Herbert Spiro

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Herbert John Spiro
Herbert Spiro, United States Ambassador to Cameroon.jpg
State Department photo of Spiro
United States Ambassador to Cameroon
In office
September 1, 1975 – May 7, 1977
President Gerald Ford
Preceded by C. Robert Moore
Succeeded by Mabel M. Smythe
United States Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea
In office
September 1, 1975 – March 14, 1976 (declared persona non grata)
Preceded by C. Robert Moore
Succeeded by Post vacant until December 1979
Personal details
Born (1924-09-07)September 7, 1924
Hamburg, Germany
Died April 6, 2010(2010-04-06) (aged 85)
San Antonio, Texas, United States
Citizenship United States (1944–2010)
Nationality Germany
Political party Republican
Alma mater Harvard University
Occupation Political scientist
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1944–1946
Rank Master sergeant
Unit 11th Armored Division

Herbert John Spiro (September 7, 1924 – April 6, 2010) was an American political scientist and diplomat.[1] Born in Hamburg, Germany, where he attended the Wilhelm-Gymnasium, he and his family emigrated to the United States in 1938, fleeing Nazi persecution. He served with the United States Army in World War II, and afterwards received bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees from Harvard University. The author of thirteen books on politics and government, he taught at Amherst College and the University of Pennsylvania. During the Ford administration, he served as United States Ambassador to Cameroon and to Equatorial Guinea, though the latter country declared him persona non grata. He later returned to academia as a professor at the Free University of Berlin. In the early 1990s, he ran for state and then national office as a Republican from Texas, but was not elected.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Spiro was born in Hamburg, Germany to Jewish parents. His family name is a corruption of Speyer, a town in the Rhineland which once had a significant Jewish community, but he reminisced that in the U.S. it often led people to mistake him for a Greek American. His father worked for a distribution firm. He attended the Wilhelm-Gymnasium. Despite the increasing Nazification of Germany, he states that in liberal Hamburg he experienced no discrimination whatsoever until after Kristallnacht. His family emigrated from Germany just a month later, in December 1938; they passed through New York where their relatives had earlier fled, before settling in San Antonio, Texas.[4] There, Spiro attended Brackenridge High School, and went on to San Antonio Junior College.[5] In a news interview a few years after his arrival, he expressed his disappointment at the relative absence of "wild west heroes" and American Indians in Texas, contrary to the image of the state that he had formed from the Western fiction popular in his native Germany.[6]

Formally an enemy alien, Spiro was not subject to the draft, but after naturalizing in 1944 he volunteered for a military intelligence position.[7][8] He served with the 11th Armored Division and received the Bronze Star Medal with oak leaf cluster.[9] He spent 1945 and 1946 as an administrative assistant to the United States Department of War, stationed in Vienna.[2]

Early academic career[edit]

After returning to the U.S., Spiro entered Harvard University.[2] He stated that he had originally wanted to attend the University of Texas at Austin, but his mother encouraged him to apply to Harvard instead after hearing that a distant cousin had also been accepted.[10] There, he wrote his senior honors thesis on Marxist critiques of democracy, with William Yandell Elliot as his advisor.[11][12] He received his masters' degree in 1950 and his Ph.D. in 1953, with a doctoral dissertation on accountability in government.[13] He spent the following year in his native Germany as a Fulbright Fellow, and then returned to Harvard in 1954, where he continued as an instructor until 1957.[8] He got engaged to Elizabeth Anna Petersen of Radcliffe College, the daughter of Howard C. Petersen, in February 1958.[9][14] He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in political science in 1959, and lived in Rhodesia and the Central African Republic for the next year.[15][16]

In 1961, Spiro moved from Harvard to Amherst College, where he was Associate Professor of Political Science until 1965. Afterwards he joined the University of Pennsylvania as Professor of Political Science, where he remained until 1970.[2][17] He then joined the Department of State as a member of the Policy Planning Staff.[8]

As ambassador to Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea[edit]

In July 1975, President Gerald Ford nominated Spiro to succeed C. Robert Moore as United States Ambassador to Cameroon, with concurrent accreditation to Equatorial Guinea.[18] His wife and younger son Alexander accompanied him to Cameroon. while his older son Peter boarded at St. Albans School and visited Cameroon on his summer holidays.[19]

Spiro's accreditation to Equatorial Guinea lasted only about half a year, however, as the country declared him persona non grata in March 1976. The United States had closed its embassy in Malabo in 1971 after one American stationed there murdered another, but still maintained diplomatic relations. Spiro and Consul William C. Mithoefer Jr. had nearly finished one of their regular visits to Equatorial Guinea when Equatoguinean Deputy Protocol Director Santiago Nchama presented them with a letter accusing the U.S. government of engaging in subversive activities in the country and complaining about U.S. foreign and domestic policy, including the Vietnam War and U.S. nuclear weapons. A few days later, Equatorial Guinea's foreign ministry sent a telegram to the State Department announcing that the two U.S. diplomats were barred from returning to the country.[20] His posting in Cameroon lasted until May 1977, when he was succeeded by Mabel M. Smythe, the first woman in the post.[21]

