In This Review

Two Lifetimes as One: Ele and Me and the Foreign Service
Two Lifetimes as One: Ele and Me and the Foreign Service
By Irving G. Tragen
New Academia, 2020, 976 pp

Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, Tragen served in a series of midlevel U.S. diplomatic posts around Latin America, working on labor rights, economic development, and counternarcotics. His memoir, instead of peering into senior-level policymaking, offers a richly detailed, highly personal account of the uneasy intersection of U.S. grand strategy and stubborn realities on the ground. Tragen’s matter-of-fact descriptions of multiple U.S. missteps are all the more demoralizing given his cheerful personality and reluctance to question the basic precepts of U.S. policies. During the presidency of John F. Kennedy, Washington demanded immediate results in Latin America without addressing the deeply rooted causes of underdevelopment, which called for the patient construction of capable institutions. In Central America, Tragen witnessed the gut-wrenching consequences of U.S. backing for brutal anticommunist dictatorships. The war on drugs produced another frustrating mismatch between goals and resources. The incessant turnovers of leadership and staff in Washington and in host countries repeatedly undermined earnest efforts at long-term planning. Nevertheless, Tragen and his wife, Ele, built many bridges of friendship with their Latin American counterparts.