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© 2020 Jeffrey Robertson

An honest gentleman sent to lie abroad...

Monday, February 22, 2016

Whilst on a mission in Augsburg in 1604, the English diplomat and statesman, Sir Henry Wotton, wrote an epigram in a friend's guestbook: "Legatus est vir bonus peregre missus ad mentiendum rei publicae causa", often translated as: "An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country". The epigram was later used in a political scandal accusing King James of immoral behavior, leading Sir Henry to lose favor, and lose his job. The power of the written word is something all diplomats need to concern themselves...

No doubt this is exactly what certain former Australian diplomats are thinking regarding cynical quips they wrote in the margins of correspondence written in the aftermath of the December 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor. As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald


Australian diplomats in the Jakarta embassy mocked reports of the rape, torture and execution of East Timorese after the invasion of Indonesia, remarking that it 'sounds like fun' and 'the population must be in raptures'.


This is perhaps one element of digital diplomacy that can learn from Jacobean England. If you write anything - anything at all:  (1) expect it to be read by someone else sooner or later; (2) expect it to be reinterpreted according to their own sensibilities; and (3) expect it to spread via internet and social media, and potentially lead to entirely new diplomatic crisis!

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