My Father’s Cold War Job with the State Department

Yesterday, I discovered some notes I took about a harrowing incident that happened to my dad on February 6, 1956 when he was working for the State Department at an office in Thessaloniki, Greece. Every step of the story he relayed is a monument to what a fecking idjit my father was, even at the age of 28. I’m not kidding. He does so many colossally stupid, dangerous things, you can’t begin to feel sorry for him. Still, there’s enough here that I can fictionalize the hell out of it and turn it into a wee spy thriller short story.

The 1953 Refugee Relief Act

Meanwhile, I’m looking into some of the statements my dad made, namely about the 1953 Refugee Relief Act for which he was conducting investigations of applicants for visas. A 1954 report from the CIA (declassified in 2006) about that act provided definitions of refugee, escapee, and expellee. I don’t know what the current legal definitions are, but this is a fascinating window into the past.

What’s definitely of interest is that it seems the U.S. only recognized European and Asian countries in this CIA report. No countries south of the border, in the Middle East, or on the African continent are part of the refugee program. They even define refugees as people who are displaced due to either natural disasters or military action. An escapee, however, is a refugee escaping a Communist country or Communist-occupied area. The Cold War was certainly foremost on their minds.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your thoroughly investigated”

That said, the government failed to provide adequate financial support to staff the overseas operations necessary to process the proposed “preference quotas.” However, the appointed Administrator —  Edward Corsi — sounded (unrealistically) optimistic that they’d surpass the quotas by the following year. He doesn’t say why. This is especially interesting given that he was in the middle of a fight with Congress. Before he was dismissed for being involved in a Communist group, Corsi went on record as saying that the law was being “wholly dominated by psychology of security” and the applicants were being “investigated to death.” *

Sound familiar? It’s sad to think at that point it was already more “American” to be paranoid than welcoming.

Perfect Window into the Past

I wish I’d been able to ask my dad more questions, but our relationship was already worn thin. It’s probably okay, though. This perfect window into the past gives me more than enough for personal education and imaginative exploration.

*Presidential Profiles: The Eisenhower Years by Michael S. Mayer

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