Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Joseph John Jova
JOVA: When this assignment was made there was a little bit of a discussion, and although I couldn't get into my own assignment, I could at least discuss it with my colleagues. There was the possibility of going to Bogota as DCM, or Beirut, Lebanon. I said, “Oh, I think that Beirut would be more interesting for me. I can always go to Latin America, I'm bilingual. I'm surprised I haven't been sent there before. But unless I solidify my Arabic background, it's gone forever.” Well, now I'm still known a bit in the NE Bureau; and I still remember a little of the spoken Arabic that I had and knew things about the area so I thought this would give me a much better professional grounding. And, of course, Beirut was the prize assignment in those days, it was sort of the Paris of the Middle East. So we had all our clothing designed for Beirut, our car was bought for that sort of thing, and suddenly the need arose for a DCM in Chile.
There was a new ambassador, Bob Woodward, a veteran ambassador who had been an ambassador several times. Later on he became Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, and then ambassador to Spain, only there a short time. He got there and found a problem. The DCM, who is a fine person, had a very interesting wife, but she was ill. She was very ill, a nervous condition I believe, and Bob Woodward thought it wasn't fair to her, or to that family, for them to stay there, and it wasn't fair to the post, a decision that probably the individuals themselves wouldn't have made because they were contributing professionally, and enjoying it. But he felt there should be a change, and he asked for an immediate transfer, and a new DCM. And he asked for me. We told him no, I'm already assigned elsewhere, but as still Chief of Personnel Operations we'll send you a list of options. He wasn't satisfied with any of them, and he knew the Foreign Service too well. Some of them were perhaps hard to place, been on the list for some time. And he said, “No, you guys are cheating me. I want something better.” We sent him better lists, and he insisted, “No, this is very important here.” He had to have somebody that he was at ease with, that he considered good, and he wanted John Jova. I said, “This is something that I have to stay out of. Let Mr. Henderson decide which is easier to fill, Beirut or Santiago, Chile.” Without me he heard evidence, and decided they'd break that assignment, that it was easier to find somebody else for Beirut.
Which shows you how inbred, and sort of bad the Latin American specialists group had become. It was really amazing because, after all, historically that was our main interest since the 19th century. To find that they didn't have somebody they considered of a calibre to go to Santiago. And it was easier to get somebody to go to Beirut of that calibre.
Q: It was almost basically a small cadre. I came into the Foreign Service in 1955, and immediately I knew nothing about this. I was told to stay away from Latin America because it has the reputation of being 1) inbred and somewhat second rate, and 2) once you go in there it's like a black hole, you never get out again. Did you have this impression when you were in Personnel?