The Foreign Service Journal - September 2017
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he first message in the Dissent Channel came from

the consulate general in Dacca, East Pakistan, now


In March 1971, the central government’s armed

forces began a wave of killings of Bengalis in East Paki-

stan in what proved to be a vain attempt to suppress

separatist sentiment in that distant province. The cam-

paign horrified the American consul general, Archer K.

Blood, who sent a series of cables urging Washington

to take a public stance condemning the atrocities.

Unknown to Blood, or to Secretary of State William

P. Rogers, National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger

was using Pakistan as the go-between in the still-secret

U.S. opening to China. For that reason, among others,

Blood’s appeals were ignored.

On April 6, 1971, Blood’s staff sent a message via the

Dissent Channel saying that America had to act “to sal-

vage our nation’s position as a moral leader of the free

world.” Consul General Blood did not sign the dissent,

but appended a note endorsing it.

Kissinger believed the message was written to

be leaked, and said that Secretary Rogers thought it

“outrageous” that his diplomats were writing petitions

instead of reports. Blood was recalled and his career

thereafter stunted. Like his earlier messages, the dis-

sent had no effect on U.S. policy.

AFSA gave Archer Blood its Christian Herter Award

for Constructive Dissent in 1971. To his credit, Secretary

Rogers presided at the ceremony (“I think he was a little

embarrassed,” Blood said later.) Howard Schaffer, one

of the signers of the dissent message, became ambas-

sador to Bangladesh in 1984 and served until 1987. In

2015, U.S. Ambassador Marcia S. Bernicat presented an

official copy of the Blood telegram to the government

of Bangladesh, where Archer Blood is remembered and

revered as a friend of the country.


was intended for individual employees engaged with an issue,

whose views could not be transmitted through regular channels

because of what the Foreign Affairs Manual calls an “inability to

resolve concrete differences of opinion.”

Hundreds of messages, on average about 10 a year, have

passed through the channel since its inception, but only a

handful have had an effect

on policy. “The Dissent

Channel,” says Hannah

Gurman, “made it possible

for the State Department

to formally encourage dis-

sent, while … deflating the

most serious threat posed

by internal dissenters,” namely, public repudiation of adminis-

tration policy.

Had it been in place at the time, the Dissent Channel would

not have contained the Cambodia statement. That statement

had no precedent in the Department of State, but it had plenty

of precedent in the country at large. Fury over Vietnam swept

across the country in that spring of 1970: protest marches and

The Foreign Service and the

Department of State do not exist

in a social vacuum.

demonstrations in more than 200 cities and towns; violence at

Columbia and Syracuse universities; a march on Washington;

construction workers taking clubs to demonstrators on Wall

Street; and the fatal shooting by National Guardsmen of four

student protesters at Ohio’s Kent State University.

The Foreign Service and the Department of State do not exist

in a social vacuum. The

dissent on Cambodia would

not have taken the form that

it did, and would probably

not have been offered at

all, in the absence of this

national wave of protest.

The statement was less

a reasoned argument for the losing side of an in-house debate

(which the Dissent Channel was structured to protect) than a

political statement that was a product of its time.

The Sequence of Honesty

In the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, too, the sequence of

honesty was thwarted from the beginning. On the central

The Blood Telegram