Human Face

Madeleine Albright: ‘Read my pins’

I have the book “Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box” by Madeleine Albright, a former US ambassador to the United Nations and the US secretary of state during the Clinton administration, the first woman to hold the position. I bought the coffee-table book at a sale for P50, although its original price was P1,670. It must have been a display copy because a tiny part of it was slightly torn. A little glue fixed it.

Albright was here a week ago for a speaking engagement organized by ABS-CBN News Channel’s forum on Global Governance and World Economy. A news report said Albright wore a pin for the occasion — a sunburst, perhaps to suggest the Philippines’ sunny clime.


I was not anywhere near the event so I cannot share what I did not hear. But I have Albright’s book about her pins, and also her biography.

“Read My Pins” is “part illustrated memoir, part social history.” There are stories about the pins featured and her wearing which to where, when, what, and who she was meeting. The “pindex” at the end has rows upon rows of her pins (285 in all), each one captioned, with the source and designers acknowledged.


But the main part of the book has photos of pins in bigger sizes, some on whole pages by themselves, plus photographs of her world travels and meetings with world leaders. And just as important, her colorful accounts of those pins and the related events. You read world history through her pins.

May I get ahead of myself by saying that I love that photo of Albright’s meeting with South Africa’s Nelson Mandela where she has a favorite stone-encrusted zebra brooch cozily resting on her left shoulder. Wow.

On the book cover is a close-up of a smiling Albright wearing a pin that looks like the head of the famous Statue of Liberty on New York’s Ellis Island where many immigrants from all over the world had landed. The pin has clock eyes that show different hours. (She explains why.) Albright’s family left Czechoslovakia and sought political asylum in the United States in 1948.

The 276-page book begins with an intro by David Revere McFadden, chief curator at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York where Albright’s pin collection has been exhibited. It has three chapters: “The Serpent’s Tale,” “Wings,” “Body Language” and “It Would Be an Honor.”

Best to let Albright speak for her pins. In “Serpent’s Tale” she tells us: “The idea of using pins as a diplomatic tool is not found in any State Department manual or in any text chronicling American foreign policy. The truth is that it would never have happened if not for Saddam Hussein.

“During President Bill Clinton’s first term (1993-1997), I served as America’s ambassador to the UN. This was the period following the first Persian Gulf War, when a US-led coalition rolled back Iraq’s invasion of neighboring Kuwait. As part of the settlement, Iraq was required to accept UN inspections and to provide full disclosure about its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons program.

“When Saddam Hussein refused to comply, I had the temerity to criticize him. The government-controlled Iraqi press responded by publishing a poem entitled “To Madeleine Albright, Without Greetings”…. The poet referred to me as ‘an unparalleled serpent.’


“In October 1994, soon after the poem was published, I was scheduled to meet with Iraqi officials. What to wear?” She wore a pin in the image of a serpent coiled around a branch, a diamond dangling from its mouth.

“[A] member of the UN press corps who was familiar with the poem asked why I had chosen to wear that particular pin. As the television cameras zoomed in on the brooch, I smiled and said that it was just my way of sending a message.”

Before long, she said, and without intending it, “I found that jewelry had become part of my personal diplomatic arsenal.”

Oh, but there’s more. Not only about world events but also about pins themselves, their history dating back to ancient times, and Albright’s own family’s heirloom pins.

I have only a few pins. My favorite looks like a fountain pen encrusted with rhinestones, its golden nib exposed.

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TAGS: Human Face, Ma. Cerese P. Doyo, Madeleine Albright, Read My Pins
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