If Jack Matlocks life story were to be made into a hollywood movie, scriptwriters would be hard pressed to do justice to his 35 years in the american foreign service. His four tours of duty in Moscow span the cold war from the Cuban missile crisis to the collapse of the Soviet Union: an era of political espionage, KGB and CIA intrigue and scenes from Vienna, Prague, and Red Square. Matlocks reminiscences are sprinkled with references to JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald, Gromyko, Kissinger, Reagan, Gorbachev, et al. It would be easy to get carried away with the romance of it all, but to do so would be to lose sight of real achievements and the preparation and dedication required of U.S. diplomatic professionals.
Born in 1929, Jack F. Matlock, Jr. was marked for Foreign Service early on. As a Greensboro, North Carolina high-schooler, he followed every step of the Second World War, relishing opportunities to lecture on tactics: why the Germans wanted Ukraine, where the oil was and so on. He set his sights on a diplomatic career, joined the Foreign Service in 1956, and stated his ambition of one day becoming American Ambassador to the Soviet Union, a goal he attained in 1987 under President Ronald Reagan. Before his retirement in 1991, Matlock witnessed the breakup of the Soviet Union from his unique position as the last U.S. Ambassador to that country.
A liberal arts education and a deep interest in foreign cultures paved Matlocks way to Moscow, along with an equally deep knowledge of U.S. history, culture and politics, and a facility for foreign languages he is fluent in Czech, French, German, Russian, and Swahili and can get by in several others.
Matlock served during the tumultuous years that led to the tear down of the Berlin Wall. Along the way he handled embassy fires (possibly KGB instigated), expulsions of spies, he was responsible for returning gold that had been stolen by the Nazis to Czechoslovakia and even warned Mikhail Gorbachev of an impending coup.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he translated messages between U.S. and Soviet leaders. During the period of détente, as the State Departments Director of Soviet Affairs, he participated in all but one U.S./Soviet summits between 1972 and 1991.
The year after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan in 1980, Matlock was dispatched to Moscow as acting ambassador. In 1983, he was in Prague as Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, when Reagan asked him to return to Washington to work with the National Security Council and to develop a negotiating strategy that would end the arms race with the Soviets.
Soviet citizens had gone through decades of anti-American propaganda but when the [Soviet] media gave us their attention, they didnt want to hear debates about warheads, they were interested in favorite Russian poets,
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