Charles E. Bohlen

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Charles E. Bohlen
Charles Bohlen.png
United States Ambassador to France
In office
October 27, 1962 – February 9, 1968
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded byJames M. Gavin
Succeeded bySargent Shriver
United States Ambassador to the Philippines
In office
June 4, 1957 – October 15, 1959
PresidentDwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded byAlbert F. Nufer
Succeeded byJohn D. Hickerson
United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union
In office
April 20, 1953 – April 18, 1957
PresidentDwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded byGeorge F. Kennan
Succeeded byLlewellyn E. Thompson
Personal details
Charles Eustis Bohlen

(1904-08-30)August 30, 1904
Clayton, New York, U.S.
DiedJanuary 1, 1974(1974-01-01) (aged 69)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Resting placeLaurel Hill Cemetery
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Spouse(s)Avis Howard Thayer Bohlen
ChildrenAvis T.
Charles E., Jr.
Celestine E. Bohlen
Alma materHarvard University

Charles Eustis "Chip" Bohlen (August 30, 1904 – January 1, 1974) was a US diplomat from 1929 to 1969 and an expert on the Soviet Union. He served in Moscow before, during, and after World War II, succeeding George F. Kennan as US Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1953–1957). He then became ambassador to the Philippines (1957–1959) and to France (1962–1968). He was an exemplar of the nonpartisan foreign policy advisers who came to be known colloquially as "The Wise Men."


Bohlen was born in Clayton, New York, on August 30, 1904, to Celestine Eustis Bohlen, the daughter of James B. Eustis, a Senator from Louisiana and ambassador to France under Grover Cleveland and Charles Bohlen, a "gentleman of leisure." The second of three Bohlen children, he acquired an interest in foreign countries by traveling in Europe as a boy.[1] Bohlen graduated from Harvard College in 1927.

Bohlen's great-great-uncle was American Civil War general Henry Bohlen, the first foreign-born (German) Union general in the Civil War and the grandfather of Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, who used the name Krupp after marrying Bertha Krupp, an heiress of the Krupp family of German weapons makers).

He thus was related to Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Germany's primary weapons maker during World War II. Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach was indicted for war crimes at the Nuremberg tribunal, but illness prevented his prosecution until his demise in 1950. Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach was found guilty of war crimes but was pardoned after a few years by John J. McCloy.

In 1935, Bohlen married Avis Howard Thayer, born September 18, 1912 in Philadelphia, the daughter of George Thayer and Gertrude Wheeler.[2] The Avis Bohlen award was created and named for her in 1982. It is administered by the American Foreign Service Association and each year honors the US Foreign Service dependent who has done the most to advance US interests.[3]

Her brother, Charles Wheeler Thayer, also a diplomat, worked closely with his brother-in-law, Charles, as US vice-consul in Moscow.

Charles and Avis Bohlen had two daughters, Avis and Celestine, and a son, Charles Jr.[4] The younger Avis became a distinguished diplomat in her own right, who served as deputy chief of mission in Paris, US ambassador to Bulgaria, and US assistant secretary of state for arms control. The other daughter, Celestine, became a journalist and has been a Moscow-based reporter for The New York Times.

Diplomatic career[edit]

Bohlen (on right) in February, 1945

Bohlen joined the US Department of State in 1929, learned Russian, and became a Soviet specialist, working first in Riga, Latvia. In 1934, at 30, he joined the staff of the embassy in Moscow.

On the morning of August 24, 1939, he visited Hans von Herwarth and received the full content of the secret protocol to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, signed only the day before.[5] The secret protocol contained an understanding between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin to split Central Europe, the Baltic States, and Finland between their nations. US President Franklin Roosevelt was urgently informed, but the US did not share this information with any of the governments concerned.[citation needed]

A week later, the plan was realized by the German and Soviet invasions of Poland, and World War II started.

Secretary of State James F. Byrnes consults his advisors in preparation for the Potsdam Conference in Germany.

In 1940 and 1941, he worked in the American embassy in Tokyo and was interned for six months before his release by the Japanese in mid-1942.

In 1943 he became head of the East European Division, "the first of the six specialists who started the Russian-language program in the late 1920s to become the head of a division of the State Department". He then worked on Soviet issues in the State Department during the war, accompanying Harry Hopkins on missions to Joseph Stalin in Moscow. He worked closely with Roosevelt and was Roosevelt's interpreter at the Tehran Conference (1943) and the Yalta Conference (1945).

Bohlen, criticized by some of the hawks in the US Congress, paid close attention to public opinion as he considered domestic influence in a democracy to be inevitable.[6] When George Marshall became Secretary of State in 1947, Bohlen became a key adviser to US President Harry Truman.

