to be their official story. The ambassador’s body was then brought by our medical crew and ambulance to the American AID [U.S. Agency for International Development] compound, where they brought him into the dispensary.

Afghan troops then entered the AID compound in violation of our diplomatic status. When we complained about it, they said they were in there to “protect” the ambassador. We were very concerned that they would try to seize the body.

The White House, responding to the situation, sent a special plane from Washington. We let the Afghans know that it was on the way to pick up the body. So they didn’t press us any further inside the compound.

The body was brought back here to Washington for autopsy at Walter Reed. There were many bullets in the body, but the ones that caused death were .22 caliber bullets in the brain, about four of them.

The official Afghan incident report to us, in the form of a diplomatic note, had listed weapons found in the room, and none of them were .22 caliber. And as you know, police and troops don’t use .22 caliber, but certain types of official security agency assassins do use .22 caliber as a favorite weapon….

We insisted on seeing these weapons taken from the room, and they promised us we could. We went after this issue time and time again. It must have been ten or eleven different times we insisted upon this in notes and personal conversations. Bruce Amstutz became our chargé, and I became acting DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission].

Whenever we saw Foreign Minister Amin or any other appropriate official, this subject would be raised and we would receive slippery answers. On one occasion Amin told us, “We have all kinds of weapons we pick up here throughout the city for various crimes all the time.” We were apparently to get the impression that weapons were being thrown in some coal bins somewhere, and who could tell which weapons were which anymore.

In June of 1979, we sent a note to the Afghan Foreign Ministry telling them the results of the autopsy at Walter Reed and, in essence, telling them they were liars and challenging them to give us a straight account as to what really happened in view of the fact that their original note was incorrect. It had conveyed false information. Well, we never got an answer to that note. That was the end of that subject from their viewpoint.

“It always puzzled us as to why they would do it”

We also discussed this with the Soviets, who drew the obvious conclusion that we were saying the Afghans had murdered the ambassador. Therefore, you couldn’t help but reach the conclusion that his death certainly seemed to involve the responsibility of the Afghan government, and probably the Soviets. But it always puzzled us as to why they would do it.

Some people said it was because Spike Dubs was a Soviet expert, and the Soviets wanted him out of the way before they went into the next phase of their Afghan adventure. But that made no sense, because we have many Foreign Service experts on the USSR who could have been assigned there. He was not the only Soviet expert we had….

Others said it was because they wanted to terminate our relationship with Afghanistan. And indeed that did happen. It did terminate the AID relationship, but that wouldn’t have made any sense either, because if I were the Soviets I wouldn’t give a damn if Americans were shoving money down that rat hole. I didn’t see any communist purpose served by getting us out of our AID programs there.

Whatever the reason, he was dead. It was a hardball game there. This occurred, as I said, on Valentine’s Day, 1979. Our bilateral relationship went steeply downhill from that point onward.

The Mujahadeen reaction started right after the revolution and got worse and worse for the regime. We reported that huge amounts of military materiel were being brought into the country. Far more tanks were brought into Afghan tank parks than there were tank crews in the Afghan army. At the same time the Afghan government army was melting away, as we described in our messages, “like an ice floe in a tropical sea.” Entire units were deserting to the Mujahadeen. Therefore, the Russians had to face this manpower leak. Something had to be done to give the regime replacement manpower.

Soviet tank in Kabul

We were evaluating what the Soviets were going to do along these lines. There were people who said, “Maybe they’ll bring in Cubans.” We said, “No, that wouldn’t make any sense.”

Soviets then started to beef up their strength in the country with Soviet forces. They actually took over military installations, such as the big airbase at Bagram, north of Kabul. It was put under direct Soviet military control.

Then things really got rough on the political scene. In September, Amin killed Taraki in a botched attempt on the part of the latter to eliminate Amin. It appears that Taraki was more favored by the Russians, and the   Russians had hoped that Amin could be eliminated. Something went wrong in this bloody encounter. The Soviet ambassador was physically present at the palace when this happened. Amin was the one who survived, and Taraki was the one who died.

Therefore, the Soviets now had a dangerous man who was clearly alerted to their hostility although he was a convinced Communist. Things became very tense toward the end of 1979. At Christmas time Soviet special forces came into Kabul, where they killed Amin   themselves. Other Soviet units joined Soviet forces already in the country and launched a direct assault against the Mujahadeen.

spike-dubs-tombstone