Remembering Ten Americans Who Died in 2023
from The Water's Edge

Remembering Ten Americans Who Died in 2023

As 2023 comes to a close, here are ten Americans we lost this year who made a mark in foreign policy. 
The American flag flies at half-mast outside New York City Hall in Manhattan.
The American flag flies at half-mast outside New York City Hall in Manhattan. Mike Segar/Reuters

Year’s end is a time to take stock, count successes, and assess failures. It is also a time to remember those who are no longer with us. Here are ten Americans who died in 2023 who left a mark on U.S. foreign policy through their courage, service, intellect, or misdeeds. 

James Dobbins (b. 1942) was a veteran diplomat who was called upon by both Democratic and Republican presidents to serve in hotspots around the world. Dobbins was born in Brooklyn, where he lived until he was ten. Then his father, who worked for the U.S. government, moved the family to Manila. Dobbins returned to the United States for this final year of high school. He attended Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, where he passed the Foreign Service exam. Before joining the Foreign Service, Dobbins spent three years in the U.S. Navy. Dobbins’s first posting as a foreign service officer was a plum assignment—staffing the Paris peace talks. He rose through the ranks of the State Department, and in 1991 he was named ambassador to what was then the European Community. After leaving that post in 1993, Dobbins became the State Department’s go-to crisis diplomat, being asked to handle contentious negotiations in Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, and Somalia. After September 11, he led the U.S. delegation that negotiated the agreement by which Hamid Karzai was named president of Afghanistan. Dobbins retired from the Foreign Service in 2002 and went to work for the RAND Corporation, where he criticized U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. He stepped down from RAND in 2013 to become the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He returned to RAND in 2014. Dobbins’s many writings include his 2017 memoir, Foreign Service: Five Decades on the Frontlines of American Diplomacy.

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Daniel Ellsberg (b. 1931) was a former U.S. national security official who photocopied a top-secret study of the U.S. entry into the Vietnam War and shared the results first with the New York Times and then with the Washington Post, triggering the Pentagon Papers case. Ellsberg was born in Chicago, but he spent most of his childhood in Detroit. He attended Cranbook, an elite private school in suburban Detroit, and then enrolled at Harvard, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics and then a master's. He joined the Marine Corps in 1954. He returned to Harvard when his tour ended, eventually earning a PhD. While still at Harvard, Ellsberg began working for the RAND Corporation. In 1964, he joined Pentagon as an adviser and then spent two years in Vietnam as a State Department employee. He returned to Washington and began working on the Pentagon Papers project. Ellsberg returned to RAND in 1968 but was forced to resign because of his anti-war views. He then worked with a former RAND colleague to photocopy the Pentagon Papers. He first shared the materials with members of Congress, but they did nothing for fear of violating secrecy laws. Ellsberg then leaked the material to the New York Times. The Times published the first Pentagon Papers excerpts on June 13, 1971, prompting a national controversy as the Nixon administration unsuccessfully fought to stop the publication of further excerpts. Ellsberg was tried for espionage and other crimes, but the charges were eventually dismissed because of government misconduct.

Ben Ferencz (b. 1920) was a Jewish-Hungarian émigré who became a prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II. Ferencz was born in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, territory that Hungary had ceded to Romania in the aftermath of World War I. When he was ten months old, his family fled to the United States to escape attacks on Jews in the region. The family settled in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in Manhattan. Ferencz excelled at school, graduating from the City College of New York and winning a scholarship to Harvard Law School. After earning his law degree in 1943, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served for two years in an artillery battalion and fought at Normandy. Then in 1945, his legal training earned him a transfer to the War Crimes Branch of the army, where he investigated the horrors committed at the Buchenwald, Dachau, and Mauthausen concentration camps. He was honorably discharged from the army later that year, then joined the prosecution team at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. At twenty-seven years old, Ferencz became the chief prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen case in which twenty-two SS members were convicted of running mobile death squads that killed as many as one million people. Ferencz remained in West Germany after the Nuremberg trials ended to help Jewish groups negotiate reparations. He eventually returned to the United States to practice law. He wrote numerous books and articles and advocated for the creation of the International Criminal Court.

