Monday, January 18, 2016

"Outsmarting Apartheid": Book Review (updated)

image from; excerpts on Google books at 

Outsmarting Apartheid: An Oral History of South Africa's Cultural and Educational Exchange with the United States, 1960-1999 (2015)

Edited with an introduction by Daniel Whitman, Ph.D. and retired Senior Foreign Service Officer (FSO) who served in Praetoria (1995-1999), this book provides a vivid, down-to-earth account of U.S. public diplomacy (PD) in action by its practitioners -- as interviewed by a distinguished FSO (Dr. Whitman) active in this profession for decades.

The handsomely produced 444-page volume (it contains informative photographs), published by The State University of New York (SUNY) Press, includes sections --"definitions," "Chronology of South African History" -- that give information especially useful for non-Africa experts such as this reader.

U.S. public diplomacy veterans and others interested in international affairs will doubtless read with much interest the interview with a legendary PD practitioner, Robert Gosende, "Our Man in Pretoria: Three Tours in South Africa," as well as comments by other dedicated FSOs who served in that crucial part of the world.

Persons skillfully interviewed by Whitman include Fulbrighters (American and non-American) and South African recipients of International Visitor grants.

Topic headings are Arts, Education, Law and Parliament, Public Service, Science and Research, Social Engagement and Community Empowerment.

The volume has a useful index.

The Editor's "Final Note" states:
South Africa's energies seem inexhaustible. Today every university chancellor, a majority of cabinet ministers, and many business and cultural leaders were trained in, or exposed to, the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. Their successors tread the well-worn path between two geographically distant but culturally linked nations.
One comment: Perhaps the title of this valuable historical record should have been changed to: "A Moral History ..." 

Full disclosure: I have known -- and admired -- Ambassador Gosende for years, including when I served in Moscow, where he was the Public Affairs Officer. Some time ago, Dr. Whitman was kind enough to invite me to address his class at American University, where I shared ideas with his students on the history of American public diplomacy.

One more comment (1/18/2016): I cannot help but contrast the above-cited "real-life" book with "theoretical" ideas about public diplomacy, as exemplified by a recent piece on the USC PD blog, which has social media communications diagrams, none of which portrays our human face -- yes, we earth-breathing minor samples of the universe -- in all our complexity ... Here's one of the article's "scientific" evaluation of human interaction (granted, over the social media): 

Maybe it has something to do with sex under a microscope ... :)

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