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5 excerpts of an in-depth conversation with former U.S. Ambassador Charles Ray

Arizona State University

Charles Ray has been a lot of things. A soldier, a diplomat, and an author of more than 200 books.

The former U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe and Cambodia recently visited Bradley University to speak to the Peoria Area World Affairs Council. He stopped into the studio to speak to WCBU's Tim Shelley and share his thoughts on several areas. Here are a few excerpts of that discussion.

Why it's hard to forecast Zimbabwe's direction based on the August elections

Things could continue to just stumble along and not work out well. They could suddenly take a right turn and things start to improve. Or they could get considerably worse. I don't know. Long ago, as a diplomat, I learned it's dangerous to make predictions when human beings are involved, because humans aren't really predictable. People, they do the darndest things. You think of the logical things that people should do. And quite often they then turn around and do the most illogical thing. But it's a situation that's not very good. And I'm holding out hope that that they will at least be able to hold it together until the younger generation can move in and maybe set the country on the right path.

How a country grows a democratic tradition

It's not you say, 'Okay, today we're going to establish a democracy' and it just sort of proceeds A-B-C. As we've seen with democracy, you say in 1776, 'we're going to have a democracy,' which we almost lost in 1860. And since then it's been up and down, but we keep hopefully moving at least in a positive direction. And so that's how you establish, the people of a country establish...and I don't actually like to use that term democracy because to me it has a meaning that's hard to be clear about. How do you establish a government that's representative and meets the needs of its people? Well, you have to first have a population that has the resources they need to protect and the education they need to be able to formulate these ideas, and the will to do what's necessary to start moving the country in that direction.

How Ray felt returning to Vietnam as consul general, 20 years after serving there with the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War

I felt at home in Ho Chi Minh City within a week. It's not something that you can see happening, but it's just one day you wake up and realize this is a nice place to be. And these are nice people. The food's great; people are friendly. And when you get out of the city, it's probably one of the most beautiful countries in the world in the countryside. I mean, just the scenery is fantastic. And I immediately just got into the flow. I mean, I had a heck of a job to do.

Why Ray wrote a book about the ethics of being a diplomat

In my 30 years as a diplomat, the real problematic areas aren't people violating the rules or the law, because most people understand that something is legal or illegal. It's those gray areas where you have a choice between two things, both of which are legal, but you have to decide which one is the most right, or most appropriate thing to do. And that can be a real headache and a real challenge.

How it felt meeting with families of missing service members as a deputy assistant secretary of defense

Here's this man in his 60s, who is told that he looks like his father, but the only proof of that he have is an old sepia tone photograph. And he spent 60 plus years of his life, always with that question mark there. And as I talked to him, I could see I could see it. Not so much like the naked grief you see at funerals. It was just sort of like a void in his eyes as we're talking. I mean, literally a part of him was missing. And I saw that again and again and again talking to families.

Charles Ray full interview

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.