In 1946, he disagreed with his friend and mentor, Ambassador George F. Kennan, on to how to deal with the Soviets.[7] Kennan proposed a strategy of containment of Soviet expansion, but Bohlen was more cautious and recommended accommodation by allowing Stalin to have a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe without disturbance by the US.

Bohlen was US minister to France from 1949 to 1951.[8]

Kennan, declared persona non grata for some criticism of the Soviet Union in Berlin in September 1952, would not be allowed to return to the country. Oversight of the embassy was then awarded to Chargé d'Affaires Jacob Beam.

On 20 January 1953, Dwight Eisenhower became US president. When Stalin died in March 1953, the post of ambassador was still vacant, and the embassy was still being led by Beam.

In April 1953, Eisenhower named Bohlen as ambassador to the Soviet Union. He was confirmed 74–13 despite criticisms from Senator Joseph McCarthy, who had also criticized Bohlen's brother-in-law, also an affiliate of the US embassy in Moscow, Charles W. Thayer.

Bohlen proved unable to sustain good relationships with either Soviet leaders or with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.[citation needed]. He was demoted on 18 April 1957 by Eisenhower after Dulles forced his resignation.

Bohlen later served as ambassador to the Philippines (1957–1959). He was also ambassador to France (1962–1968) under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. He retired in January 1969.

According to Kennedy advisor Theodore Sorensen, Bohlen participated in early discussions surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis, in October 1962. During an ExComm meeting on October 18, 1962, Dean Rusk read a letter he wrote the previous night during deliberations. In it, he advocated for dealing with Khrushchev through firm diplomatic action, followed by a declaration of war if his response was unsatisfactory.[9] To everyone's surprise he kept reservations aboard an ocean liner that would take him to his Paris post as ambassador rather than waiting until after the crisis had been resolved. He was thus absent for most of what was arguably the most important confrontation between the two superpowers during the Cold War period. He was a consultant in 1968 and 1969 to the transition at the State Department from Secretary of State Dean Rusk to President Richard Nixon's first Secretary of State, William P. Rogers.


Bohlen died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Washington, D.C. on January 1, 1974, at the age of 69. His funeral services, at Washington National Cathedral on January 4, 1974, were followed by burial at historic Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia.


In May 2006, Bohlen was featured on a US postage stamp, one of a group of six prominent diplomats then honored.[10][11][12]


  1. ^ Charles E. Bohlen, Witness to History, 1929–1969, New York: Norton, 1973, p. 4.
  2. ^ "Bohlen, Avis Howard Thayer, 1912–1981". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2009-03-25.
  3. ^ "AFSA Awards".
  4. ^ Charles E. Bohlen, Witness to History, 1929–1969, New York: Norton, 1973, p.37-38, 100, 270, 297.
  5. ^ Charles Bohlen, Witness to History: 1929–1969 Norton, 1973, ISBN 0-393-07476-5
  6. ^ T. Michael Reddy, "Charles E. Bohlen: Political Realist," in Perspectives in American Diplomacy, ed. Jules Davids, New York: Arno Press, 1976.
  7. ^ Harper, John L. Harper, "Friends, Not Allies: George F. Kennan and Charles E. Bohlen," World Policy Journal 1995 12(2): 77–88. ISSN 0740-2775 Fulltext: in Ebsco
  8. ^ Mitrovich, Gregory (2000). Undermining the Kremlin: America's Strategy to Subvert the Soviet Bloc, 1947–1956. Cornell University Press. p. 83. ISBN 0-8014-3711-3.
  9. ^ The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Edited by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow
  10. ^ "Six distinguished diplomats honored on U.S. postage stamps" (Press release). United States Postal Service. 2006-05-30. Archived from the original on 2006-10-27. Retrieved 2008-07-17. A renowned expert on the Soviet Union, Charles E. Bohlen helped to shape foreign policy during World War II and the Cold War. He was present at key wartime meetings with the Soviets, he served as ambassador to Moscow during the 1950s and advised every U.S. president between 1943 and 1968.
  11. ^ Charles E. Bohlen – U.S. Postage Stamps Commemorate Distinguished American Diplomats , US Department of State
  12. ^ William J. Gicker, ed. (2006). "Distinguished American Diplomats 39¢". USA Philatelic (print). 11 (3): 14.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
James M. Gavin
United States Ambassador to France
October 27, 1962 – February 9, 1968
Succeeded by
Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr.
Preceded by
Albert F. Nufer
United States Ambassador to the Philippines
June 4, 1957 – October 15, 1959
Succeeded by
John D. Hickerson
Preceded by
George F. Kennan
United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union
April 20, 1953 – April 18, 1957
Succeeded by
Llewellyn Thompson