Video Transcript

Thomas D. Boyatt—Example of Excellence:


The high point of my Foreign Service career was the period from 1970 to 1975, when myself and a group of like-minded Foreign Service Officers, who became known as the Young Turks, changed the entire system.  Before 1970 we lived in a system which was totally hierarchical, dictatorial even, in a system which was opaque.  It wasn’t transparent.  Efficiency reports were written, promotions boards met, assignments were made, and the troops in the Foreign Service had no knowledge of how that happened and they certainly didn’t have any input.  And a group of us became very dissatisfied with that closed, rigid hierarchical system, and we began meeting and thinking about it.  And initially, of course, it was just a collection of gripes, so to say, but we kept on talking about it and over time we came to about five or six objectives, specific things we wanted changed.  One of them was that we wanted a grievance system, in order to dispute administrative decisions on pay and allowances and efficiency reports, unilaterally made by management, that we found unfair.

The second thing that we wanted was that we wanted to be part of the decision-making system with respect to personnel policies and procedures which affected our lives.  And not have them made by a single individual but for us to have some input in that. 
Thirdly we wanted a dissent channel, so that people could have a way to disagree within the system of the policy judgments made by their superiors.  Fourth we wanted participation in the efficiency reports.  In other words, the supervisor would have to sit down with the supervisee, tell him what the requirements were, and they could talk about it back and forth.  And then would have to show the efficiency report that was written to the employee at the end of the process.  Fifth we wanted some input into assignments, some way for people to say, you know, “I really would like to go here because it would be good for my career and I have this capability,” rather than having it all come down from the top.  And sixth we wanted family members, and mostly female spouses, taken out of the system – because the way it worked then was, it was assumed that your spouse was an employee of the State Department, and the Ambassador’s wife could tell her what to do. You know, “Come to this cocktail party and bring a tray of canapes.” And spouses, I know you’re going to find this hard to believe, but they were actually mentioned in efficiency reports.

And you know what?  By 1975 we had a grievance system, we had a dissent channel, we were participating clearly as the employee representative.  We changed the promotion system, the assignment system, and we brought freedom for spouses.  And we did all of that within a five and a half year period.  It was an extraordinarily creative time and it was the proof that we were on the right track.

Low point

The low point in my career was the period leading up to and during and just after the Cyprus crisis of 1974.  At the end of the day U.S. policy with respect to that problem was a disaster and I was the country director.  And beginning in 1973 I knew what had to be done to avoid that disaster, but I couldn’t convince the hierarchy – and the hierarchy was Henry Kissinger – that the course of action that I was recommending was the correct one.  And, briefly, what was going on was that a group of right wing insurgents on Cyprus were getting ready to overthrow Makarios with the help of the government of Greece, which was then ruled by a military junta.  And my policy was to go into the military junta, not their civilian front men, and say to them, “You’ve got to stop messing around on Cyprus.  Because if you overthrow Makarios, the Turks are going to invade.  And if the Turks invade the island, they will divide it and Greece will not be able to stop them.  And that will be a bone in the throat of NATO and the alliance until the problem is solved, which means it will be a bone in the throat of NATO forever.”  And I couldn’t get Kissinger to agree with what I wanted to do, and the result was that the Greek government continued its support of this insurgency.  They did overthrow Makarios.  They declared a government of Cyprus, which was clearly under the control of the Greek junta, and Turkey did invade.  And of course then we had two NATO allies fighting each other with American trained and American equipped armies.  And we had a disaster on the island itself, in the sense that the Greek Cypriots who were in the areas where the mainland Turks were invading fled south, and the Turk Cypriots who were in the south fled north.  It was murder, rape, torture, refugees – the whole sort of Mediterranean disaster.  And, in fact, the Cyprus problem is with us today.  And it is still a bone in the throat of NATO, and now is a bone in the throat of Europe.  Because the question is – how does Turkey become a member of the European family if it’s occupying a part of a country, Cyprus, which is already a part of the European family?  So it was a failure.  And I went so far as to do a dissent memorandum, but all of my efforts were in vain,


My first post was in Antofogasta, which is a small port in the northern part of the country [Chile].  And there are only two official Americans there, a consul and a vice-consul. I was the vice-consul.  The consul left on leave and never came back, so I, at the age of 25 as an FSO-8 – which is the equivalent of a second lieutenant – I became the principal officer at the post.  Because I was the principal officer I was invited to all the social functions.  You know, I was the senior American in the northern third of the country, so I got invited to everything.  As a result of that, I got to know personally Salvador Allende, who was President, a Socialist.  He was a world-class boozer and a world-class skirt-chaser, and therefore very good company.  It was fun to be where – “Chicho” was his nickname – where “Chicho” Allende was.  So I would go to parties honoring him.  He was already running for the presidency in the early 60s.  I got to know Frei, Eduardo Frei, because he was already a senator from the north, and he was a Christian Democrat.  And by the luck of the draw, I got to know Agosto Pinochet, who was a lieutenant colonel in the army, commanding the Septimo de la Linea, a famous Chilean infantry regiment.  So I knew all three of them personally as a very young man and on a very sort of one-to-one basis.  Well, I was re-assigned, and 15-16 years went by, and then I was assigned back to Chile as the DCM.  Allende was dead.  He had been president, but he was – the fact is, I think, the evidence is, that he committed suicide at the end of the coup against him.  Frei had been president and was now leading the opposition and Pinochet was president.  And I had known all of three of the actors in this drama when I was a very young man.  And because that was my first post, I speak Spanish with a Chilean accent, my two eldest sons were born there, I knew a ton of people.  For once the State Department got the right person in the right job at the right time, just by luck.  But everything came together, and it was very satisfying, too.  I always felt like I was really on top of it.  I really knew what was going on, and could report that with a confidence that some of my colleagues who had only been there for six months or a year even two years, couldn’t do.


Ambassador [Edward] Peck and I speak to every incoming junior officer class, and we have since 1988 – almost 20 years.  And at the end they ask us questions, and one way or the other, the essence of a lot of the questions is, “What do you think of us, and what do you think of the career?”  And our answer to that is, “What we think of you is that we love you.  And the reason we love you is because you are what we were – you know, cannon fodder.  But someday you are going to grow up in the service and be what we are and more.  And so from the point of view of what we think of you, we love you, and we’re glad you’re here.  The other thing is we envy you.  And the reason we envy the junior officer is because that person is starting on a life and on a career that we would like to repeat.  We would like to have a chance to do it all over again, because it was so much fun.”  So in terms of the advice I give them and others give them, it’s very upbeat.  If the person is intelligent enough to pass the examinations, and committed enough to be at ease in the Foreign Service environment, then they have an opportunity for a very wonderful career and they should pursue it.