Diane talks with Washington Post enterprise reporter John Woodrow Cox about his new book "Children Under Fire: An American Crisis."
For most children, the world of spies and sabotage makes for an exciting bedtime story. But author Sara Mansfield Taber did not need to read about such things in books. Her father was a C.I.A. agent, who was posted with his family to Asia and Europe. It was the height of the Cold War, and he was working to undermine communist regimes around the world. For the most part, she lived a protected, exotic life. But as her father’s career progressed, he became increasingly plagued by the dark nature of his work. In her new book “Born Under an Assumed Name” she describes the thrills of her upbringing, but also the heavy toll working for the C.I.A. took on her father and her family.
- Sara Mansfield Taylor Author of “Dusk on the Campo” and “Bread of Three Rivers”
For decades, the Cold War dominated American foreign policy, but for Sara Mansfield Taber, it was not an abstract struggle. Her father was on the front lines. She joined Diane to talk about her new book titled, “Born Under an Assumed Name,” detailing her life growing up as the daughter of a spy.
Taber, whose family moved around frequently when she was growing up because of her father’s job as a CIA agent, had lived in at least six different countries by tit was countries,” she said. “But also a life of tremendous losses and this atmosphere of secrecy and stoicism and silence all around me,” she said.
Finding Out Her Father’s Secret
Taber’s father told her about his job when she was about 15 years old. He grew more worried about his work and increasingly disaffected over time. Taber things her father was “really tired” of lying to his children. “And for us, for me at least, it was not what you’d think my reaction
might be. At the time, I was an anti-war protestor, vehemently against the CIA and what our government was doing in Vietnam. But I adored my father and I had grown up as kind of being a little ambassador for the U.S.,” she
said. “Overseas, we were the diplomat’s kids and we had to put on a face all the time and so this kind of just dded to our sense of service.”
Pressures On CIA Agents’ Spouses
Taber said that women like her mother who were the wives of CIA spies were “graded” by the agency on their husbands’ efficiency reports. “And, oh my gosh, the pressure on you to have a perfect family because your husband’s life – not his life, but his job could be at risk if you didn’t have a perfect family and have no emotional problems, which would
supposedly make him a security risk or vulnerable to the enemy. So it was a huge pressure,” Taber said. Her mother used to be so worried about her father’s safety while he was out on assignments that she would sometimes follow him, determined to save him if something happened, Taber said.
Consequences Of Growing Up In A CIA Family
Taber still loves traveling abroad because she spent so much of her youth that way, she said. “I really came to value emotional honesty above all because I did grow up in an atmosphere of a lot of repression,” Taber said.”And my father never really admitted he had feelings. And so I came to feel that it was very important to be honest about feelings. My father became very depressed later in life and I think that had a lot to do with repressing his feelings due to this atmosphere of stoicism.”
You can read the full transcript here.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from Sara Mansfield Taber’s “Born Under an Assumed Name.” Copyright 2012 by Sara Mansfield Taber. Reproduced here by permission of Potomac Books, Inc:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. For decades, the Cold War dominated American foreign policy, but for Sara Mansfield Taber, it was not an abstract struggle. Her father was on the front lines. She joins me to talk about her new book titled, "Born Under an Assumed Name," detailing her life growing up as the daughter of a spy.
MS. DIANE REHMIf you'd like to join us, call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, Sara.
MS. SARA MANSFIELD TABERGood morning, Diane, it's a thrill to be here.
REHMWell, it's good to have you here. Tell us about your dad. He was a China specialist for the CIA.
TABERYes. When I was growing up, he always told me he was a China watcher. He had studied Mandarin and his job was basically to work to undermine the activities of Communist China. At the time, I didn't know he was a spy until I was 15, but all the time I was growing up, he was doing secret work, living under, well, not living under false identities, but using false identities much of the time to recruit defectors, to recruit agents to spy on China and let us know about their weapons development and engaging in covert actions to undermine the Chinese. So that was all going on without my knowledge most of my childhood.
REHMYou were moving around a lot?
TABERWe were. I lived in at least six countries by the time I was 18 and it was a life of adventure and glamour and moving and moving and learning about cultures. But also a life of tremendous losses and this atmosphere of secrecy and stoicism and silence all around me.
REHMWhat about your mother and your father and their relationship together?
