James Lowenstein Dies At 95: His Senate Reports Refuted Assertions About The Vietnam War!
James G. Lowenstein, a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had reason to be dubious of military brass and their incessantly positive appraisals of American achievement after his first trip to Vietnam in 1967.
He had traveled to the Mekong Delta, a hotbed of guerrilla warfare, and had stayed in a community that was thought to be secure enough for a dignitary on business. The following morning, he discovered that three people had, as he put it, “been slain throughout the night” while resting at a village elder’s residence.
In an oral history, Mr. Lowenstein continued, “I started to wonder if this was a safe community, what was it like in the other communities that weren’t deemed secure.” He later began to suspect that “someone, somewhere down the line, was not telling the truth” after attending military briefings with Gen. William C. Westmoreland and other senior officials, he said.
Mr. Lowenstein, nominally a Foreign Service officer on loan to the Foreign Relations Committee as a consultant, rose to prominence over the following several years by penning lavishly detailed committee findings that frequently disputed statements made by the White House. Along with Richard M. Moose, a similarly tenacious committee worker, he gained information regarding military and intelligence operations during his travels to embassies, villages, and jungle outposts throughout Southeast Asia.
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In December 1969, the pair traveled around Vietnam for weeks before compiling a report that cast doubt on the Nixon administration’s presumptions regarding the military might of South Vietnam. They concluded that the war “appears to be not only far from won but far from over” five years before it ended.
The memo was quoted on the evening news, reprinted by newspapers, and lauded by the committee chairman who oversaw the work of the Senate staffers, J. William Fulbright, who called it “sober, dispassionate, and enlightening.” Later, the Arkansas Democrat sent Mr. Lowenstein and Moose on missions to the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, South Korea, and Greece, with stories that typically made headlines in their aftermath.
According to Mr. Lowenstein, “these reports received so much media attention” that “several senators started to protest that the staff was receiving more attention than the members of the committee.”
James Lowenstein, who passed away on January 3 at the age of 95, later served as the United States ambassador to Luxembourg and promoted links between the two countries by helping to form the French-American Foundation in New York and Paris. At the beginning of his career, he had worked in Paris for the Marshall Plan, aiding in the reconstruction of post-World War II Europe. He had a lifetime affinity for France and visited there whenever he could.
According to a tweet from the American ambassador in Paris, Denise Bauer, Mr. Lowenstein was an “ardent booster” of French-American relations and had “brilliantly served diplomacy.”
James Lowenstein dies at 95; his Senate reports challenged Vietnam War claims. “As a Foreign Affairs Committee staffer, he reported on secret military and intelligence activities across Southeast Asia.”https://t.co/hCrV31nYkx
— John Hudson (@John_Hudson) January 11, 2023
Despite all of his diplomatic work, Mr. Lowenstein is probably best remembered as one-half of the criminal investigation team known as “Moose and Lowenstein.” According to Frank G. Wisner, a former ambassador who spent nearly ten years in Vietnam, the Senate employees were “known with horror throughout the Vietnam bureaucracy,” where they sparked remarks like: “Here come Moose and Lowenstein. What will they discover today that will make us seem bad? (Moose, a fellow veteran of the Foreign Service, passed away in 2015)
In a chat with Fulbright, Mr. Lowenstein claimed that he had persuasively advocated in favor of the fact-finding missions by arguing that the Senate required unbiased data to assess American foreign policy generally and in Southeast Asia. He and Moose were soon on their way to Vietnam where, according to historian Randall Bennett Woods, they interviewed villagers, village heads, and field-grade American commanders who opened up to them about the conflict after they left their hosts behind.
Similar tactics were used everywhere in the area, where they spoke with locals and gathered records wherever possible. The CIA reportedly spent roughly $70 million funding guerrilla fighters in Laos as part of a “secret war” against communist forces, according to reports there. They discovered in Cambodia that the American Embassy was covertly coordinating bombing operations against insurgents, providing new information about a military process that had received scathing criticism from Congressmen.
After serving with the Senate committee for nine years, Mr. Lowenstein returned to the State Department because he still aspired to be a diplomat. During the Ford administration, he served as the deputy assistant secretary for European affairs. From 1977 to 1981, he was the ambassador to Luxembourg under President Jimmy Carter.
By that point, he was getting increasingly concerned about the French-American relationship. He had been hurt by the anti-French views he had observed among diplomats, legislators, and the media during his time with the State Department and the Senate. In response, he followed a similar trend of anti-Americanism among the French and founded the French-American Foundation in 1976 with political scientist Nicholas Wahl and historian James Chace. The foundation’s goal was to strengthen ties between the two nations outside of the purview of the formal political system.
Mr. Lowenstein served as vice chairman and contributed to creating the organization’s renowned Young Leaders Program, which brings together American and French early-career diplomats, attorneys, legislators, and other professionals. Alums include Bill and Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, current French President Emmanuel Macron, and former President François Hollande.
Allan M. Chapin, the organization’s U.S. chairman, said of him, “He was the heart and soul of the foundation.” He noted that Mr. Lowenstein frequently attended the group’s conferences, including those held at the Parisian mansion built in the 18th century known as the Hôtel de Talleyrand, which served as the Marshall Plan’s original headquarters. The retired diplomat liked to show visitors where he had once sat as a young State Department clerk as they strolled through the building’s hallways.
On August 6, 1927, James Gordon Lowenstein was born in Long Branch, New Jersey. Lawyer Melvyn Gordon Lowenstein, his father, was well-known and represented people such as Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees. His mother, Katherine Goldsmith, was once a housewife and a textile tycoon descendant.
Mr. Lowenstein spent summers at the former Long Branch cabin owned by President Ulysses S. Grant, which his great-grandparents purchased from Grant’s widow. The family also resided in Greenwich, Connecticut, and Scarsdale, New York.
Mr. Lowenstein attended Yale College to study international relations after completing his high school education at Windsor, Connecticut’s Loomis Preparatory School. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1949. After the start of the Korean War, he spent three years as a Navy officer before joining the State Department in 1950. In 1957, he was made a Foreign Service officer.
Later, Mr. Lowenstein served as a political officer at embassies in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and Belgrade, in what was then Yugoslavia. He was a senior consultant with the public affairs and communications firm APCO after leaving the Foreign Service as an ambassador, dividing his time between Washington and Paris. Additionally, he provided election advice in Bosnia and Sri Lanka.
From his brief union with Eudora Laurinda Richardson, which resulted in divorce, he produced two children: Laurinda Douglas and Price Lowenstein. He also divorced his second wife, Anne Cornely de la Selle.
According to his daughter, Mr. Lowenstein passed away in Washington, D.C., home from complications following a fall. He is survived by his daughters, three grandchildren, a brother, and longtime partner Audrey Wolf.
Mr. Lowenstein continued to have vivid memories of his travels with Moose even after he retired from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He recounted that he and his traveling companion “attended a dinner given by the American press during which they drugged our soup with hashish” during a trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in the oral history, which was conducted in 1994 for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.
He described himself as “semiconscious for 24 hours”. He was forced to explain his condition to the French ambassador when he was invited to supper at the embassy while still dealing with an unsettled stomach and trembling hands.
He was instructed by the ambassador to “don’t worry about it.” The day before the secretary of state for international affairs arrived, the same thing happened to me, and I could not even stand when he stepped off the plane.