Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Daniel Szabo
SZABO: Yes. I met a friend there, with whom I argued a lot, about Eisenhower versus Kennedy and he's still my friend today, almost 42 years later.
Q: That's wonderful. So what were you looking at?
SZABO: I was trying to get a job in the Far East area and I found a job, in the Commerce Department. After working in Tariff Commission, I was hired as the Vietnam-Cambodia-Laos desk officer in the Commerce Department, at the time of the Vietnam War.
Q: By the time you got there, was it still a backwater?
SZABO: '61, '62, pretty much so.
Q: Particularly Laos and all, beginning to come on the front
SZABO: My job was to write pamphlets for businessmen on how to do business in these countries. We did this to promote trade and investment. That job was to write publications and advise business. Of course, the only business there was was in Vietnam. The U.S. financed an import program to generate counterpart currency to provide revenue for the Vietnamese government.
Q: So how long were you doing that?
SZABO: From '61 'til '63. By that time I wasn't enjoying the work. It was such a miserable job. I probably learned things in the beginning which was helpful. It was also a place for old men. There was a bunch of young guys there and some of them left fairly promptly.
Q: The Commerce Department has had, I'm speaking from a Foreign Service perspective, people I've dealt with, particularly in those days, a rather dismal reputation.
SZABO: And deservedly so. There was a constant fight between Commerce and State about jurisdiction in the trade area, I remember this. But of course I was too junior, I wasn't involved. I was writing my publications and so on and I was miserable. Fortunately, I maintained a friendship with one of my professors at SAIS. I kept in touch with him after graduating from school and told him how miserable I was in Commerce. “I'm miserable, I can't stand this, I don't know what I'm going to do.” I didn't know what my options were.