The Foreign Service Journal, April 2024

16 APRIL 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL itself down and told everyone to stay home, making it hard to know whether the group’s claims were aspirational, actual, or merely a trolling exercise to provoke right-wing anger at government workers. If the latter, it was certainly successful. e National Review promptly said the walkout would be “a felony,” and House Speaker Mike Johnson tweeted: “ ey deserve to be red. Oversight Chairman Comer and I will be working together to ensure that each federal agency initiates appropriate disciplinary proceedings against any person who walks out on their job.” Word of a walkout stirred fresh debate over many of the issues raised in the December FSJ. I awoke to a long chain of emails from former FS colleagues debating the proposed walkout’s merits. Some argued against, noting other paths—internal dissent, resignation, private opposition. Others saw it as the protest of a di erent generation, one that viewed jobs as gigs rather than careers, while still others simply appreciated the youth and the passion. What they shared was a common concern about a backlash against government workers to come from calls like Speaker Johnson’s for retribution and Donald Trump’s campaign promises to reinstitute “Schedule F” (the executive order stripping protections from—and making it easier to re—career civil servants). e online discussion sent me scurrying to the basement to retrieve a button buried among souvenirs from the 1960s. It was a thrill to nd it, with its blue dove ying against a background of red and white stars and stripes, above the words “Federal Employees for Peace.” We, too, were once young and impassioned. In 1969 I came to Washington as an international development intern. e war in Vietnam was raging. Opposition was growing. Monthly demonstrations brought tens of thousands to Washington, D.C., to march in protest. Within the State Department building a scattering of employees formed a group, Foreign Service O cers Against the War. We wore our buttons, some more discreetly than others. We were unconcerned about the impact protest could have on our careers. We probably could have used the injunction in Holzer’s article about the “ ne line between acting out of personal integrity and being selfrighteous and self-absorbed.” We only wanted to be heard—and seen. We marched around the outside of the State Department building long enough to be noticed. At our next meeting at a table in the cafeteria, Princeton Lyman—then chief of USAID’s O ce for Political Participation in Development, later ambassador to South Africa during its transition from apartheid to democracy and an assistant secretary of State—sat down and counseled us gently: Our message had been delivered. So was his. It would be nice to think that our protest contributed to the creation in 1971 of the State Department’s Dissent Channel. Certainly, at my rst post, East Pakistan, during the Pakistan army crackdown and Bangladesh’s Liberation War, we in Dacca (now Dhaka) were grateful the channel existed. Distraught at the U.S. government’s silence over Pakistan’s killing of Bengalis and its continued supply of arms to Islamabad, we signed the rst dissent cable, the “Blood Telegram” (named after then Consul General Archer Blood), calling for a change in direction. e protest didn’t bring change (Bangladesh ghters backed by the Indian army did that), but it contributed to the recognition of dissent’s importance in democratic policymaking. Speaker Johnson’s threat to re protestors is wrong. Trump’s call to remove protections for government o cials echoes the worst of McCarthyism. Having a bureaucracy able to accept dissent, protest, internal opposition, even the occasional leak, is healthy and realistic. As Ray Sontag, a beloved and esteemed professor of diplomatic history, told us at Berkeley more than a half century ago, wars are most often fought not over a question of right and wrong but over deeply felt rights. Today’s con- ict in the Middle East is no exception. We should brace ourselves for the debate and hope for the creative ideas that emerge from dissent. And we should ght against e orts to cut it short. n Following 33 years in USAID—Kenya, East Pakistan (Bangladesh), Indonesia, Senegal, India, Russia, Burma, and Washington, D.C.—FSO Desaix “Terry” Myers taught at the National Defense University until he retired in 2016. He is the author of several books. Having a bureaucracy able to accept dissent, protest, internal opposition, even the occasional leak, is healthy and realistic.