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J U LY - A U G U S T 2 0 1 1 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
21
F
OCUS ON
D
I SSENT
D
ISSENT IN THE
K
ISSINGER
E
RA
ichard Milhous Nixon
offered himself to the American people in 1968 as the
candidate who would conclude the VietnamWar not only
with “peace and honor” for America, but also with candor
and honesty toward the American people. In accepting
the Republican Party’s nomination, Nixon declared: “Let
us begin by committing ourselves to the truth, to see it
like it is and tell it like it is, to speak the truth and to live
the truth.” In contrast to Lyndon Johnson, who had
gained a reputation for trying to suppress dissent, Nixon
vowed to “bring dissenters into policy discussions.”
By the time Nixon assumed office in 1969, those who
had chosen to remain in government service despite their
opposition to the Vietnam policy began to speak out.
When the president announced his decision to invade
Cambodia in April 1970, 20 Foreign Service officers sent
a letter to Secretary of State William Rogers condemning
the invasion. It was the largest collective protest in the
department to date. The outspokenness of the signato-
ries contrasted sharply with the passivity of previous gen-
erations at State, who had effectively gone into
hibernation in response to the attacks of Senator Joseph
McCarthy, R-Wis., and his allies.
John Marks, one of those who resigned in opposition
to the war, gave a name to the emergence of a new type
of “skeptical diplomat” who distrusted the State Depart-
ment “as an institution.” In a play on Nixon’s failed pol-
icy in the war, he called it the “Vietnamization of the
Foreign Service.”
It was in this, the worst crisis of legitimacy in the his-
tory of American foreign relations — in which diplomats,
as well as the public, had come to distrust the foreign pol-
icy establishment — that the State Department created
its official “Dissent Channel.” Established in 1971, the
Dissent Channel allowed Foreign Service officers to send
their disagreements with the policy status quo directly to
the Secretary of State, who would then have the respon-
sibility of reading it, considering its merits, and respond-
ing with a substantive message of his or her own.
This organizational mechanism reflects the degree to
which diplomatic writing had become bureaucratized
since the establishment of the modern State Department
S
TATE
S
D
ISSENT
C
HANNEL IS A UNIQUE
GOVERNMENT INSTITUTION
. H
ERE IS A
LOOK AT ITS ORIGINS AND EARLY HISTORY
.
B
Y
H
ANNAH
G
URMAN
Hannah Gurman is an assistant professor at New York
University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study who
specializes in the history of American foreign policy in the
20th century. This article is excerpted and adapted from
her forthcoming book,
The Dissent Papers: The Voice of
Diplomats in the Cold War and Beyond
(Columbia Uni-
versity Press). Footnotes have been omitted.