Robert Phillip Hanssen (b. 1944) was an FBI agent who is considered to be “the most damaging spy in Bureau history.” Hanssen was born and raised in Chicago. He graduated from Knox College in 1966, briefly attended Northwestern’s dental school, earned a Northwestern MBA, and then became a Chicago police officer. In 1976, he joined the FBI and was eventually assigned to counterintelligence. Within three years, he went from chasing Soviet spies to helping them. He briefly stopped spying after his wife became suspicious of his activities, but he resumed his clandestine life in 1985. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Hanssen cut communications with his Russian handlers but resumed them in 1999. The information Hanssen provided included the identity of nine double agents, the existence of a tunnel used to spy on the Russian embassy in Washington, and U.S. nuclear war plans. U.S. officials began to suspect a mole within the FBI when the Russians continued to obtain U.S. secrets after the arrest of CIA mole Aldrich Ames in 1994. In December 2000, the FBI paid $7 million to a former KGB officer for information that led to Hanssen’s identification. Three months later, the FBI arrested him during what he planned to be his last dead drop. He reportedly asked the arresting officers, “What took you so long?” He pled guilty to espionage to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. He died a maximum-security prison in Colorado.

James F. Hoge, Jr. (b. 1935) was a veteran journalist who was the publisher of two major daily newspapers and the second longest serving editor of Foreign Affairs. Hoge was born to an affluent family in Manhattan and raised on Park Avenue. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire for high school and then studied at Yale, graduating with a degree in political science. He then earned a master’s degree at the University of Chicago while working part-time for the Chicago Sun-Times. He began working full-time for the paper after graduation and quickly rose through the ranks. By 1979, he was the paper’s publisher. Four years later, Rupert Murdoch bought the paper, and Hoge accepted an offer to become the publisher of the New York Daily News, which was locked in a bitter war with the rival, Murdoch-owned New York Post. Hoge’s efforts to turn the Daily News around stumbled over a range of labor disagreements, which culminated in a five-month strike in 1990. In 1992, Hoge took over as the editor of Foreign Affairs and set out to revitalize the magazine. He succeeded. He shortened the length of articles, raised the number of issues from four to six annually, and launched the magazine’s online presence. Notable essays published under his leadership included Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations?” Paul Krugman’s “Competitiveness: A Dangerous Obsession,” and “The Tiananmen Papers.” When Hoge stepped down as editor in 2010, Foreign Affairs’s circulation had doubled to 160,000 copies per issue.

Bernard Kalb (b. 1922) was a veteran foreign correspondent who resigned in protest from his position as State Department spokesperson during the Reagan Administration. Born to immigrant parents, Kalb grew up in Manhattan. He graduated from the City College of New York in 1942 and then spent two years as an army journalist. Kalb joined the New York Times in 1946 where he climbed the ranks to cover the United Nations and eventually became a correspondent covering Southeast Asia. After leaving the Times in 1962, Kalb became a correspondent for CBS based in Hong Kong, where he regularly covered the Vietnam War. He returned to the United States in 1970 to anchor the “CBS Morning News,” but he continued to cover major diplomatic developments. He was one of the U.S. journalists who covered President Richard Nixon’s landmark 1972 trip to China. In 1980, Kalb and his younger brother Marvin moved to NBC, where Bernard covered the State Department. In 1984, he was named assistant secretary of state for public affairs. He was the first journalist covering the State Department to be named its official spokesperson. It was not a match made in heaven. Two years later, Kalby resigned his post to protest a secret White House disinformation plan targeting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, saying that “faith in the word of America is the pulsebeat of our democracy'' and that “anything that hurts America's credibility hurts America.'' Kalb went on to host CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and to write about foreign affairs.

