From the Center

By Gildenhorn, Joseph B. | The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

From the Center


Gildenhorn, Joseph B., The Wilson Quarterly


At a dinner earlier this year marking the 30th anniversary' of the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute, Secretary of State Colin Powell jokingly recalled the instructions he received as a young officer assigned to guard Germany's Fulda Gap: "Lieutenant, you see that tree and you see that tree? Well, you guard between those two trees, and when the Russian army comes, don't let 'em through."

That story sent me back to one of the more remarkable events in my life. A little more than 13 years ago, when I was the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, I had the privilege of boarding a helicopter at the U.S. military base in Fulda and traveling along the border between East and West Germany at the very moment bulldozers were ripping down the fence that separated the two countries. From aloft 1 watched in awe while entire Families rushed from the communist side into the arms of their West German compatriots. As Secretary Powell observed, it is just such near-unimaginable changes that we must recall if we are to dream of a better future.

The Wilson Center has seen dramatic changes of its own in recent years, and many of them have occurred outside the walls of our Washington home. To respond to the world's new realities and to help build the better future of which we dream, we have ambitiously expanded our efforts abroad.

Because Mexico and Canada are neighbors of vital importance to the United States, we've established two new institutes at the Center focused on those nations. Both have substantial programs in Washington, and both are also active across U.S. borders. The Mexico Institute regularly conducts seminars in Mexico, in partnership with local institutions, and provides a forum for discussion of U.S.-Mexico issues. The institute is part of our Latin American Program, which has also gathered scholars and others in the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil. The Center's Canada Institute has held seminars and conferences in Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary, and in February,, we launched--in Toronto--an important annual lecture series on U. …

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