Cross, Charles T., 1922-

Alternative names
Birth 1922-05-04
Death 2008-11-03

Biographical notes:

Charles T. Cross spent more than three decades in the Foreign Service of the United States. Cross began his career as a United States Information Service officer, first in Taiwan (1949-1950), then in Djakarta, Indonesia (1950-1951), and in Hong Kong (1952-1954). Subsequently, Cross served in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as the U. S. Political Officer from 1955 to 1957, where he watched the British deal with a communist uprising and bring about a democratic country. In the latter year he was entrusted with the position of American Consul in Alexandria, Egypt. This was a challenging assignment due to the tensions arising from the first Suez Crisis. In 1959 Cross returned to Washington where he filled the job of Officer in Charge of Burma Affairs in the State Department. Two years later he moved over to Laos, assuming the position of Officer in Charge of Laos Affairs. In this capacity he participated as an American delegate to the Fourteen-Nations Conference on the Neutrality of Laos held in Geneva, Switzerland, (1961-1962). In 1963-1964 he was assigned to the National War College in Washington, D.C. In 1964 Cross began a new assignment as Deputy Chief of Mission in Nicosia, acting as the principal liaison between the Embassy and the United Nations presence in Cyprus. During his subsequent posting to London as Political Officer (1966-1967), Cross participated in secret negotiations between the United States and North Vietnam through the British. His real duties, however, centered around trying to sell U.S./Vietnam policies to skeptical student audiences throughout England. In ten months he spoke to 20 groups, only two of which were mildly friendly.

Cross’s expertise in counter-insurgency operations, acquired especially in Malaysia, led to his next assignment in Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS), in Danang, South Vietnam (1967-1969). As the Senior Civilian Deputy to the Commanding General, III Marine Amphibious Force in South Vietnam, he directed pacification efforts in the I Corps area. During this period Cross dealt with the security challenges arising from the Tet Offensive in early 1968. While the Danang assignment posed many dangers, even more difficult for Cross was the forced separation from his family. In 1969 Cross received an appointment as Ambassador to Singapore, an enjoyable posting and one that Cross was reluctant to leave when he was recalled in 1972 due to the machinations of Vice President Spiro Agnew. Briefly he served as Diplomat-in-Residence at the University of Michigan, teaching courses on East Asia and the practice of diplomacy. Later in 1972 he left Michigan to resettle in Washington, D.C., where he joined the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff (1972-1974). In 1974 Cross once again returned to the field, this time as Consul General in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong posting offered many amenities, but it also posed difficult challenges, including the need to address the often wrenching plight of refugees from Vietnam. When Cross left Hong Kong in 1977 he was named a Senior Foreign Service Inspector. In this capacity he traveled through South Asia, analyzing the effectiveness of U.S. policy in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Nepal, Afghanistan, and Iran, and assessing the U.S. State Department responses to crises in Israel, Iran, and Afghanistan.

An enduring issue throughout Cross’s career was the United States’ China policy. The competing interests of the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the nationalist Republic of China (ROC) threatened to disrupt U.S.-China relations. In an attempt to stabilize the situation, the Carter Administration formally recognized the PRC and established an embassy in Beijing. The U.S., however, did not support a PRC takeover of Taiwan and the elimination of the ROC. To maintain the difficult balance between competing PRC and ROC claims, Carter created the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). The AIT was not an embassy, but had many of the functions of an embassy, perhaps the most important being a reassuring American presence. To fill the position of AIT’s Director, the Administration chose Cross, an experienced diplomat and someone with considerable understanding of the tensions between mainland China and Taiwan.