Electoral politics and later life[edit]

Spiro taught at Free University of Berlin's John F. Kennedy-Institute for North American Studies from 1980 to 1989.[22] After returning to Texas, he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992 and in 1994, and for the U.S. Senate in the 1993 special election, but failed to be elected.[2] His son Alexander married Vanessa Daryl Green of Potomac, Maryland at the Metropolitan Club of the City of Washington in May 1993; DC Circuit judge Laurence Silberman performed the ceremony.[23] He died in San Antonio in 2010, and was buried at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. He was survived by his sons Peter and Alexander, his ex-wife Elizabeth Spiro Clark, and four grandchildren.[24]


  • The Marxian criticism of democracy. Thesis (A.B., Honors). Harvard University. 1949. 
  • A theory of responsibility in government. Thesis (Ph.D.). Harvard University. 1953. OCLC 76999601. 
  • The politics of German codetermination. Harvard University Press. 1958. OCLC 502258268 . Reviewed by Henry L. Roberts.[25]
  • Government by constitution: the political systems of democracy. New York: Random House. 1959. OCLC 1314566. 
  • Politics in Africa: Prospects south of the Sahara. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. 1962. OCLC 504215790 . Reviewed by John Hughes and Thomas R. Adam.[26][27]
  • Africa: the primacy of politics. New York: Random House. 1967. OCLC 245880324. 
  • Patterns of African development: five comparisons. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. 1967. OCLC 781487196 . Reviewed by Charles Andrain and Stanley Diamond.[28][29]
  • Responsibility in government: theory and practice. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. 1969. OCLC 780454306. 
  • The dialectic of representation, 1619 to 1969. Virginia: Jamestown Foundation. 1969. OCLC 16798. 
  • Politics as the master science: from Plato to Mao. New York: Harper & Row. 1970. OCLC 832438731. 


  1. ^ "Herbert John Spiro (1924–2010)". Office of the Historian, United States Department of State. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Inventory of the Herbert J. Spiro papers, 1946–2002". University of Texas at Austin Libraries, Special Collections Division. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  3. ^ Kennedy, Charles Stuart (1994-04-25). "Ambassador Herbert John Spiro". Foreign Affairs Oral History Project. The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2004. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  4. ^ Kennedy 1994, pp. 3–4
  5. ^ "Around the plaza". The San Antonio Light. 1949-06-29. p. 27. Retrieved 2014-06-13. 
  6. ^ "German Youth Amazed; No Wild West Heroes". The Milwaukee Journal. 1941-07-28. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  7. ^ Kennedy 1994, p. 4
  8. ^ a b c "Press release" (PDF). Office of the Press Secretary. 1975-07-02. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  9. ^ a b "Petersen's Engagement Told In Pennsylvania". San Antonio Express. 1958-02-12. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  10. ^ Kennedy 1994, pp. 7–8
  11. ^ Kennedy 1994, p. 9
  12. ^ Spiro 1949
  13. ^ Spiro 1953
  14. ^ "Educator Fiance of Miss Petersen; Herbert Spiro of Harvard to Marry Radcliffe Senior in June Ceremony". The New York Times. 1958-02-08. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  15. ^ "Herbert John Spiro". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  16. ^ "Spiro Approves Policy in Africa". The Harvard Crimson. 1960-10-08. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  17. ^ Kennedy 1994, pp. 10–11
  18. ^ "To Get Post". Reading Eagle. 1975-07-02. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  19. ^ Kennedy 1994, p. 26
  20. ^ "Snub snaps U.S. ties with Equatorial Guinea". Lawrence Journal-World. 1976-03-15. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  21. ^ Murphy, Tim (1977-05-06). "Diplomat cites career opportunity for women". The Day. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  22. ^ Kennedy 1994, p. 28
  23. ^ "Weddings: Vanessa Green, Alexander Spiro". The New York Times. 1993-05-09. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  24. ^ "Paid Death Notice: Spiro, Herbert J.". The New York Times. 2010-04-11. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  25. ^ Roberts, Henry L. (October 1958). "The Politics of German Codetermination, By Herbert J. Spiro". Foreign Affairs. 
  26. ^ Hughes, John (1962-06-09). "A New Face for Ex-Colonials: Politics in Africa, by Herbert J. Spiro". The Saturday Review. 
  27. ^ Adam, Thomas R. (September 1962). "Politics in Africa, by Herbert J. Spiro". American Political Science Review (3). 
  28. ^ Andrain, Charles F. (March 1968). "Patterns of African Development, by Herbert J. Spiro". American Political Science Review (1). 
  29. ^ Diamond, Stanley (1971). "Book Reviews: Herbert J. Spiro, Patterns of African Development: Five Comparisons. (Ed.), Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Clins, N. J., 1967, 144 pages". International Journal of Comparative Sociology 12 (1). doi:10.1177/002071527101200114. 

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