Reviewed by Mike Donovan
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Leo Cecchini, the author of Face to Face With War, has lead the kind of life most of us can only imagine. His book takes us from his Peace Corps experience as a geography teacher and soccer coach in Asmara, Ethiopia at the beginning of the 30 year struggle for Eritrean independence to his many experiences in the U.S. foreign service.
His first assignment in the foreign service was in Panama where he met some decidedly shady characters trying to run weapons to Biafra during the breakaway war with Nigeria. He outsmarted them! From Panama he was sent to Vietnam during the period of heaviest fighting. He was part of a joint military/civilian program designed to help stabilize the country.
Each of his new assignments presents a situation where conflict turns to violence very quickly. Looking back it becomes apparent that radical change was taking place around the world despite the fact that U.S. policy was designed to maintain the status quo for as long as possible.
Over the years, Leo saw violent change taking place in countries as diverse as Spain (Basque terrorism), Turkey (military coup), Mozambique (civil war), Mexico (drug war), Ukraine (prior to the Russian invasion, but after the 2014 coup in Kiev).
On individual terms
What makes this recounting of events so interesting is Leo’s ability to explain in personal terms what this all meant on an individual scale. By that I mean that for most of the time, people continue to try to lead normal lives. It is only when there is a total breakdown of order that disaster takes hold.
Leo is quite clear in his writing how policy affected him directly — sometimes negatively and sometimes allowing him to take initiatives which benefitted the people around him and U.S. government policies.
This is not a book on foreign or commercial policy, it is an autobiographical record of how one person navigated the many challenges facing a typical Foreign Service officer in the tumultuous years of the late half of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st. A good “read” and well worth the reader’s time.
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Mike Donovan was himself a foreign service officer and a Peace Corps reject! After being selected for the Peace Corps in 1964, he received a letter a week before leaving for training that the offer was rescinded since headquarters discovered he had served in the Naval Security Group, an intelligence arm of the U.S. Navy. Mike then applied to the State Department and spent 25 years as a foreign service officer.