Henry Kissinger called him “a brilliant career officer.” Ed Horman, the father of one of two Americans killed in the aftermath of Chile’s 1973 coup, called him “a very polished liar.” He had a long career in the Peace Corps and the U.S. State Department as well as teaching posts at the U.S. Naval War College and Harvey Mudd College. But he was also the American ambassador whose embassy did not do enough to protect U.S. citizens swept up in the wave of arrests in the coup’s aftermath. Nathaniel Davis, professor emeritis of political science, died of heart failure on May 16 in Claremont, California.
In his book The Last Two Years of Salvador Allende Davis wrote that U.S. Embassy staff “toured carabinero and military stations, the Santiago stadiums, the hospitals, the morgue and other points in the city to locate and obtain the release of any U.S. citizens who had been detained.” But a subsequent report by the U. S. General Accounting Office unfavorably compares these efforts with those of other foreign embassies on behalf of their citizens during this period. While U.S. officials indicated they were not allowed access to Americans being held in the national stadium, Dutch and Belgian diplomats managed to visit their nationals held in the same site. Other embassies offered shelter to their citizens who feared arrest; the U.S. Embassy did not. The report said “there was clear inference from the Ambassador [Davis] and the Deputy Chief of Mission that sheltering them would not be looked upon with favor.”An American woman seeking protection on September 19 was not permitted to stay in the Embassy but found shelter in the Panamanian Embassy, while three other Americans were allowed to stay at other foreign embassies.
Davis, who left the State Department in 1975, was the model for the ambassador in Constantin Costa-Gavras’ 1982 film “Missing,” which implied that officials from the U.S. mission were complicit in the arrest and killing of Charles Horman. He and two other officials attempted to sue Costa-Gavras and the film studio for libel but their suit was thrown out of court. In 1983 he joined the faculty of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, where he taught for 19 years. According to the dean, “his classes were highly sought after by students and they benefited both from his knowledge and kindness.” But a graduate student who knew Davis at the college during this period told me that if anyone brought up the subject of Chile and Charles Horman, “he would walk out of the room.”
“An Assessment of Selected U.S. Embassy-Consular Efforts to Assist and Protect Americans Overseas During Crises and Emergencies” Report of the Comptroller General of the United States, December 4, 1975. http://archive.gao.gov/f0202/087840.pdf
Davis’s obituary on the Harvey Mudd College web site: http://www.hmc.edu/newsandevents/nathaniel-davis.html