Friday, September 24, 2010

Things that scare me.

Are, in no particular order, bugs, needles, kids who stare at you in public for no discernable reason, and how close we have teetered to complete global chaos. Why? Well, read this book:

Which, if nothing else, should convince you that our national motto should be changed to "live and don't learn!"

American Diplomats is collection of interviews with Foreign Service Officers, Ambassadors, and other State personnel, collected and edited by Charles Stuart Kennedy and William Morgan, both former Foreign Service Officers. American Diplomats is arranged chronologically, from the early years in the 1920s through World War II, the new world order of the Cold War and the chaos the collapse of the USSR created, to decolonization and its results in the 60s and 70s, the reopening of China, the beginning of U.S. engagement in the Middle East, to Desert Storm.

The interviews are alternately fascinating, hilarious, and frightening. Many of those who provided interviews spoke candidly about the challenges they faced, including an unresponsive and sometimes outright hostile U.S. government. The interviews also reveal why movement in the Department is so sluggish, especially in times when it needs to respond quickly.

Although Kennedy and Morgan tout the opportunities available for women in the introduction to an interview with the first female economic officer in Latin America, the interviewees are decidedly old school - out of the 40+ interviews collected, only two are from women.

The book would have benefitted from a more thorough editorial scrub - some of the interviews are so convoluted as to be difficult to read - but on the whole, American Diplomats offers an interesting and frankly terrifying look at how American has stumbled its way into and out of some of the worst contretemps of the last century - proving the adage that God protects drunks and fools.

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