TABERWell, it was, on the one hand, a wonderful life in that they both had this sense of mission that they were helping our country. My father joined the CIA soon after World War II and the CIA was started really for a noble aim, to stop people like Hitler. And he was about 25 when he joined up and being a public servant and helping our country fight for good in the world was something he really believed in and my mother also believed in that.
TABERBut it turned out to be, of course, a very complex thing because the CIA and working for it is a fraught and complex and morally problematic activity.
REHMSo what did you think, your father worked for the government and if so, how?
TABERHis cover for most of my childhood was what they call official cover, so he was usually called a political attaché at the embassy of whatever country we were in or a consul or some other State Department cover.
REHMAnd did you use your real name?
TABERWhen I was born, my parents, our whole family was living under a false name, but after that, you know, starting from the time I was 1 or 2, he moved into this official cover where he used his name, you know, mostly. But in his work, he was always using false identities.
REHMGoing to different schools as a young child, moving around, had to have been difficult for you.
TABERIt was really hard. I spent a lot of my time feeling very marginal and out of it in my various schools. And the schools were so different. It was a constant job of adapting and grieving and a lot of times this grief was unprocessed because we were taught to be very brave and stalwart and stoical.
REHMAnd you were grieving because of those you were leaving behind?
TABERRight. I mean, back in those days, you know, we didn't use the telephone much and so each place I left, which were places all over Asia and all over Europe and America, I would leave all the people I loved behind and the place I knew behind.
REHMThere came a night when you were in Taiwan that you write about in the book. You were still a very young child when you finally got the idea that there was something strange going on. Would you read that for us?
TABERYes. I was seven years old here and this was one of the times that the secrecy, the spying, kind of peaked out of the murk. Here's the passage. "Then came the steamy night, a night like one hundred others when the whispers that had been encircling me became loud enough to hear when they staked out a claim in the material world. Soon after the deep night phone call and my father's urgent whisper, from my dark bed, I heard an odd and disturbing sound. I heard my father quietly open the front door.
TABERI heard low voices in the study, my father's Chinese and a Chinese man's Chinese. I tiptoed into the hall and saw a man with a worried face being given a cup of tea by my mother. She and my father wore their Japanese yukatas. I could tell by the way my mother was standing with her arms wrapped tightly around each other that she was afraid.
TABERThen suddenly my mother turned and saw me. She rushed toward me and hissed, come here, Sara, I'm putting you in Andy's room tonight. But mom, I said. You do as I say, she said, her hands shaking, pushing me out of the hall. She hurriedly made me up a pallet of rush mats and sheets on Andy's floor and made me lie down." Andy is my younger brother. "Now go to sleep, don't say a word and she rushed out of the room.
TABERThen she did something she had never done before. I heard her lock the bedroom door behind her. Feeling my mother's haste and terror in my own body, I couldn't close my eyes. On my pallet, I listened to my parents and the Chinese man speaking in a hush. There were long yammers and then whispers and then slower yammers in a string.
TABERI heard my mother hurriedly tiptoeing around and closing doors. Then the Chinese became lower and lower, like an eel lashing in the sea. In the early morning, I heard rustling again, but by the time I got up, though, I could see my bed had been slept in and roiled in by someone other than me. The Chinese man was gone. At breakfast, my father's face was drawn. He looked like he might cry. My mother was only drinking coffee for breakfast. She usually had toast and a boiled egg.
TABERHer face looked tired, but she was pulsing like a pot of milk about to boil over. Her eyes were shooting streaks of fury. Finally, she had to overflow, even though Andy and I were there. She hissed to my father through clinched teeth as though she was continuing a conversation already begun. That poor man, I agree, but why didn't they send him to the Townsends, they have grown children. I can't believe they'd send him to us, putting our young children at risk.
TABER"Her voice was like shrieks of lightning and also like stones scraping down a hill. My father's eyes went narrow but then he reached out his hand, okay, he said. Then he pulled my mother's pushing-away-body into a hug and said it's alright Lois, we had to help. He could end up like Lee or the others Lois. My father looked sick. What else could I do? What good do we do these well-meaning people, our friends?"
TABERBut isn't it his choice? My father's lip trembled as if he might burst into tears. Yes, but Chu (sp?) doesn't know what choice he's making as Lee didn't. We're giving them a false choice because we're giving them false hope. These people think they can rely on us."
