tv 1966 Fulbright Vietnam Hearings George Kennan CSPAN February 20, 2016 8:00am-8:39am EST
mr. ritchie: the vietnam hearings were some of the most extraordinary hearings ever held by congress. they were an investigation in to a war that was still being fought. congress and the senate wanted to know why we were in vietnam, what the administration's policies were, and they wanted to hear from opponents of the war. they give equal status to critics as they did supporters. it was a real debate and that is something that does not happen in wartime. in wartime, everyone rallies around the flag and there is general agreement. the reason was, we never had a declaration of war or a congressional debate. in august, 1954, there had been an incident. president lyndon johnson could use that to get congress to pass the gulf of tonkin, resolution, authorizing him to retaliate. they will see them rallying around the flag in support of the president during a period of crisis. it was done very quickly. senator fulbright brought it to the floor just after an hour's
hearing. debate.it was passed with only -- they had a short debate. it was passed with only two dissenting votes in the senate. no one thought it was a declaration of war at the time. in fact, senator fulbright said to one of the senators who asked if it could be interpreted that way, it is possible but that is not what the president has in mind. in fact, the president did not see it as a declaration of war. he saw it as something to help his election in november over barry goldwater. when johnson decided to send troops to vietnam in early 1965 between january and july, he
debated inside his administration and took the several leaders of congress as to whether or not he should ask for a formal declaration or state of emergency. who chose not to do that because he was afraid it would disrupt his great society domestic legislation. the votiting rights act and other things -- he thought his opponents would use the war as a way to slow down or defund domestic legislation. he chose to go in pretending he thought it was a declaration of war. in 1965 and 1966, congress felt a loss.
they felt that had been cheated. fulbright felt betrayed. he felt johnson had misused him and he chose to convene public hearings of the senate foreign relations committee to investigate the war. he called it educational hearings. it was controversial just to have them public. the administration wanted them to only testify in closed-door sessions. senator fulbright got the rest of the committee to agree to a public hearing. the secretary of state does testify in public, the secretary of defense does not. it was not just people who supported the war -- he invited
the opponents of the war as well. up to that point, and was just college students picketing or soapbox orators. they did not have stature. senator fullbright gave them stature that shocked the antiwar establishment. president johnson was furious and decided spur of the moment he would fly to honolulu and hold a special summit with general westmoreland who happened to be taking rest and relaxation in hawaii, and he would call the prime minister of south vietnam to meet him there. he decided this so quickly that some of his top aides were literally out to lunch. when they got back they discovered everyone was rushing to arrange a meeting. they had not even booked hotel rooms. this was clearly to steal the thunder from the hearing. the television networks came to broadcast this.
nbc, cbs, and abc came. in some cases, they would show it live, and on other cases they would broadcast and in the evening. they did this opening-day a johnson was furious again. his family owned by cbs station in texas. he felt cbs owed him something. he got on the phone and told cbs they were doing a disservice to the nation and gets them to all -- to pull the plug. the next day, instead of the hearings, cbs shows "i love lucy" reruns. the head chair resigned in protest. all of that gave even more publicity. it made more people tune in to watch them.
from that they heard dean rusk defending the policies and george kennan opposing the policies. it really was a debate and senator fulbright did a huge service to the nation. president johnson felt he had done a huge disservice. the president kept the senator from the foreign relations committee at arms length until the end of his term.
>> we are about to see, february, 10, 1966, george kennan's testimony. for people who do not know the name, who was he? mr. ritchie: one of america's most distinguished diplomats. he had been in moscow during world war ii, and when the war came to an end, the russians had been our allies, but kennan foresaw the cold war developing, soviet expansionism, and threats to democracy in europe. it was kennan who wrote an article and signed it mr. x, because he was a diplomat and could not take sides, that the policy of the united states needed to follow containment. it had to hold back soviet expansionism. until the soviet union collapsed on itself. he did not think it could exist in perpetuity and as long as it could be held inside its borders and not expand, the west would prevail.
