The Foreign Service Journal, January 2004

Last October I attended an event hosted by “Visas for Life,” a group dedi- cated to recognizing and honoring those diplomats who saved hundreds of thou- sands of lives during World War II by issuing visas and papers to the hunted and the threatened across Europe. Two things struck me about these col- leagues’ stories. First, compassion and courage knew no national boundaries. Those who acted bravely included Americans, Swiss, Turks, Swedes, Mexicans and Iranians. Some even represented “enemy” countries such as Japan and Germany. Second, many suffered for doing the right thing. Sweden’s Raoul Wallen- berg disappeared into the gulag, and, by all accounts, died there. Iran’s Abd al-Hosein Sardari faced an official inquiry and reprimand for having pro- tected Europeans Jews with Iranian passports. Our own Hiram Bingham, honored in June 2002 with a special posthumous AFSA award for construc- tive dissent, found himself shunted into backwaters and eventually hounded out of the Foreign Service for his courageous actions in Marseilles. Other winners of the AFSA dissent awards also faced great difficulties and were sometimes forced to leave the Foreign Service. Yet it would be a sad day for our pro- fession if we did not have such individ- uals. We need our gadflies, our shin- kickers, to remind us that all human wisdom does not necessarily reside in the FAM or in guidance from Washington. It does not even reside in Section 214 (b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The realities of our violent and unpredictable world rarely conform to bureaucratic guidelines hammered out between competing bureaus and departments. Think of Vietnam in 1975; Iran in 1979; Rwanda in 1994; and Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003. None of these places was order- ly, and none of them conformed to any rulebook so far written. Since 1968 AFSA has recognized colleagues who show the integrity, ini- tiative and intellectual courage to take a stand for what is right. We are proud to present awards to those Foreign Service personnel who say “no” or ask “why?” and “why not?”. AFSA is proud to present awards to those who, like Craig Johnstone, Ed Peck, Sam Hart, David Long, Doug Ramsey, Tom Boyatt, and others, have challenged conventional wisdom and taken a risky or unpopular stand. For the sake of our Service and our profession, we need to value our dis- senters. I urge all of you to recognize colleagues who have had the courage to speak out by nominating them for one of our AFSA awards for constructive dissent. We offer awards in four categories: • The Tex Harris Award for a Foreign Service specialist • The Averell Harriman Award for a junior officer (FS 06-04) • The William Rivkin Award for a mid-career officer (FS 03-01) • The Christian A. Herter Award for a senior officer (FE/OC-FE/CA) Recognizing dissenters is never easy. Doing so may mean swallowing our pride and admitting we were wrong — or could be wrong— about an issue. It may mean identifying ourselves with an unpopular and contrary view on policy or operations. It may mean identifying ourselves with an abrasive, difficult per- sonality. None of the above will come easily in a Foreign Service that values collegiality and consensus. But the very difficulty of the process makes it all the more important. I urge all of you to go to and take an hour to write a nomination for a colleague who has shown the courage to stand up for what is right. Our Service and our profession will be better for your efforts. P RESIDENT ’ S V IEWS 2004: Year of the Dissident B Y J OHN L IMBERT J A N U A R Y 2 0 0 4 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 5 John Limbert is the president of the American Foreign Service Association. We need our gadflies, our shin-kickers, to remind us that all human wisdom does not necessarily reside in Washington.