Walter's friendship with George F. Kennan was forged in Yugoslavia; Kennan was his boss but also became a mentor. They continued to stay in touch over the years, until shortly before Kennan's death. This connection grew up despite the fact that Kennan's perspective on U.S. public diplomacy was definitely from the old school -- respectful, perhaps, but aloof. Both Walter and Milt Iossi, a former Foreign Service officer who also served at Embassy Belgrade under Ambassador Kennan, shared their memories of him in pieces posted on UNC's "American Diplomacy" online journal.
|Amb.-Designate Kennan with JFK at the White House, Feb. 1961|
When George Kennan came, he immediately showed an interest in what we were doing. I might say that he showed an interest particularly because that was the time when the press law was published, so the entire American -Yugoslav relationship was somehow involved. Because if the Yugoslavs had succeeded in eradicating USIS, that would have been a major setback in Yugoslav-American relations. So George Kennan took an immediate interest, and talked to Tito about it. He wanted that law to become a non-law.
|Kennan with Tito, Belgrade 1961|
But I have to tell you that basically George Kennan was an old-line diplomat. He did not show a particular interest in the information program. As far as the cultural program was concerned, he was more interested. But I think if you had woken him up at 3 o’clock in the morning and asked him whether he’s happy with USIS, he would probably have said “I’m happy with USIS, but I don’t think it ought to be in the Embassy.” I think he was much more taken with the British approach, whereby the cultural program was a self-standing operation outside the Embassy. But he was kind enough, and smart enough, not to show this openly. And in particular, it was his personal relationship with me – he somehow liked me – and I think I was probably the one officer in whom he confided most. But not because I was a USIS officer, but because I was who I was.
|1973 Note to George Kennan|