The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2011
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.
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