AMERICA CANNOT REMEMBER WHAT OTHER COUNTRIES CANNOT FORGET
J. William Fulbright, 1985
J. William Fulbright was a member of the United States Senate for 30 years and Chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee for 15 years. Today he shares some of his central views on the quest for peace.
Whiteley: Senator Fulbright, you were recently invited to return to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and to address a number of significant questions facing our democracy. I would like to put those to you one at a time and invite you to share your insights into the evolving nature of the search for peace in America. The first question put to you was how might our relationship with the Soviet Union evolve during the coming decades?
Fulbright: Well it all depends upon our own actions, I think, a great deal. It could influence their actions.
Whiteley: In your view presidential leadership is a key part...
Fulbright: It is particularly, I think, in the international relations. The way our government is set up the domestic affairs, the Congress plays a very assertive role and should because they’re familiar with domestic affairs. But we are an isolated and parochial people. We have been since the beginning, so we have delegated to the President the primary responsibility for foreign relations, and he can make a difference. It’s shown in recent examples, I think, in Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kennedy completely turned it around. And President Eisenhower had a great influence upon that period of relative peace and quiet.
Whiteley: Let’s take those one at a time. What actions did President Eisenhower take that stand out in your mind?
Fulbright: In fact he didn’t take action. That is he refused to enter into Vietnam in a large way, I mean after the Geneva Conference in 1954. He did not, as he was urged to do, intervene in Dien Bien Phu just before that time. So I think he deserves great credit for his restraint in the use of our power. This is what I give him most credit for. He could have intervened. He resisted the urging of the military and others to use our power, and if we had pursued that policy I think it would be a different world today. But then later in Mr. Kennedy’s time he did at least go to a considerable extent in intervening, but I think - we like to think he would have withdrawn from that engagement (Vietnam), particularly after his American University speech in 1963.
Whiteley: You’ve been quoted by a number of people as indicating that after the 1964 election his plan was to move back to the force levels in Vietnam of advisors that President Eisenhower had. Did he ever speak of that to you?
Fulbright: Well, no, not particularly other than as I say in June, I believe, of ‘63 is when he apparently had a change of heart there, it was just before the Test Ban Treaty. I did go to Moscow on that occasion and we really thought there was a change in our approach at that time.
Whiteley: What was different that made this Test Ban Treaty of 1963 so possible? What led up to it; what were the events?
Fulbright: Well, he had had the experience - you know, he’d had the Bay of Pigs and then he had the so-called missile crisis in the Fall of 1962, and as someone said, he looked down the abyss and he realized what a dangerous situation it is with our relations with the Russians, and that he felt, and I did, that we had narrowly escaped a real confrontation, and I think he recognized that and made up his mind to take a change. And his speech was very conciliatory. It was the most conciliatory of any speech, I guess, of any president since the days of McCarthy. And subsequent to that we negotiated and we concluded the Test Ban Treaty. I remember reading that Khrushchev was very impressed by that speech, and it made a great difference in their attitude.
Whiteley: Moving on to President Nixon, you’ve remarked in your testimony about the importance you saw of the initiatives in China and Russia leading subsequently to significant treaties. What made the difference? You seem to imply that governments can change direction.
Fulbright: Well, I think the President did. You see he had had this reputation- this is affecting our domestic affairs - he’d had the reputation of being such a strong anti-Communist that he could take these actions without being accused, you know, of the usual McCarthy slogans of being a commie symp, and of being soft on communism. He did take those actions, and I think he deserves credit for it, both of them. But following that, and the most significant of all were the agreements he made in 1972, if you’ll recall, we call it that period of deténte in which we had the ABM Treaty and the first SALT Treaty. And then what I think is most significant are the various agreements for joint ventures that came out of the meeting with Brezhnev. When Brezhnev came here there were about eight or ten different subjects of which they agreed to engage in joint research and development of programs that are non-military, not so sensitive, and not as difficult as arms control. They were involved research. You remember we had a brief period of space, cooperation in space, and the Soviets joined up with one of our space shuttles. And then the ongoing research programs which involved doing things together of a constructive nature.
Whiteley: One of your insights into the process of achieving a more stable peace is international cooperation of many dimensions.
Fulbright: Yes, it has to evolve. One doesn’t just suddenly change the fundamental approaches of these countries by assigning a piece of paper. It’s rather a cultural matter that develops and creates in each of them a confidence that the other isn’t determined to destroy them. And it gives them some assurance that they can proceed without relying solely upon military means.
Whiteley: So one of your real insights into the U.S./Soviet relationship is that it can go one or a number of different ways based on the actions of our government and theirs.
