Debating Vietnam: Fulbright, Stennis, and Their Senate Hearings (Vietnam: America in the War Years)

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It was much more difficult for Mr. He recalled a White House meeting in February, , when a decision to escalate the bombing was made. Only Senator Mike Mansfield and Fulbright took issue. It just seemed the wrong thing to do; it was purely instinctive. I think the basic assumptions which led us into the war in Vietnam were quite false, partly the result of ignorance, misunderstanding.

Fulbright surely did not want to be a dissenter, and that uncomfortable position was a source of endless frustration, for he never could understand why Johnson and his advisers could not see their mistakes, admit that the Emperor had no clothes, forget all that claptrap about honor, and liquidate the mistake. The televised Vietnam and China hearings in were among the most important the committee ever had—not in terms of legislation, but in terms of airing views and information contrary to those put forth by the executive.

The hearings were the crucial beginning step within the United States to making a realistic appraisal of American policy in Asia. But Senators are legislators as well as educators, and here Fulbright was far less successful. If he had consulted it, and mustered its support, he might have done better. But he would present his case.

If people wantail to follow, fine; if they didn't, all right.


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Plato says somewhere, I think, that the guardians of the Republic should not be boon companions. Fulbright represented that rule in action. Fulbright would not make a direct legislative challenge. But I'm sure it would have destroyed us and the movement politically. Fos the country was at war, American soldiers were on the battlefield, and any move to deny them weapons, food, transport, air cover, would have created violent and widespread opposition.

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He also that he himself was too controversial, that attaching his name could be a sure way to assure an amendment's defeat. Many of his colleagues resented him personally, and he himself did not have the patience to seek out colleagues individually to sell his position. The intellectual Southern gentleman in him, perhaps, prescribed limits on how he would attack, how aggressive he would be —in contrast to a Senator 1ackson. It was this characteristic, plus obsessions with smaller issues like Radio Free Europe, that led some admirers to conclude, that passivity and lack of focus were his real flaws, that he suffered from an instinct for the capillaries.

He did, finally, involve himself in legislative action, although his efforts even then were essentially on the periphery. In , after threatening a filibuster, he helped push through a Senate amendment to the defense appropriations bill that prohibited the President from sending troops into Laos and Cambodia—something Nixon had said he would not do anyway. What is most important to say about Fulbright and Vietnam is that, though he was not the first Senator to oppose the United States involvement in war there, he, more than any other politician except perhaps Eugene McCarthy, made opposition respectable, even possible.

Only by this taking the issue to the people were public attitudes altered. When other Senators called Fulbright the professor it was not exactly a compliment. Everybody is as effective as he can be. Fulbright of course has been an enormously useful member of this body. More than most people, he is capable of preserving an independent position.

In the Senate, that means a certain aloofness, a certain quality that can be misunderstood among some members as intellectual snobbishness. In the short run, people say, his influence but he has done what he's done because it's what he had to do. I was more interested in a possible solution.

His opposition was based upon broad conceptual grounds. Fulbright's cast of mind was such that he challenged not merely policy, but the underpinning assumptions. He declared that the United States must share blame with the Soviet Union for the confrontation. William Fulbright, had gotten it wrong, not completely wrong perhaps, but wrong enough to make way for Vietnam and other disasters.

We had misunderstood the men—and the minds of the men—in Moscow, Peking and Indochina. We decided without real evidence that they were part of a giant international revolutionary conspiracy and failed to observe that they were also nationalists. I didn't have the knowledge or the foresight to make a judgment at that time. I didn't know about Ho's letters to Washington—or that they were ignored, Very few people did make the right judgment. Henry Wallace sensed it, he had a feeling about it, but he was ridiculed for being a visionary, an appeaser, unrealistic. The crux of the problem was the generalization of the Truman Doctrine.

It changed from a rescue operation for Greece in into an ideological crusade.

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I'm not saying that Mr. Truman or Mr. Acheson is to blame Acheson does have a great reputation. He replayed a conventional and brilliant role under the old idea of power politics and colonialism. Judged on the standards that were common to the world up until the invention of nuclear weapons and the power thus to wipe out whole countries, I suppose his attitude would be considered appropriate.

But 1 think basically he had little feeling that it was possible to create a more cooperative world. He thought the United Nations was a fraud.

Selected Bibliography: Robert S. McNamara

This is where he was lacking in foresight. He was a very great advocate, but I don't think he was a wise man, a man of any profound understanding of what was taking place in the world at that time. In the last few years, a new Fulbright has appeared — Fulbright the Consenter. The particular subject of consent is Henry Kissinger, and the Senator is accused of having been duped by Kissinger, even of helping to perpetrate some kind of Kissinger coverup.

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There is no question that Kissinger has established a friendly relationship with Fulbright—and in the process has charmed him. He's done more than anybody else in 30 years to at least bring into view the prospect of a settlement. They didn't show any great moral degradation or anything else—they just didn't amount to very much. Fulbright's distaste for the Watergate expose era is pronounced.

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Debating Vietnam : Fulbright, Stennis, and Their Senate Hearings

At times, he sounds almost like Julie Nixon Eisenhower as he criticizes the press. The Watergate was ballooned up into an enormous issue.


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People like those two reporters who uncoveredit for The Washington Post and The Post itself—they were sort of like Christopher Columbus — they had discovered a whole new world. People made reputations overnight discovering some new scandal. They're still doing it, they just love it.

The papers are devoted almost altogether to stories of this kind No one really approved of wiretapping, going back 50 years, but we all knew it was going on, and all accepted it—and a lot of other practices. In their minds people don't approve of covert C. We knew about this intervention of the C.

Debating Vietnam : Fulbright, Stennis, and their Senate hearings

The C. Those who have listened closely will have noticed that the Senator who used to thunder on about the powers and responsibilities of the Senate in foreign policy making now criticizes the Congress for trying to intervene in that very same process.

Had he supported L. Most controversial in recent years has been his position on the Middle East. Here, too, he is a fervent supporter of Kissinger, but while there is not a great deal of difference in their stands — Fulbright seems to want more concessions from Israel more quickly —Fulbright's is qualitatively different.

Initially he had in mind certain Eastern European minorities, but increasingly he came to focus on an American Jewish lobby linked to Israel. A few days later, he left for the Middle East. He first visited Egypt; then he went to Israel, presented a university lecture and encountered demonstrators. Resolution Whatever Fulbright's private feelings — and it should be said that he has been personally and professionally close to Jews—he has been pointing to a harsh truth: The longer a settlement is delayed, the more the regional and worldwide power equation will have shifted against Israel.

Israel's security, he has been saying, will not come from armaments and enlarged borders, but only in the form of a settlement. This famous noninterventionist has even gone so far as to propose a formal American treaty guaranteeing Israel's borders, but our own domestic debate is so fevered that opponents charge that this is only a trick—as if Fulbright would only make th? Which, upon examination, is a ludicrous.

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I don't advocate it,. We should negotiate a settlement that is acceptable to the parties there—it's easily said and difficult to do, but it's the only way in the long run. A few weeks ago, he was guest of honor at a small party at which both Arabs and Jews were in attendance. Nuclear weapons have changed the nature of the game. One more war—it could. That is the first step towards the acceptance of coexistence.