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All government employees should be free
to speak their minds as openly as possible
without endangering national security—a
term regrettably all too often used as an
excuse to shut them up.
hough dissent is sometimes thought
of as un-American, it dates back to
the very founding of our country.
As President Dwight Eisenhower
observed, “Here in America we are
descended in blood and in spirit from
revolutionists and rebels—men and
women who dare to dissent from
accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may
we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”
Indeed, throughout our history dissent has been seen as an
expression of the best of the “American mind,” the term used
by Jeferson regarding the Declaration of Independence.
Still, not everybody agrees that challenging government
policy is laudable. Richard Perle, a cheerleader for the war in
Iraq, once warned: “We may be so eager to protect the right
to dissent that we lose sight of the diference between dissent
and subversion.”
Because dissent is essentially a matter of individual choice
and conscience, formulating detailed standards for its applica-
tion within a hierarchical bureaucracy like the State Depart-
ment is an inherently challenging task.
Make Love, Not War
Dissent tends to refect unique personal experiences. In my
own case, the infuence of my father, John L. Brown, a diplo-
mat and poet during the anti-establishment spirit of the 1960s,
shaped my eventual decision to leave the Foreign Service in
His career with the U.S. Information Agency (1950-1968)
molded how I saw the Foreign Service: as a way to share ideas
about America with the best and brightest in other countries
and to learn more about their own language, culture and poli-
tics. My father made it clear that his most important work took
place outside the embassy’s walls, as he met people who were
John H. Brown, a public diplomacy ofcer, joined the Foreign Service
in 1981 and was promoted into the Senior Foreign Service in 1997.
He served in London, Prague, Krakow, Kiev, Belgrade, Moscow and
Washington, D.C., before resigning in protest of the Iraq War in 2003.
In addition to publishing
John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Press and
Blog Review,
he teaches a graduate-level course at Georgetown Uni-
versity, “Propaganda and U.S. Foreign Policy: A Historical Overview,”
and is a consultant to the Open World Leadership Center Trust Fund