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Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) was a scholar, diplomat, and strategic analyst who was one of the most consequential and divisive figures of the Cold War. He was born to a Jewish family in Fürth, Germany. In 1938, his family emigrated to New York City to escape the Nazi’s increasing suppression of Jews. Kissinger finished high school and enrolled at the City College of New York. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 and served in Germany as a translator and interrogator. Kissinger returned to the United States in 1947 to enroll at Harvard, earning a bachelor’s and then a Ph.D. He wasn’t offered a faculty position and ended up leading a study group at the Council on Foreign Relations. There he wrote Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, which became a bestseller. He returned to Harvard as a professor, but his sights were set on Washington. Success didn’t come until 1969 when Richard Nixon made him national security adviser. Kissinger added the title of secretary of state at the start of Nixon’s second term, becoming the only person to hold both positions simultaneously. During his eight years in government, Kissinger was involved in numerous historic policy decisions, including negotiating the end of the Vietnam War (which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize), détente with the Soviet Union, the opening to China, and Middle East shuttle diplomacy, earning both praise and condemnation for his choices. Kissinger left government service in January 1977, never to return. He spent the remainder of his life writing best-selling books, providing strategic advice to corporations, and commenting on world affairs.

William “Bill” Richardson (b. 1947) was member of Congress, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, secretary of commerce, and governor of New Mexico who repeatedly helped bring home Americans held hostage or otherwise detained overseas. Richardson’s father traced his ancestry back to the Mayflower. His mother was of Mexican and Spanish descent. When she was late in her pregnancy, she traveled from Mexico City, where she and her husband were living, to California, so that Richardson would be born in the United States and be assured of U.S. citizenship. Richardson grew up in an affluent neighborhood of Mexico City and was sent to the United States for high school. He then attended Tufts University, earning a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. After college, Richardson worked in Washington for several years before moving to New Mexico to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. He narrowly lost in 1980 but won in 1982. He was reelected six times and came to chair the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. In 1997, Bill Clinton named Richardson the U.S. representative to the United Nations. The next year Clinton named him the secretary of energy. Richardson returned to New Mexico after the Clinton administration ended and was twice elected governor of New Mexico. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 2008. Richardson had been involved in negotiating hostage releases when he was a member of Congress, a practice that he continued after he left government. He is credited with winning the release of some eight Americans held overseas.

Randall Robinson (b. 1941) was a civil rights activist who founded the lobbying group TransAfrica and helped lead the effort to end U.S. support for South Africa’s apartheid government. Robinson was born into poverty and deeply entrenched segregation in Richmond, Virginia. An accomplished athlete, he received a basketball scholarship to attend what is now Norfolk State University. He dropped out of school during his junior year and was drafted into the army. After completing his military service, he returned to Richmond to attend Virginia Union University. In 1967, he entered Harvard Law School. It was the first time he had White classmates. After graduating, Robinson worked in Boston, first as a civil rights attorney and then spearheading a community development effort. He moved to Washington, DC, in 1975 to work on Capitol Hill. Two years later, Robinson founded TransAfrica. His goal was to reshape U.S. policy toward Africa and the Caribbean. The group quickly became pivotal to the ultimately successful campaign to persuade companies to disinvest from South Africa and to lobby the U.S. government to impose economic sanctions on the country. In 1994, Robinson launched a twenty-seven-day-hunger strike to pressure the Clinton administration to do more to restore democracy in Haiti. Robinson’s writings included The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks. Published in 2000, it called for reparations for Black Americans. Despite his many successes in changing the U.S. debate, Robinson grew disillusioned with the United States. In 2001, he went into self-exile in St. Kitts, where he died.

Pat Schroeder (b. 1940) was a twelve-term member of the U.S House of Representatives from Colorado known for her sharp wit and for being the first woman to serve on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC). Schroeder was born in Portland, Oregon. Her family moved frequently; she attended high school in Des Moines. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Minnesota. She then enrolled in Harvard Law School, where she was one of fifteen women in a class of five hundred and faced blatant sexism. One Harvard dean told her: “Do you realize you have taken this position from a man?” After law school, Schroeder moved to Denver to practice law. In 1972, she won a House seat campaigning on a liberal, anti-Vietnam War platform. She joined a House that had just fourteen women. She was assigned a seat on HASC, but her gender and liberal politics angered the committee’s retrograde chair. He initially made her share a seat in the committee hearing room with a newly elected African American member, supposedly saying: “The two of you are only worth half the normal member.” Schroeder became a critic of wasteful defense spending and championed a range of laws to help women and children. She considered running for president in 1987, and she attracted criticism because she cried when she announced that she wouldn’t. Schroeder decided not to run for reelection in 1996, citing growing partisanship. Schroeder’s many witticisms included labeling Ronald Reagan the “Teflon president.”

