HAPPY 120th BIRTHDAY, MR. AMBASSADOR: Mike Mansfield was a Democrat back when people like my (only slightly misguided) late mother could proudly call themselves Democrats. He is best known as the U.S. Senator from Montana (1953 -1977) and Majority Leader (1961-1977).
My story, however, has to do with his later service as ambassador to Japan—a position to which Carter had appointed him. Since Mansfield was well-regarded in both parties, Reagan kept him on. The story’s source was George Shultz, secretary of state for most of the Reagan years.
It seems Shultz had a large, impressive globe in his Department of State office. When newly appointed ambassadors came for an interview or existing ambassadors came to Washington for their first meeting with him, he would tease them by saying, “You have to go over to the globe and prove to me that you can identify your country.” They would spin the globe and put their finger on the country they had been assigned. No mistakes were ever made. You don’t have to be a genius to be an ambassador, but you can’t be a complete dullard. Even if you’ve been assigned to Lower Slobbovia, you’d better be able to find it on the globe.
Mansfield was different. When Shultz asked him to “identify your country,” Mansfield confidently spun the globe and put his hand on the United States. “That’s my country,” he said.
And indeed it was.
Years later, Shultz said on C-Span’s Booknotes, “I’ve told that story, subsequently, to all the ambassadors going out. ‘Never forget you’re over there in that country, but your country is the United States. You’re there to represent us. Take care of our interests and never forget it, and you’re representing the best country in the world.’”
Mansfield served his country well—first in the military during WWI (he was only 14, but he lied about his age), then in both houses of Congress, and finally as ambassador. He died in 2001 at the age of 98.