THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
A Q&A with
n Nov. 2, HBO will release the film“The Diplomat,
” the story of Richard
Holbrooke as presented by documentary
filmmaker David Holbrooke, the ambas-
sador’s eldest son.
For those of us working at the State
Department during Holbrooke’s time,
the film is powerfully evocative. I, myself,
can’t help recalling one oddly quiet,
all-night shift in the Operations Center
in 1998, when we wrote a spoof log that
included an entry that went something
like this: 1:30 a.m., Richard Holbrooke
called, just to say goodnight.
It was funny because it was the polar
opposite of the Richard Holbrooke who
called the ops center many times a day
and often through the night—brusque,
demanding, consumed, all business and,
in fact, critically important to all that was
going on with the Balkans and the Kosovo
crisis of the time.
We never thought then about the
fact that Richard Holbrooke had kids,
that he probably did say goodnight, when
possible, to those he loved. So it was
a particular honor to be able to talk to
David Holbrooke about his father, as
I did in a recent email exchange repro-
—Shawn Dorman, Editor
Foreign Service Journal:
Can you give
us a brief synopsis of the film?
David Holbrooke: “
looks at the life and career of my father
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. It is my
effort to retrace his own personal and
professional journey. Because he was so
immersed in the world of foreign policy,
the film is also about the history of Ameri-
can diplomatic efforts from Vietnam to
Why did you decide to do this
My father died suddenly in
December of 2010 and when we memo-
rialized him at the Kennedy Center a
month later, I sat on stage with Presidents
Obama and Clinton, Hillary Clinton and
other major figures. Listening to their sto-
ries of his life, I realized my father was an
historical figure, something that I hadn’t
fully appreciated before that moment.
I set out on this challenging journey for
several reasons. I knew I had to get to know
himbetter and felt he had something more
to say. I also wantedmy children to have a
better understanding of their grandfather
who they didn’t see enough. My other
hope was to inspire young people to want
to go into the Foreign Service.
What was it like growing up as the
son of Richard Holbrooke?
I think any kid growing up in an
abnormal situation thinks it is normal to
a point, so to be meeting heads of state
and other dignitaries seemed par for the
course. But he was always on the go and
rarely around to be a father in a regular
way. He did like to do fun things; we
would routinely go to movies and theater,
and he also loved video games—which is
funny to think about now.
Of course, I had a good sense of his
work from the news, but when I look back,
all I understood were the broad strokes.
He never really engaged withmy brother
Anthony andme about what he was doing.
What we learned, we picked up fromover-
hearing his conversations on the phone.
Now, after spending four years making
the film and spending time in the places
he worked with friends, staff and journal-
ists, I have come to appreciate the fine
details of the craft of diplomacy and how
challenging it is.
Richard Holbooke with his children, David (at right) and Anthony.
PETE SOUZA/COURTESY OF HBO