REHMSara Mansfield Taber reading from her new book, "Born Under an Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy's Daughter." The question is, did that incident awaken in you new questions, new thoughts, new speculation about what kind of home you were living in?
TABERIt really didn't, at that age. What it did was lend to the sense of secrecy in the house. My parents often had these kinds of hushed conversations or this kind you just heard of, kind of anguish mixed with worry and I didn't know what to make of it. As a child, I didn't know what the name of this was and it was only -- I really did not suspect at all that my father was a spy until he told me at age 15.
REHMHe told you?
REHMWhat precipitated his telling you?
TABERWell, my father became more and more worried about his work and increasingly disaffected over time. He was worried about things like putting other people at risk for the United States. And at this point, when I was 15, I was living in Washington and my father was about to go away to Borneo for three months and leaving our family. And I think he was really tired of lying to his children.
TABERWe were very close to him and he didn't want to lie anymore and he decided that we were old enough to know. And we had to keep the secret thereafter, you know, basically for years. And so that's basically why he told us. And for us, for me at least, it was not what you'd think my reaction might be. At the time, I was an anti-war protestor, vehemently against the CIA and what our government was doing in Vietnam. But I adored my father and I had grown up as kind of being a little ambassador for the U.S.
TABEROverseas, we were the diplomat's kids and we had to put on a face all the time and so this kind of just added to our sense of service.
REHMSara Mansfield Taber, her new book, "The Memoir of a Cold War Spy's Daughter" is titled "Born Under An Assumed Name." We'll take a short break and be right back.
REHMIf you've just joined us, Sara Mansfield Taber has written a new memoir all about the fact that her father was a CIA agent during the Cold War. She has titled her new book "Born Under an Assumed Name." She did not learn until she was 15 when her father actually told her that he was CIA, that that's what he had been doing for all of her life. And at the time, you said you were an antiwar activist. How did that affect, that is, his confession? How did that affect your feelings about him?
TABERIt's very strange. I think you forgive your parents things. I just adored my father and it was hard for me to fathom him doing something that contributed to bad things in the world. I think he had a worry that he was doing that, but I, as a kid who adored her father, just couldn't see him as part of what I was protesting against. Later on, I did think about it more. And when I actually visited him in Vietnam later, the complexities of it all came home to me.
REHMCourse, he was one of the last out of Vietnam.
TABERHe was. He left Vietnam a day or two after all the other Americans left. He was running a clandestine radio station that was beaming pro-U.S., pro-South Vietnamese propaganda to the North Vietnamese and Cambodians. And as things were disintegrating in terms of our role in the war, he had this huge staff of Vietnamese that worked for the radio station. And he wanted to make sure they would be able to get out when the Americans left.
TABERAnd as the evacuation plans stood, there were only ten slots for his many, many, many employees. He and two other Americans ran the station. So they made a plan and they moved the whole group that worked for the station and their extended families, which were 1300 people, to an island off the coast of Vietnam with the idea that the embassy would find a way for them to get out when the time came. So they went down to this island and got everyone settled basically in a refugee camp.
TABERAnd one day, the communicator they had with them radioed Saigon and said, you know, Baker One, Baker One, please come in. And Baker One, the evacuation person said, well, the helicopters are leaving. Get out any way you can. We have no plan for you. So it was pretty wild. And my father really felt this moral obligation to get these Vietnamese, who had worked for us, out because they'd be in huge danger once the North took over. And eventually, they managed to find a U.S. freighter that would take the whole group onboard. They were on the deck of the ship for six days, two babies were born, and they finally got them to Guam.
REHMI have just sighed a sigh of relief hearing that story. Extraordinary. Once your father told you, did pieces of your life sort of come into shape as perhaps they hadn't before?
TABERIt really did. It just made things fall into place. And furthermore being a kid who felt marginal in a lot of her schools it sort of gave me this club to belong to that I hadn't even known I'd belonged to. So it gave me a sense of belonging and specialness and again, this idea of serving something higher than myself. And it gave me even more empathy for my father whose anguish and conflicts were sort of always in the air. And this made me understand that a bit better.
REHMAnd what about your feelings about your mother and the sacrifices she had made?
TABERMy mother's life was so stressful. One important thing for you to know is that the women, the wives of the spies -- most of the spies were men then -- were all graded on their husband's efficiency reports. So...
REHMThe State Department used to do exactly the same thing.
