James Lowenstein dies at 95; his Senate reports challenged Vietnam War claims

After his first trip to Vietnam in 1967, James G. Lowenstein, a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had reason to be skeptical of the military and their ceaselessly cheerful assessments of the military’s success. American progress.

He went to the Mekong Delta, a center of guerrilla fighting, and stayed at a settlement known to be safe for a visiting dignitaries. He woke up the next morning to learn that three locals “had been assassinated during the night,” as he recounted, while they were sleeping in the home of a village chief.

“I’m starting to wonder what if this is a safe village, what about the rest of the villages that aren’t considered safe,” Mr Lowenstein added. oral history. Then, after attending military briefings with General William C. Westmoreland and other senior officers, he began to think that “someone, somewhere down the line was not telling the truth,” he said.

Over the next few years, Mr. Lowenstein – technically a State Department official on loan as an adviser to the Foreign Affairs Committee – became front-page headlines, writing detailed reports. The committee’s rich details often contradict official accounts from the White House. On trips to embassies, villages and jungle outposts throughout Southeast Asia, he gathered information on military and intelligence operations and forged like-minded partnerships. direction with Richard M. Moose, an equally tenacious committee worker.

After the duo spent weeks traveling through Vietnam in December 1969, they prepared a report that questioned the Nixon administration’s assumptions about the strength of the South Vietnamese military. Five years before the war ended, they conclusion that the conflict “seems not only far from being won, but far from over.”

The document was quoted by the press, quoted on the nightly news and praised by the Senate staff chief, the chairman of the committee. J. William Fulbright, who described it as “sober, calm and revealing.” The Arkansas Democrats then sent Mr. Lowenstein and Moose on business trips to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, South Korea, Greece and the Philippines, with headline reports often following them.

“These reports were so well known to the public that some senators began to complain that staff members were getting more attention than members of the committee,” Mr. Lowenstein recalled.

Mr. Lowenstein, who died January 3 at the age of 95, later served as US ambassador to Luxembourg and helped foster transatlantic relations, co-founding the Franco-American Foundation in New York and Paris. He worked for the Marshall Plan in Paris at the start of his career, helped rebuild Europe after World War II, and maintained a lifelong attachment to France, traveling there whenever he wanted. which is possible.

Denise Bauer, US Ambassador to Paris, tweeted that Mr. Lowenstein had served “outstanding diplomatic service” and was an “enthusiastic promoter” of Franco-American relations.

For all his work as a diplomat, Mr. Lowenstein is perhaps best known as one half of the investigative duo known as “Moose and Lowenstein”. Frank G. Wisner, a former diplomat who spent nearly a decade in Vietnam, said Senate staff are “known to the entire Vietnamese bureaucracy with fear,” where they make comments. provocative comments such as: “Moose and Lowenstein come here. What will they find today that will put us to shame?” (Moose, a State Department veteran, passed away in 2015.)

Mr. Lowenstein said he successfully argued for fact-finding missions in conversation with Fulbright, making the point that the Senate needed independent information to consider US policies in Southeast Asia. and other places. Before long, he and Moose arrived in Vietnam, where they left their owners behind and traveled to the countryside, “interviewing farmers, village chiefs, and senior American officers” who had stripped open with them about the war, as one historian tells them. Randall Bennett Forest.

They used a similar strategy elsewhere in the region, conducting interviews with local people and collecting materials wherever possible. In Laos, they report that the CIA spent about $70 million funding guerrilla fighters as part of a “secret war” against communist forces. In Cambodia, they found that the U.S. Embassy was secretly coordinating bombing operations against insurgents, reported new details of a military operation that has been harshly criticized by members of Congress.

Mr. Lowenstein still harbored ambitions as a diplomat, and after nine years on the Senate committee, he returned to the State Department. He was deputy assistant secretary for European affairs in the Ford administration and was appointed ambassador to Luxembourg by President Jimmy Carter, serving from 1977 to 1981.

By then, he was increasingly worried about Franco-American relations. During his time at the State Department and the Senate, he was deeply hurt by the anti-French attitudes he perceived among diplomats, politicians and the press. He noticed a similar wave of anti-Americanism among the French and responded in 1976 by founding the Franco-American Organization with historian James Chace and political scientist Nicholas Wahl, with the aim of promoting relations relations between countries outside of official government channels.

Mr. Lowenstein served as vice president and helped develop the group’s signature Young Leaders Program, which brings together politicians, lawyers, diplomats, artists and others from France and the United States. Alumni include Bill and Hillary Clinton, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken and the most recent French presidents, the current François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron.

“He is the heart and soul of the foundation,” said Allan M. Chapin, the group’s US president. Lowenstein often attended organization meetings, he recalled, including at the Hôtel de Talleyrand, an 18th-century townhouse in Paris that was once the headquarters of the Marshall Plan. Strolling through its corridors with guests, the retired diplomat liked to point out where he had sat as a young secretary of the State Department.

James Gordon Lowenstein was born in Long Branch, NJ, on August 6, 1927. His father, Melvyn Gordon Lowenstein, is a prominent lawyer whose clients include Yankees skater Babe Ruth. His mother, formerly Katherine jewelerShe is a homemaker and the daughter of a textile tycoon.

Mr. Lowenstein spent his teenage summers at President Ulysses S. Grant’s former bungalow in Long Branch, which he said his great-grandfather bought from Grant’s widow. The family also lives in Scarsdale, NY and Greenwich, Conn.

After graduating from Loomis Preparatory School in Windsor, Conn., Mr. Lowenstein studied international relations at Yale University, receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1949. He joined the State Department in 1950, serving as an officer Navy for three years after the start of the Korean War and was appointed a State Department officer in 1957.

Mr. Lowenstein later worked as a political official at the embassies in Belgrade, then Yugoslavia, and Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. After retiring from the State Department as an ambassador, he served as a senior adviser at the media and public relations firm APCO, dividing his time between Washington and Paris. He is also an election consultant in Sri Lanka and Bosnia.

He has two children, Laurinda Douglas and Price Lowenstein, from his marriage to Eudora Laurinda Richardson, which ended in divorce. His second marriage to Anne Cornely de la Selle also ended in divorce.

His daughter said Mr. Lowenstein died at his home in Washington from complications from a fall. In addition to his children, survivors include his longtime partner, Audrey Wolf; Brother or brother; and three grandchildren.

Long after leaving the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Lowenstein still vividly remembers his trip with Moose. In the oral history, recorded in 1994 for the Diplomatic Training and Research Association, he recounts that on a trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, he and his partner “attended a meal evening by the American press, where they put hashish in our soup. , obviously a joke.

He was “half-conscious for 24 hours,” he said, and was put in the awkward position of explaining his situation to the French ambassador when he was invited to dinner at the embassy, ​​while still facing stomach ache and shaking hands.

“Don’t worry about it,” the ambassador told him. “The same thing happened to me the day before the foreign affairs secretary arrived, and I couldn’t even get up when he got off the plane.”


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