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12

JANUARY FEBRUARY 2015

|

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

long line of people, mostly visa appli-

cants, seeking admission. We were also

informed that cell phones could not be

brought inside the building.

e Dutch

guards could o er no advice as to what

everyone was supposed to do with their

devices—which are ubiquitous in mod-

ern life—and this odd stance triggered

reactions ranging from consternation to

mirth and outright scorn.

e applicants seemed otherwise

perfectly resigned to tolerating an already

inconvenient and intrusive battery of

security precautions, but this was hardly

leaving them with a stellar rst impres-

sion of America.

Ultimately, my son and I gained

entrance. We were informed that there

would be a $100 fee to have two sig-

natures notarized, a process requiring

no more than a few moments of a vice

consul’s time.

In my day, a visiting retiree would

have been treated with in nitely more

common courtesy throughout a pro-

cess like this. I am not suggesting that

consulate employees, American or local,

were derelict in the performance of their

formal duties. But overall, I do see a dis-

tressing lack of common sense and basic

courtesy at work here.

Not only did I feel personally let

down when my modest appeal for an

appointment was disregarded, but I was

professionally unsettled by the seemingly

irrational and disproportionate behavior

I saw exercised “at the gates” in the name

of security.

We have all come to perceive at least

some of these measures as unfortunate

necessities in geopolitically complex

times; but there is also a point where, if

unleavened by some modicum of com-

mon sense, such measures threaten to

alienate the very people whose support

we are tasked with cultivating, and all

those otherwise well-disposed towards

us and the values we claim to uphold.

All around, I expected a more

approachable and genuinely American

welcome during these several encounters

with the State Department and the con-

sulate general. I was instead confronted

by the monolithic and indi erent face of

a rulebound authority. I am chagrined

that no one inside the very bureau in

which I spent the bulk of my career felt

moved to return my phone calls.

Larry Cohen’s column notes that the

U.S. military actively promotes continued

interaction between its active-duty and

retired personnel. Shouldn’t the State

Department do the same?

I built my career on a conviction

that public service was an unequivocal

force for good. But recently, in darker

moments, I fear that this may not neces-

sarily be the case, and that my experi-

ences of failure in the daily workings of

government at State are not just minor,

quotidian anomalies.

I fear they are symptomatic of a more

distressing failure on a structural scale,

the kind of failure that predictably fol-

lows when we neglect the core values

that should inform everything we do.

ose values have always been (and must

remain): courtesy, proportionality and

common sense.

Carroll Brown

Minister Counselor, retired

New York, New York

n

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