War and Peace Stories

My Foreign Service career began in Balch Hall, September 1958, in Dr. Robert Palmer’s first humanities class, with the essay on the “ethos” of Greek civilization.

Ethos? Made me think hard then, and still does. Scripps taught me to think, to work it out for myself, with the support of a marvelous corps of humanities professors like Merlan, Gray, Foster, Armour, Scott, Vosburgh, and a young humanities assistant named Jil Stark.

This is absolutely the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. And I’ve had plenty. George Archer entered the Foreign Service in 1964. I followed him to Thailand, Laos, and Panama. I became a consumer affairs journalist in Bangkok, a diplomatic gossip columnist in Laos, an advertising copywriter in Panama.

Sadly, our marriage broke up, but my continuing saga of odd career moves continued, as I dragged our two little boys along with me. In Buenos Aires, film producer, real estate agent, translator, interpreter, proofreader, advertising copywriter, and account executive. Publicist for National Public Radio (where I got to watch my hero, Susan Stamberg, put together “All Things Considered”), and, finally, a real government job as a Spanish language broadcaster with the Voice of America.

It was tough. I left my sons every morning at three a.m. while I drove off to downtown Washington to “rip and read” as well as translate and broadcast the day’s news to Latin America at 0630. Fortunately, George lived three blocks away and made sure they got to school every morning.

What I want to tell you is that, no matter what you’ve done (or are doing now), it is all grist for your professional mill. My sister Penelope once said that I had spent all my life before entering the foreign service pulling together the multicolored threads of many experiences and weaving them into a bright colored tapestry for the rest of my professional life.

And the rest of my life has been public diplomacy. Someone once defined traditional diplomacy as the art of saying: “Nice, doggie… until you could find a really big stick!” Well, public diplomacy is the opposite.

We continue to say “nice doggie”—and mean it! Our ultimate goal is to inform, persuade, and influence. We try hard to get our interlocutors, whether the socialist editor of the leading daily or the dean of a law school who dislikes the United States, to see our point of view and, ideally, support it. Our principal job is to inform and then encourage this action. So, first we have to listen, to bridge Edward R. Murrow’s famous “three feet” separating people when they talk to each other. Well, perhaps one, in Spain!

And I have listened. I have been lectured to by irate Americans from human rights groups who came to “tell the Embassy” just exactly what they thought of the war being waged “on” El Salvador by the USG. And by communist contacts in Montevideo who flocked to our Bi-National Center to speak freely and produce their theatre performances during the “dirty war” in Uruguay (while the military was in power) only to take to the streets and protest against the Reagan administration by burning our flag in the street in front of the same BNC after the military government was gone. And by journalists who were convinced that the U.S. was building a secret base to attack Nicaragua in the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle when we brought in our National Guard reserves to rebuild the highway that had been destroyed by the 1987 earthquake. And I listened carefully to the Jesuit priests bereft by the loss of their Spanish brethren, murdered by U.S.-trained Salvadoran military at the Central American University. And to the woman in yacucho who had been the closest friend of Abimael Guzman, the founder of the Peruvian Shining Path guerrilla movement.

So listen. And only after you have listened carefully, then answer—or take action. I accompanied our ambassador on his first visit to the guerilla base camp in Santa Marta in the “red zone” of El Salvador. He listened, we listened, and the Salvadoran government listened. Today the guerillas are running for office (and winning seats in Congress) and the war has been over in Salvador for ten years. The Tupamaros in Uruguay hold seats in Congress (and their sympathizers have actually been elected mayor—several times). The journalists in Ecuador know that the road was actually an expensive war and peace stories magazine, spring 2002 13 summer training project for our National Guard. The officers in charge of the Jesuit priest’s killers were tried and went to jail. And Abimael Guzman’s friend, last I heard, had accepted our invitation to restore and run the Peruvian-American bi-national center in Ayacucho.

I did not do this. We did this. Because it is your tax dollars that keep me, and others like me, out in the field. Most people don’t know that less than one per cent of our national budget goes to supporting the Foreign Service and paying for Foreign Aid. If you believe that the U.S. is responsible for so many of the bad things that are happening in the world, and many folks out there do, then you must also accept that we can do things to influence government leaders and public opinion in the countries where we are engaged in dialogue.

September 11 is what happens when we don’t talk, when we don’t listen. And that’s my job.

The Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs office of the State Department works in many ways. In the short term, we ensure that local and international media based in our countries of assignment have access to our government’s official statements, op-eds, background briefings, television programs, and radio broadcasts. When I first entered, we used to physically deliver VOA tapes and the WorldNet TV broadcasts to our contacts, and make out dozens of copies of the Washington File (our own wire service) to disseminate to our principal contacts in the media.

Now, of course, it is all done by Internet, and we simply advise our contacts that Colin Powell will be talking about his Middle East trip on State Department TV.

Just as important for our work overseas, we also create long-term relationships and strengthen existing ties. I wear two hats:1. media relations (I am the spokesperson-with my two press attachés—for the Embassy and the USG in Spain) and, 2. academic and cultural exchange. This latter hat, which includes the supervision of three cultural attachés, also lets me chair the Fulbright Committee exchange program and the International Visitor Program (better known as the Young Leader Grants).

The William J. Fulbright Program sends American scholars, professors and researchers to foreign countries to study, teach, and learn—and foreign scholars to the United States. Spain’s program is the third largest in the world, after Germany and Japan. The International Visitor Program identifies the best and brightest at a mid-career level, whether in the private or public sector, and invites them to the U.S. for a three-week program of professional contacts and personal observation within their field of expertise. Are they good investments? After all, these are your tax dollars at work. You betcha.

Our International Visitor alumnae roster looks like an international “Who’s Who”—at least a third of the current Cabinet ministers in Spain are beneficiaries of one of our exchange programs. The United States receives a great deal of support from the Spanish government, especially since 9/11. Last week another Al Qaeda financier was arrested—in Spain. Twenty suspected members of Al Qaeda were arrested in Spain last November. When Coalition planes have to fly to Iraq, or the Balkans, or Afghanistan, they refuel at Spanish bases. Even NASA has one of its deep space tracking stations near Madrid, and another two bases are the “first stop” for the space shuttle should it be forced to abort upon take off.

Naturally, I cannot take credit for all of this! However, creating an environment in which people can talk and listen to each other, and in which people have the opportunity to get to know us better, is important. You cannot influence if you do not listen, or if you do not participate. So get involved.

Enough of what my classmates tease me about as my “war stories.” Although I tend to think of them as “peace” stories. I am glad to have been able to make a contribution, and I have been privileged to have the most wonderful job in the world.

And to think that it all began here, in Balch Hall, a mere forty years ago.

Thank you, Scripps!