Charles E. Bohlen

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Charles E. Bohlen
Charles Bohlen.png
United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union
In office
April 20, 1953 – April 18, 1957
Preceded by George F. Kennan
Succeeded by Llewellyn E. Thompson
United States Ambassador to the Philippines
In office
4 June 1957 – 15 October 1959
Preceded by Albert F. Nufer
Succeeded by John D. Hickerson
United States Ambassador to France
In office
1962–1968
Preceded by James M. Gavin
Succeeded by Sargent Shriver
Personal details
Born Charles Eustis Bohlen
August 30, 1904
Clayton, New York, U.S.
Died January 1, 1974(1974-01-01) (aged 69)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Resting place Laurel Hill Cemetery
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Spouse(s) Avis Howard Thayer Bohlen
Children Avis T.
Charles E., Jr.
Celestine E. Bohlen
Alma mater Harvard University

Charles Eustis “Chip” Bohlen (August 30, 1904 – January 1, 1974) was a United States diplomat from 1929 to 1969 and Soviet expert, serving in Moscow before and during World War II, succeeding George F. Kennan as United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1953–1957), then ambassador to the Philippines (1957–1959), and to France (1962–1968). He became an exemplar of the nonpartisan foreign policy advisors known as "The Wise Men."

Early life[edit]

Bohlen was born in Clayton, New York on August 30, 1904, to Celestine Eustis Bohlen, the daughter of senator James B. Eustis, and Charles Bohlen, a "gentleman of leisure". The second of three Bohlen children, he acquired an interest in foreign countries while traveling Europe as a boy.[1]

Bohlen graduated from Harvard College in 1927. Bohlen's great-great-uncle was American Civil War General Henry Bohlen, born 1810, the first foreign-born (German) Union general in the Civil War and grandfather of Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach (who used the name Krupp after married Bertha Krupp, heiress of the Krupp family, the German weapons makers). In this way Charles E. Bohlen was related to Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Germany's primary weapons maker during World War II and a convicted war criminal.

Bohlen was the grandson on his mother's side of United States Senator James Biddle Eustis, Ambassador to France under President Stephen Grover Cleveland.

In 1935, Bohlen married Avis Thayer. Avis Howard Thayer was born September 18, 1912 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was the daughter of George Thayer and Gertrude Wheeler.[2] The Avis Bohlen award was created and named for her in 1982. It is administered by the American Foreign Service Association and each year honors the Foreign Service dependent who has done the most to advance the interests of the United States.[3] Her brother, Charles Wheeler Thayer, also a diplomat, worked closely with Bohlen as U.S. Vice Consul in Moscow.

They had two daughters, Avis and Celestine, and a son, Charles Jr.[4] Bohlen's daughter Avis Bohlen became a distinguished diplomat in her own right, serving as deputy chief of mission in Paris, US Ambassador to Bulgaria, and Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control. Bohlen's other daughter, Celestine, became a journalist and was a Moscow-based reporter for The New York Times, and his son, Charles Eustis, Jr.. As known Chip Bohlen.

Diplomatic career[edit]

Charles Bohlen (on right) in February, 1945

Bohlen joined the State Department in 1929, learned Russian and became a Soviet specialist, working first in Riga, Latvia. In 1934, aged 30, he joined the staff of the embassy in Moscow.

On the morning of August 24, 1939, he visited the Third Reich diplomat Hans von Herwarth and received the full content of the secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed the day before.[5] The secret protocol contained an understanding between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin to split Central Europe, the Baltic region, and Finland between their nations. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was urgently informed. The United States did not convey this information to any of the concerned governments in Europe.[citation needed] A week later the plan was realized with the German invasion of Poland, and World War II started.

The Secretary of State James F. Byrnes support consults with the advisors in preparation for Potsdam Conference in Germany. L to R, from the left, Charles E. Bohlen on July 12, 1945.

In 1940–41 he worked in the American Embassy in Tokyo, and was interned for six months before release by the Japanese in mid-1942. He worked on Soviet issues in the State Department during the war, accompanying Harry Hopkins on missions to Joseph Stalin. He worked closely with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was Roosevelt's interpreter at the Tehran Conference (1943) and the Yalta Conference (1945).