his idea of containment became the underlying principle of the western response and the american response. kennan himself came to have great doubts about his own theory. he did not think the united states needed to be a policeman to the world. he had much more limited vision of what it was. but containment in the philosophy of containment was the basis for president johnson's decision to support south vietnam believing that the communist vietnam was trying to take over south vietnam. and believing that china was behind north vietnam. the containment theory was the
rationale for the united states to send troops to vietnam. here was the author of the containment theory saying it does not apply here. you need to get out as soon as possible this is not a winning situation for the united states. >> from washington, d.c., a special report on this morning's hearings by the senate's foreign relations committee. >> report here is our washington news correspondent. mr. hill: the senate foreign relations committee resumed with george kennan as its witness. considered an extra he displayed
firsthand knowledge on asian affairs. he was expected to be critical of americans and the administration's policy and tactics in south vietnam. in his opening comments, he warned against impossible goals and escalation of american involvement. [video clip] mr. kennan: a precipitous and disorderly withdrawal could create a disservice to our own interests and even world peace, differences that might have been resolved by our failure to engage in the first place. this is a reality which if there is to be any peaceful resolution will have to be recognized by the more critical of our friends and our adversaries. but at the same time, i have great misgivings about any deliberate expansion of hostilities on our part directed
to the achievement of something called victory. if by the use of that term we envisage the complete disappearance of the recalcitrance with which we are now faced, the formal submission by the adversary to our will and the complete disappearance of our stated political aims. i doubt that these things can be achieved even by the most formidable military successes. there seems to be an impression about that if we bring the military to their there will be something of a political capitulation on the other side. i think this is a most dangerous assumption. i don't say it's absolutely
impossible, but it is a dangerous assumption in light of the experience we've had with communist elements in the past. the north vietnamese and the viet cong have between them a great deal of space and manpower to give up if they need to and the chinese would give them more if they need it. delegating to the communist tradition would dictate that these people should disappear entirely from the open scene and fall back exclusively on an underground political and military existence rather than to accept terms that would be openly humiliating and would represent in their eyes the betrayal of the future political prospects of the cause to which they are dedicated. any rotting out of the viet cong from the territory of south
vietnam could be achieved, if it could be achieved at all, only at the cost of the degree of damage to civilian life and of civilian suffering generally for which i would not like to see this country responsible. and to attempt to crush north vietnamese strength to a point where hanoi could no longer give any support for viet cong political activity in the south would almost certainly it seems me it would have the effect of bringing in chinese forces at some point whether formally or in the guise of volunteers. thus involving us in a military conflict with communist china on one of the most unfavorable theaters of hostility we could publicly choose. >> mr. kennan warmed up to his suspect -- subject as he testified america has suffered serious damage to its world opinion through its damage in
vietnam. this role in inflicting grave injury and damage the peoples of another race and religion. mr. kennan stated his position emphatically. mr. kennan: it is clear however justified our opinion may be in our own eyes it is failed to win enthusiasm or confidence from people normally friendly to us. our motives are widely misinterpreted and the spectacle emphasized and reproduced in thousands of press photographs, the spectacle of americans inflicting grievous injury on the lives of poor and helpless people and particularly people of different race and color. no matter how warranted by military necessity or the excesses of the adversary our
operations may seem to us to be or may genuinely be, this spectacle produced reactions among millions of people throughout the world profoundly detrimental to the image we would like to hold in this country. i'm not saying it's just or right, i am saying it is so and that it is bound to be so. and the victory purchased at the price of further such damage would be a hollow one in terms of our world interest matter what advantages it might hold. these are the reasons gentlemen why i hope our government will restrict military operations in vietnam to the minimum necessary to ensure the security of our forces and to maintain our military presence there until we can receive a military peaceful
resolution of the conflict. and that is why i hope we can pursue vigorously and consistently the quest for such a peaceful resolution of the conflict. even at this involve some moderation of our stated objective and even if the resulting settlement appears to us as something less than ideal -- ideal. i cannot judge the military aspect but in the political aspects i believe that general gavin is on the right track and if i understood him correctly we should decide what limited areas we can safely police and defend and restrict ourselves largely to the maintenance of our position there. i've listened with interest to the arguments that have been
brought forward in opposition to his views and i have not been much impressed with some of them when i am told it would be difficult to do send -- defend such enclaves is hard to understand why it would be easier to defend the far greater areas to which presumably is -- a successful escalation of our military activity would bring us. i also find it difficult for reasons i will not take time to go into here to believe that our allies -- our western european allies, most of whom themselves have driven up -- given up great territories within recent years and sometimes in a very statesmanlike way, i find it hard to believe that we would be subject to great reproach or loss of confidence at their hands simply because we followed a defensive rather than offensive strategy in vietnam at this time. in matters such as this, it is not what you do but how you do
it. i would submit that there is more respect to be won in the opinion of this world by a resolute and courageous liquidation of unsound positions than the most stubborn pursuit of extravagant or unpromising objectives. finally, when i hear it said that to adopt a defensive strategy in vietnam would be to return on our commitment to the government of that territory am
