In 1965, Ken Bleakley got his first post as a foreign service officer: Santo Domingo. Within six months a bloody revolution broke out, causing several thousand Americans, including Bleakley's 21-year-old pregnant wife, to evacuate. He and four other embassy ofificals stayed behind, dodging bullets and general chaos.
Their first duty after the evacuation was to go back to the embassy and tear up all the secret papers by hand, and then carry them outside to a bonfire.
Today, they would have had a quick, efficient, paper shredder.
Today, the daughter than Jane Bleakley was pregnant with -- and who was subsequently born in Santo Domingo in a clinic surrounded by military encampments -- is collecting signatures on a petition to free the Americans being held hostage in Iran.
"Diplomacy is now a very dangerous profession," said Bleakley, who as the president of the American Foreign Service Association represents about 11,000 foregin service officers and staff.
"There is low morale," he said. "People are unhappy. A career that used to be viewed as fun and exciting is now increasingly viewed as drudgery . . . We're willing to take risks for our country. But you ask yourself, does my country really need me?"
"My one word for morale would be 'troubled,'" said Ambassador Harry Barnes, director general of the foreign service. He listed the reasons: a feeling, substantiated by a congressional study, that foreign service personnel are underpaid; concerns of families; the feeling among some mid-level diplomats and among lower-level staff people that promotions are blocked by a logjam of senior officials; the shift of some functions to other branches of government; and the increasing risks of living overseas.
In the last 10 years, five ambassadors have been killed while serving overseas -- more than the number of generals killed during the war in Vietnam. o
Under the general category of "international terroirst attacks on U.S. Citizens" between 1968 and 1978 the State Department provided the following statistics:
54 assassinations (including the five ambassadors)
12 letter bombings
266 incendiary bombings
655 explosive bombings
54 armed attacks
13 hostage-barricade situations
19 hostage seizures, acts of sabotage or "other actions"
252 attacks on U.S. diplomatic officials or property.
Since 1967, Americans have had to be evacuated by military troops at least 36 times from different countries around the world. Each year, the department spends about $1.5 million just for protection of buildings and offices, and as much as $25 million on overall expenditures for protection. Every employe must take a one-day antiterrorism course at the Foreign Service Institute; longer if possible. The course is now being highly recommended for dependents.
It is known that the State Department was aware that admitting the deposed shah of Iran to this country would place the Americans in the embassy in Tehran in extreme jeopardy, and yet the number of personnel stationed there was increased slightly in the months preceding the current takeover. (When the shah was in power, the embassy was a major one, with about 1,000 people.)
Primary concerned with a satisfactory resolution of the hostage crisis, Bleakley will say only that it is a "valid question that we will pursue thoroughly after the current crisis is resolved."
His wife is not so noncommittal. "Officers must inwardly feel betrayed," she said. "It's affected all of us in the foreign service . . . you lose a sense of trust in your government. You feel a lot more expendable."
"I'd say that's a misunderstanding on her part," said Barnes. "This country is not in a position to provide fortresses overseas in which to operate; we have to depend on the host government. We have learned that those assurances may not be worth as much as they once were." He said the U.S. government was assured by the Iranian government that Americans at the embassy would be safe. In fact, he said, a demonstration a few days before the seizure was prevented from turning into a major march on the embassy, which seemed to prove this assurance.
Ken Bleakley was a high school -- Brooklyn Prep -- when he decided he wanted to be a foreign officer. So he went to Georgetown University foreign service school, and passed the entrance examination on his first try at age 21. While waiting three months for an appointment, he managed two restaurant supply companies. "I think I was the one who introduced the Styrofoam cup to Washington," he recalled wryly.
His first job in the foreign service was working in the passport office in New Orleans for six months. He didn't mind.Eventually a post in Santo Domingo, in the dominican Republic, came through, and he and Jane got married and set off for the Caribbean in 1964.
At that time, he said, it was assumed that everyone entering the foreign service wanted eventualy to be an ambassador. There was a generally recognized "successful" career pattern: assignments in the political section of an embassy overseas, acquiring a highly placed patron, and being an expert in a "big" area -- such as Africa.
But Bleakley was pleased with his assignment to Santo Domingo because it was a small mission and he would have a chance to do all the different jobs. Unfortunately, six months after his arrival revolution broke out, "right after we'd sent out all our Christmas cards saying what a wonderful time we were having."
The revolution was eventually quelled (after the intervention of U.S. troops, which created great controversy at home), although at least 24 GIs wre among those killed. Within a few months Jane Bleakley was able to rejoin him in Santo Domingo, and they stayed the rest of their tour before moving to Madrid.
