Professionalism/Archer Blood and the Blood Telegram

Map of East Pakistan and West Pakistan



Following the partition of India in 1947, Pakistan became an independent country. The country was divided in West Pakistan and East Pakistan, which were separated by hundreds of miles. In 1970, due to the rising discontent between the Pakistani population, the country held its first democratic elections. The West Pakistan regime lost the elections but refused to hand power to the elected party. Political tension and violence rose as the West Pakistani troops entered East Pakistan. Following the lack of involvement from the U.S. government, Archer Blood, the U.S. General Counsel to East Pakistan, sent two telegrams to the White House. He criticized the lack of policy the government was displaying and it is nowadays considered the most vehement rejection of U.S. foreign policy ever expressed by diplomats.

Origin and Background


Bhola Cyclone


In November of 1970, Bangladesh was hit with the Bhola Cyclone, striking East Pakistan. The Bhola cyclone remains the deadliest cyclone and one of the deadliest recorded natural disasters, accumulating a death toll of around 500,000 people.[1] At this time, Pakistan was controlled by a military junta led by Yahya Khan after he had imposed martial law in 1969. After the cyclone, Yahya was widely criticized for his handling of relief operations. Political leaders and the media said that Yahya was slow in his initial response and continuously downplayed the severity of the situation. 11 East Pakistani leaders charged the government and their efforts for extreme neglect and indifference, also saying they grossly downplayed the news coverage.[2] Reporters for the Pakistani Observer stationed in the worst areas also commented that none of the tents supplied by relief agencies were being used to house survivors and that the grants for new houses were insufficient. The Observer regularly carried headlines criticizing the government and their lack of coordination. Despite this, the Pakistani government continually publishing statements saying that "Relief operations are going smoothly."[3] Yahya Khan conceded to this and said in a news conference, "there have been mistakes, there have been delays, but by and large I'm very satisfied that everything is being done and will be done.”[4]

1970 General Election


This situation turned political in December when Pakistan held its first ever General Election. West Pakistani politicians accused the Awami League of using the crisis surrounding the cyclone to promote their political cause.[5] Nevertheless, the Awami League, lead by Mujibur Rahman, won a landslide victory winning the absolute majority of 160 seats in the National Assembly.[6] This victory came over the Bhutto family’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). However, after the election, Bhutto refused to accept Rahman and the Awami League as their governing body. In addition to that, Khan refused to yield the power of martial law causing outrage from both sides.[7] With Khan continuing to hold power and tensions boiling over, Rahman announced a the beginning of a civil disobedience movement in the East Pakistan province. In his 7th March Speech, Rahman culminated this movement in a call for independence: "the struggle now is the struggle for our emancipation; the struggle now is the struggle for our independence... Since we have given blood, we will give more blood. God-willing, the people of this country will be liberated ... Turn every house into a fort. Face (the enemy) with whatever you have."[8] The speech inspired the Bengali people to prepare for the Bangladesh Liberation War.

1971 Bangladesh Genocide


Following this civil disobedience and the cry for independence across East Pakistan, Yahya Khan launched Operation Searchlight to be carried out by the Pakistani Army. Operation Searchlight was a military crackdown of the Bengali nationalist movement carried out against Bengali civilians, intelligence, students, politicians, and armed personnel.[9] This included the arrest of both Rahman and Bhutto for treason, the first act of The Bangladesh Liberation War.[10] This progressed into extreme violence against anyone perceived to voice anti-Pakistan sentiment. On the night of March 25th, Robert Payne, an American Journalist estimated over 7,000 people were killed and over 3,000 arrested, including 34 students killed in their dormitories.[11] After traveling six days with the 9th Division Headquarters, Pakistani journalist, Anthony Mascarenhas wrote a lengthy report titled “Genocide.”[12] In it he wrote “"I saw Hindus, hunted from village to village and door to door, shot off-hand after a cursory 'short-arm inspection' showed they were uncircumcised. I have heard the screams of men bludgeoned to death in the compound of the Circuit House (civil administrative headquarters) in Comilla. I have seen truckloads of other human targets and those who had the humanity to try to help them hauled off 'for disposal' under the cover of darkness and curfew.”[13] In what is now know as the Bangladesh Genocide, a rogue Times dispatch corroborated this story, writing, “In Dhaka, where soldiers set sections of the Old City ablaze with flamethrowers and then machine-gunned thousands as they tried to escape the cordon of fire, nearly 25 blocks have been bulldozed clear, leaving open areas set incongruously amid jam-packed slums... It is the most incredible, calculated thing since the days of the Nazis in Poland.”[14][15]

