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About Charles Eustis “Chip” Bohlen
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.
Bohlen was graduated from Harvard College in 1927.
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. 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 Joseph 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. 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. 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 Beam.
In April 1953 President 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 W. 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 Eisenhower.
Charles E. Bohlen later served 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 1962. 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.
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, Germany's primary weapons maker during World War II and a convicted war criminal.
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. Avis Howard Thayer (born September 18, 1912 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was the daughter of George Thayer and Gertrude Wheeler. The Avis Bohlen award was created and named for her in 1982. It is administered by the American Foreign Service Association and each year honors the Foreign Service dependent who has done the most to advance the interests of the United States. Her brother-in-law Charles Wheeler Thayer, also a diplomat, worked closely with Bohlen as U.S. Vice Consul in Moscow.
They had two daughters, Avis and Celestine, and a son, Charles Jr. 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.