Fulbright: Oh yes, exactly.
Whiteley: How much better can it get? What are the limits of the possible?
Fulbright: Oh it could get a great deal better. It seems with the invention of nuclear weapons, it seems to me that clearly was the end of an era. It’s no longer acceptable to civilized people to wage war with nuclear weapons. It’s - they have changed it all. Einstein recognized that very clearly, and most of the people involved in that matter, I mean Oppenheimer did, and a number of us saw it is that this is different. It’s not just an improved bow and arrow; it is a different kind of instrument of destruction that it’s almost unlimited, therefore some new approach must take place. Some - the competition - will remain but competition in some other area. I mean creating the best society, I mean the best life for their people through education and economic development and so on. It’s quite clear this could be done by these two great countries. They have, in their history, they have not the kind of feeling of revenge that grew out of the wars in Europe where one country took another’s territory, etc., and they went on for years. It does have a certain religious background; that is we feel, and our people do, that they’re atheists and that’s a very troublesome issue, and there’s been a revival of a kind of religious overtone in some of the speeches in recent years, in this country particular. And that’s a troublesome issue, and you don’t deal with that suddenly. It’s a development of an attitude on the part of each to the other that they are - they’re both equal in their legitimacy.
This is a central problem with us with the Russians. I don’t think we’ve ever accepted the legitimacy of that government. We feel it’s illegitimate that it hasn’t been - it hasn’t been legitimatize by an election like we conduct. But of course very few countries have had elections. That’s the product of a long cultural development which we inherited much of that from the British. And we had that tradition of the Parliament that had been developed there, although in England it wasn’t very democratic. It was aristocratic largely, but nevertheless, the procedures we inherited. The Russians have never had that. And I don’t think they have any idea of going to that. In fact I doubt very seriously if tomorrow they tried to have elections it would be successful. That has to grow as any kind of a cultural development does.
Whiteley: One of your insights is that the fabric of civilization is really at risk now from nuclear weapons.
Whiteley: And that we need to find ways to influence each other’s policies.
Whiteley: Without a resort to war, how can America influence the Soviet Union?
Fulbright: Well the way I think through those agreements of joint ventures. I had some very interesting psychological hearings with Dr. Frank and other leading psychologists of this country, and one from Canada, Mr. Brock Chisholm, and this was one of the central results of those hearings was that the best way for people that feel antagonistic to get over that is by cooperative ventures. And I mention these small ones - they seem to be insignificant to people, but they’re very significant, and simply the act of cooperating in any area tends to inspire the confidence in each of them that the other one is not out to do them in.
Whiteley: You’ve indicated that confidence is much easier to build initially in nonmilitary areas...
Whiteley: ...One central part of trying to build confidence in the military area is arms control.
Fulbright: But that will come later, if at all. I doubt if anything is going to come out of it. It’s too sensitive and neither one of them have that confidence I’m speaking of while they’re making these agreements. Under the pressure of the events we make some of those agreements. I’m all for them, understand, but I don’t think they’re going to amount very much until there is a fundamental change in the attitude of each country. The Russians have to believe that the United States is not out to do them in by force. We may be out to do them in by example of creating a better civilization which others would like to imitate.
Whiteley: And there is a basic incompatibility between their value system and ours, is there not?
Fulbright: That’s right, but one has to learn to accept the other, I mean, as being legitimate. That’s what I mean about legitimacy. Khrushchev when he came to our committee he said there’s one condition which is necessary; that is that you recognize a new society. A new society has come on the scene. You don’t have to approve it but you recognize it’s here and you deal with it on a normal basis. We’ve never been able to do that because we think it’s illegitimate.
Whiteley: For you, arms control is an essential part of the national security of the United States. Further being a participant in the Senate over a career that spanned four decades of public service there have been three treaties negotiated by three different Presidents of the United States that were signed, that were adhered to, but were not ratified by the Senate. Would you take them one at a time and indicate what happened, how our democracy needs to approach these kinds of agreements differently if arms control is going to be viable.
Fulbright: Well, we have to pursue the kind of policies that I have mentioned in 1972, the deténte, a group of activities. When you sign a treaty if the people that are signing it haven’t really made up their mind to accept the other party as an equal, the treaty doesn’t mean too much. I’m for the treaties as one of the process of trying to create a more cooperative or less antagonistic relationship. But I think it comes last. I mean after you’ve created a degree of confidence in each other’s intentions. We apparently believe (at least some of our leaders do) that the Russians are absolutely committed to the idea of world domination. They repeat that all the time, everything they do. Well, all countries - big countries - have had a feeling that they have found the ultimate truth and everybody should follow it. But there’s a difference between doing that - I mean of creating the following and the leadership through military affairs, and through example or persuasion or through diplomacy. And I think the age of military affairs is over because of nuclear weapons. So you have to resort to diplomacy, and that means also giving an example of how you conduct your own affairs.