There he was in charge of "protection of Americans," a job he thought was "the most interesting in the embassy." As he explained it, of the 700,000 American visitors to Spain every year at least 100 would die, 30 would go insane, 800 to 900 would turn up destitute, and about 150 would be arrested, often on drug charges. Bleakley would spend the first part of the morning visiting hospitals and prisons and the rest of the day dealing with a waiting room full of problems. Although there isn't that much the embassy can do for a troubled traveler, tourists always seem to turn to it for help.
After their two years were over, they went back to the United States. "That was the roughest period in our married life," they said. Their second daughter was born soon after they arrived; everything cost twice as much as they expected, and their 3-year-old spoke only Spanish. They remember a particularly traumatic trip to Sears when the salesman refused to honor their credit card, which had an APO (Army Post Office) address. "Where is this APO?" the man said, and tore up their credit card.
After three years they were posted to Panama, where Jane Bleakley went to Canal Zone College. She remembers that the one big cocktail party they had there was held -- by chance -- a few days after the American ambassador to the Sudan, Cleo Noel, was assassinated in 1973. "Only the Americans and two Panamanians came. Everyone else was afraid."
After two years in Panama, they went to Bolivia, their favorite post so far, and then in 1975 returned to the U.S. They bought their first house -- for the first time in her life, Jane Bleakly was living in an "owned" house. "I like it," she said. "It was wonderful to realize that I could do anything, I could paint it all pink if I wanted to."
Having time on her hands, she decided to get a job. Through an employment agency, she found work as a counselor at a savings and loan; now she is a manager and feels she has a career. The job has changed her views about moving again, as it has for many foreign service wives.
"Two years ago I was all gung-ho to move again; my body clock was saying it was time to go. Bt now I have my own career. I'm 36; when I'd be back I'd be 40 or 42, and it would be even harder to reestablish myself."
But she woould go -- if the new post offered her husband a job he really wanted. He is at a point in his career where he is starting to worry about future promotions. Although a recent Supreme Court decision restored an earlier department policy that officers had to retire at age 60, the logjam of senior officers that has accumulated in the interim alarms many mid-level FSCs who see their hopes of moving into the top ranks stymied. About 50 percent of the 3,500 FSCs are between the ages of 35 and 50; most are in mid-level grades.
"Everything I've experienced up to this point has been up to my expectations," Bleakley said. "My career to this point has been very satisfactory. But I see clouds on the horizon." He is now assistant to the under-secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
Jane Bleakley is more concerned about the issue of safety now. "I've been shot at and crawled across a hotel lobby on my stomach with bullets flying overhead.I've done that . . . It's not just the danger, it's the relocating. People don't realize how difficult that is. Pulling the kids out of school, finding a new place to live being separated from your husband."
There are other pressures in living inwhat appears to be an increasingly anti-American world. "If you have to live your daily life with people calling you names all the time, it puts a certain kind pressure on you. The wife is the one who'll be out doing the shopping or going to school, she's the one who often gets the brunt of the daily hatred. Why should I live in a place where they're going to burn my house down?
"It used to be that the excitement and fun of living in another culture more than made up for any unpleasantness you might have to go through. That's not true now."
Both Bleakley and Barnes noted that the Iranian crisis, aside from being a personal trial since they both know some of the hostages, will have long-lasting effects on their profession -- international diplomacy.
AFSA has established a "Committee on Extra-ordinary Dangers" in response to the increased threats to the safety of its members. Its purpose is to "keep the security situation under review and to ensure as much as possible that employes are adequately protected," said its chairman, AID officer Ron Nicholson. And are employes adequately protected?
"There have been instances in recent years in which people were unnecessarily exposed to dangers as a way of reflecting U.S. support for a particular government," he said. "Admittedly it's always a judgment call, but our organization wants to err on the side of safety."
Nicholson has known three FSOs who have been killed while serving abroad. "Taking a shot at a diplomat is not the no-no it once was," he said ruefully. " . . . We're conditioned to be eminently reasonable, rational people who believe that time is on our side, that persuasion will work. When we're thrust into a volatile situation I think sometimes we are too cool. We're too hesitant to say 'let's get our a--es out of here.'
"The changes that grow out of this incident will be very profound," Bleakley said. "The fundamental concept that a nation can send its messengers to another country in safety is being flagrantly violated."
"The question is the change in international behavior," Barnes said. "You can't know what to expect. it raises questions about where or when the next crisis will be."