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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

NOVEMBER 2015

17

‘A Love

Letter to

Diplomacy’

A Q&A with

David Holbrooke

O

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-

duced here.

—Shawn Dorman, Editor

Foreign Service Journal:

Can you give

us a brief synopsis of the film?

David Holbrooke: “

The Diplomat”

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

Afghanistan.

FSJ:

Why did you decide to do this

project?

DH:

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.

FSJ:

What was it like growing up as the

son of Richard Holbrooke?

DH:

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