Lay a Wreath

1. Today, October 30th, 2012 is the tenth anniversary of my grandfather Alfred Leroy (Roy) Atherton Jr’s death. I knew him for just over half of my life, but his outsized legacy has shaped most of the things I do.

2. I’m writing this while listening to a 30 minute YouTube video featuring a conversation he had in 1986. The future captures our ghosts and shares them for posterity. The video, in full.

3. Here is a selection of obituaries and remembrances. From the Washington Post:

As a Middle East peace negotiator, he was said to have been able to understand and articulate the historic grievances of Israelis and Palestinians, and to have had the trust of both sides. In 1978, President Carter named him ambassador-at-large for Middle East negotiations, and Atherton spent two years as a shuttle diplomat, traveling between Middle Eastern capitals.

From fellow former Ambassador to Egypt Hermann Frederick Eilts:

The passing of Roy Atherton on Oct. 30, 2002 deeply saddened all who were privileged to know him and to work with him. We have lost a warm friend and a stalwart colleague. The nation, too, has lost one of the unsung heroes of the long, frustrating and still elusive Arab-Israeli peace process. Roy’s innumerable contributions to that process were seminal. For three decades, he was one of the primary architects of American policy in the Middle East. As widely diverse a cast of characters as Archbishop Makarios, Shah Ali Reza, Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat, King Faisal and many others kept Roy busy, so to speak. He exemplified the very best in American professional diplomacy.

From a younger version of myself:

He was late to WWII, and spent his year or so in the war as the spotter in a plane scouting for an artillery division. It’s easy to make metaphors about that – “he saw the totality of war” or “he was removed enough from combat to get the big picture”, and it is very tempting to make these part of the myth. I don’t actually think his experience as a spotter specifically influenced his life that much, but I never had the chance to ask. What I do know is this: after the war, and after finishing his degree on the GI Bill, he joined the Foreign Service, and his first deployment was in what was becoming West Germany. He became a diplomat, and spent 36 years as an agent of his country working to prevent wars.

4. I would like to thank the Foreign Affairs Oral History Project  for existing. I’m staring at a 218 page interview with Roy. It’s through this that I’ve best been able to get to know my grandfather; there is only so much I was able to connect with him on when I was 13, despite my fervent interest in international relations even then. In an attempt to let the dead speak for himself, here are a few excerpts.

On his time in Syria:

Roy describing his post at the consulate in Aleppo in 1953

Roy describing his post at the consulate in Aleppo in 1953

On Camp David:

Roy describing the process of Camp David, and the limited objectives pursued.

Roy describing the process of Camp David, and the limited objectives pursued.

On the Foreign Service, which was undergoing congressional scrutiny when the oral history was taken:

The end of Roy's oral history

A reflection on the foreign service during a period of uncertainty.

5. The only appropriate way to end this post is with a toast. Let me raise a glass:

The camaraderie of young men is a reassuring constant of life.

Roy is second from the right. Raise a glass to American Diplomacy.

6: Weather permitting, I’m off to pay my respects at the DACOR section of Rock Creek Cemetery. Thanks for indulging me in this.


About kdatherton

Unpaid thoughts
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One Response to Lay a Wreath

  1. Ty says:

    Great post… and thanks for sharing his legacy with us..

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