Special of the week; Issue 2-71 "U.S. Foreign Policy" David Halberstam
And E.R. the national educational radio network presents special of the week from WG U.S. the University of Cincinnati station. We present David Halberstam contributing editor to Harper's magazine. Mr. helper Stam won the 1964 Pulitzer Prize in journalism for his coverage of the Vietnam War and is author of several books including The unfinished odyssey of Robert Kennedy and his latest hoochie men slated for a year end publication. Mr. Halberstam discussion of U.S. foreign policy was the keynote address during international week at the University of Cincinnati. A yearly event sponsored by internet use sees American and foreign student organization. Here now journalist David Halberstam. We are I think talking about foreign policy that we just invented that title a moment ago while you were thinking that I'd already written a speech a long time ago we wrote we wrote that title just on the
stage. So we're talking a little bit I think about its international week. It's sort of giving you I think a long and. Detailed history of the. Eighty seven. Countries in the world with whom we now have problems and who don't like us and why I thought that. Perhaps we might try and to a degree define what has gone wrong in our foreign policy what it is and indeed what. Foreign policy is as a reflector. Of the society as a whole and that's why I think we the definition of. Finding out who we are. What we are and if we can achieve that perhaps we can even begin to see what if a foreign policy should be and I think in that sense I would like to. Speaking really for myself it was. A loyal but troubled American I would like to. Start with a quote from Albert Camus. Who said once. I would like to be able to love my country. And love justice and I think that's a very difficult definition for any
American to feel right now in the beginning of this decade we've come through a decade of greed in jarring nerves we are. Embattled. Still in a. Stupid. Futile. War which. Which one administration got us into in which. This. Current administration is still I think is in a way trying to sell to us I I I think one of the real problems we have today in fact in America why we have such. Kanchan in our society is having. Elected. Lyndon Johnson once because he was not Barry Goldwater we elected Richard Nixon because he was not Lyndon Johnson and we got indeed the same rhetoric same harshness he told us. That Vietnam is our. Finest Hour. I think probably some of us suspect that we've had better hours different places that this is not. Not one of the great
quarreling of a society but that indeed it is a. Terrible war terrible burden. Brought down upon a poor. And almost hopeless people. Tearing. The very fabric of their society apart. But it is not our finest hour and as long as. It is deemed that. By the President of the United States that there's something quite wrong with him or wrong with us as a society. And therefore I think in many ways the young people this country are right. When they. Are indeed not satisfied with what the White House has done on Vietnam that they are distrustful. Of the true cutbacks as I am. They believe the war has not yet ended and that they are inclined to take Mr. Nixon more at the word of his rhetoric which I think is yet harsh. And I think indeed the war will come back to haunt him. I do not
think that he has defused the war. He has. Temporarily. Defused the war on the other hand and it did not in fact drive him out of office in 1970 as an issue. But in the end indeed it did not drive Lyndon Johnson. Out of office in 1066. It is defused now because nobody because only one man can affect the prophecies on the war and he runs every four years. And if I were going to venture. A prediction for you. And since I'm not going to come back here in one thousand seventy two I think I will venture a prediction to you on the war. Don't any of you keep it down don't it under keeping notes on this because I don't want to answer to it if I'm wrong but I think the war is going to be a major issue in 1972 that it's going to come back to haunt him it's going to blow up in his face and there's a very real chance that he won't even be a candidate. I think the combination of what's going to happen in the economy and the war the fact that he is
telling us are ones that are both going to Vietnam ize the war and somehow win a just peace. I think there's a contradiction in terms there and I think that as the as Lyndon Johnson once got. Short range gains with the polls which came back to haunt him. When he ran for re-election I wanted to I think the same thing happened to Richard Nixon so I leave you with that prediction. But I think we are. Here to talk a little bit about. Foreign policy and I. What our foreign policy is and I thought perhaps I'll take you a little bit on a. Tour of the early days of Vietnam but I think perhaps we ought to start by saying I don't really think we have any foreign policy at all. I think that. That in a Indeed if you want to know we are I think in a transitional period we have come out of. A particular sort of an ice age. We are in transition. 180 sort of blind day of anti-communism.
