In the TV series Madam Secretary, there seems to be this folklore about the state department and the department of defense conflicting somehow. I asked how the departments conflict, but perhaps this is something specific to show if not outright unrealistic or fictional.

  • I first noticed this conflict when, sometime towards the end of Season 1, Henry McCord was invited to work for the Department of Defense. Apparently, this was a potential conflict of interest because his wife Elizabeth McCord works for the State Department as of the series premiere. It wasn't explained how there was a conflict of interest, such conflict was introduced as an assumption. Perhaps it was explained earlier, and I missed it, but I have a feeling it's more likely a folklore that need not be explained to presumably familiar audiences. I suspect this may not be exclusive to the US, but just in case, I'll ask based on the context. Here is the transcript from S01E19

But our students need to understand the beliefs and customs of a potential enemy. You would be teaching all the future military and national security leaders.

And working for the Defense Department.

If you're worried about a conflict of interest, we're not. It all falls under the dome of national security. Give it some thought.

  • Of course, one could always guess something like theoretically one department is about how to defend, if need be, while the other department is about how to avoid the need, but then practically, DoD relaxes the 'if need be' assumption (DoD wants to fight, but State doesn't or something), but I want to be precise about this,

- in particular because Henry takes the job as of the season 2 premiere, and so such conflict/s may be important to my understanding of season 2. So far, I'm just guessing the one in round brackets in preceding paragraph.

  • If the potential conflict of interest is realistic but specific to characters of the show such as the secretary of defense having some kind of vendetta against Elizabeth, I really must not have been paying attention, but that would explain such.
  • @Paulie_D So, what's the conflict then please? Thanks!
    – BCLC
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 15:29

1 Answer 1


I'm not convinced there is a "conflict of interest" as such between the DoD at the State Department but they operate in similar parts of the world and sometimes have differing opinions on the best way to proceed.

Note that Elizabeth has zero problems with him taking the job...

What? You're you're not even gonna consider it? A religious scholar teaching at the National War College? There's only so much cognitive dissonance I can handle. Teaching military ethics, a subject that you happen to be passionate about.

says on the subject...

State and Defense don't compete.

We compare and contrast expertise, often in an openly hostile manner.

Which is, while funny, a not inaccurate description.

So, although this is a possible explanation, I suspect the conflict may lie with Henry himself.

He says....when talking to Russell (who actually pushed the job in his direction)...

If you know my work, you know that I've been an outspoken critic of many of their [DoD's] policies.

So it possible his conflict is working for an organisation where he's an actual critic.

As it turns, the job is not precisely what it seems...but [NO SPOILERS]

  • 'We compare and contrast expertise, often in an openly hostile manner.' --> how is this not exactly what I was looking for in the show? I recall that was sarcasm...
    – BCLC
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 23:29

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .