Charles W. Thayer

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Charles W. Thayer
Born (1910-02-09)February 9, 1910
Villanova, Pennsylvania
Died August 27, 1969(1969-08-27) (aged 59)
Salzburg, Austria
Nationality United States
Occupation Diplomat, author, target of McCarthyism

Charles W. Thayer (February 9, 1910– August 27, 1969)[1] was an American diplomat and author. He was an expert on Soviet-American relations and headed the Voice of America.

Early years[edit]

Charles Wheeler Thayer was born in Villanova, Pennsylvania,[2] the son of George Chapman Thayer, a shipbuilding engineer, and Gertrude May Wheeler Thayer.[3] He attended St. Paul's School and the U.S. Military Academy, where he played polo,[4] and graduated in 1933. He served for a few months as a cavalry lieutenant.

Foreign Service career[edit]

Thayer went to the Soviet Union to study Russian and won a position at the newly opened American Embassy in Moscow, first as personal secretary to Ambassador William Bullitt (a friend of Thayer's father) and then as Embassy Secretary.[5][6] He taught a group of Russian cavalrymen to play polo so the Americans and Soviets could play "a hard-fought, clean, friendly match",[7] and an embassy official recalled his "youthful exuberance" and "ready wit".[8]

His sister Avis Howard Thayer visited him during his Moscow posting and met Charles E. Bohlen, with whom Thayer shared an apartment. She later married Bohlen, who served as American Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1957.[8]

In 1937, Thayer became a Foreign Service Officer, after passing his exams.[2] In 1942, he was appointed chargé d'affaires in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1942.[9] He was assigned for a time to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in Belgrade.[8] Thayer served in London on the European Advisors Committee which drafted the German terms of surrender at the end of World War II.[8]

He attended the Naval War College for a year at the end of the war.[8][10] After the war, Thayer headed the OSS in Austria and served in 1946 on the Joint United States-Soviet Commission on Korea.[8][11] He played a key role in developing the secret Office of Policy Coordination, later merged into the CIA, to counter and destabilize the Soviets (including its clandestine recruitment of former Nazis and collaborators for paramilitary operations).[12]

Returning to the State Department, Thayer served briefly as consul general in Munich before returning to the United States to direct the Department's International Broadcasting Division (later known as the Voice of America) in 1948-49. He developed an antagonistic relationship with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover when he complained publicly that the FBI's slow processing of security clearances was hampering the Division's staffing. Hoover's investigation of Thayer's secretary revealed that she had borne his child. The FBI pursued an investigation (although he did not require a security clearance from the FBI), and found he had "communist sympathy" and was "undoubtedly a homosexual." Hoover failed in two attempts (in 1949 and 1950) to persuade other government agencies that Thayer posed a security risk.[13]

Thayer married Cynthia Dunn Cochrane, a divorcée and the daughter of James Clement Dunn, U.S. Ambassador to Italy,[14] on March 28, 1950.[15] He was fluent in Russian, French, German, Spanish, Serbian, Italian, Bulgarian, Slovene, and Persian.[6]


Thayer held consular positions in Germany from 1949 to 1953. Beginning in 1950, when Thayer was serving as political liaison officer in the Bonn embassy, several anonymous letters denounced him to Senator Joseph McCarthy and his Senate allies as a Communist sympathizer with a history of financial profiteering and sexual immorality both homosexual and heterosexual. He was being protected, according to one of the anonymous sources, by allies in the State Department, especially his brother-in-law Charles Bohlen.[16] Senate investigators used these letters and other documents obtained from a variety of government security investigations to target a series of government officials, starting with the forced resignation of Carmel Offie from the CIA in May 1950.[17]

The evidence against Thayer collected by Senate investigators was based on "hostile gossip and speculation by Thayer's enemies, and premised on guilt by association."[18] They learned, for example, that during his OSS service "Thayer was waited on regularly by a native Yugoslav waiter. named Marko, who was a known homosexual." Thayer's marriage to Maria Petrucci, the daughter of an Italian diplomat, lasted less than two years, which one informant attributed to homosexuality, though she later denied this. Thayer was a friend of Alexander Kirk, a Foreign Service officer with a homosexual reputation who had retired in 1945, and others.[19] Much of the impulse behind the investigations of political and sexual irregularities reflected resentment of the foreign policy establishment, their elite backgrounds, cosmopolitanism, and association with bohemians and the politically unorthodox.[20]

Senate pressure forced the State Department to review Thayer's status. He returned from Germany to testify that "he had never performed a homosexual act."[21] Though cleared, he remained under surveillance by the State Department's security division.[22] When Thayer was moved to a new post in Munich and Senator Pat McCarran demanded a full report on his "experience, qualifications, moral character, and loyalty," the State Department waited a month to respond with a glowing report that included no qualifications.[22] McCarthy renewed and expanded his attacks following Republican gains in the 1952 elections when the new Secretary of State John Foster Dulles decided to cooperate with Senate investigators.[23]

Finally, at the end of March 1953, after much bureaucratic infighting, Thayer was forced to resign in order to win Senate confirmation of his brother-in-law Charles Bohlen as Ambassador to Russia.[24] The Suddeutsche Zeitung regretted his departure and expressed concern that the effect on government operations of a "wave of McCarthyism...must be devastating."[25]

Later years[edit]

