Vol. 5 Num 553 Fri. December 16, 2005  

A friend in need

Archer K. Blood was no ordinary diplomat. He was described as a "dissenting diplomat." He was also described as a "true foreign service hero" and an "American hero." To those of us of Bangladeshi origin, Archer Blood will forever be a "Bangladeshi hero."

Blood arrived in Dhaka, East Pakistan as the US Consul General in 1970. Little did he know he was destined to stumble upon two catastrophes within a short span of time. On November 12, 1970 a frightful cyclone hit the coastal areas of East Pakistan with winds howling at 150 mph and whipping up waves up to 30ft. high.

The loss of life due to nature's fury was enormous. At least 250,000 people perished along the coastal areas of the Bay of Bengal. Within a few months, he witnessed man's fury when the Pakistani Army struck and massacred civilians and the police force during the night of March 25, 1971. Thus began the War of Liberation which culminated in the creation of Bangladesh.

Archer Blood chronicled his experiences in East Pakistan in his book: "The Cruel Birth of Bangladesh: Memoirs of an American Diplomat" published by the University Press Ltd., Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2002. Although his friends urged him to write a book on his Bangladeshi experience for quite some time, he did not believe he could do justice to the topic by relying on his memory only. He waited until the documents were declassified in 1998. Old and frail, he poured over the documents painstakingly, and they also served to jog his memory. The result is a wonderful organization of socio-political events and diplomatic efforts relating to the Bangladeshi struggle. Interwoven with the telegrams and documents are his unbiased and profound analysis of leaders, events and little glimpses of his friends and family. The book is a valuable historical resource and we are extremely lucky he was able to complete it just 2 years before he died.

In the aftermath of the 1970 cyclone, he methodically went about making an assessment of the cyclone damage instead of just relying on the figures given to the diplomatic corps by the government of East Pakistan. He arranged for a helicopter force of 16 and designated Task Force 182 to distribute relief goods to the inaccessible disaster zone.

His greatest act of courage was the sending of the "Blood Telegram." In one of his first telegrams sent to Washington after March 23, Blood used the term "selective genocide" to describe the deliberate targeting of intellectuals, university faculty, students, elected representatives, Bengalis, and Hindus by the Pakistani army. He urged President Nixon and Henry Kissinger to intervene and stop the killings. But the silence of Washington was deafening.

The Blood Telegram was signed by 20 members of the US diplomatic corps in Dhaka. Once it arrived in Washington, 9 more officers of the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau signed it. It charged: "Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to take forceful measures to protect its citizens while at the same time bending over backwards to placate the West Pakistan dominated government. Our government has evidenced what many will consider moral bankruptcy."

Although Mr. Blood did not actually sign the telegram, he forwarded it with his own comments. He wrote: "I believe the views of these officers, who are among the finest US officials in East Pakistan, are echoed by the vast majority of the American community, both official and unofficial. I also subscribe to these views but I do not think it appropriate for me to sign their statement as long as I am principal officer at this post."

He also correctly predicted the establishment of an independent Bangladesh in the same telegram. The Blood Telegram influenced US Congress to act in favour of Bangladesh and moulded American public opinion in favour of Bangladeshis in their struggle.

The telegram was sent under rules initiated in 1969. To create more openness all posts were encouraged to send divergent views and a "dissent channel" was established by a task force. Nevertheless, Archer Blood was recalled by Nixon. His career suffered, but he later said in an interview to the Washington Post that he had no choice, and "the line between right and wrong was just too clear-cut."

His conduct stands out as a lesson in the use of the dissent channel. His colleagues in the American Foreign Service voted to honour him as the recipient of the prestigious Christian A. Herter Award for extraordinary accomplishment involving initiative, integrity, intellectual courage and constructive dissent by a senior Foreign Service Officer.

In his 2001 book: "The Trial of Henry Kissinger" Christopher Hitchens described the cable as "the most public and the most strongly worded demarche, from the State Department servants to the State Department that has ever been recorded."

Mr. Blood's courage did not end with the cable. Joseph Galloway, a senior military correspondent for the Knight Ridder Newspapers, was one of a handful of foreign journalists invited by the Pakistani Army to counter charges of genocide. The tour was tightly controlled and the journalists packed off when it ended. Mr. Galloway feigned illness and stayed behind in the hotel. The next day he made his way to the American Consulate (followed by the army security detail). Once inside, he met Archer Blood, the Consul General. Although "silenced" by Washington, Blood arranged for Galloway to meet with Bengali staff members of the consulate. They recounted accounts of atrocities, some personal, committed by the Pakistani Army. Thus Joseph Galloway became one of the few journalists to initially tell the world about the genocide of Bangladeshis. Mr. Galloway recounted in 2004 that he did not see Mr. Blood again, but he "never met a more upright and courageous diplomat."

The author is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star. Wahed Hossaini provided invaluable editorial comments and identified sources of information.