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that had been razed by gunfire; two newspaper
office buildings in ruins; thatch-roofed villages
in flames; specific targeting of the Bengali Hindu
minority,’ Bass notes in his book.
The book with the secondary title Nixon,
Kissinger and A Forgotten Genocide has been
published in America by Knopf.
‘The US consulate gave detailed accounts of
the killings at Dacca University, ordinarily a
leafy, handsome enclave. At the wrecked campus, professors had been hauled from their
homes to be gunned down,’ The Blood Telegram records.
‘ The provost of the Hindu dormitory, a respect-
ed scholar of English, was dragged out of his res-
idence and shot in the neck. Blood listed six
other faculty members “reliably reported killed
by troops,” with several more possibly dead.’
‘One American who had visited the campus
said that students had been “mowed down” in
their rooms or as they fled, with a residence hall
in flames and youths being machine-gunned,’
Bass adds in his well-received book.
In Washington, President Richard M Nixon and his
National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, with their raging
dislike for India and then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi,
refused to support India even as millions of refugees poured
‘The slaughter in what is now Bangladesh stands as one of
the cardinal moral challenges of recent history,’ Bass writes
in The Blood Telegram, ‘although today it is far more familiar
to South Asians than to Americans. It had a monumental
impact on India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh — almost a sixth
of humanity in 1971.’
‘In the dark annals of modern cruelty, it ranks as bloodier
than Bosnia and by some accounts in the same rough league
‘It was a defining moment for both the United States and
India, where their humane principles were put to the test.’
Bass sees things in a larger perspective.
‘When we think of US leaders failing the test of decency in
such moments,’ he writes, ‘we usually think of uncaring dis-
engagement: Franklin Roosevelt fighting World War II with-
out taking serious steps to try to rescue Jews from the Nazi
dragnet, or Bill Clinton standing idly by during the Rwandan
‘But Pakistan’s slaughter of its Bengalis in 1971 is starkly
different. Here the United States was allied with the killers.
The White House was actively and knowingly supporting a
murderous regime at many of the most crucial moments.
There was no question about whether the United States
should intervene; it was already intervening on behalf of a
military dictatorship decimating its own people.’
‘This stands as one of the worst moments of moral blind-
ness in US foreign policy. Pakistan’s crackdown on the
Bengalis was not routine or small-scale killing, not some-
thing that could be dismissed as business as usual, but a
colossal and systematic onslaught.’
‘Midway through the bloodshed, both the Central
Intelligence Agency and the State Department conservative-
ly estimated that about two hundred thousand people had
lost their lives. Many more would perish, cut down by
Pakistani forces or dying in droves in miserable refugee
camps,’ The Blood Telegram notes.
Bass delves deeper into that time in conversation with
What surprised you most while researching this book?
I was surprised almost constantly... My work as a historian
is not specifically on South Asia, which I think was helpful in
a way. I did not come to the project with any particular preconceptions. I was just trying to figure out what had actually
What I was surprised was by the level of rage and emotion
inside the White House in the months leading to the brutal
war in East Pakistan and during the war
itself. I had expected Nixon and Kissinger to
be coolly rationalizing their decisions; but in
fact they are remarkably angry and emotion-
al and let personal judgments cloud a lot of
I was surprised by the way India was sponsoring the insurgency inside East Pakistan. I
did think the Indian government as a good
neighbor believed in the national sovereignty
But in fact what you have them (the
Indians) saying is that they are talking about
human rights, they are talking about genocide. In fact, they are sponsoring this massive
insurgency inside of East Pakistan.
And I was surprised, lastly, by the courage
of the people in the Dacca (the US) consulate.
It was just physically very dangerous to be
operating in the middle of this devastating
These American officials, especially Archer
Blood, the consul, took tremendous risks. On
top of that, they had real moral courage; they
stick up for basic principles of human rights
— knowing that doing that is going to be very,
very, bad for their careers.
If you think about what else is happening in
1971. You think about Vietnam, right? Where
there are all sorts of American officials who
are refusing to pass bad news along to
Washington, who are refusing to tell the truth
to their superiors. And here you have these
guys in Dacca who do their job in a really
honorable way. I thought it is extraordinary
to see it.
I think it would be good if we remember people like Archer
Blood who showed the diplomacy of the United States at its
very best even as Kissinger and Nixon were shown at its
There are things (in the book) that I think maybe helpful
for making public policy in the future and having an
American government to listen to its diplomats on the
ground and listen to its experts around the world.
That I think is important — there is a real danger of having
the White House that has a politicized view of developments
in some parts of the world and not being willing to listen to
what its people on the ground are telling them.
In 1971, that was the Dacca consulate led by a man named
Archer Blood who warned Nixon and Kissinger about the
repression and the killings by Pakistani army and the genocide in East Pakistan, aimed in a great deal against the
What would Blood have wished Washington to do?
It is an amazing story! Blood is a career foreign service officer; a very patriotic, disciplined, loyal public servant. He is
not a radical within the US government; he is not looking to
make some big political stand.
He is quite ambitious actually; he is looking to move up
within the US government, but he is an honest reporter of
what is happening at his station and he and his staff report
in great detail about the military crackdown that Pakistan
launches across what was then East Pakistan and is now
Bangladesh starting on the night of March 25, 1971.
Blood’s consulate is sending cable after cable to
Washington detailing the scale of the killing; and again,
more or less, dead silence.
So they try to increase the volume; the rhetoric gets
louder, they start talking about genocide and still no
response from Washington.
A 1971 photograph showing Mukti Bahini troops
on the way to the frontline in East Pakistan during
the war for the independence of Bangladesh.
Blood’s consulate is sending cable after
cable to Washington detailing the scale of
the killing; and again, more or less, dead
silence. So they try to increase the
volume; the rhetoric gets louder, they start
talking about genocide and still no
response from Washington. Then they
finally sent in a full scale dissent cable
where almost everybody from the Dacca
consulate formally dissents from
American foreign policy.
WILLIAM LOVELACE/GE TT Y IMAGES