Museums of American Diplomacy

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While over 300 museums honor the service and sacrifice of the U.S. military, no American museum is dedicated solely to U.S. diplomacy.

US Diplomacy Center, State Department

Yesterday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presided over the launch of the construction of the State Department's museum of American diplomacy in Foggy Bottom.  Visitors to Washington will be able to learn about the history – and the current work across the world – of American diplomats.

"Diplomat," according to most Americans who have heard the word, refers to foreigners, and in any case sounds hifalutin.  Generations of American practicioners of the craft have gotten so used to their fellow citizens' befuddlement that they humbly refer to themselves by their professional title, Foreign Service Officer.  Which also sounds, well, foreign.  FSOs are used to it: their employer the "State Department" often being understood back home as "Nancy works in the state capital, Tallahassee."

In other words, a museum to explain US diplomacy to Americans (and foreign visitors) is overdue.

The initiative to build the US Diplomacy Center, as the museum will be known, is an ambitious "$18 million to $24 million" project that will, according to the GSA bid notice:

be located entirely on Federal Property at the site of the Harry S Truman Department of State headquarters building, near the corner of Virginia Avenue and 21st Street, NW, Washington, DC. The project will be built in the foreground of the existing entrance to the George C. Marshall Wing of the Old War building. The pavilion is designed to complement the proportions and massing of the existing historical façade in an unobtrusive manner, while shall house exhibits, interactive technology and compelling artifacts to foster understanding and appreciation for the importance of diplomacy and to increase Americans' awareness of diplomacy and the work of the Department of State.

To assist the State Department in these fiscally-constrained times, FAMC – the Foreign Affairs Museum Council – has been raising private funds to help build the edifice.

TALIM logo TALIMWhich brings me to, ahem, us.  What was the first American diplomatic property?  The Tangier American Legation.  What is the only US National Historic Landmark abroad?  You can guess.  What museum is dedicated to illustrating over two centuries of American diplomacy, from the Barbary Wars to Peace Corps discos?  Ours.

And with about 1 % of the funds going to the very worthy State Department effort, we could boost our efforts enormously.

Secretary Clinton knows the symbolic importance of this institution.  She said so last year when visiting Morocco.

Now we need to mobilize the same kind of public-private resources to restore this historic building, and to make it an even better showcase for the rich story of American diplomacy.

Gerald Loftus 

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