for National Geographic News
For many people, the sight of the Stars and Stripes waving from the rooftop of an American embassy is a symbol of hope and freedom. But that same image can be a potent, highly visible target for enemies of the United States.
A new television special by National Geographic, Ambassador: Under Fire Overseas, focuses on the lives of U.S. diplomats working in some of the most difficult and dangerous places around the world.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and four ambassadors are among those interviewed in the one-hour program, which looks at the personal side of a powerful American institution.
The four ambassadors in the film explain what diplomacy means to them, and how their lives and their families have been affected by their chosen career.
Whether in Islamabad or Tokyo, ambassadors must work closely with the leaders of foreign governments to secure key alliances and lasting relationships. That work gives ambassadors an unusually strong understanding of conditions in their host countries.
"They have a better sense of what's going on in that country than any expert sitting back in Washington," Powell observes in the film.
Building Relationships, Mending Fences
One of those featured in the program is first-time ambassador-to-be Robert Royall. Viewers can follow his progress in a specialized two-week crash course designed to prepare him for his assignment in Tanzania. Headed to a country that has extreme poverty, terrorist threats, and sometimes strained relations with the United States, Royall has a lot more to learn than how to entertain heads of state.
In Tokyo, National Geographic captured on film one of the first official duties performed by newly appointed Ambassador to Japan, Howard Bakeroffering, in person, his nation's apology to the families of those who died in the fatal collision of an American submarine and the Japanese fishing ship Ehime Maru.
The incident "has special symbolism," Baker tells viewers, "because the Japanese still remember the conflict between the United States and Japan."