Huey, Talbott - Oral History Interview

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Mr. Huey was drawn to SAIS because it represented the culmination of the transformation of where he was headed. In college, he had no conception of anything dealing with international relations or politics or history. He was a major in German literature, but that begin a period of gradually learning more and more. When he was in the Army, he was thrust into an intelligence program which involved international relations and he found it fascinating. So he went back and spent a year at the London School of Economics after he got out of the Army. He found their approach to be very enlightening but very analytical. He explains that British technique is to have you sit in on lectures and write essays from time to time for your tutor. He remembers some of the lectures he took there very well and says some of them were outstanding but gradually he began to see what international relations was all about. To come to SAIS was the culmination of all that and quite different than what he experienced in England because SAIS was very practical. He says it wasn’t exactly training but it tried to give you real experience in diplomacy, economics, area studies and languages all of which was new to him and very, very useful. It was not only useful to him in terms of his career, though that was the point, but also in terms of his understanding of the world. When he looks back on it now 50 years later, he can’t understand how someone could go through life without getting that understanding because it’s so critical in making decisions about your own life, about your own politics, about where you live and what you do and so forth. Because it is such an international small world, Mr. Huey says he ended up living quite an international life that SAIS was very much a basis for. Mr. Huey remembers the faculty or “characters who taught us” well such as Dr. Franklin, who taught diplomatic history. He also remembers some adjunct professors who he describes as very unusual but also very helpful to him. One was Helmut Sonnenfeldt, who later went on to a glorious career as a Kissinger protégé in Treasury most of the time. Mr. Huey says he was a tough guy, a careerist, who would sit them down at the beginning of class and tell them he was going to teach them how to clip the New York Times and that it would be something they would do every day for the rest of their lives. Mr. Huey concedes that he was absolutely right. Another adjunct professor Mr. Huey remembers was Victor Sulom [check spelling], an Italian who did consultant economic work around Washington who was brilliant but tough. At one point his class was discussing tariff barriers and currency barriers. The professor brought the case of Spain and told them to suppose they were trying to move money from Spain to France and they had to deal with the tariff and financial barriers. He asked what the class would do. After what seemed like a year of total silence when the class was waiting for an answer or a hint, someone finally said something that was wrong. But that’s how he talked and that’s things worked. Mr. Huey says he knew what to teach them and how to make them learn the material. Mr. Huey describes Paul Linebarger as the biggest character of them all. The only course he took from him was a course in psychological warfare, which was especially interesting to Mr. Huey because he got into that later on himself in an entirely different way. Mr. Huey describes what Linebarger did as entirely off the wall. Linebarger had written the book on psychological warfare because he had been a psy. war officer in the Korean War and so forth. Linebarger told them, what we do in this course is you read the book and I talk about other things. Linebarger spent at least half the course describing, according to Mr. Huey, 57 ways to analyze at history. Mr. Huey said Linebarger would tell them that history for people is mostly a matter of their diet or he might say history always revolved around the medical history of a people. Mr. Huey found these theories of history very interesting and probably more apropos than the nitty-gritty of psychological warfare. Mr. Huey remembers Linebarger as a guy who was unconventional enough, bold enough and brilliant enough to do something unconventional like that which was very valuable. Paul Linebarger is always remembered as a great science fiction writer too. Mr. Huey attended the old SAIS on Florida Avenue and he thinks that almost all students lived in the neighborhood. He lived on P Street in a house that he found is now a veterinary clinic. He says that living in the neighborhood was an education in itself. But part of the allure and value of SAIS was being in Washington so that you could be part of what was going on in Washington, which was very much a part of his education at SAIS. He remembers being active in Washington life. Every night around 11:00 pm he would take a walk in the neighborhood and sometimes that was quite an adventurous walk for him around Dupont and a few other places. He remembers hearing odd screams and scuffles and being followed by people. For him, that was introduction to the other side of Washington life. He says most SAIS graduates gradually eliminate what you’re going to do until you get down to one thing. When Mr. Huey got down to one thing it turned out to be USIA because he thought he could handle the cultural part and the informational part as they were interests of his. It turned out to be good that he had chosen that in one sense, but in another sense it didn’t really make a difference because he never did a conventional job for USIA. He entered the agency as a junior officer and was asked his preferences for where he’d like to be assigned, which was a shock for him because he was being asked his preferences before he’d even been sworn in. He was then asked to take a language aptitude test. He had majored in a language and studies some other languages so he ended up maxing the test—the first person in USIA to do so. He says USIA then tried to find the hardest language they had and sent him to Vietnam as a result of that. He had a wonderful personal experience there and enjoyed