US's Stance


Nixon and Khan


Yahya Khan had a close relationship with US president Richard Nixon. Nixon wanted to use Yahya Khan to improve relations with China, as Pakistan had strong diplomatic channels with them, with the goal of making it easier to extract US troops from Vietnam. This would also allow the US to use Pakistan as a bulwark against the Soviets and India. Khan was therefore indispensable to Nixon and the US, so they allowed West Pakistan to do as they pleased in order to keep the relationship cordial. Nixon supplied Pakistan with vast amounts of weapons and ammunition that are believed to have been used to commit genocide in East Pakistan. Nixon refused to condemn Pakistan’s actions and tried to make sure no one from his administration did. Multiple conversations between Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his national security advisor, were recorded by the White House taping systems. On one of the tapes, President Nixon tries to confirm with Kissinger that William Rogers, Secretary of State, was not going to condemn Khan for killing Bengalis: “Now, another thing. I want to know about Yahya and Pakistan. I want to be sure that we’re not caught in a crack here where State then puts out a whole lot of stuff that they’ve done. Now Bill (William Rogers) has not said that he wants to say anything about Pakistan, has he?" [16]

India's Role


As millions of Pakistan refugees kept fleeing to India, the Indian government appealed for international intervention. Following the lack of involvement from the international community, India signed the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Republic in August 1971.

In December the refugee situation became unsustainable for India and they decided to intervene militarily in Pakistan. 4 days later, George Bush, the United States delegate to the United Nations, affirmed that India was the main aggressor in the conflict: “There's quite clear aggression. It's obviously quite clear.”[17] The US continued to discount atrocities committed by Pakistan and in a bid to deter India the US froze $87.6 million in development assistance.[17] To continue supporting Khan, Nixon relied on the disinterest of the American population on the issue, he said: “Biafra stirred up a few Catholics. But you know, I think Biafra stirred people up more than Pakistan, because Pakistan they’re just a bunch of brown goddamn Moslems.” [18] This was also made possible due to most of the world being unaware of the true situation in East Pakistan, caused by a news blackout imposed by Pakistan.

The Blood Telegram published by Archer Blood

Archer Blood and the Blood Telegram


Archer Blood was the U.S. General Counsel to East Pakistan at the time of the conflict. As the conflict between Khan, his followers, and citizens of East Pakistan began, Blood and the rest of the consulate started sending regular reports to the White House of what was happening. However, the White House never responded to these reports, and never acknowledged that there was anything wrong in East Pakistan, most likely due to President Nixon’s desire to stay on Khan’s good side. Blood became increasingly frustrated by the White House’s silence. He believed that East Pakistan’s independence was inevitable.

This idea, coupled with the sheer violence that he observed, led Archer Blood and his colleagues to draft the Blood Telegram, a dissent message sent to the White House detailing the consulate’s disdain at U.S. foreign policy in Bangladesh. The telegram detailed the consulates “strong dissent” for the policy that was being carried out, and declared the White House’s acts “moral bankruptcy” in the face of genocide[19]. The telegram is considered the most vehement rejection of U.S. foreign policy ever expressed by diplomats. After the telegram, Blood was scheduled for another tour of office in East Pakistan, but was recalled by Nixon, presumably for his opposing views, and reassigned to the U.S. State Department’s personnel office. It is also widely believed that the telegram marred Blood’s career image significantly[20]. The telegram served as the groundwork for the dissent channel, where diplomats could formally express their views on U.S. foreign policy.

