From Exile to Washington by Michael Blumenthal

From Exile to Washington by Michael Blumenthal

Author:Michael Blumenthal [BLUMENTHAL, W. MICHAEL]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: BIO026000; BIO010000
ISBN: e9781468312300
Publisher: The Overlook Press
Published: 2015-07-13T16:00:00+00:00

The Importance of Leadership

The sixties were ending and much had happened since John Kennedy campaigned for the Presidency and promised a bright new era of progress. Before three years had passed he was dead from an assassin’s bullet, and it was his successor who went on to achieve a historic transformation in American life.

Would the social changes of the Great Society have come under JFK, or did they take the skillful maneuvering of Lyndon Johnson, the accomplished legislative tactician? Would the long-overdue breakthrough on civil rights have occurred in the sixties without LBJ, and the tireless efforts of Hubert Humphrey, the great liberal from Minnesota, who led the fight in the Senate, and—above all—without the eloquence of Martin Luther King Jr.? We will never know the answers, but these were seminal events that changed U.S. history, and they happened because the right leaders were in the right places at the right time.

In the sixties, the colonial world disappeared for good, dozens of new nations joined the United Nations, and new institutions arose to address their special needs. Yet the demise of colonialism was not without turmoil and pain, as incompetent and venal politicians and dictators took over from the colonial powers and the United States became enmeshed in the former French colony of Vietnam.

In Europe, Jean Monnet’s vision of European unification made forward strides, buttressed by decisive American support and an Atlantic partnership which enhanced Western military and economic security and withstood Cold War pressures. And in the sixties, the defeated nations of the war, Germany and Japan, prospered rapidly under effective leadership and supportive U.S. policies.

Some of these historic events I had witnessed from the perspective of an insider close to the decision makers and they left me with many unforgettable memories of the critical role a courageous leader can play. Two, in particular, stand out.

A critical day in the Cuban Missile Crisis was October 22, 1962, which was also the opening day of an Alliance for Progress conference in Mexico City. I was there with a large U.S. delegation led by Douglas Dillon, the secretary of the treasury, an impressive man with an elegant manner, exuding the confidence of a distinguished establishment name. He had always impressed me with his self-assurance and air of being in control at all times. He had, we would learn, been with that small group of presidential advisors, the Executive Committee, or Ex Com, who for days had worked in great secrecy to weigh the alternatives of a U.S. response to the Soviet threat, and he had then joined us in Mexico at the last moment.

I shall never forget the Dillon who called the senior delegation members to the U.S. embassy that night, to brief us on the gravity of the situation and on the president’s impending report to the nation. Tense, pale, and obviously exhausted from lack of sleep, he explained that Soviet ships bringing missiles would be challenged on the high seas, and that no one could know the USSR’s response.


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