Some wit said that "a diplomat is a good man sent abroad to lie for his country." … But trust is absolutely essential to success in diplomacy—the trust of your own government, and the trust of the government you are accredited to.


Fall/Winter 1999

Hon. George Jones ’55
U.S. Foreign Service, former Ambassador to Guyana

What is the most significant event that has occurred in your profession or field of study during the 20th century? What lesson do you take away from that event?

For the diplomatic profession, that is, the conduct of relations between States, the most significant event of the century has to be the liberation of oppressed peoples all over the world, and, as a result, the explosion in the number of independent nations, more than tripling since 1900. Looked at from that perspective, the fall of the Berlin Wall, while undoubtedly the most dramatic single event, was simply one small part of a process that included the freeing of Russia from the tyranny of the czars as well as the communists, of Germany from the Kaiser as well as the Nazis, of India and Africa from colonialism, of Japan from a militaristic oligarchy, of Latin America from the long cycle of brutal dictators. Because the United States is most likely to be secure and prosperous in a world of self-governing democracies, this has been a particularly beneficial development for our own country. And it has drastically changed the agenda and character of diplomatic intercourse. This process may continue in the next century, by, for example, the evolution of China toward democracy, or it may be reversed by the spread of some new authoritarian doctrine. But as this century ends, there is no question that the world is a better, freer place for most of the world's population than it was in 1900.


Personally, what is the most meaningful life lesson you have taken from your vocation or avocation?

For someone who had never been outside the United States until I went to my first Foreign Service post, the most important thing I learned was that people all over the world share the same needs and aspirations. Yes, there are different languages, different cultures and customs, different mindsets—but every citizen of Earth wants a home, family and friends, peace and stability in which to enjoy them, and some say in what the government is going to do to ensure that. Some people vehemently argue that some cultures, some societies do not share "Western values"—that they are incapable of making decisions for themselves, or that they really want those who traditionally have ruled to make decisions for them. That's bunk.


What person(s) or mentor(s) have had the most significant impact on your life?Can you describe how that person affected your life?

This is very difficult to answer, because almost everyone I've ever known has had an impact on my life, and many have taught me a great deal—family, teachers at Wabash, friends, professional colleagues. But if forced to choose one, I would name the person I have most admired and have tried most to imitate, Harry Barnes, one of America's most distinguished ambassadors. I served as his deputy in Chile for three years and learned more from him about how to be an ambassador than I had in 30 years before that. He believed in the value of individual human beings, and that no rule of protocol or bureaucratic imperative took precedence over that. By his conduct, he reaffirmed my instinctive belief that honesty and transparency was in fact the best policy, even in diplomacy. He played a key role in helping to end the Pinochet dictatorship, and he presented an image of the United States to a skeptical Chilean audience that made all of us who worked for him proud to be there.

In your experience, what is the greatest misconception the public has about your vocation (or field of study) or the people in that vocation?

Some wit said that "a diplomat is a good man sent abroad to lie for his country." "Being diplomatic" is defined as telling someone to go to hell in such a way that he looks forward to the trip. I won't deny that tact in being the bearer of bad news—the United States is not going to give your country a loan, Mr. President, unless you do the following things you would greatly prefer not to do—is a fundamental diplomatic skill. Nor that one must often profess greater pleasure at hosting some foreign officials, or some U.S. Congressmen, than one in fact feels. But trust is absolutely essential to success in diplomacy—the trust of your own government, and the trust of the government you are accredited to. This is true even if the foreign government is hostile—perhaps even more so, because if you are to lay out the consequences of continued hostility toward the United States, it is very important that you be believed.

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