TABERExactly, same thing. And, oh my gosh, the pressure on you to have a perfect family because your husband's life -- not his life, but his job could be at risk if you didn't have a perfect family and have no emotional problems, which would supposedly make him a security risk or vulnerable to the enemy. So it was a huge pressure. And my mother actually was very worried about my father and the children's safety a lot. And when they were in Hong Kong when I was a child she actually used to trail my father when he was out to meet someone secretly. She'd be like two blocks behind or three.
REHMBecause she'd be so worried.
TABERShe'd be so worried and she was determined she was going to save him if something happened. So...
REHMBut couldn't she have put him in more risk by doing exactly that?
TABERI don't understand it, but I know that he was threatened with having acid thrown in his face. So I think that upped the ante for her. Yeah, it seems a little strange that she did that, but it shows the extent of her worry.
REHMDid you talk with her a great deal about the situation after your father told you his real job?
TABERYou know, I talked to them both much, much, much later in life.
TABERYeah. I was this adolescent, totally self centered so I didn't...
REHMAs most adolescents can be.
TABERYeah, so I didn't ask as much as I should've. But it was just a terrible stress on my mother. And when they finally retired, she really did not want to go abroad any more. She was tired of the whole thing.
REHMWhere did they settle?
TABERThey settled in Washington, yeah, and here they had this whole community of other people like them so it was a great decision.
TABERYeah, they had an amazing community because these people really bond in these situations of hardship. And so they had a great community in Washington.
REHMYou said you felt different from everybody else, but did you also have a sense of glamour and sort of danger rubbing off on you?
TABERYes, I definitely kind of got used to glamour and to living in other cultures. I'd say I was pretty much, and maybe still am, addicted to going abroad. It's where I get my energy, what stirs me, what, you know, just really gets my interest going. So I really need regular doses of going abroad just because that was so much my childhood living in different cultures.
TABEROther consequences of growing up that way were that I really came to value emotional honesty above all because I did grow up in an atmosphere of a lot of repression. And my father never really admitted he had feelings. And so I came to feel that it was very important to be honest about feelings. My father became very depressed later in life and I think that had a lot to do with repressing his feelings due to this atmosphere of stoicism.
REHMI think if I had been in your shoes I might have felt as though I couldn't trust many people. Did you feel that way?
TABERIt did breed in me a sense of distrust of surfaces. It gave me a sense that there's often something going on underneath. And, you know, not trusting the masks of, you know, happiness and cheer that people do wear. And actually was kind of good training to be a social worker, which I later became. So but, yes, it made me look under things.
REHMBut I wonder whether it helped or hurt your relationships with friends.
TABERRight. I had kind of a double response to all this moving and stresses. On the one hand, I learned to really attach quickly because, you know, I wouldn't have people...
REHMYou knew you were going to have to leave.
TABERRight. I wouldn't have people for very long. And on the other hand I'd had this kind of quick release mechanism. When I left a place I learned to put people behind me. But I have to say I was a real attacher so that loss stayed with me.
REHMThere was a time when your father taught you and your brother what you had to do if you were kidnapped.
TABERYes. Every place we went, he would sort of go over that again what we should do if we were kidnapped. And he told us the main thing that was good about our situation is that we didn't know a thing. So he thought, you know, he said quickly, the kidnappers will realize you don't know anything and hopefully they'll let you go. And from the time we were very little, even if we didn't know the language where we lived, he would teach us how to say, take me to the American Embassy. So these were his, you know, frail ways of trying to protect us.
REHMBut on the other hand, if you were kidnapped, surely it wouldn't be for what you knew, but rather for ransom or what you could bring.
TABERRight, right. Absolutely. Yeah, you know, get -- to nab him was the thing.
REHMAnd your mother, was she terribly protective of you?
TABERMy mother was this Indiana farm girl, you know, whose mothers sewed their underwear from flour sacks. And here she is in this glamorous strange life. She was both very brave and very protective, extremely protective of us. But her bravery, for instance, she had to learn at one point how to parachute in case when we took over China, she would parachute in with the men. So it was pretty crazy.
REHMAnd you, did you have to learn how to parachute?
TABERI didn't have to learn how to parachute.
REHMYou did not. I must say I think it would be interesting to really understand exactly what your father did.
