Armin H. Meyer was born on January 19, 1914 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His father, Armin Paul Meyer, was a Lutheran minister, as was grandfather. Meyer’s mother, Leona Buss Meyer, died when Meyer was just three years old, and upon father’s remarriage some nine years later, Meyer went to live with his father’s sisters in Lincoln, Illinois. Meyer lived there for eight years, and was deeply affected by the discipline his aunts imposed, their insistence on academic excellence, and by the Lincoln lore that permeated the town. There, he attended Lincoln Community High School and Lincoln Junior College. In 1933, Meyer transferred to Capital University, a Lutheran college in Columbus, Ohio. Despite working 56 hours a week washing dishes, Meyer was the valedictorian for his graduating class of 1935. He immediately entered Capital University’s Lutheran Theological Seminary, graduated in 1939, followed by a Master’s degree at Ohio State in mathematics in 1941. Throughout graduate school, Meyer worked at Capital University, focusing on student recruitment. He became assistant Admissions Director, then Dean of Men in 1941.
Even before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, World War II upset Meyer’s plans to pursue an academic career. Because of his hobby as amateur radio operator, in 1941 Meyer was invited to participate in the Douglas Aircraft project in Gura, Eritrea, in northeast Africa. There, Meyer worked as a radio technician on Douglas DC-3 aircraft, serving on the route from Gura to Cairo, Egypt. As operations in Eritrea wound down following the defeat of Rommel’s Afrika Korps, Meyer was recruited by the U.S. Office of War Information in Cairo, where his experience doing public outreach for Capital University served the OWI well. In late 1944, Meyer was sent as temporary substitute to the Baghdad OWI office. There he served as Public Affairs Officer for the next four years. In 1947, while still in Baghdad, Meyer joined the Foreign Service under the expansion of the Service mandated in the War Manpower Act.
In 1948, Meyer moved back to Washington, D.C. to serve as Public Affairs Advisor in the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. Four years later, Meyer moved to Beirut, Lebanon, where he spent three years as as Chief of Political Section. In 1955, Meyer accepted a position as Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Two years later, Meyer returned to Washington, D.C. as Deputy Director in the Office of Near Eastern Affairs and Office of South Asian Affairs. In 1959 he advanced to Director of Office of Near Eastern Affairs, and in 1961, to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Eastern and South Asian Affairs. Throughout, Meyer worked to alleviate Arab-Israeli tensions, and was especially concerned with Palestinian refugees and the improvement of the Jordan River valley.
In 1961, after considering offers to serve in Israel or India, Meyer returned to Lebanon as Ambassador. There, he supported the first peaceful presidential transition in Lebanon in 1964, as well as overseeing the American response to Cuban missile crisis, the collapse of Joseph Johnson’s refugee plan, and the halting of the Jordan River headwaters diversion project. He also hosted visits by Lyndon Johnson, Bobby Kennedy, and the US Sixth Fleet.
Meyer’s ambassadorial career continued in Iran, where Meyer was posted in 1965. His duties there often centered around problems within the international oil trade. Meyer oversaw the negotiation of a median line separating Iran oil concessions from Saudi Arabia, a dispute over island ownership with Bahrain, and also the creation of a modest program of military assistance the Shah. The latter program Meyer felt was necessary to retain American influence with the Shah. Meyer also felt the later significant expansion of the military aid program under Nixon proved disastrous, as it created too large an American presence in Iran and provided a visible target for religious extremists.
In 1969, Meyer was named Ambassador to Japan, a surprise given Meyer’s career-long focus on Middle East. Nevertheless, Meyer enjoyed considerable success in Japan. He oversaw negotiations to secure the automatic extension of US-Japan Security Treaty, despite significant domestic opposition in Japan. He also oversaw reversion of Okinawa to Japanese administration, an achievement recognized in 1982 when Meyer received the Order of the Rising Sun, First Class, Japan’s highest decoration. Throughout his time in Japan, Meyer worked to ease the “Nixon Shocks,” namely Nixon’s diplomatic breakthrough with China and sharp disagreements with Japan over the textile trade.
After leaving Japan, in 1972 Nixon named Meyer the Chairman of the Working Group of the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism, a governmental response to the 1972 Munich Olympics attack. Meyer retired from the Foreign Service in 1974 to work as international business consultant. He spent fifteen years consulting for Ecology and Environment, Inc., where he served as Director of International Affairs. Meyer also returned to the academy, serving on the faculty of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University from 1975-1986. In addition to teaching, he served as the head of an exchange program between Georgetown and Ferdowski University in Mashhad, Iran, from 1975 until the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Meyer remained active in foreign policy circles, and served as President of the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs from 1988-1998.
In retirement, Meyer authored two books, Assignment: Tokyo—An Ambassador’s Journal (1974) and Quiet Diplomacy: From Cairo to Tokyo in the Twilight of Imperialism (2003).
Armin H. Meyer died in Washington, D.C., on August 13, 2006. His immediate family included wife Alice James Meyer and daughter Kathleen White.