Ethics and Professionalism and the Telegram


Archer Blood’s telegram is a prominent example of someone putting their duty as a professional over their career. Blood’s ethical standards as a foreign diplomat were at odds with the way the White House was handling the Bangladesh situation. He could not stand for the atrocities being committed, and voiced his concerns to a government that was not willing to intervene for fears of upsetting key relationships. The final tipping point was the Blood Telegram, where he voiced his utmost disgust at what his government were doing. This act was seriously dangerous to his career as a general counsel, as he was directly condemning his bosses. Blood’s Telegram did in fact end up defacing his career. He was relocated from a foreign consulate to the State Department, and his reputation at the time was marred as a result of his actions. Blood knew that what he was doing would not sit well with his superiors, but he voiced his concerns about what he was seeing anyway because he put his morals ahead of his career.

On the other side, President Nixon and the rest of the White House put their careers ahead of their ethical standards as U.S. officials, and ahead of the well being of the people they were elected to serve. They were concerned with establishing a healthy relationship with Yahya Khan in the hope that he would allow them to become allies with China, despite the fact that he was committing atrocities in front of their eyes. As a result, they presided over one of the worst genocides in modern history.

The juxtaposition of the actions of Archer Blood and the White House shows the position ethics holds in professional life. One must always choose between their ethical duty as a professional and the advancement of the career. Choosing ethics over career may damage that career, but choosing career can often lead to catastrophe. This situation can serve as a lesson to future leaders as they battle with the aforementioned choice and deter those from putting themselves before the people they were elected to serve.


  1. Sommer, Alfred; Mosley, Wiley (May 13, 1972). "East Bengal cyclone of November, 1970: Epidemiological approach to disaster assessment" (PDF). The Lancet.
  2. Staff Writer (November 23, 1970). "East Pakistani Leaders Assail Yahya on Cyclone Relief". The New York Times. Reuters.
  3. Zeitlin, Arnold (January 13, 1971). "Pakistan Cyclone Relief Still Jumbled and Inadequate". Long Beach Press-Telegram. Associated Press.
  4. Schanberg, Sydney (November 22, 1970). "Yahya Condedes 'Slips' in Relief". The New York Times.
  5. Heitzman, James; Worden, Robert, eds. (1989). "Emerging discontent 1966–1970". Bangladesh: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress.
  6. Grotz, Florian; Hartmann, Christof & Nohlen, Dieter (2001) Elections in Asia: A data handbook, Volume I, p686 ISBN 0-19-924958-X
  7. Ahmed, Salahuddin (2004). Bangladesh: Past and Present. APH Publishing. p. 63. ISBN 978-81-7648-469-5.
  8. "Bangabandhu's March 7 speech Bangladesh's inspiration to rise: PM". The Daily Star. 11 March 2013.
  9. Abu Md. Delwar Hossain (2012). "Operation Searchlight". in Sirajul Islam and Ahmed A. Jamal (ed.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh
  10. Nayar, Kuldip (2006). "Scoop! Inside Stories from the Partition to the Present". HarperCollins Publishers India.
  11. "The Black Night that Still Haunts the Nation". The Daily Star. 25 March 2016.
  12. "Bangladesh war: The article that changed history". BBC News. 16 December 2011.
  13. Anam, Tahmima (26 December 2013). "Pakistan's State of Denial". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  14. Tharoor, Ishaan. "Forty Years After Its Bloody Independence, Bangladesh Looks to Its Past to Redeem Its Future". Time. ISSN 0040-781X.
  15. "World: Pakistan: The Ravaging of Golden Bengal". Time. 2 August 1971. ISSN 0040-781X.
  16. Bass, Gary (2013). "The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide"
  17. a b Kux, D. (2001). "The United States and Pakistan: Disenchanted Allies"
  18. Mishra, P. (2013). "Unholy Alliances". The New Yorker.
  19. George Washington University (April 6, 1971). DISSENT FROM U.S. POLICY TOWARD EAST PAKISTAN.. Retrieved May 6, 2019.
  20. Holley, Joe (23 September 2004). "Archer K. Blood; Dissenting Diplomat". Washington Post. Retrieved 6 May 2019.