TABERYes. And, you know, I don't know. I just know the broad outlines of his -- I know some things, a very few things he told me like the piece I read to you was about an editor. He was hiding a dissident Taiwanese editor who was writing criticism of Chiang Kai-shek and he was being sought by Chiang Kai-shek's security police. We were trying to support democratic movements. Chiang Kai-shek was a tyrant. So though we supported him because he was anticommunist, we were also trying to develop more democratic movements in Taiwan.
TABERSo this is the kind of thing he did was to support democratic movements in the various countries we lived in.
REHMSara Mansfield Taber. Her new book is titled "Born Under an Assumed Name." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. First to Mary Ellen who's in Tampa, Fla. Good morning to you.
MARY ELLENGood morning to both of you and thank you for this very important topic. I, too, am a daughter of a OSS Cold War spy that I didn't learn about his activities until being very much older. We were based in Washington, D.C. at the agency. And I will tell you, I'm so pleased to hear this. The toll it took upon my family, my father and his deep depression from activities that to this day, I don't know about and have been unable to learn from the agency, despite nearly 50 years gone by now. But thank you for bringing this to light.
MARY ELLENAnd I'm sure you've encountered a number of other individuals, perhaps in your tours, that have similar stories. My mother eventually became paranoid from it and, you know, passed away under that shadow. And it's a very difficult thing to live a life of secrecy. And what is the best coping strategy that you encountered or that you could share with us?
TABEROh thanks, Mary Ellen, for calling. I resonate with what you're saying so much. I just think emotional honesty, emotional processing is absolutely key, you know. Writing this book really helped me go back to all those places, feel what it was like to be there, reencounter the people I'd lost. And so writing actually is one good way to deal with it. But also, of course, talking about it and feeling all the stuff. Writing the book let me grieve again. And, you know, I had had some depression, I think, from just this weight of grief for so many years. And I think feeling it all and getting through it is one of the keys. Thank you so much.
ELLENWell, thank you very much.
REHMThanks for calling, Mary Ellen. You chose to go into social work, which I would think requires not only a great deal of understanding, but empathy. And I wonder, considering your earlier state of being, whether that was difficult for you.
TABERI think, in a way, it was like a completely natural thing for me to do. Because I was picking up these subliminal things in my household, I'd learned to be kind of hyper vigilant and watchful of people. And also my concern about my father made me develop a lot of empathy. I mean, I was always sort of feeling out how he was doing and how my mother was doing. And so I think that really did nurture an ability to listen to people and care for them.
TABERAnd also, you know, each place I lived, I had to sort of (sounds like) suss out the situation and figure out how to fit in. So I was constantly reading people, so all of that served being a social worker.
REHMDid your mother suffer depression as your father did?
TABERShe did. I would say she became very depressed late in life. Earlier on, I think she was more the carrier of the anger, you know, the frustrations my father...
REHMWhich is the reverse side of depression.
TABERExactly. My father wouldn't admit to his anger so she carried it basically. And there were all these frustrations and she was the one who would be, you know, just furious. And he would sort of be the calming down person.
REHMSara Mansfield Taber. She's the author of a brand new book. It's titled "Born Under an Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy's Daughter." We'll take a short break. When we come back, we have many callers waiting. We'll get to as many as we can.
REHMSara Mansfield Taber has written a book about her father as a Cold War spy, but she's really written it as a memoir. It's titled, "Born Under an Assumed Name, The Memoir of Cold War Spy's Daughter." She's here in the studio and we're going to go back to the phones after we clarify one word you've used. And that is you said you led a glamorous life. What does that mean?
TABERWell, it was amazing living in all these countries. We had fabulous houses in each place we lived, owned by the embassy or rented by the embassy. Usually we had servants, a housekeeper, often a cook with wonderful food. We went to these glamorous parties where you had to get dressed up and be polite. And it was this very sort of cordial, diplomatic world. And so you kinda got to feel special all the time.
TABERYou know, it included things like I rode ponies in the palace grounds of the queen's, you know, lands in Holland. And so it was very glamorous. And then we would come back to America and be just ordinary middle-class people in a little tiny house. So it was this kind of bifurcated life.
REHMAnd you got used to it, in both situations.
REHMYou could accustom yourself to it. Did you ever ask why the differences?
TABERWell, my parents, you know, just explained it, that we got a sort of a representational allowance. We got more money because my parents had to entertain all the time. My parents entertained or went out, you know, four or five times a week. It was intensive work doing the socializing at that point. I think things are a little bit less that way than that now.