a little bewildered and i would like to know what that really consists of and how and when it was incurred. what seems to be involved here is an obligation on all parts, not only to defend the frontiers of a certain political entity against outside attack but to ensure the internal security of its government and circumstances where that government is unable to ensure the security by its own means. now, any such obligation is one that goes considerably further in its implications than the normal obligations of the military alliance. if we did not incur such an obligation in any formal way than we should not be infecting it for ourselves and assuring ourselves that we are bound by it today. if we did incur it, then i fail to understand how it was possible to enter into any such commitment otherwise than through the constitutional processes which were meant to
come into play when commitments of lesser import than this were undertaken. two concluding observations. i would like it understood that what i have said here implies nothing but the highest respect and admiration for the fighting qualities in the forces of our field. i have the greatest confidence in them, men and commanders alike. i have no doubt that they can and will produce military results that will surprise our skeptical friends and arrogant adversaries. it's not there for their fighting qualities. it's the purpose to which they are being employed that evokes my skepticism. secondly i would like to say i'm looking at this whole problem not from a moral standpoint but the practical one. i see a band of ruthless fanatics hartley misled perhaps by the propaganda that has been
drummed into them but true in their purposes, dictatorial and oppressive in their aims. i'm not conscious of having any sympathy for them. their claim to represent the people of south vietnam is unfounded, arrogant and outrageous. a country that fell under their exclusive power would have my deepest sympathy and would hope this eventuality at any rate might be avoided by a restrained and moderate policy on our part in south vietnam. in our country should not be asked and should not ask of itself to shoulder the main burden of determining the political realities in any other country, particularly not in one remote from our shores, culture and from the experience of our people. this is not our business but i don't think we can do it successfully. >> abc's coverage continues
after this message. >> benita santos, fernando garcia, jose diaz, juanita de pinas, felicia de luz, mario codarnenes, lorenzo diablo and paulina del rio think steve murray is great. steve was not out to win a personality contest when he joined the peace corps it just worked out that way. the world needs more people like steve and you might be one of
them. write the peacecorp. >> ambassador kennan expressed his conviction that simply because a country does go communist it does not severally mean that the nation becomes our arch enemy. they were captured by the remark as he cited his experience to the ambassador of yugoslavia when that country went communist and he appeared to advocate that any independent communist country is able to maintain a satisfactory balance in its policies toward the free world and communist allies. mr. kennan's testimony seems to favor the policy of allowing people to decide for themselves what form of government is to be chosen. he sees little danger that orderly withdrawal would endanger other asian nations.
mr. kennan: it is not so that when men call themselves communists some sort of magic transportation takes place within them that makes them different from other human beings are what they were before. feelings of nationalism ordinary feeling still affect them to a large extent. i think this reality plays a part in all vietnam. i don't think they want domination by the chinese, i think the fact that there is an alternative -- in the form of the soviet union there is an alternative to the commonest world in a country that is much more position to give them the economic aid that they need. all of this represents a state of affairs which would be very carefully taken into -- i merely wish to say that while there domination would not be desirable might not be quite as traffic or fateful as many of us
assume. sen. fulbright: i don't think any of us are under the illusion that any settlement can be desirable. it's going to be one that is only tolerable but not satisfactory. is that not your view? mr. kennan: absolutely. sen. fulbright: one of the comments you made that aroused my interest -- you stated on page six that you are not looking at this purely from a moral standpoint but it practical one of what can be
achieved here. it's a great difference in the culture and race and language and so one. i take it by this you mean that this is simply not a practicable objective in this country that we can't achieve it even with the best of wills. mr. kennan: this is correct and i have a fear that our thinking about this problem is still affected i some sort of illusion about invincibility on our part. that there is no problem in the world which we if we wanted to devote our resources to it could not solve. i disbelieve in this most profoundly. i do not think we can order the political realities of areas in a great many other parts of the world. so far as i can see we are not
being very successful in ordering them on items close to our own shores. i deeply doubt that we can enter into the affairs of people far far away and by our own efforts primarily determined the sorts of political conditions that will prevail. this is separate from my sympathies. i have seen as much as anyone in this room of people living under communism. i know as well as anyone does what that means. these people have my sympathy but as john quincy adams says there are limits to what our duties and capabilities are. if we get lost in the attempt to rescue or even establish the liberties of others and particularly people who have never know them as we know them in this country who not even know what the words mean that we use, we can lose our own substance and i think we can have very little to show for it when this is all over.
sen. fulbright: is it your view that if the elections had been held in july 1956 as provided by the geneva accord of 1954 that the people of vietnam would probably have voted in officials that would've established a communist regime that would have done so under election procedures set forth in the accord? mr. kennan: i don't claim to know a great deal about the realities there and i go largely on a statement in the book of a respected ex-president who said that in everything he could learn indicated that the election would have gone 80% in favor of the communist side had it been held at that time. i can't judge the correctness of this but from all i could learn i think it likely that elections held at that time would have gone in favor of the communist side but on the other hand i'm not sure they would have been entirely free elections.
or to intervene to prevent those people from having the kind of government they want? mr. kennan: no, senator, i do not. i do not think it was a wise policy. i recognize this can create, depending on the place where it could happen, it could create very difficult problems for our government. but it seems to me that as people who profess to believe in the democratic process, we are in a poor position to object to the consequences of any free expression of opinion on the part of people elsewhere in the world.
