The time is the 1950s, the place is Berlin
Voices Under Berlin
The Need for

In a New Yorker Profile, Zalmay Khalilzad (United States Ambassador to the United Nations) is quoted by John Lee Anderson as saying that during the Cold War we had a number of Soviet experts helping to make and implement policy, but now that the focus is on the Mid-east, we do not have the same depth of expertice. We lack people with what the Germans call ' Fingerspitzengefühl:'

"the sense of a place, you know how a place smells, how it feels. A strategist who doesn't have that innate sense about the area he's working on is going to get us in trouble. The U.S. government doesn't have enough people at the top who have that special sense about Iraq and the Middle East on their fingertips. We have the very best people working on it, but, given its importance, we need more."

Quoted in "The Belgravia Disptach," a blog by Gregory Djerejian.

In "The Diplomat's Dictionary," Martin F. Herz (past United States Ambassador to Bulgaria) defines what makes a good diplomat and a good ambasador. It is:

"the kind of empathy which comes from years spent in corss-culturla communication, Fingerspitzengefühl (the feeling one has in the tips of one's fingers) which is sometimes acquired by amateurs but is more frequently found in people who have had a great deal of experience. . . . A feel for what is about to happen may be derived from a lifetime of sniffing the political atmosphere of foreign countries."

When there is a crisis, continues Herz, this is what allows the person with experience to concentrate on the essentials. "Inevitably," he says, "someone who has been through a dozen diplomatic crises behaves differently in one than someone who does not have that experience."

The warning of Voices Under Berlin is of what can happen when the people with Fingerspitzengefühl are ignored or driven out of the system.

Return to the Reviews page.