REHMAnd of course, they're also different in that years ago, one could never admit you were with the CIA. Now, people do so quite frequently.
TABERYeah, well, the people who work on the analytic side, the intelligence gathering...
TABER...they can all say they work for the CIA.
REHMWell, back then even they couldn't.
TABERRight, right, yeah.
REHMBut now they can.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Cape Cod, Mass. Hi there, Kat.
KATOh, me? Hi.
REHMYeah, you. Hi.
KATI'm actually shaking because this is all opening up in my body, but I'm so glad somebody's talking about this because for years because I was sworn to secrecy and I wanna say the hell with it. Excuse me. I was married to a man who was the advisor with the CIA to Joseph Mobutu. Actually, they were setting him up and it was during the rebellion in the '60s and all kinds of God-awful things were happening.
KATAnd I had six children. We were there, you know, just had nothing to do with the embassy or anything else to go to to ask anything. I was just pretty much on my own with a place that we rented, which had chickens and stuff to take care of. Anyway, I had the diseases, the sicknesses, the schools.
KATThe biggest thing was water. I had no water sometimes for three days. It just would be shut off. And when there was, if it was in the middle of the night, get up and run and fill up something and then boil it for absolutely everything.
KATIt was depressing. I couldn't talk to my husband about this so it was -- and talk about our relationship was kind of very superficial in a way. And there was no glamour with an embassy, which now and then we would be invited to like an ambassador's thing or something. And I didn't have any decent clothes to wear so that would be interesting. But my husband worked with the Belize army newspaper for one thing.
KATSo we connected with them a lot. And, you know, we had softball games on weekends and...
KAT...stuff with Belize army guys, which was funny because they'd bring their wives and the wives could slam the ball out of the park (unintelligible).
REHMOh, my. You know, I'll bet, Sara, that there are many, many stories like this out there. She talks about being in the Congo. Very different from being in...
REHM...in China or Taiwan or wherever.
KATYeah, absolutely. That sounds like an incredible strain, incredibly difficult. And you didn't have this diplomatic cover and this diplomatic...
TABER...luxury that I usually had. I grew up in very poor countries. So I was surrounded by poverty, but I didn't live on the local level as you were doing. That sounds so difficult. And these stories people just don't hear about them, this level of stress for people doing service for our country.
REHMPrecisely. Kat, thank you and thank you for calling. Let's go to College Park, Md. Good morning, Chris.
CHRISGood morning, Diane. I had a very similar experience to the author Taber. So I thought I'd share it. Only it was slightly different. My parents were both clandestine CIA workers and, you know, I'm proud of the work they did for our country. I mean they were basically engaged most of their careers in fighting the Soviet Union. And, you know, it was honorable work, but at an early age I was told in no uncertain terms what they were doing because it was important to my parents that I not accidentally overhear something and reveal what they were doing.
CHRISSo at age nine, actually, we were stationed in a hell-hole of a third-world country. I can share that with the author's feelings on all these things. There weren't any American kids for me to play with. So my parents encouraged me to read at an early age. And they encouraged me to read like adolescent-type things. And I started reading a little earlier than most. I was reading the novel written for older kids and the word espionage came up.
CHRISAnd one morning, I asked my mother what the word espionage meant and she kinda turned white. And this I think is in way of an amusing anecdote. And that very night my mom and dad brought me aside in their bedroom. It was all very solemn. And they said, well, you know, your dad doesn't really do this. This is what he does. And at that point, I was taught to be careful about whatever I said to anybody and to maintain their, you know, fake identities.
REHMSure, sure. And I'll bet you, Sara, were told that, though your father had explained to you he was a CIA agent, you had to be very careful of what you said.
TABERAbsolutely. Yeah and you had it even younger. I mean, it kind of elevated you to the adult world prematurely, in a way. You had a huge responsibility to keep that secret, as I did. And yeah, even when my father retired he actually negotiated with the agency to be able to say he had simply worked for the agency without giving anything else away because he didn't wanna continue that lie. But it became a kind of habit to not say what he did. And I kept the secret for years and years and years.
REHMAs you grew older though, you describe a turning point...
REHM...when you ended up in a psychiatric hospital in Japan. What happened?
TABERUm-hum. Well, it was a very harrowing, bizarre, bewildering thing that happened to me. And it remained a mystery for a long time. It baffled the doctors, as well as everyone else. What happened was I was going along very happily, going to a boarding school in Japan.
