Charles E. Bohlen: Wikis


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Charles E. Bohlen

In office
April 20, 1953 – April 18, 1957
Preceded by George F. Kennan
Succeeded by Llewellyn E. Thompson

In office
4 June 1957 – 15 October 1959
Preceded by Albert F. Nufer
Succeeded by John D. Hickerson

In office
1962 – 1968
Preceded by James M. Gavin
Succeeded by Sargent Shriver

Born August 30, 1904
Clayton, New York
Died January 1, 1974
Washington, DC

Charles Eustis “Chip” Bohlen (August 30, 1904 – January 1, 1974) was a United States diplomat from 1929 to 1969 and Soviet expert, serving in Moscow before and during World War II, succeeding George F. Kennan as United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1953–1957), then ambassador to the Philippines (1957–1959), and to France (1962–1968). He became an exemplar of the nonpartisan foreign policy coterie known as "The Wise Men."



Bohlen was born at Clayton, New York to Charles Bohlen, a "gentleman of leisure," and Celestine Eustis Bohlen. The second of three Bohlen children, he acquired an interest in foreign countries while traveling Europe as a boy.[1]

Bohlen was graduated from Harvard College in 1927.


Diplomatic career

Bohlen joined the State Department in 1929, learned Russian and became a Soviet specialist, working first in Riga, Latvia. In 1934, aged 30, he joined the staff of the embassy in Moscow.

On the morning of August 24, 1939, he visited the Third Reich diplomat Hans von Herwarth and received the full content of the secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed the day before.[2] The secret protocol contained an understanding between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin to split Central Europe, the Baltic region, and Finland between their nations. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was urgently informed. The United States did not convey this information to any of the concerned governments in Europe. A week later the plan was realized with the German invasion of Poland, and World War II started.

In 1940–41 he worked in the American Embassy in Tokyo, and was interned for six months before release by the Japanese in mid-1942. He worked on Soviet issues in the State Department during the war, accompanying Harry Hopkins on missions to Stalin. He worked closely with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was Roosevelt's interpreter at the Tehran Conference (1943) and the Yalta Conference (1945).

Bohlen, criticized by some of the American Congress hawks, paid more attention to liberal public opinion, since he believed domestic influence in a democracy was inevitable.[3] When George C. Marshall became Secretary of State in 1947, Bohlen became a key adviser to American President Harry Truman.

In 1946 he disagreed with his friend Ambassador George Kennan on how to deal with the Soviets.[4] Kennan proposed a strategy of containment of Soviet expansion, while Bohlen was more cautious and recommended accommodation, allowing Stalin to have a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

Ambassador Kennan, declared persona non grata for some declarations about the Soviet Republics in Berlin in September 1952 would not be allowed to come back to Russia by Stalin, the Embassy being run by Chargé d´Affairs Jacob Beam. On 20 January 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower became President. There was not yet an American ambassador in Moscow when Stalin died in March 1953; the embassy was in the charge of American Chargé d´Affairs Jacob Beam.

In April 1953 President Dwight D. Eisenhower named Bohlen ambassador to the Soviet Union; he was confirmed by a vote of 74–13 despite the criticisms made by Senator Joe McCarthy, who had been involved also accusing his brother in law, a worker in the American Embassy in Moscow, Charles Wheeler Thayer.

Bohlen did not enjoy a good relationship with Soviet leaders, or with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.. He was demoted on 18 April 1957 by David Dwight Eisenhower.

Charles E. Bohlen would later serve as ambassador to the Philippines (4 June 1957–15 October 1959). He was ambassador to France (1963–1968) under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He retired from the foreign service in January 1969.

According to JFK advisor Ted Sorensen, Bohlen was involved in the first few days of secret discussions surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1961. However, to everyone's surprise he kept reservations aboard an ocean liner that would take him to his Paris posting as ambassador, rather than postponing the trip and flying to France after the crisis had been resolved. He was thus absent for most of what was arguably the most important confrontation between the two superpowers during the Cold War period.

In 2006, Bohlen was featured on a United States postage stamp, one of a block of six featuring prominent diplomats.[5]


Bohlen's great-great-uncle was American Civil War General Henry Bohlen, born 1810, the first foreign-born (German) Union general in the Civil War and grandfather of Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach (who used the name Krupp after married Bertha Krupp, heiress of the Krupp family, the German weapons makers). In this way Charles E. Bohlen was related to Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, first weapons' manufacturer during World War II.

Bohlen was the grandson on his mother's side of United States Senator James Biddle Eustis, Ambassador to France under President Stephen Grover Cleveland.

In 1935 Charles E. Bohlen married Avis Thayer. They had two daughters, Avis and Celestine, and a son, Charles Jr.[6] Bohlen's daughter Avis Bohlen became a distinguished diplomat in her own right, serving as deputy chief of mission in Paris, US Ambassador to Bulgaria, and Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control. Bohlen's other daughter, Celestine, became a journalist and was a Moscow-based reporter for The New York Times.

Bohlen's brother-in-law Charles Wheeler Thayer, also a diplomat, worked closely with Bohlen as U.S. Vice Consul in Moscow.

Cited references

  1. ^ Charles E. Bohlen, Witness to History, 1929-1969, New York: Norton, 1973, p.4.
  2. ^ Charles E. Bohlen, Witness to History: 1929-1969 Norton, 1973, ISBN 0393074765
  3. ^ T. Michael Reddy, "Charles E. Bohlen: Political Realist," in Perspectives in American Diplomacy, ed. Jules Davids, New York: Arno Press, 1976.
  4. ^ Harper, John L. Harper, "Friends, Not Allies: George F. Kennan and Charles E. Bohlen," World Policy Journal 1995 12(2): 77-88. Issn: 0740-2775 Fulltext: in Ebsco
  5. ^ United States Postal Service (2006-05-30). "SIX DISTINGUISHED DIPLOMATS HONORED ON U.S. POSTAGE STAMPS". Press release. Retrieved 2008-07-17. "A renowned expert on the Soviet Union, Charles E. Bohlen helped to shape foreign policy during World War II and the Cold War. He was present at key wartime meetings with the Soviets, he served as ambassador to Moscow during the 1950s and advised every U.S. president between 1943 and 1968."  
    and Charles E. Bohlen – U.S. Postage Stamps Commemorate Distinguished American Diplomats, US Department of State
    and ed. William J. Gicker (2006). "Distinguished American Diplomats 39¢" (print). USA Philatelic 11 (3): 14.  
  6. ^ Charles E. Bohlen, Witness to History, 1929-1969, New York: Norton, 1973, p.37-38, 100, 270, 297.

Further reading

  • Isaacson, Walter. The Wise Men: Six friends and the world they made: Acheson, Bohlen, Harriman, Kennan, Lovett, McCloy (1986)
  • Encyclopedia of World Biography on Charles (Chip) Bohlen.
  • Charles E. Bohlen, NNDB.
  • Ilario Fiore, Lavrenti Il Terribile, (Italian), Torino, 1973. Spanish Translation by Juan Moreno: Laurenti El Terrible, 1974, Ed. Plaza y Janés, Esplugas de Llobregat, Barcelona, 509 pages, ISBN 84-01-41049-5
  • Subject: Bohlen, Avis Howard Thayer, 1912-1981. Papers, 1929-1981: A Finding Aid, Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Call No.: 82-M28, Repository: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute


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