Whiteley: The SALT I Treaty and the ABM Treaty were very fundamental departures for the United States. They put a ban on defensive systems...
Fulbright: The ABM was more significant than any I think.
Whiteley: Why was it, and why did the Senate ratify it?
Fulbright: Well, at that time it was primarily, I think, because of the leadership that was given by the President, by the Executive. We had had a period, a very bad period, you see, beginning in the days of McCarthy in which this enormous antagonism was aroused, that they were all over this country in the schools and churches, and that they were so effective. And we built them up as being ten feet tall, but actually they’re not. They’re struggling to establish their legitimacy like other - after revolutions, all those revolutionary periods too. But I think the ABM Treaty, we had hearings in our committee for a long time. The first place is - we call it Star Wars today - but the antiballistic missile concept, I think was proved to be unfeasible, lacking in feasibility, it wasn’t practical. Some of the best scientists in the country who weren’t in the employ of the Pentagon testified to that. I don’t think - I think they were correct; we shouldn’t have proceeded. I think it was justified by the facts. All it in effect said we don’t have any defense against nuclear weapons.
Whiteley: For you deténte is in the best interest of both the Soviet Union and the United States.
Fulbright: Yes. The word deténte itself, because it’s a French word I guess, has developed a pejorative meaning. All I mean by deténte is just normal relations. I mean the essence of the Trade Bill was we trade with them on the same basis we trade with other countries, with England, France, Japan, and so on. Most favored nation is not some special, special favor to the Russians, just treating them like other people. That’s what they want, what most countries want.
Whiteley: In your Senate testimony you raised the rhetorical question of whether or not the vast ideological differences between the United States and the Soviet Union made deténte over time impossible. How would you answer that question?
Fulbright: Well, I think just the opposite. The deténte that, is a normalizing of the relations, in doing cooperative ventures is the very thing that will minimize, if not eliminate, the differences arising from the ideological. By ideological all I mean they have a different conception of how to organize society. It’s a socialist country in which private enterprise is minimized, and eliminated I guess, more in Russia than any other of the major countries. But I think the joint ventures idea, and the doing things together with people with different views on how you organize it, is the proper approach.
Whiteley: You were in the Senate when President Eisenhower in his farewell address talked about the influence of what he called the military-industrial complex. Is that influence still there?
Fulbright: Oh it’s more powerful, much more powerful. You see Eisenhower, with his reputation as a great general, was able to control and to restrain the military more than anybody since then, and he did restrain. He use to - in Ambrose’s book it is mentioned you know time and again, he would say, "Well, I understand the military, I know their procedures, we're not going to give them that." And he was able to do it, and successfully. But it was because of his personal prestige as a great general that enabled him to do it, and no one since then has been able to do that.
Whiteley: As you’ve quoted Lord Grey (Sir Richard Grey, Lord Grey of Falloden) at the end of World War I indicating that countries were spending more and more on armaments, the intent to make themselves more secure, absolutely the opposite happened. What were you sharing with us in offering that quote?
Fulbright: That was his memoirs after World War I, and you take the competition, the rivalry between the Germans and the English, while the ideological element wasn’t so great, nevertheless there was a rivalry there for recognition as the number one country, you know, the prestige and power. To be recognized by the world was certainly a major element, and Lord Grey said they were doing this - the Germans at that time were aspiring and proceeding to build a navy as big as the British, sort of like the Russians have been aspiring to build a nuclear armament as big as ours and to be as powerful as we are, and to develop the technology. And this big similarity - there are also differences, of course - but these two big powers, the most powerful of that day, fell upon one another and it started the decline of the whole Western civilization, in my opinion. It was a terrible blow to it. And he said, as you say - and he further, in addition to what you said, he says you know nations are always making mistakes because they don’t understand each other's psychology.
And I think that’s very important right here; that’s what I meant about the deténte is to get us so that we can understand the psychology of the Russians. They’ve had a different history and why do they do things. This great argument - "Are their moves primarily motivated by defensive sentiments or offensive?" That’s sort of a central question. That’s what we don’t understand, in my opinion, and vice versa. I don’t think the Russians understand us. That’s why I think exchange programs are very important to get a larger number of people in each country understanding the other; their languages, their history, their culture. It’s a great - it’s one of the most important of the joint ventures that is the cooperative actions that I’ve had in mind.
