The Life of a Diplomat (Luca Attanasio)
America loves to honor its military, even if only with well-intentioned “thank you for your service” blessings doled out with Catholic faithfulness at the merest sight of a service member in camouflage. Unfortunately similar honorifics are not doled out for America’s diplomats serving abroad. Of course, this might make sense in the most visceral, literal way as we acknowledge the million American soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who have given their lives in defense of our country. As the recent cowardly murder of Italian Ambassador Luca Attanasio highlights, however, there are diplomats serving bravely and selflessly around the globe in often austere and dangerous environments. And notably, their spouses and children are there serving alongside them.
Many people may think they know what the life of a diplomat is like in the most stereotypical “cocktail parties and tuxedos” sense. I know I was part of that group before I became a foreign area officer in the Navy and had the honor to serve alongside them for the past two tours at different embassies in Africa.
Since I heard the gut-wrenching news of the murder of Ambassador Luca Attanasio, his bodyguard Vittorio Lacovacci, and his driver Mustapha Milambo, I’ve thought a lot about this idea of the life of a diplomat, in particular the life of one as exceptional as Ambassador Attansio.*
The life of a diplomat was kissing your beautiful wife goodbye, looking down at your young daughters hugging your legs and tussling their black curls.
Mi mancherai: the benediction of a diplomat.
The life of this diplomat was stepping out his door to join a World Food Programme convoy to visit a community feeding program in a small North Kivu town where just three years earlier an Ebola outbreak had claimed thousands of lives...where armed groups have murdered, and raped and terrorized women and children for 25 years. The life of a diplomat was going to where people are hurting the most, protected by a sole courageous 30 year-old carabinieri named Vittorio Iacovacci (a man who had excelled as a member of the elite Gorizia battalion and who was just months away from a wedding already postponed a year).
On 22 February the life of a diplomat was hearing warning shots crack out across the diesel rumble of the convoy’s SUVs. Then seeing bullets rip through the body of your Congolese driver Mustapha Milambo.
Suddenly, the life of a diplomat was fleeting as Ambassador Luca Attanasio's 43 short years flashed before his eyes: a child walking the streets of Limbiate, hard years spent studying in Milan, graduating with honors, a diplomatic career, Bern, walking the streets of Casablanca, that night he first saw Zakia...her dark eyes, her smile, later, the gentle swell of her belly as she carried their three daughters.
As the kidnappers threw him from the backseat of the vehicle, shouting, pistol to his head...he thought of Zakia and her heart for the world...together it is possible...dreaming of a more beautiful reality... she had first whispered these words as they lay falling asleep one humid night discussing the hungry eyes of Kinshasa’s street kids...Zakia mia tesora...as she built “Mama Sofia to love more the 13,000 street children and mothers in Kinshasa.
The life of a diplomat knocked to the ground. A firefight erupted as the kidnappers forced his group away. Park rangers fighting to rescue him. But death seeking him out. Then bullets ripping into his stomach, then a burning pulsing out, scorching tendrils of pain from his core. A rushed rescue ride to save him.
The life of a diplomat seeping away slowly against the chance for hope in a U.N. Goma hospital as he lay dying, his thoughts: Zakia, la mia metà. Together it was possible.
The community of diplomats is small—particularly when compared to the size of most nations' militaries—but it’s one rife with passion and bravery. You may not know any personally but if you do, reach out to them—thank them for what is all too often thankless work. Tell your children about the ones like Luca.
Remember the life of this diplomat.
*I’ve also thought a lot about the life of the Mustapha. These local drivers and staff are the unsung backbone of Embassies around the world. Without these dedicated men and women, there’s not an embassy in the world that could function. I’ve searched online but I haven’t been able to find much more than a picture of him. Regardless, his life is worthy of the same honor and remembrance.
**Obviously some of the personal details I wrote here are conjectures. With five children of my own, I can only imagine the last thoughts of Luca.