TABERI was 16.
TABERAnd my parents were actually a day and a half away by plane on the island of Borneo. And I loved this school. I enjoyed the students there. And what happened is simply one day I woke up out of a fever. I had been sick. And I was someone else. It was like I had had an identity explosion. I changed from this conscientious, you know, sweet good-student type of girl into a marauding pirate. I mean, I was doing things like telling people I'd been drinking in the graveyard behind the school.
TABERAnd I went so far as to pour coffee all over the dean of students' papers.
REHMOh, my gosh.
TABERAnd I was completely disinhibited. It was like my stoical self, you know, exploded.
REHMSomehow was overwhelmed.
TABERYeah, I mean it was kind of like this faded bizarre thing, that my cover was blown or I had to give up my cover of perfection and because this -- you know, it was basically a kind of psychotic episode, though not the typical kind. And I ended up -- my parents were called from Borneo. My mother had to basically hitchhike on planes and actually...
TABER...was in the cargo hold for a time trying to get to me. And she and my father later came and they took me to Tokyo to the Tachikawa Air Force base. And I was hospitalized in a ward of Vietnam shell-shocked victims, young boys, young draftees coming back from the war with severe PTSD and horrible problems. And I was the only girl, age 16, hair down to my waist, anti-war protestor, wearing love beads in this ward of many, many young, very troubled young men.
TABERAnd it was a life-changing experience.
TABERThe amazing thing about it is by being in group therapy with these people, seeing these troubled men, I mean some were just flagrantly psychotic and seeing things. Some were just whaling with grief about a buddy having been lost. Another was a catatonic young man who would just lie in a heap on the floor or stand stock still. And they used to make him stand by his bed. And they would order him to make his bed. And he would slowly, slowly, like, pull the sheets up. And then the minute he did they'd rip it apart and say, you make that bed.
TABERAnd it was all to try to get a reaction out of him because he had just, like, resigned from the world. So all of this was so, I mean, just a huge, unbelievable experience for a girl. But in group therapy with them, these airmen basically taught me, this stoical girl, the value of being open about your feelings and that vulnerability, sharing our vulnerability was how you made connection.
TABERAnd that completely changed my life; along with I also had a psychiatrist who basically taught me to name my feelings. And it just made me a more open person. And I think just has served me so well. It was a revolutionizing experience coming from that stoical secret life to this.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How long were you there?
TABERJust about two weeks. So a short time for a revolution.
REHMInteresting. All right. Let's go to Jenison, Mich. Andre, you're on the air.
ANDREHello. You mentioned you were once a anti-war activist. Have you joined the Occupy Wall Street Movement? And if so, what is your opinion of the movement? And if not, what question would you ask of the movement?
TABERI'm, you know, my opinion about these things is as good as anybody's. I'm not a political expert or anything, but I'm certainly very concerned about our government. And I've visited the Wall Street Movement and actually have given them a donation. I am concerned about the way our country's going.
REHMWhat question would you ask of the movement?
TABERYou know, this really isn't on my mind at the moment. The thing that concerns me more is just the complexities of the CIA and what I saw, just about how the CIA can do great good in the world, but also sometimes intelligence that's gathered is manipulated for political purposes. Or good intelligence is denied for political purposes. And that's something that's really concerns me about our government. It's kind of the slippery slope involved with the CIA.
REHMSo having lived a life somehow within the fold of the CIA you have great questions...
REHM...about what it does and how it does it.
TABERExactly. I think it can have very noble aims, but it's a very murky terrain with many moral questions associated with it. And I just, you know, this is my opinion now. I just wish that we would be very, very careful about what we do because when we don’t question enough what's going on the country can make a lot of mistakes.
REHMDid you say those things to your mother or your father before they passed away?
TABERYes. And my father was actually a liberal. And he was really dismayed about the Vietnam War, even while he was there at the end of the war and concerned about what the agency was doing. At the same time, he was always this great patriot who believed we had to have an intelligence agency because the world is a dangerous place. But that we had to be very careful and we should be more transparent about what was going on and respective of other governments more and basically, look at history and be very thoughtful.
REHMGood thoughts for now and always. Sara Mansfield Taber, her new memoir is titled "Born Under an Assumed Name." Thank you for being here.
TABERThank you so much, Diane.
REHMMy pleasure. Thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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