Whiteley: In reflecting on those aspects of the human condition, which if addressed would lead us to a more peaceful world, you quoted Freud’s letter to Einstein where he said that anything that brings emotional bonds between peoples counteract war.
Fulbright: That’s right. That’s a very interesting and little known exchange. It was instigated by the old establishment - the old League of Nations - and they asked Einstein to lend his mind, which he was at that time considered the most powerful intellect in the Western world, to the question of the menace of war, to the destruction of human civilization. He did give a very intelligent letter, but he then said well, Freud was the greatest authority at that time on human behavior, so he asked the same question of Freud and then he replied in a long essay. It was about 1932. Very interesting, and he concluded what you said. He gave a history, a very brief history of the human race, the conflicts that had plagued the human race for so long, and he said in effect (he wasn’t too optimistic), but he said if there is any way to control the instincts of the tendency to war was what you said - the development of anything that created a sense of identity between different cultures, different peoples, different nations. I've used it because it appeals to me, because it seems to me that is a good justification of the exchange program, a cultural exchange program.
Whiteley: The second insight you’ve had into the current human condition when you said that Americans cannot remember what other countries cannot forget. What did you mean?
Fulbright: Well I meant that we’re the only major country that I know of in the world that’s never been occupied by a hostile army, except part of the South in the Civil War, but outside of that we have never really suffered from occupation and the worst aspects of war compared to all the European countries, and particularly recent years, the Russians, and of course the Germans and the Japanese for quite a while - and the Japanese are the only one experiencing nuclear weapons. I wonder if we wouldn’t have a different attitude if New York had been destroyed as Hiroshima was with a nuclear weapon. It seems to me it would have made a great impression on the country. I think we’re too casual about war because we’ve never really suffered. I mean the individuals, the families who lost a son or a father, of course. But that’s such a minute segment of the country or the numbers - we didn’t lose in all our wars anything like the Germans or the Russians lost in the last war. They’ve all had experiences that are very maturing and educational. If you’ve really had the kind of experiences they’ve had, we've never had that. And I think, when today you read in the paper that some of our leaders talk about winning, you know, and fighting and winning a nuclear war, that’s a very - to me, a very superficial or casual kind of statement that you forget the real significance of war and what it will do.
Whiteley: Another insight you’ve had into the human condition flowed from your quoting of Dr. Erik Fromm, a philosopher psychologist, that nations are so unobjective when it comes to judging other nations. Why is that? What is going on?
Fulbright: Well, it’s a psychological quirk that affects all nations, not just this one. It especially afflicts powerful nations. Well, there’s a tendency if a nation becomes powerful that somehow or other they not only feel their ideology is better than others, but in some way divine guidance has been looking over them and that the tendency to equate their success, their material success with virtue. All countries have suffered from that. I’ve tried to write a book about that once called The Arrogance of Power, and I think it is a sound psychological fact. And Dr. Fromm who was really a very great psychological philosopher - I use that word - summed it up in that quote that I used that they are notoriously - their lack of objectivity in considering another country is notorious.
Whiteley: A final insight you offered into the human condition as the 20th Century draws to a close is that there’s absolutely nothing that America can do to stop the Russians from destroying us with nuclear weapons should they elect to do so. We can, however, fundamentally affect their intentions, and therefore work toward a safer long-term world. What can we do to affect their intentions...
Fulbright: To engage in any kind of a cooperative venture of a non-military kind in the beginning, leading to agreements with regard to arms control themselves. I think basically we have to recognize the fact that the Russians, they are here, we can’t ignore them, they have a huge country that’s nearly three times as large as ours, they have a different system. We must accept that system and deal with it and not concentrate only upon trying to intimidate them with a superior military force. I don’t think they will be intimidated. It will create a very dangerous relationship, and I just think it’s hopeless to go down that road. I think we should change the emphasis upon the kind of cooperative ventures. Now I don’t mean by that that we disarm. I think we have reached what many people (not in the government) accept as a degree of parity; they’re about equal in their capacity for destruction. There’s differences of course in the way their arms are made up, and more land-based and more sea-based and so on. But they both have the capacity to practically destroy the other. That cannot be changed by any means I can think of at all, and only we have hope to change their intentions to use them, to create a different attitude on the part of both countries. And I think this is what Einstein meant when he said now, everything is changed except our manner of thinking. If we don’t change our manner of thinking about these relations we will be faced with incalculable catastrophe, and I think that’s exactly what is the case. That sums it up as well as I can think of, and what I’ve been struggling for is that new way of thinking, new manner of thinking about the relations of great powers.
Whiteley: Senator Fulbright, thank you for sharing with us today your insights into the ways to a more peaceful world in the nuclear age.