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y new year’s recommenda-

tion to you is

e Blood

Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger

and a Forgotten Genocide


by Princeton professor Gary Bass. It

tells the story of Archer Blood, a Foreign

Service o cer who as consul general in

Dhaka in 1971 supported his subordi-

nates’ dissent cable, knowing that doing

so would derail his career, which it did.

Spoiler alert: Blood wins in the end, at

least in my reading.

e genocide described in the book is

the Pakistani military’s systematic target-

ing of the Bengali Hindu minority in East

Pakistan in the spring of 1971, during the

events that led to the creation of an inde-

pendent Bangladesh.

e military went

into villages, rounded up the Hindus,

and shot them en masse. About 300,000

Bengalis in total were murdered.

e vast

majority were Hindus.

e book illuminates U.S. relations in

South Asia during the Cold War. Kissinger

passed messages to China and arranged

Nixon’s historic visit to Beijing through

Pakistan’s military dictator General

Yahya Khan, even as the massacres were

taking place in East Pakistan.

is secret

Pakistan channel, India’s leadership of

the non-aligned movement, Nixon’s

near pathological dislike of Indian Prime

Minister Indira

Gandhi—all come

out in the salty


dialogue of the

White House


e result

was U.S. silence about the aforemen-

tioned genocide, committed with U.S.-

supplied arms.

e dissent cable, drafted by young

political o cer Scott Butcher during the

round-ups and shootings, calls our policy

“morally bankrupt” and urges the U.S.

government to use its considerable in u-

ence with the Pakistani government to

stop the genocide. Consul General Blood

could have merely authorized the cable

to be sent. Instead, he added his endorse-

ment to the cable: “I support the right of

the above-named o cers to voice their

dissent … I also subscribe to these views.”

He added pragmatically that the Bengali

nationalists were pro-American and likely

to prevail and establish an independent

Bangladesh, so “one-sided support of the

likely loser” was foolish. He didn’t know

about the Pakistan channel to China.

I am neither an expert on South Asia

nor in a position to judge the policy nar-

rative of this book, which assumes that

the U.S. could indeed have been e ective

in slowing down the massacres. I just

don’t know. But I enjoyed the book for

another reason—its contrast between the

choices of FSO protagonist Archer Blood

and NSC antagonist Henry Kissinger.

Both men were 48 years old in 1971.

Archer Blood was a rising political o cer

with 23 years in the Foreign Service.

Recently promoted into the Senior

Foreign Service, he was pleased to get

Dhaka, where he had served earlier, as

his rst command position. When the

massacres started, his team responded

with a steady stream of detailed spot

reports, leading over a period of two

weeks to increasing advocacy as the

outlines of genocide became clear. “ e

silence fromWashington was deafening,”

Blood recalled later in an oral history


e cable provoked Kissinger to call

Blood “this maniac in Dhaka” and have

him recalled. Henry Kissinger’s manage-

ment style as it emerges from the White

House tapes is euphemistically known as

“managing up.” He attered Nixon and

supported Nixon’s worst instincts, while

suppressing policy options such as those

presented by Blood. Kissinger’s NSC

team appeared quiescent on the matter

of Blood’s dissent. “One did not want

to be perceived as being too much on

Blood’s side,” said one.

In my reading, the result is an indel-

ible stain on Kissinger’s reputation for

leading a groupthink policy process

that worked brilliantly in some cases

but failed in others. Bass’s book makes

the case for East Pakistan as one of the


And Archer Blood? He never got a

chief of mission job, with another six

years of Kissinger in power after Dhaka.

His moral courage at the moment of truth

inspired others, and his reputation con-

tinues to shine bright with the publica-

tion of the Bass book. He also won AFSA’s

Christian Herter Award for constructive

dissent by a senior o cer.

Be well, stay safe and keep in touch,





Robert J. Silverman is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.

The Blood Telegram