Other Americans who died in 2023 who left a mark on U.S. foreign policy include: James Abourezk was the first U.S. senator of Arab descent and a staunch proponent, even in the face of considerable criticism, of Palestinian rights. Harry Belafonte was a singer, actor, and civil rights activist who help arranged the recording of “We Are the World” and who accused President George W. Bush of being “the greatest terrorist in the world.” Bear Braumoeller was an Ohio State political scientist who studied international conflict. Harold Brown was an original Tuskegee Airman who flew thirty combat missions in World War II, served for two decades on active duty, and eventually earned a PhD. James L. Buckley was a conservative Republican New York senator who served as undersecretary of state and then president of Radio Free Europe during the Reagan administration. Albert M. Calland III was a U.S. Navy SEAL who rose to the rank of Vice Admiral and served as the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President George W. Bush. David P. Calleo was a long-time professor of European studies at Johns Hopkins’s School of Advanced International Studies who criticized the militarization of U.S. foreign policy for leaving the country less secure. Moon Fun Chin was a pilot for the Chinese National Aviation Corporation who rescued many American servicemen during World War II, including Lt. Col. James Doolittle. David Dollar was a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studied the Chinese economy and U.S.-China economic relations.

Dianne Feinstein served for thirty years as U.S. senator from California and oversaw the preparation of a 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report that detailed extensive abuses in the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation of terrorist suspects. Warren Hoge was a long-time foreign correspondent and bureau chief for the New York Times. Thomas L. Hughes was a Rhodes Scholar who was critical of U.S. chances in the Vietnam War as State Department official during the Lyndon Johnson administration who later become president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. James A. Joseph was a civil rights activist who because U.S. ambassador to South Africa shortly after Nelson Mandela became president. Theodore Kanamine grew up in a World War II internment camp and became the first active-duty U.S. Army general of Japanese descent. John C. Kornblum was a career foreign service officer who became U.S. ambassador to Germany. Catherine McArdle Kelleher was one of the first American women to earn a PhD in security studies and went on to become a major contributor to the literature on conventional arms control and cooperative security in Europe. James G. Lowenstein was an investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who uncovered evidence in the early 1970s that the Nixon administration was secretly expanding the U.S. war in southeast Asia. Arno J. Mayer was a distinguished historian of European history at Princeton University. Gordon Moore co-founded Intel and made laptop computers possible.

Victor Navasky was the long-time editor and publisher of the Nation who mounted impassioned defenses of Alger Hiss and Ethel Rosenberg. Bruce Russett was a Yale University political scientist who made seminal contributions the democratic peace literature. Ken Potts was the oldest survivor of the sinking of the USS Arizona. Vincent Stewart as a Jamaican immigrant who became a lieutenant general in the U.S. Marine Corps and the first Black person to serve as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Daniel W. Swift was a U.S. Navy Seal who deserted the service in 2017 and was killed fighting in Ukraine. Peter Tarnoff was a president of the Council on Foreign Relations and an undersecretary for political affairs during the Clinton administration. Eve Tetaz was a retired teacher who was arrested some twenty times for protesting the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Billy Waugh was a legendary Special Forces and CIA covert operative whose career spanned the Vietnam War to the war in Afghanistan.

Sinet Adous, Michelle Kurilla, and Luca Zislin assisted in the preparation of this post.

Other posts in this series: 

Remembering Ten Americans Who Died in 2022

Ten American Foreign Policy Notables Who Died in 2021 

Ten American Foreign Policy Notables Who Died in 2020 

Ten American Foreign Policy Notables Who Died in 2019 

Ten American Foreign Policy Influentials Who Died in 2018 

Ten American Foreign Policy Influentials Who Died in 2017 

Ten American Foreign Policy Influentials Who Died in 2016 

Ten American Foreign Policy Influentials Who Died in 2015 

Ten Americans Who Died in 2014 Who Shaped U.S. Foreign Policy 

Ten Americans Who Died in 2013 Who Shaped U.S. Foreign Policy 

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