The Foreign Service Journal, September 2012

68 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 2 Deconstructing Dissent The Dissent Papers: The Voices of Diplomats in the Cold War and Beyond Hannah Gurman, Columbia University Press, 2012, $45, hardcover, 296 pages; $19.99, Kindle Edition. R EVIEWED BY S TEVEN A LAN H ONLEY There is much to admire in The Dissent Papers: The Voices of Diplo- mats in the Cold War and Beyond , Hannah Gurman’s survey of how and why Foreign Service officers have dis- sented over the past 70 years. As one might expect from a book that began life as a doctoral disserta- tion by a clinical assistant professor at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, Gurman takes a scholarly approach to her subject, which encompasses two overlapping concerns. The first is the reason most Foreign Service readers would be drawn to this work: her assessment of the history, value and impact of inter- nal dissent over U.S. foreign policy since World War II. Even people already knowledge- able about the steep price many dis- senters have paid for daring to speak truth to power will find her discussion useful, even surprising. Consider this trenchant passage from her opening chapter, devoted to the rise and fall of George Kennan’s career: “His influence on policy had always been a combination of his persuasive- ness as a diplomat-writer, his willing- ness to compromise his positions for the sake of influence, and the larger political context in which he wrote. Readers of the Long Telegram and the X-article were not persuaded as much as satisfied to have their views articu- lated in an authoritative manner” (em- phasis added). The next chapter looks at Jack Serv- ice, John Paton Davies and the other China hands. Gurman does a solid job of describing the issues at stake and the shifts in the American political climate as the Cold War intensified. She also usefully highlights the roles of relatively obscure FSOs like ClarenceGauss, who served almost continuously in China from1912 to 1944 and who encouraged Service and Davies to cultivate local contacts and “learn to write well.” Regrettably, that discussion is over- shadowed by her other main interest: analyzing the evolution (or deteriora- tion) of American diplomatic writing. To be fair, Gurman makes a rea- sonable case that “Over the course of the Cold War, the State Department continued to bureaucratize and began to adopt corporate management prac- tices. The effects of these policies were reflected in the written reports and analyses of rank-and-file diplo- mats. Instead of amplifying and en- riching the policy debate with new information and innovative analysis, most diplomats wrote routine and in- nocuous reports, memos and letters designed to deflect rather than gain at- tention.” But where does that insight leave FSOs? Gurman never explains. Her third chapter, which assesses the efforts by Under Secretary of State George Ball to prevent (or at least slow down) the VietnamWar by waging bu- reaucratic warfare, is mildly interest- ing, but just does not belong in a book ostensibly devoted to “the voices of diplomats.” For all his virtues, Ball was a political appointee who does not seem to have had any particular sym- pathy for the concerns of his Foreign Service colleagues. Fortunately, Gurman’s final two chapters, which examine the Dissent Channel and its effect on Foreign Even readers already familiar with Foreign Service dissent will find Gurman’s account useful, even surprising. B OOKS