By Iris Kim and Betsy Lewis
This year, the United States celebrates 50 years of bilateral ties with Bangladesh, which became an independent country in 1971 and was recognized by the United States in April 1972. A key figure in the early years of the U.S.-Bangladesh relationship was former Foreign Service Officer (FSO) Archer K. Blood. He was recognized by the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) and the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) for his outstanding moral leadership, with a ceremony and reception at the National Museum of American Diplomacy, June 29.
In 1971, Blood was serving as the consul general at the U.S. Consulate in Dacca*, East Pakistan. In March of that year, turmoil and bloodshed hit the country when the President of Pakistan, Yahya Khan, ordered troops to crack down on Bengali supporters of political autonomy in East Pakistan. Targets of the violence included friends, contacts, and servants of U.S. diplomats. Many members of the consulate’s staff harbored vulnerable and frightened Bengalis in their homes. American staff quickly found themselves at odds with official U.S. policy, which deemed the violence in East Pakistan to be an internal matter.
At about the same time, in February 1971, the Department of State established what it termed the “Dissent Channel.” Instituted as an official effort to channel and quell the opposition inside the Foreign Service to U.S. policy in the Vietnam War, the channel was also seen as a means to stop leaks to the press. The Dissent Channel was just a month old when the turmoil and violence hit East Pakistan.
By early April of 1971, the frustrated and demoralized diplomats at the consulate in East Pakistan decided to take action. FSO Scott Butcher, a junior officer, was tapped to draft a cable outlining the reasons for the diplomats’ dissent. Twenty FSOs signed the document, and on April 6, 1971, Dacca 1138, which became known as the Blood Telegram, was dispatched to Washington, with Blood’s blessing.
“Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy,” the cable stressed. “Our government has failed to denounce atrocities.” The U.S. government has “chosen not to intervene, even morally” in what it calls a “purely internal matter of a sovereign state,” although it is a situation to which the “overworked term genocide is applicable.” The telegram concluded, “We, as professional public servants, express our dissent with current policy and fervently hope that our true and lasting interests here can be defined and our policies redirected in order to salvage our nation’s position as a moral leader of the free world.”
Although he did not sign the cable, Blood authorized it, explaining in the cable that he subscribed to the signatories’ views. He also wrote that he believed “the most likely eventual outcome of the struggle underway” was the “establishment of an independent Bangladesh.” When Dacca 1138 was received at the Department, nine additional officers specializing in South Asian affairs wrote to Secretary of State William Rogers, noting that they concurred with its message.
The reaction to the cable was not positive. Rogers and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger were scathing in their criticism of Blood and the dissenters. In his memoir, Kissinger wrote that President Richard Nixon personally ordered Blood’s transfer from the consulate. Blood left Dacca in June 1971 and was subsequently assigned to a position in the Department.
Although Blood was honored by his peers with the American Foreign Service Association’s 1971 Christian A. Herter Award for constructive dissent, he was not offered another overseas posting until after Nixon left office in August 1974, and his career stalled. He later told a journalist at the Washington Post, “I paid a price for my dissent. But I had no choice. The line between right and wrong was just too clear-cut.”
Archer was born in Chicago, March 20, 1923. His family later moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, where he graduated from high school. He continued his education at the University of Virginia, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1943. His career trajectory would embrace not only diplomacy but also the military, academia, and writing. During World War II, he served as a naval officer in the North Pacific. He went on to join the Foreign Service in 1947. He would serve a total of 35 years as an FSO, with postings in Greece, Algeria, Germany, Afghanistan, and India, in addition to what was then East Pakistan. In 1963, while in the Foreign Service, he earned a master’s degree in international relations from The George Washington University.
After his career as a diplomat, he retained a keen interest in foreign affairs, teaching international relations at the university level. Following the Department’s declassification of cables and documents related to the period of Bangladesh’s emergence as an independent nation, Blood decided to write a book about his experience as consul general in Dacca. “The Cruel Birth of Bangladesh: Memoirs of an American Diplomat”, was published by University Press Limited in 2002 and received the publisher’s Outstanding Impact Award in 2018.
At the June 29 ceremony honoring Blood, Susan Cleary, acting director of the National Museum of American Diplomacy, set the stage for the event, noting that the Blood Telegram is an important chapter in the history of American diplomacy. She introduced the host, Assistant Secretary of State for SCA Donald Lu, who welcomed distinguished guests to the ceremony, including: Peter Blood, one of Archer Blood’s four children; retired FSO Scott Butcher, drafter of the Blood Telegram; Terry Brown-Myers and Bob Simpson, who also served with Blood in Dacca; Ambassador Tezi Schaffer, whose husband Ambassador Howie Schaffer served with Blood in Dacca and later served as U.S. ambassador there; AFSA State Vice President Tom Yazdgerdi; and Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Global Talent Marcia Bernicat, former ambassador to Bangladesh.
In his remarks, Lu highlighted Blood’s integrity and character.
“He could have remained quiet. He could have looked the other way. He could have protected his career instead of doing what was right,” said Lu. “He and his colleagues courageously used the dissent channel to object to Washington’s policies and call out human rights abuses.”
Bernicat noted Blood’s demonstration of courageous leadership, calling him “a true role model, a true hero, and a profile in courage.” She also took the opportunity to recognize the important role the Dissent Channel has played at the Department since its introduction more than half a century ago. She noted that the Dissent Channel promotes the free expression of ideas, which is essential to developing policy that best serves the interests of the nation, and she stressed that dissenting voices are as important today as they were then.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Lu and Yazdgerdi presented Blood’s son with a copy of the plaque that will hang outside SCA’s conference room to honor Blood’s legacy.
Betsy Lewis is the policy and coordination officer in the Bureau of South and Central Asia’s Office of Public Diplomacy. Iris Kim is a presidential management fellow assigned to the Bureau of South and Central Asia’s Office of Public Diplomacy.
*Editor’s note: A previous version of this article listed an incorrect independence date for Bangladesh; The English spelling of Dacca was officially changed to Dhaka in 1982. This article keeps the historical English spelling as it was in 1971.