On Distant Service: The Life of the First U.S. Foreign Service Officer to be Assassinated
The first American foreign service officer to die a violent death for political reasons was Robert Whitney Imbrie, murdered in Teheran on July 18, 1924. The story of Imbrie holds the elements of any good story-adventure, danger, suspense, conflict, romance, tragedy, a strong protagonist, and enduring significance. Unfortunately, Imbrie's story has been almost totally neglected. What exists spotlights his death. The primary documentation consists of government records, Imbrie's war memoir and travel writing, a few letters, photographs, and eyewitness newspaper and magazine articles. In some sources, Imbrie is not named but referred to only as an American vice-consul. The secondary sources concern his death, but understanding his death requires knowing who he was, how he came to his end, and how it shaped U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. It is 1924. A vigorous battle wages for the control of oil in the Middle East. Robert Imbrie, with a $40,000 price on his head courtesy of the Bolsheviks, is posted to Tehran amid civil strife. Will the outcome be a constitutional monarchy, a secular republic, or an Islamic state? Commercial and political interests collide in a vicious attack on Imbrie, who succumbs to shock, having been stabbed 130 times on the Cossack parade grounds and in a police hospital. His death brings the first U.S. battleship to Persian waters, to transport his body home. President Coolidge attends his funeral, held in the same church as Lincoln's funeral. Back in Tehran, the American delegation faces the aftermath of Imbrie's death. What they do determines the future of U.S.-Iranian relations to the present day.