MYANMAR, YANGON : US President Barack Obama (L) and Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi make their way from a press conference at her residence in Yangon on November 14, 2014. Obama began talks with Suu Kyi, in a show of support for the opposition leader as the nation turns towards elections next year with uncertainty over the direction of reforms. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN

The Year in War and Peace: World leaders prove era of visionaries over

The passing of Nelson Mandela on Dec. 5 confirmed a grim reality about global leadership in 2013: The era of visionaries is over; most countries today are ruled by technocrats whose ambitions don’t stretch much beyond tinkering with the status quo. From Barack Obama (soaring oratory notwithstanding) and Angela Merkel to Vladimir Putin and Xi Xinping, Dilma Roussef, Manmohan Singh and beyond, government today is in the hands of men and women who promise stability, security and efficiency rather than profound transformation. And 2013 offered a number of reminders that even when they put their heads together, they appear collectively incapable of responding effectively to the global perils of war, poverty and climate change.

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Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. is missing opportunities because too many U.S. ambassadors have not arrived to fill vacant posts. A Senate backlog in confirming ambassadorial candidates has left the U.S. without permanent ambassadors in 40 countries and a total of 58 State Department nominees still awaiting confirmation.

This logjam in the Senate is hampering America’s role in the world. Read more here.

Beginning in the 1950s, the U.S. Government used jazz as a diplomatic tool during the Cold War. John Edward Hasse—author, curator, biographer of Duke Ellington and founder of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra—leads a discussion focusing on efforts by the United States Information Agency, the Voice of America, and the U.S. Department of State. Panelists include Former Ambassador David T. Killion, who organized International Jazz Day for UNESCO; David Ensor, current Director of the Voice of America; and historian Penny Von Eschen, author of Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War.

Join us on Thursday, April 24, at 7 p.m. in the William McGowan Theater. Watch live online ( or join us in person (enter the National Archives Building through the Special Events entrance at Seventh Street and Constitution Avenue).

This is the first in a series of programs, Jazz at the National Archives, made possible in part by the Foundation for the National Archives through the generous support of Natixis Global Asset Management.

Return from Vacation Summer 1914: Brand Whitlock in Belgium

When news of the assassination the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand reached Brand Whitlock at his villa in Bois-Fleuri, he rushed back to Brussels.

"Everyone’s Diplomat," U.S. Minister to Belgium Brand Whitlock
U.S. National Archives

Once war broke out, the most pressing duty in the early days was to care for the thousands of panicked and stranded U.S. citizens in Brussels and throughout Belgium now wishing to return to the United States. In an August 2, 1914 letter, Whitlock described the scene at the U.S. Embassy:

“It has been a day of exciting and terrible rumors, to which, however, we pay little attention, for we have been kept busy every minute by the Americans, of all sorts and conditions, who are pouring into Brussels from all over the Continent, in panic, demanding to know how they are to get home, many of them utterly helpless, so frightened are they: in many instances the women are calmer, braver than the men.”1

In addition to aiding stranded U.S. citizens, as representative of a neutral country, Whitlock took over embassy operations and the diplomatic affairs of several belligerent countries, including Britain, Germany, Denmark, Austria-Hungary, and Japan. Thus, U.S. diplomats in Belgium became everyone’s diplomats, working on behalf of citizens of each of these countries, many of whom were stranded and far from the protection of their own governments.

Whitlock’s visions of peace and quiet were shattered. According to one of Whitlock’s biographers, however, “writing was unimportant to Whitlock when human lives and dignity were in jeopardy, and he was once more the practical politician and dedicated humanist rather than the man of letters.”2 Torn from the peaceful solitude of his writing desk, Whitlock quickly rose to the challenges of wartime diplomacy.

  1. Brand Whitlock and Allan Nevins, The Letters and Journal of Brand Whitlock (New York, London: D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc., 1936) Retrieved from 

  2. David D. Anderson, Brand Whitlock (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1968), 84. 

UNITED KINGDOM, London : British Guardsmen form the honour guard during the ceremonial welcome ceremony for Singapore’s President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the start of a state visit at Horse Guards Parade in central London on October 21, 2014. Singapore’s President Tony Tan Keng Yam began the first full day of engagements in the first state visit by a Singaporean president to Britain. AFP PHOTO / POOL / LEON NEAL

Iran says warships will approach US maritime border

An Iranian naval officer said a number of warships have been ordered to approach U.S. maritime borders as a response to the stationing of American vessels in the Gulf, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

The move could be seen as an attempt by the government to appease hard-liners as the country tries to forge closer diplomatic ties with the United States and the West, analysts said. Iran is currently meeting with the U.N. nuclear agency to discuss the country’s nuclear program.

"Iran’s military fleet is approaching the United States’ maritime borders, and this move has a message," the agency quoted Admiral Afshin Rezayee Haddad as saying.

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Photo: Ebrahim Noroozi/AFP/Getty Images