I don’t see my story as being unusual. At least not for me. It all began in Greensboro, NC in the 50’s. I grew up in the 60’s like a lot of people did, watching Walter Cronkite on the news and witnessing things that happened, JFK, MLK, RFK, Vietnam. I went away to boarding school in the early 70’s but by the late 70’s I was enlisting in the military, not necessarily a common combination. But it is what I did. The decade of the 80’s was the height of the Cold War and I really felt I was serving God and Country and helping subdue the Communist scourge through my Naval service. The 90’s found me joining State and going overseas, my “return” to Africa. That lasted 20 years.
My story is a collage, a kaleidoscopic view. Things overlap. Things repeat. Colors of images cross borders. I myself venture out to the edges. There is nothing I would change. I have no regrets.
There are no traces or evidence of critical race theory in these pages, implied or suggested. No guilt here, and no victim-hood. At least none I am conscious of. If you want or need those feelings, there are other books for you to read, other stories to be told, other lives to be examined.
I’ve been lucky more often than I’ve experienced ill-luck in this life. Fate has been kind to me overall, notwithstanding the circumstances surrounding my departure from the foreign service after 21 years of faithful service. My druthers would have included a nicer sendoff at retirement, a suitable farewell to friends and colleagues at the end of a total of 34 years of federal service including my time in the Navy. But that was not to be.
Institutionally there was never closure. At least not the kind of closure I was looking for. Sure, they brought us back after nine months of paid administrative leave. They even offered me assignments, domestic and overseas. I told them firmly but politely that they caused my life to be reconfigured, now it was reconfigured and there would be no place for this past in my future.
I was already scheduled for retirement and already enrolled in a graduate program and looking for the next big thing in my life when Benghazi happened. I expected some type of apology from the State Department. It never came. In life one must learn to recognize and accept the apologies that are never spoken.
What goes around comes around, so they say. The Hillary/Kerry group left government when the Trump folks came in. Now they are back in again, and quite making a mess of things. The pendulum swings. There is crisis at the southern border, and prices of gas and food have been going steadily up since January of 2021. Nobody saw Rona coming, nobody saw such dramatic inflation coming, nobody saw the immigration crisis coming, at least no one admits to it.
Cover-ups continue at State. Problems don’t get fixed or resolved. There are band-aids on top of band-aids and bodies buried in shallow graves.
Whatever became of the three DS folks in the same category? They had high class attorneys so I guess it all worked out for them one way or the other. Maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut and hired a high priced attorney. Not. I’d be surprised if they ever got an apology. Mother State never comes clean.
And Benghazi? Libya? Descent into total chaos. The folks we supported as successors to Qaddafi in the administration’s regime change plans are all dead or out of government. The pendulum swings. If it hits you it will knock you out. Best to stay out of the way.
Many of the Hillary henchmen did not return with the Biden group. A few did. I don’t know about the Obama strap hangers. A few career-types returned from retirement.
All wounds heal over time, even emotional ones. Maybe especially the emotional ones. But the place where the healing scab formed may itch on occasion as a gentle reminder. Friendships dissipate over time, disintegrate, and new relationships emerge, better, stronger.
Some young/new foreign service officers have read the chapters I’ve posted on LinkedIn. I hope they can benefit from my experiences. In fact, down the line I’d like to put together a navigational guide for young officers, how to steer through the unseen hazards, clear the shallow shoals, and metaphorically avoid the unmarked wrecks resting on the bottom of rivers and seas.
Life goes on. Life gets better. We age gracefully. Ultimately, all that remains is the stuff that gets written. And all that remains of the written stuff is the stuff that gets repeated, talked about, whether in criticism or in praise. Something to keep in mind.
In a metaphorical sense, for every external bridge I destroyed, I built an internal one. Internal bridges are useful to have. Many of my “bridges” overall have managed to survive, childhood friendships, classmates from schools, shipmates, colleagues. And I have every poem I composed during every period in hard copy and on an external hard drive. I am an archivist, after all.
