Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Donald McConville
McCONVILLE: Well, I'd always had this longing to go to Europe, but I had didn't have any language; most of us didn't; there were some that had had language prior to this but not too many or not very much. I had had a couple years of Spanish in college, but never could really speak the language. Europe seemed rather unattainable for me. I had also felt at that point that I might like working in third-world countries or something other than in the more sophisticated capitals, that might fit me better. Because I had had some Spanish in college, I sort of then leaned towards Latin America as one of my choices. So I know that I put down Latin America as one of the choices. At that time you went off as a junior officer on rotation. There weren't any strict cones at all at that time. You were going to go on rotation for six months each in political, admin, econ and consular in a rotation, but there wasn't any great emphasis that you had to choose beyond that. So I hadn't given much thought to it. Like most of us, I thought political probably would be the thing that would appeal to me. Now, since I'd done administrative work in sort of sales administration, I had come to have a greater appreciation of the administrative function, and that was probably my second choice. And since I'd done well in consular training, that kind of appealed to me, that was probably my third choice. But in any event, I did go to Latin America but my first assignment was Panama. It's sort of ironic in a way, because had I had one more month to do in the Army, I would have gone there a number of years earlier as an Army PFC (Private First Class). In any event, we went through Spanish, and at that time, unfortunately, the training for world language at FSI (Foreign Service Institute) was only 16 weeks, and 16 weeks really wasn't enough. Unless you were in the very fast group, you wouldn't even get through all the books in the 16 weeks. I was in the next one behind that - I didn't get in the most advanced group - and we didn't complete all our books. Then there was a regular phenomenon at that time known as a travel freeze, because they would run out of money in the budget and had to start cutting things. The budget year at that time, the fiscal year, ended June 30th, I guess, and the new fiscal year started July 1 rather than October 1 as it is now. We were supposed to go to our first post in April after we finished with our 16 weeks of language training, but because of the travel freeze, all junior officer assignments were delayed until July 1, so they had to do something with us for that extra three months. I was assigned to work for three months in the Office of Fibers and Textiles in the Economics Bureau (EB) in the State Department. The Kennedy administration was now in, and Kennedy had come in and, as part of the commitments he had made in getting elected, he committed to the textile interest that he would get a long-term cotton textile agreement in place that would put quotas and so forth on cotton textile imports, and in fact he had succeeded in doing such. This office administered this sort of thing. It was an interagency group with Commerce and Agriculture and others. I was assigned to work in that office for three months, unlike some people who were assigned to these three-month assignments and had nothing to do because they were just an extra in the office and had sort of make work. This Office of Fibers and Textiles was swamped because of the administration of this, and I was finding myself suddenly writing. We wrote a lot of airgrams in those days. There were cables, but with cables you had to be very spare in your writing because they had to be typed out by hand all the time, so a lot of things were done by airgram. Each Friday, the head of the office would come back from an interagency meeting and say, “We're going to inform such-and-such a country that we're going to impose quotas on such-and-such products,” then they would set up negotiations, offer negotiations, and we were either sending out the airgrams informing them, asking the embassy to inform them. Some of those we did in Washington and others we did sending it to the embassies to have them done, depending upon the country involved. Or there were negotiations being set up. Now, I didn't travel to any negotiations, but for those that were being done there in Washington, being held in the State Department, I would be assigned to be part of the discussions and take notes and this sort of thing. So I was kept very, very busy for three months. It gave me a lot of practical experience. So it ended up being July before we went off to the assignment. Unfortunately, between that and the fact that we'd had only 16 weeks of language training - I think I came out with a 2 or 2+ or something like that, out of my language training; and in Panama English is very widely spoken.