By Patricia H Kushlis
I spent Memorial Day morning at the ceremony at the Veteran’s National Cemetery in Santa Fe, New Mexico which honored America’s service men and women who gave their lives fighting for this country as well as those who became disabled as a result. I was at the ceremony because I play in the Santa Fe Concert Band which performs as part of the program. (Photo by PHKushlis May 25, 2015)
The evening before, I watched the PBS broadcast of the annual ceremony on the Mall. This year, it too honored disabled veterans as well as members of the media.
But not one word – once again - about America’s diplomats who also died for their country.
Why not? Ambassador Chris Stevens’ death in 2012 was just the latest. Adolph “Spike” Dubs in Afghanistan, 1979. Roger Davies, Cyprus, 1974. The State Department lists a total of seven Ambassadors who died in the line of duty but, I note, inexplicably fails to include Robert Frasure, a career US Foreign Service Officer and President Clinton’s Special Envoy to the former Yugoslavia. Frasure had previously been US Ambassador to Estonia. He – and two members of the US military and a French officer - died enroute to Sarajevo on a peace initiative mission with Richard Holbrooke and Wesley Clark during the Bosnian War when the APC he was traveling in skidded off the treacherous mountain road – the single road leading into the besieged city - in 1995.
But how about US Generals? Particularly given the huge size of the US military in comparison with the tiny State Department that list is strikingly small.
Furthermore, the names of fallen US diplomats are hidden away from the public. They are displayed on discrete plaques on a gray marble wall inside the State Department’s C Street entrance. If you can get in, look up. They’re there on the left. Every year the number of plaques increases. The early deaths tend to be from disease or someone being lost at sea but look at the names of those who died during the Vietnam conflict and what they were doing when they were killed or in the bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut in 1983.
One of the other dead was Pasqual “Marty” Martinez, a Foreign Service communications specialist assigned to our Embassy in Helsinki. Marty had gone to Leningrad on TDY from Helsinki over a weekend, to help dispatch the voluminous numbers of reporting cables to Washington being written by Consulate staff as the Soviet Union was falling apart. Marty was caught and died in the Hotel Leningrad fire because the Soviets had chained the emergency exits shut.
Why aren’t these members of the Foreign Service and others also honored in our annual national memorial celebrations? This isn’t Veterans Day for heaven’s sake - another American holiday that honors US military dead.
Why shouldn’t the American public be just as cognizant of the lives and stories of the sacrifices American diplomats made and continue to make for this country as they are of uniformed service members or, for that matter, the journalists who cover the conflicts?
Could it be because the State Department and the Foreign Service just don’t see the connection between raising American public awareness about the importance of diplomacy and its diplomats to keeping this country safe through the making and implementation of successful US foreign policy? Or maybe a few do - but have simply never made the case? Why has Memorial Day been hijacked by the Armed Services – and even this year by the media - for their own purposes.
Let’s face it. State’s Public Affairs Bureau is notoriously weak and Congressional relations not much better. Yet the Department complains that it does not get its due, that its functions are being taken over by the military, the NSC and the intelligence agencies, that it is no longer a player in US foreign policy making and implementation but then it consistently does nothing to help raise its stature in the public’s eye.
What would it take to include a reference or two to the sacrifices of America’s diplomats who died in the line of duty in US National Memorial Day services? What would it cost? Nothing. Why shouldn’t they and their stories be told and remembered?
If the State Department won’t make the case, then why doesn’t the American Foreign Service Association step up to the plate? AFSA is the organization which represents US diplomats’ interests to the Department and on the Hill. Or perhaps DACOR (Diplomats and Consular Officers Retired) might take it on? Seems to me it’s more than time for the American public to be given the opportunity to honor those who have helped end wars like - Ambassador Frasure - or better yet have helped to keep us out of them in the first place. Please don’t just sit there. Do something.