>> i'm not going to yield. the senator from ohio will have his turn. ask mr. kennan, do you think, speaking of the image we are creating in other parts of the world, that it is very helpful for us to be practically the only nation in the world now basesaintains overseas and overseas land forces? great britain still has singapore, which is not of great importance. but the whole movement of our alleged allies has been to withdraw, while the military posture of the united states is to take seeds of military investment abroad. do you think that's having an effect on our image abroad? mr. kennan: i think it is. i think it is exploited by the communists, and does have some
effect. i would not like, however, to be i think we should withdraw all our bases abroad. i don't think we can generalize like this. i think there are some that are warranted and useful. there have in the past and also ones that we would have been better never to establish. >> there are two types of basis, do you think there's a greater danger misunderstanding when we follow a unilateral base of broad policy, when we go in with other countries and regional agreements? mr. kennan: i think there is a greater danger misunderstanding in the circumstances.
i can see the possible there might be instances we have to maintain those bases, even at the extent of a certain amount of misunderstanding. >> do you think the immediate withdrawal of the united states forces and our activities in south vietnam from that country could be used effectively as a propaganda tool of weaponry in africa and the emerging nations of africa? mr. kennan: senator, i think -- >> the chinese have been making a great effort. mr. kennan: it would be a six-month sensation, but i daresay we would survive it. and there would be another day. things happen awfully fast on the international scene, and people's memories are very short. over run our minds back the crises of recent years, and ask ourselves what has become of them we can realize what i believe the truth of that statement -- there was a time when we were all hot and bothered over the lebanon and
landing troops there. a year or two ago, no one of ever thought the cyprus crisis would be as white as it is today. -- as quiet as it is today. these things pass more frequently. >> the crisis didn't just take care of itself, did it? mr. kennan: no. >> it was assured by the imposition of some rather forceful actions. it was the result of those forceful actions, in each instance, that discourage these people who had designs on these countries, at least in my view. mr. kennan: i would certainly have no ejection if we had been a smart about getting both in and out -- no objection about getting in and out as we were with lebanon. >> we got into lebanon with sufficient force that no one
decided to do anything. and then we remove the troops. they have an quieted down in vietnam yet. sure that: i'm not these situations are comparable. i merely wanted to say that we are a great nation. the power position rests in the long run on things more substantial, more important than the momentary propaganda victories. of while i think the effects an early and unilateral withdrawal from vietnam would be unfortunate and unnecessary, don't favor any such withdrawal. say three or four years hence, the year -- the world might look different. >> the special report has been a part of our continuing coverage of the senate hearings on vietnam. this is bill gill in washington.
>> the american broadcasting company has brought you the annan, the debate on capitol hill. highlights of this morning's hearing by the senate foreign relations committee regarding the american commitment in vietnam. to kennan'sion testimony was divided. the johnson and administration was furious. they applied he was racist because he wanted to use american forces to protect democracy in western europe but not in southeast asia. they did everything possible to suggest that he was an impractical dreamer, and that his theories should not be followed. kennan became a hero to the antiwar movement. he never agreed with the student radicals, he always felt very uncomfortable with that sort of response. but his rationale, his arguments gave a lot of credence to the arguments that were being made
by the antiwar movement of the time. 1988, those attributes to george kennan on the 40th anniversary of his article. they invited dean russ kenmare mcnamara -- and robert mcnamara and clark clifford to come and analyze george kennan. and all were invited, of them agreed completely with the thesis he proposed in 1948. they all agreed that the way he viewed the soviet union in 1988. the trouble is none of them have agreed with him in 1968 when a really mattered. one of the great tragedies of american history is that kennan was not listen to buy the policymakers in the 1960's when we decided to go to war. >> american history tv's real america continues our look at the vietnam hearings, 50 years later.
next, retired army general james gavin prevents his views on the vietnam war to the senate foreign relations committee. his statement is followed by senators questions, including committee chairman fulbright. broadcast by cbs news on february 8, 1966. general gavin was a commander of the 82nd airborne during world war ii. it was the only general to parachute four times with this troops during combat, including jumps into sicily and normandy. he retired from the army in 1958 and was u.s. ambassador to france for the first two years of the kennedy administrator. this is the first 70 minutes of the hearing. debate overof the the war in indochina, he fared under general ridgeway than army chief of staff and assistant chief of staff for plans and operations. he is one of the leading military strategists in the