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Maj. Gregory Tomlin '01 on the Enduring Power of Public Diplomacy


by Morgan Goad and Katie Koontz ‘19

In January 26th, the Institute for the Theory & Practice of International Relations (ITPIR) and the History Department sponsored Major Gregory Tomlin’s return to campus to discuss the importance of public diplomacy to past and present America. In his book Murrow’s Cold War: Public Diplomacy for the Kennedy Administration, Major Tomlin examines journalist Edward Murrow’s role as the head of the U.S. Information Agency. His Army career has taken him around the world and to the Pentagon, where he currently serves as the Chief of Targeting Doctrine and Policy, Directorate for Intelligence, the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Major Tomlin drew from his book and his life to argue public diplomacy remains as potent a tool now as it was in the Kennedy administration. One anecdote detailed Murrow’s reaction to the infamous Bay of Pigs Invasion, illustrating the link between diplomacy and policy: “Dammit, if they want me in on the crash landing, I damn well better be in on the take off.”

The history lessons became almost painfully relevant: he pointed to disinformation from Russian state media as a contemporary challenge perhaps best met by the now-defunct U.S. Information Agency. Public diplomacy – built on listening, advocacy, and cultural diplomacy – is the antithesis of “alternative facts.”

In his conclusion, Major Tomlin addressed the future of public diplomacy: “For the students here tonight pondering the theory and practice of international relations, I encourage you to join the conversation. We need innovative thinkers in the government who will not only grapple with the issues, but fight to convince Congress and the American public about the need to invest in public diplomacy programs. The current need to counter violent extremism, dispel misinformation directed by state actors, and build and strengthen our alliances remain just as critical in 2017 as they did when Edward R. Murrow heeded President Kennedy’s call to direct the U.S. Information Agency.”