every minute of it and learned a lot, despite the fact that he was there as part of a totally flawed and failed American experience. He learned to be involved in Asia in a way that followed him the rest of his life. The first thing he did in Vietnam was assign down to a branch post in the delta where he immediately started to interview people for an American Field Service trip to San Francisco and doing things that were pretty routine liking holding a Fourth of July party with local dignitaries. He found that suddenly there was a war on and there was no more USIA in Saigon. There was the JUSPAO, the Joint US Public Affairs Office, which was mainly in charge of psy. war in connections with the Vietnamese and press relations in connection with the local reporters and media. That’s what when on for the next couple of years. Mr. Huey was able to work in the countryside a lot which was very exciting and very stimulating for him. He learned to respect the culture there and Asian civilization very much. That also determined the trajectory of the rest of his life. Mr. Huey did two years in Vietnam, and then came back to Washington. They wanted him to do a Washington tour so he could prepare others for Vietnam which eventually meant that he was sending scores of somewhat reluctant USIA officers to Vietnam willy-nilly. He worked as a personnel officer for Asia at that point he thinks he sent 150 people to Vietnam over a couple of years. He was also doing some lecturing. He would go to Fort Bragg and tell the young officers that they should be thinking about hearts and mines, which was also fascinating for him. But even then, he had a feeling that this was an exercise in futility. He decided he was an Asianist and since he was a personnel officer, he assigned himself into Chinese training. They started a new program at George Washington University that he was able to go to for a year and then he went to Taiwan in a State Department school for a year which was very productive and useful. Mr. Huey then went to Hong Kong. Theoretically, he says, it was just as an information officer but he was a China watcher and ended up editing a semi-scholarly/semi-propaganda bulletin about mainland China. This became a respected journal while he was there called “Current Scene”. After 1968 when a lot of bad things happened including the Tet Offensive and some assassinations in America and after he examined Chiang Kai-shek’s regime in Taiwan, he began to find that American foreign policy vis a vis the Far East lacked a great deal of foresight. He left and got his PhD at MIT in political science, taught for a while, traveled for awhile and worked as a librarian for a while. Mr. Huey found a bonus to attending MIT was getting Harvard. He was theoretically a protégé to Lucian Pye who had done some good work in that field before. Some of Pye’s other protégés were Dick Solomon, who became Assistant Secretary (of State). He paid much more attention to some of the people at Harvard and he found the blend very useful. He wanted to stay in Boston so he got a job at the University of Massachusetts. He says UMass was a battleground for 7 years between people who wanted to do certain things and others who did not so he was not unhappy to leave. The next stage of Mr. Huey’s career was totally unexpected and something about which he knew nothing at the time. He ended up at the Overseas Program of the University of Maryland. University of Maryland decided it was going to be an international university by teaching overseas focusing in particular on military bases. They do it through a contract with the Defense Department. If you are a GI on an army base in Korea, you can take university courses that are the same courses that they teach at College Park. Mr. Huey taught in the program for several years and found it simply wonderful. Students were self-selected, wanted to get ahead, had some discipline as a result of their military training, were terrific students and he did not deal with administrative headaches. He enjoyed the freedom to write a report, go to the beach or do as you chose when you finished lecturing students and then do the same thing four to five months later in a different part of Asia. Because it’s not something you can do forever and there’s no tenure, he came back and got a library degree at the University of Maryland. At Michigan State, Mr. Huey got a job as the Asian librarian and worked there for 20 years. The job was ideal. He was simply asked to buy the books and materials in his field, of which he had several. He said in a way it was like retirement—just doing as you please and not making much money with a very nice working atmosphere. The university was particularly interested in third world development which he found interesting. Mr. Huey says working with the Overseas Program at the University of Maryland was the favorite part of his career. He says it was completely care-free and always stimulating. Now he is enjoying retirement and sometimes wonders why he didn’t do this 40 years ago. He volunteers at a National Historic Site outside of Baltimore, Maryland called Hampton and he does a lot of exploring Maryland. His wife is a fanatic kayaker but he is not so she goes by water and he goes exploring by land. Mr. Huey would tell current SAIS students that they’ve already made the key decision and that is to become internationally-oriented people. He values the practical education that SAIS students receive but would encourage them to try to think outside the box—something new to do for the international world besides working for the World Bank or State Department. He suggests perhaps continuing in the academic world.
SAIS, London School of Economics, Army, Sonnenfeldt, Helmut, Kissinger, Henry, Soviet Union, Linebarger, Paul, United States Information Agency, American Field Service, Vietnam, Saigon, Vietnam War, Joint US Public Affairs Office, Fort Bragg, George Washington University, Hearts and Minds, Taiwan, State Department, Hong Kong, China, Current Scene, Tet Offensive, Chiang Kai-shek, MIT, Harvard, Pye, Lucian, Solomon, Richard, University of Massachusetts, University of Maryland, Department of Defense, Michigan State University, Hampton National Historic Site