AIT’s Director, however, could not have any official connection with the U.S. government. In 1979 Cross retired from the Foreign Service before assuming this new and important post. In 1981 Cross and his wife Shirley left Taiwan and moved to Seattle where Cross took up a new career as a Distinguished Lecturer in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Over the next decade he taught classes at the JSIS and in the History Department at U.W., and at the University of Pittsburgh, where he participated in Pittsburgh’s Semester at Sea program. In addition, Cross spent a semester at Carleton College as a Benedict Distinguished Visiting Professor. In 1999 Cross published his autobiography, Born A Foreigner. In 2001 he contributed a chapter titled The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT): The First Two Years (1979-1981) to Implementation of Taiwan Relations Act: An Examination After Twenty Years. His other publications include an article in Foreign Policy (1983) titled Taipei’s Identity Crisis and a chapter in Education in Diplomacy (1984). He has also delivered numerous lectures on diplomacy and related subjects to a variety of organizations. Ambassador Cross and his wife continue to make their home in Seattle.

Cross was born in 1922 in Peking, China, the only child of Congregational missionaries. He spent his early years in the missionary compound learning to speak Mandarin and absorbing the culture of the Chinese with whom he came into daily contact. After an extended furlough in the United States the family moved to another missionary compound in Tongzhou. Cross completed his primary and secondary education there at an American school for foreigners. These years were anxious ones for Cross’s parents as the Japanese occupation of China spread to engulf the region around Tongzhou. A series of massacres in 1937, collectively known as the Tongzhou Massacre, brought home the brutality of the Japanese occupiers. By the time Cross left China in 1940 to begin his undergraduate studies in Minnesota, his sentiments against Japanese aggression were well formed.

When the United States declared war on Japan in December of 1941, Cross was a sophomore at Carleton College in Minnesota. Like many of his classmates, he immediately decided to join one of the military services. Hoping to make use of his language skills as a military officer, he applied for admission to the Navy’s newly formed Japanese Language School. Following his acceptance Cross began his studies in June of 1942 at the JLS located at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Almost from the beginning Cross expected to be dropped from the program because of his difficulty with the courses. He managed, however, to survive the winnowing process and graduated in July of 1943. Cross attained another goal when he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve. Through the end of 1943 Cross trained in earnest for deployment to the Pacific theater, learning the elements of combat and continuing his study of Japanese through captured Japanese documents. Early in 1944 Cross shipped out from San Diego, California, and participated in the 4th Marine Division landing at Roi-Namur in the Marshall Islands. Subsequently he participated in the invasions of Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. For his bravery on Saipan, Cross was awarded the Bronze Star. After the Japanese surrender Cross was deployed to China where the Marines were repatriating Japanese soldiers and working to implement U.S. policy aimed at forestalling the spread of communist forces. In December of 1945 Cross was released from active duty and returned to the United States. In January of 1946 Cross was back in Minnesota, newly married to his long-time sweetheart Shirley Foss and re-enrolled in Carleton College. In 1947 he received the B.A. degree, cum laude and entered the graduate program in Far Eastern Studies and International Relations at Yale University. Cross received the M.A. degree in 1949. Later that same year he began his long career in te Foreign Service as a United States Information / Service officer in Taipei, Taiwan.


Cross, Charles T. Biography . Charles T. Cross Papers, Archives, University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries, n.d.

_____. Born A. Foreigner: A Memoir of the American Presence in Asia. Boulder, Colorado: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999.

_____. Charles T. Cross Information File, Archives, University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries, 18 Oct 2007.

From the guide to the Charles T. Cross Papers, 1915-2007, 1931-2003, (University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries. Archives Dept.)


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  • World War, 1939-1945--Personal narratives, American
  • World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--Pacific Area
  • Diplomats
  • Missionaries--China--Diaries
  • Diplomats--United States
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Campaigns
  • East Asia--Foreign relations--United States
  • United States. Navy. Japanese Language School
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American
  • United States. Marine Corps--Intelligence specialists
  • Missionaries--Diaries
  • United States--Foreign relations--East Asia
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Campaigns--Vietnam--Đà Nã̆ng
  • World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns


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  • Pacific Area (as recorded)
  • China (as recorded)
  • Vietnam--Đà Nã̆ng (as recorded)
  • East Asia (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)