Thayer moved to Majorca to live inexpensively beyond the reach of Senate subpoenas. He found some employment opportunities blocked and blamed State Department security officials, though the FBI was responsible.[26] He joked in his diary that "under Stalin you went to Siberia, under Hitler to Dachau or Buchenwald but under McCarthy to Majorca, which counts as progress."[27] He tried without success to have his State Department file amended to make it clear that he resigned because he had a heterosexual affair while married. To support Thayer, his father-in-law, James Dunn, refused an appointment as Ambassador to Brazil.[28] Thayer wrote but did not publish an autobiographical novel based on his experiences as a victim of McCarthyism and the purge of homosexuals from government service.[29]

In 1959, he accompanied W. Averell Harriman, who was reporting for a newspaper syndicate, on a 6-week tour of the Soviet Union,[30]

Thayer wrote several works reflecting his experiences in government service:

    • Bears in the Caviar (1951)[31]
    • Hands Across the Caviar (1953)[32]
    • Unquiet Germans (1957)[33]
    • Diplomat (1959)[34]
    • Moscow Interlude (1962)[35]
    • Guerilla (1963)[36]
    • Checkpoint (1964)[37]

He also wrote a book about his mother, Muzzy (1966).[38]

Thayer and his wife Cynthia had a son James.[6]

In retirement Thayer and his wife lived half the year in Villanova and half the year outside of Munich.[39] He later divided his time between homes in Philadelphia and Salzburg, Austria.[6]

Thayer died during a heart operation in Salzburg, Austria, on August 27, 1969.[6]


  1. ^ Charles W. Thayer at Find a Grave
  2. ^ a b George W. Baer, A Question of Time, The Origins of U.S.-Soviet Diplomatic Relations: The Memoirs of Roy W. Henderson (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1986), 309
  3. ^ New York Times: "Mrs. George C. Thayer," May 28, 1964, accessed February 1, 2011; New York Times: "What is Doing in Society," November 13, 1901, accessed February 1, 2011
  4. ^ New York Times: "Army's Polo Team Subdues P.M.C., 8-2," April 30, 1933, accessed February 1, 2011
  5. ^ Robert Dean, "Charles W. Thayer: Purged from the State Department," in David L. Anderson, The Human Tradition in America since 1945 (Scholarly Resources, 2003), 228
  6. ^ a b c d e New York Times: "Charles Thayer, Soviet Expert, 50," August 29, 1969, accessed January 26, 2011
  7. ^ TIME: "Polo Diplomacy," August 6, 1934, accessed January 26, 2011
  8. ^ a b c d e f Baer, 310
  9. ^ New York Times: "Afghans Friendly Toward Americans," May 17, 1943, accessed February 1, 2011
  10. ^ New York Times: "Fry Quits Radio Post," December 27, 1947, accessed February 1, 2011
  11. ^ New York Times: "Korea Commission Postpones Meeting," March 14, 1946, accessed February 1, 2011
  12. ^ Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 260n1. See also Peter Grosse, Operation Rollback (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000).
  13. ^ Robert D. Dean, Imperial Brotherhood: Gender and the Making of Cold War Foreign Policy (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 101-2
  14. ^ New York Times: "Mrs. C.D. Cochrane," July 25, 1949, accessed February 1, 2011
  15. ^ Dean, Imperial Brotehrhood, 279n75
  16. ^ Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 98ff.
  17. ^ Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 104-5
  18. ^ Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 105-6
  19. ^ Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 106ff.
  20. ^ Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 120-1, 141-2
  21. ^ Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 110
  22. ^ a b Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 112
  23. ^ Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 114
  24. ^ Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 133-5; New York Times: "Bohlen's Relative Quits," March 27, 1953, February 1, 2011
  25. ^ New York Times: "'Wave of McCarthyism' Decried," March 28, 1953, accessed February 1, 2011
  26. ^ Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 142-3
  27. ^ Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 143
  28. ^ Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 144
  29. ^ Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 144-5
  30. ^ TIME: "The Working Press," July 6, 1959, accessed January 26, 2011
  31. ^ New York Times: Orville Prescott, "Books of the Times," April 30, 1951, accessed January 26, 2011
  32. ^ New York Times: Orville Prescott, "Books of the Times," January 13, 1953, accessed January 26, 2011
  33. ^ New York Times: George N. Schuster, "A Personal Report," October 13, 1957, accessed January 26, 2011
  34. ^ New York Times: "Books-Authors," October 8, 1959, accessed January 26, 2011; TIME: "Books: Better Than Gypsies," January 4, 1960, accessed January 26, 2011
  35. ^ New York Times: Charles Poore, "Books of the Times," January 18, 1962, accessed January 26, 2011
  36. ^ New York Times: Charles Poore, "The Guerrilla Warrior in the Modern World," October 26, 1963, accessed January 26, 2011
  37. ^ TIME: "Books: The Ills of Integrity," April 10, 1964, accessed January 26, 2011
  38. ^ New York Times: Nathaniel Burt, "Life with Mother," August 14, 1966, accessed January 26, 2011
  39. ^ Baer, 311


  • Political Graveyard: U.S. Vice Consul in Moscow 1937 1940; U.S. Vice Consul in Berlin 1937-1938; U.S. Vice Consul in Hamburg 1939-1940; U.S. Vice Consul in Kabul 1943; U.S. Consul General in Munich 1952-1953