Foreign Service Officer
Arthur L. Fern
© Copyright 2001 by Arthur L. Fern
"Pobresito .. probresito," muttered the Spanish maids as they passed my wife, noticeably pregnant, on John's doorstep in the American apartment complex in Bad Godesburg not far from the U. S. Embassy. John, 26 or so, was being transferred back to the States after his initial tour abroad as a junior officer and was expecting the movers that morning. Most of the maids at the American compound were foreign workers imported from Spain. They, of course, gossiped about their American clients and John was known to be popular at entertaining, particularly female guests overnight. We had a key to his apartment so John asked Cynthia to let the movers in.
Pobresito, pobresito was followed by a torrent of Spanish. Spanish was not among Cynthia's foreign languages, but she surmised the maids were feeling sorry for her - being pregnant and waiting on John's doorstep. John's reputation had grown beyond his writing ability, his political acumen and his sense of humor. His charm must have introduced him to any woman in Bonn/Bad Godesburg area he wanted to meet.
Prior to his first tour abroad, John was in a remarkable Foreign Service class after four years at Harvard (English or Comparative Literature, I believe) and an MA in international affairs from Berkeley. Richard Holbrook, Clinton's U.S. Ambassador At Large during the Balkan crisis in the 1990's and Clinton's nominee for UN ambassador, was in the class. Tony Lake was also a classmate of John's. He became National Security Advisor during Clinton's first term in office.
Normally, a junior officer's first overseas tour is equally divided between the four main State Department sections of the embassy: political, economic, consular and administrative (it excluded the non State Department sections such as intelligence and the military). When our time came, John was assigned to Paul Brent's Commercial Attache office. Since the principal mission of that office is to promote US exports, one of John's first assignments was to do a market research study on German demand for women's clothing for US apparel manufacturers - and more specifically, the undergarment sector.
You can imagine the chuckle John got out of that one. Simply put, German women are built differently than American women and American manufacturers would have to modify their production lines somewhat to meet the demands of the West German import market. John's presentation to the weekly meeting of the Embassy's Economic Section (Agriculture, Commercial, Financial, Common Market) was hilarious - percentage of German women 25 to 30 with a size 32 D cup. It wasn't the market facts - it was his style of presentation. Ed Cronk, the Embassy's Economic Minister at the time, had to bring the meeting to order. Laughing doesn't sit well at embassy meetings. But the levity was appreciated.
In the Political Section, his analysis and writing caught the eye of Coburn Kidd, the Political Counselor, as well as that of Minister Martin Hillenbrand, the Deputy Chief of Mission, the number two man behind the ambassador. I overheard the senior officers commenting on John's writing - he was definitely a 'comer' in their eyes. Sometime prior to John's returning to the States, Coburn - in addition to the standard evaluation report of a junior officer - communicated privately (sort of 'back channel' communication) John's exceptional abilities to the assignment board back at State. John wound up in Operations Watch Office, the 24 hour a day office, which reviews, condenses, and summarizes all urgent, secret communications to the Secretary of State and the Undersecretary of State.
Let me digress a moment to explain 'back channel' communications. An American ambassador is the official and personal representative of the US President in the country concerned. 'Normal' communication between the embassy and Washington originates from the embassy's code room, transmitted to the State Department for dissemination, as appropriate, to other departments. The military and intelligence sections had their own code rooms. If there were a policy issue at the embassy level between State officials and those of other departments such as Treasury, Agriculture or Commerce, the unwritten rule was that the issue had to be fought out and decided in Washington, not within the embassy.
However, there are times ….. for example, when a Treasury official from Washington was visiting Germany and disagreed with the Ambassador's position on a matter, his line of communications to the Secretary of the Treasury was through the US Navy, not the State Department. So if a financial attache or visiting official knew the Secretaries of State and Treasury were at logger heads on something, we had recourse without State usurping our reports so that the issue could be settled in DC, not Bad Godesburg. So much for bureaucratic infighting and foreign affairs! It got worse back in Washington.
When Cynthia, our infant daughter Natalie and I returned to DC, we resumed seeing John. He was clearly elated with his job in Operations Watch Office at State. Of course, he couldn't talk of the substance of the reports he saw. But one could almost feel the electricity buzzing around the Watch Office when he described the code clerk bring in an urgent cable. George Ball, the Undersecretary, fuming or swearing at the unexpected news. Should it go to the White House now? Or wait to be summarized in the morning briefing. John thought he was participating!
Well, guess what? He impressed George Ball, the Under Secretary, also - to the extent that he asked John to assist him in writing his book, the Arrogance of Power. John hemmed and hawed around, questioning whether a leave of absence from State would jeopardize his Foreign Service career. No, a year off would not derail his career. So…..
John lived somewhere around American University Park and we on the edge of Georgetown - at most a five minute drive. Often the call would come around five or six after he'd spent the day at the typewriter or maybe after dinner. Maybe he was looking for a free meal, just some human beings to talk with or merely the need to get out of the apartment. Invariably, he came around to reading a chapter or section of Ball's book. And just as certainly it became apparent to Cynthia and me that John was writing Ball's book, not merely 'assisting' in it. When the book was finally published, I was firmly convinced it was John's 'voice', his style in the book, not George Ball's.
Not long after Ball's book went to the publisher, John received a happy invitation - to become the first editor of a new journal on foreign affairs, Foreign Policy. It was to be the competitor, the challenger of the establishment's journal, Foreign Affairs, a publication of the Council for Foreign Relations. John accepted the invitation and moved to New York. It was around this time that John published his first book, The Foreign Affairs Fudge Factory, an irreverent, sardonic look at the State Department.
John had married Brenda, whom he had met in Washington and they had a small apartment in Greenwich Village when he started to set up Foreign Policy. Although I only saw them occasionally on my various trips to the UN in New York, they were happy and enthusiastic about the work.
But one night at dinner in their apartment, John choked on his food and was rushed to a nearby emergency room for a tracheotomy. It was unsuccessful and he died at the age of 31. Sometime after the funeral, Brenda asked me point blank how I was 'using' John. I wasn't 'using' John at all, I had long been out of the government and had nothing personal to gain by seeing John. It was a friendship going back to our days in Bad Godesburg.
"Well," she replied, "all of his so-called friends, former classmates, people he knew at the State Department were somehow using John. They knew he was well connected and moving fast. They thought they could move up by just somehow knowing and associating with John. It's a dirty dog- eat- dog business."
Both the Washington Post and New York Times eulogized John in their editorial columns. On November 12, 1971, The New York Times editorialized:
A Loss to Foreign Policy
John Franklin Campbell was an intellectual pixy who was not above writing an April Fool's Day spoof of the State Department's top secret daily summary. But he was also a brilliant Foreign Service officer who wrote the most penetrating critique in years of the way American foreign policy is made and administered.
His pixyish side led him to call this serious book "The Foreign Affairs Fudge Factory." But no less an authority than former Ambassador George F. Kennan has said that any Administration serious about correcting this country's glaring deficiencies in the making of foreign policy will have to turn to Mr. Campbell's book "for insight and guidance."
For the last year, Mr. Campbell has been managing editor of the new quarterly called Foreign Policy, a fresh and irreverent voice in the ongoing debate about the role of the Unites States in the world. He was approaching the time when he would have had to choose between returning to the Foreign Service, from which he was on leave, or pursuing a career in writing and editing. In either role Mr. Campbell would have served the country with distinction and responsibility. His death at 31 is a terrible loss."
His death was, indeed,
a terrible loss for the nation.
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