Bohlen, criticized by some of the American Congress hawks, paid more attention to liberal public opinion, since he believed domestic influence in a democracy was inevitable.[6] When George C. Marshall became Secretary of State in 1947, Bohlen became a key adviser to American President Harry Truman.

In 1946, he disagreed with his friend Ambassador George F. Kennan on how to deal with the Soviets.[7] Kennan proposed a strategy of containment of Soviet expansion, while Bohlen was more cautious and recommended accommodation, allowing Stalin to have a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

Ambassador Kennan, declared persona non grata for some declarations about the Soviet Republics in Berlin in September 1952 would not be allowed to come back to Russia by Stalin, the Embassy being run by Chargé d´Affaires Jacob Beam. On 20 January 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower became President. There was not yet an American ambassador in Moscow when Stalin died in March 1953; the embassy was in the charge of Beam.

In April 1953 President Eisenhower named Bohlen ambassador to the Soviet Union; he was confirmed by a vote of 74–13 despite the criticisms made by Senator Joe McCarthy, who had been involved in also accusing Bohlen's brother in law, a worker in the American Embassy in Moscow, Charles W. Thayer.

Bohlen did not enjoy a good relationship with Soviet leaders, or with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.[citation needed]. He was demoted on 18 April 1957 by Eisenhower, after Dulles forced his resignation, to his own and Eisenhower's chagrin.

Charles E. Bohlen later served as ambassador to the Philippines (4 June 1957–15 October 1959). He was ambassador to France (1963–1968) under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He retired from the foreign service in January 1969.

According to JFK advisor Ted Sorensen, Bohlen was involved in the first few days of secret discussions surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. However, to everyone's surprise he kept reservations aboard an ocean liner that would take him to his Paris posting as ambassador, rather than postponing the trip and flying to France after the crisis had been resolved. He was thus absent for most of what was arguably the most important confrontation between the two superpowers during the Cold War period. He was acting from President Nixon's Secretary of State from Dean Rusk and the William P. Rogers from January 1969.

Death and legacy[edit]

He died in his sleep of pancreatic cancer at his home in Washington, D.C. on January 1, 1974, at the age of 69. His funeral services of Washington National Cathedral on January 4, 1974 to buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In 2006, Bohlen was featured on a United States postage stamp, one of a block of six featuring prominent diplomats.[8]

Cited references[edit]

  1. ^ Charles E. Bohlen, Witness to History, 1929-1969, New York: Norton, 1973, p.4.
  2. ^ "Bohlen, Avis Howard Thayer, 1912-1981.". 
  3. ^ "AFSA Awards". 
  4. ^ Charles E. Bohlen, Witness to History, 1929-1969, New York: Norton, 1973, p.37-38, 100, 270, 297.
  5. ^ Charles Bohlen, Witness to History: 1929-1969 Norton, 1973, ISBN 0-393-07476-5
  6. ^ T. Michael Reddy, "Charles E. Bohlen: Political Realist," in Perspectives in American Diplomacy, ed. Jules Davids, New York: Arno Press, 1976.
  7. ^ Harper, John L. Harper, "Friends, Not Allies: George F. Kennan and Charles E. Bohlen," World Policy Journal 1995 12(2): 77-88. Issn: 0740-2775 Fulltext: in Ebsco
  8. ^ "SIX DISTINGUISHED DIPLOMATS HONORED ON U.S. POSTAGE STAMPS" (Press release). United States Postal Service. 2006-05-30. Retrieved 2008-07-17. "A renowned expert on the Soviet Union, Charles E. Bohlen helped to shape foreign policy during World War II and the Cold War. He was present at key wartime meetings with the Soviets, he served as ambassador to Moscow during the 1950s and advised every U.S. president between 1943 and 1968." 
    and Charles E. Bohlen – U.S. Postage Stamps Commemorate Distinguished American Diplomats, US Department of State
    and ed. William J. Gicker (2006). "Distinguished American Diplomats 39¢". USA Philatelic (print) 11 (3): 14. 

Further reading[edit]