THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
JANUARY FEBRUARY 2015
y new year’s recommenda-
tion to you is
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-
e military went
into villages, rounded up the Hindus,
and shot them en masse. About 300,000
Bengalis in total were murdered.
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.
Pakistan channel, India’s leadership of
the non-aligned movement, Nixon’s
near pathological dislike of Indian Prime
out in the salty
dialogue of the
was U.S. silence about the aforemen-
tioned genocide, committed with U.S.-
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
BY ROBERT J . S I LVERMAN