A lot of how you see the world is determined by where you live.

For Glen Johnson, a veteran reporter from North Andover who spent four years working for John Kerry in the U.S. Department of State, that’s obvious from looking at a map.

You can drive for three days across the United States without running into another country, Johnson said, whereas in Europe, it is hard to drive for three hours without encountering an international border.

“The geography promotes a more intense focus on foreign affairs, because so many different countries are in close proximity,” he said.

Two maps of the world at the beginning of his new book, “Window Seat on the World: My Travels With the Secretary of State,” which Johnson will discuss at the Andover Bookstore on Tuesday, reveal how his own view of the world was enlarged by serving as U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for strategic communications from 2013 to 2017. 

One shows all the countries Johnson visited from 1962 to 2012, which are limited to Canada, the United Kingdom and parts of western Europe, while the one from his years with Kerry includes nearly every country in the world, with a few exceptions in Africa and South America.

“When I was sworn in on Feb. 2, 2013, I was one of seven people that was put at the top of a 70,000-person organization,” Johnson said. “This was a seven-person Kerry team that was grafted on top of this huge State Department. This was an entirely new world to me. I was working inside the government for the first time after 30 years covering it from outside. I was covering foreign affairs after covering domestic politics.”

Johnson grew up in Andover, where he, along with actor Michael Chiklis, played football at Andover High School in 1981 for Dick Collins.

After graduating from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, and working at the City News Bureau of Chicago, Johnson got his first full-time job at a newspaper at The Salem News, from 1987 to 1989. 

“I worked up in Ipswich first, covering town government, selectmen, School Committee, and then came back to Salem,” he said. “That was the heyday of Tony Salvo and the dispute about building a police station.”

He would go on to work for The Lowell Sun, for the Associated Press in Boston and in Washington, and for The Boston Globe’s Washington bureau.  

Johnson covered five presidential campaigns, including Kerry’s in 2004. He reported on Kerry again in 2012, when the senator was being considered for secretary of state by President Barack Obama. That contact eventually resulted in Kerry’s offering a job on his staff to Johnson.

“My job was to help plot his communication strategy,” Johnson said. “That meant working with the chief of staff and spokesmen and other elements of the apparatus there to figure out when he should do speeches and what they should be about, when he should do an interview and who with, help plan all his foreign trips — he did 109 foreign trips — and help plan all of the events he did on those trips.”

Johnson eventually took over as staff photographer for those trips, when he saw that the pictures documenting Kerry’s activities were less than vivid, and that role complemented his other duties.

“The skill I brought to it, and why the secretary hired me for that job, was he wanted people back home to understand what he was doing abroad, and he wanted a former journalist to tell that story,” Johnson said.

That is also what Johnson does in his book, which covers Kerry’s negotiations with Chinese diplomats and the president of the Philippines, along with his attempts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians and to strike a deal to keep Iran from developing nuclear arms.

“Both the president and his secretary of state thought that ridding Iran of its nuclear weapons capability wouldn’t just empower moderate elements within Iran but would prompt more work with Rouhani’s government on regional matters,” Johnson writes.

He also provides a detailed examination of daily life in the State Department and introduces a range of personnel who made Kerry’s diplomacy possible, from convoy drivers, Marine guards and Air Force pilots to the foreign nationals who help Americans maneuver in their cultures.

In addition, “Window Seat on the World” includes a thorough account of protocol, the rigid code that guides procedures during negotiations. 

And Johnson devotes a chapter to Anne Smedinghoff, a foreign service officer who was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2013 while delivering books to a school.  

He wanted to show that such devoted personnel, working well below the rank of secretary but with no less passion for their missions, take risks every day, even though they don’t wear flak jackets or carry weapons like soldiers.

“She was killed trying to help people and promote American ideals,” Johnson said. “When she died so early in our term, I felt like she was the embodiment of what this department tries to do. There’s a lot of Anne Smedinghoffs in that department.”

He said the job was the opportunity of a lifetime and left him with a sense of “the real importance of these national security jobs,” in which diplomats, soldiers and the intelligence community all work together.

“When we left office and there hadn’t been a big transition between ingoing and outgoing teams, that left me terrified, because I gained an appreciation for the importance of these jobs and continuity in the handling of them,” Johnson said.

But he said that “Window Seat on the World” wasn’t meant as a rebuke to the Trump administration, but rather to help citizens understand the process of diplomacy, which is crucial in finding peaceful solutions to international problems.

“The issues endure,” Johnson said. “There’s an election (this) week in Israel. There’s ongoing entanglement with Iran, and it pivots off the nuclear deal. Climate change is a huge issue. North Korea, China, Russia, all those things that are chapters in the book are continuing to dominate discourse now. I think it’s important for people to try to understand some of the history to these things.”   

In addition to Tuesday’s appearance in Andover, Johnson will join John Kerry for a conversation and book signing next Thursday, Sept. 26, at 6 p.m. at the University of Massachusetts Club in Boston. CNN anchor John Berman will moderate. It’s free, but registration is required at http://bit.ly/2kkUSLe.

 

If you go

What: Book discussion, signing and slideshow with Glen Johnson, author of “Window Seat on the World: My Travels With the Secretary of State”

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Andover Bookstore, 74 Main St., Andover

How much: Free, with books available to purchase

More information: www.glenjohnson.com

Recommended for you