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A Glimpse Into America’s Coming Of Age Sharing Stories With Statesman George Jaeger
photo by provided
Tuesday May 24, 2016
By Cookie Steponaitis
Sitting on the deck of George and Pat Jaeger’s New Haven home as a beautiful sunset bursts forth in hues of pink, aquamarine and gold and the rhythmic sound of hummingbirds at the feeders can be heard, the world of politics, distribution of power and the Foreign Service seems a world away. Even the warm and resonate tones of the host’s voice conjures images of idyllic summer nights and conversations with gatherings of friends. Yet with a very firm handshake and deep hazel eyes that shift hues as the conversation swings from small talk to talk of America’s past and present, it is clear that in the mind and heart of George Jaeger rests stories of a career spanning America’s coming of age and the importance of understanding the history and past as a lens through which to evaluate and plan the future.
Jaeger was born in Vienna when he moved to America in high school he had no clue of what fate would soon take him to the service of his new country and a long career in the diplomatic service that spanned the Cold War years and beyond during 1956-1991. Jaeger served first as a GI in Europe in World War Two and after joining the Foreign Service had assignments in the State Department as a junior Economic Officer in Liberia, Consul in Zagreb and staff assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State of European Affairs. During his tenure he worked on many issues including the Berlin Wall and helped negotiated several east-west treaties. Jaeger ended his career as Deputy Assistant Secretary General of NATO for Political Affairs and came to the Champlain Valley as the Diplomat-in-Residence at Middlebury College and has called the valley his home for close to twenty-five years.
Whether sharing stories of basic training in Fort McClellan, Alabama, crossing the wintry North Atlantic to Normandy, being sent to serve as a translator with the 5th Corps War Crimes Unit in Germany, offering an analysis of the ‘intelligent use of power’ in the Cold War or mentoring high school students today, Jaegers speaks with passion and presence reflecting on America’s goals past, present and future. Sharing insight into the containment policy of World War Two, Jaeger shatters many misconceptions Americans have about the diplomatic service and the role history plays in the modern world today. “You have to try to understand the past and the layers of power and its relationships in the world,” shared this ninety years old man who not only witnessed history being made but participated in it during key turning points in America’s rise to being a world power.
“The key to diplomacy is to tell the truth for your country, to be honest and to keep your word,” shared veteran diplomat Jaeger. “When you are assigned an overseas job the real assignment is to get under the political skin of the people and nation. For the first several weeks in addition to meeting with people in political office, the press and in society, it is critical to contact people and not to promote yourself but to understand the interests and culture of the place you are assigned.” Speaking German, English, French and Serbian-Croatian, Jaeger shared examples on how negotiation is not only about establishing credibility but showing trust and follow-through with the layers of the power structures involved. Obviously a voracious reader and a man who still has his finger on the pulse of the world situation, Jaeger shared stories from his own career and his admiration for the direct and honest leadership of president Harry Truman and his Secretary of State American Dean Acheson who played a central role in shaping the successful foreign policy of the Cold War Era including the Marshall Plan, the policy of containment, the Truman Doctrine and NATO.
George and Pat Jaeger will be riding in the Vergennes Memorial Day Parade on May 30th. George is serving as the Memorial Day Parade Marshal and keynote speaker at the park following the parade. The interview concluded with just over two hours of conversation and the realization that time had permitted only a glimpse into a life and career that had witnessed not only changes in how America viewed the world but how the world viewed America. The Valley Voice salutes George Jaeger for not only his strength of spirit but his insights into the complicated chess game of power that plays out on the world stage daily, and for a life that like so many of the Greatest Generation who have turned a page of America’s history and left an indelible impression on who we are as a people and who we are yet to become.
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