I can count on one hand the times I have been back to the Department. I went back for a couple of ambassadorial swearing-ins of A-100 classmates and friends, and I made a trip or two to the Ralph Bunche library for research and the used bookstore in the basement for pleasure. I really miss both places, but now my retirement id card has expired and I’m not even sure where to go to get it renewed.
On the other hand, I have been back to Woodberry. More buildings crowd the well-kept space but it still has remnants of its antebellum, plantation charm. It may sound odd, but I so love the American South. I love the architecture of southern cities and college campuses, I love Southern literature, I love its cuisine, and I love its music, whether in church, in juke joints, or in concert halls. The old ways, the darkness of the past is harder and harder to actually find. Increasingly, people are just people, regardless of race or ethnicity and despite what Biden and company claim about race extremism. All the talk about critical race theory seeks to re-ignite ancient hatreds on all sides of racial, ethnic and religious divides. We should all love one another. God is love.
I don’t make it back to Greensboro as often as I’d like. The drive that I used to do in 4.5 hours as a young man now takes the better part of two days after stopping in Charlottesville for a meal and shopping. And the final stretch back on I-66, always bumper to bumper especially on Sundays, drains me for days at a time. The thought of a road trip that once excited me is now a bit of a burden.
Only in repetitive dreams and sometimes nightmares have I made it back to a submarine, or any Navy ship for that matter. From Cairo we boarded a Navy gator freighter, the USS Saipan, transiting the Suez Canal but that was years ago. My hip and these knees will never let me climb down a submarine hatch or a ship ladder in real life. Well, maybe, but not for long!
I was reminded this past weekend on a walking tour of war memorials (of all times and places for such a reminder!) that politics is very personal here in the nation’s capital, Washington, DC. Lifelong friendships get sacrificed on the altar of temporary political compliance, political correctness, and convenient narratives that may not outlast a given administration. Strong social and professional networks get shredded over issues that are just not that consequential. Trust evaporates into thin air. Without the trust and confidence that friends and colleagues who become decision-makers will do the right thing under duress, the fabric of society is irreparably torn.
postscript. 09102021. A note to a DACOR-Bacon friend
Thank you for your thoughtful note. It means a lot to me, as does the whole prospect of "returning to the fold" of foreign service activity, even (and perhaps, especially) among retirees.
During the first COVID lockdown (because there will likely be another in time for the next election), I set upon writing my memoir of 21 years (six overseas assignments and one lengthy overseas TDY) of service plus the rest of my life leading up to it. The activity of writing and reflecting gave me some pause and some inspiration. At the end of my career and even until now I felt (and continue to feel) abandoned by the organization, State, by the culture, and I feel dispossessed, in a way, though not of my memories, nor of my recording of them. The pen, they say, is mightier than the sword.
Nothing is going to change. I go back and forth on the whole idea of writing it all off (no pun intended) and continuing to move on. After all, others have lost more throughout the history of American diplomacy. I think about poor Mary Ryan, who literally grieved herself to death over the manner of her departure. One day one of my colleagues will write a book about that.
That is pretty much where I stand. There are plenty of retired foreign service librarians who can offer advice and lend their expertise to these efforts, so DACOR needn't do without. Right this minute, I am inclined to offer my contributions elsewhere, and to bury the "return to the fold" idea in the dustbin of history, as it were. But I do go back and forth. I am going back and forth as we speak.
We (my wife and I) are reconfiguring our lives in light of the new Biden vaccine mandate, seeking a parallel existence that many like us are embracing. It's funny, even ironic, in a way. My father once told me there was a time when black people never thought segregation would end. I imagine there was a time when people even believed slavery would never end. We are approaching a new societal separation. I am in an online group reading Dante's Divine Comedy, three cantos per week. It is interesting to note that Dante Alighieri, already an accomplished poet, was banished from Florentine society, a side effect of local and Papal politics. It was during that banishment that he penned Divine Comedy. And we are still reading it, 700 years after his death.
This is starting to sound like an appendix to my memoir epilogue! I will stop here. Thanks again for your note.