When I when I really only policy was whatever it is we are against it if it's communist and we had do indeed hold the line on 96 97 98 countries whatever none of countries Dean Rusk counted that day or John Foster Dulles be hind him that somehow there was a a great model with. Communist monolith taking. Moscow access. That everything was done in unison. That this threatened our very survival. But this was a sworn enemy to us. I think that this is. Past I think the fact that. The Russians now are probably fear the Chinese more than. They fear us has laid some of that to rest. But they're really only guarding point. Of American foreign policy was it you had to be against the communist and indeed has this. Seeped over. Into our domestic political life that no matter what else. A man stood for he couldn't let one square inch of
soil. Go communist. It didn't mean he didn't need to be a. Humanitarian. He didn't really have to have done anything for the people this country didn't have to as Ralph Nader has done. Bring great issues to bear on consumer abuse abuse of us as a society he didn't have to. Do anything for the underprivileged in America for the blacks. Or the working man he didn't have to fight for. Tax rebates for the working man all you had to do. Was keep all those square inches from not going to the common if that was the deciding judgement and I think that this is terribly important because I think if we are defining foreign policy. And defining looking out and finding it in a way it defines the nation at the. Foreign policy of a nation which is above all first and foremost. Anticommunist. Is a policy really a fear.
Of our foreign policy was above all fear in these NGs not of nobility. Not of generosity. Not a reflection of really what is best and healthiest in our society but a fear that somehow whatever it is we have in material things are going to be taken away. I think it's terribly important because I think in a way we have begun to come out of it I think that it was changing anyway in the Cold War was historically coming to an end. Part the Cuban Missile Crisis when we really did come to the very brink. Of a thermonuclear war ended it. I think the obvious split between the Russians and Chinese began to temper it. The fact is quite clearly there wasn't a monolith anymore although. Apparently the last man to get the news was the. Last secretary of state. And I think. Indeed the war in Vietnam. Has played I think a crucial role. Because. I think finally. We saw. We really had a
classic illustration of what happens when. Indeed you do make. This your one guiding rule that it's anti communism above all. And then you have this sense that whatever else you can't let this country go communist. And therefore when you take. The resources. Spirit and you implant it in this kind of stupid war. Thousands of miles away what it does what happens when you get on the wrong side of nationalism in a war. Oh we're on the right side of the Communist issue in that war. No doubt about that. But we're on the wrong side. Of nationalism. In Vietnam. We are really not. Helping the Vietnamese in those most powerful instincts the same instincts that drove the aspirations that drove the French out. We are indeed very much more. In the French tradition and we think.
My colleague. The late Bernard Fall. Once said that. The Americans were walking in the same footsteps as the French. Although dreaming different dreams and I think that that's very important because we Americans like to think that we are you know not colonialists unlike the French the French were there to exploit and to stay on but we Americans really only want to do the fight to help them and go home. And what Bernard Shaw was really saying was that it may seem that way to us with our ego but in the eyes of the Vietnamese peasants. We were more like the French than we realize that we dream differently that we look very much the same we have the same white faces and and the bombs that drop seem very similar to them too. And so I think. That the final commitment the fighting of a war of this war which goes against I think the nationalist spirit of that country has brought home. The end of the. Era of. Blind anti communism.
More than I think almost anything else that we saw what happened when you really do because up till then you really almost had a luxury. John Foster Dulles you talked about brinksmanship and nobody really had called his bluff. And this time in a way I think we got called. We went their way and we re followed our own rhetoric. And I think the result has been the greatest tragedy. Since the Civil War here domestically and I don't I think it could be a long time again before anybody really thinks that the American empire desperately really is defined by going against of the Nationals in a country that. But the worst thing that can happen to this country. Is that perhaps we get involved that we stay out of an indigenous warfare. So I think that in a sense to and I think that there was just was no I think nothing brought this so clear. As the 1968. Campaign I mean. Because the issue really in 1068. Was no longer the issue well X is going to lose us a country. If we don't do this that country's going to go down the drain as it. Might have 10 years early
in the. Post McCarthy era. And we've gone to a new definition of what our foreign policy might be we had two esteemed man running as major candidates who really were sort of saying well maybe we almost ought to lose a war. Gene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy and they and no one really finally was attacking their patriotism we had a I think a new and more generous politics back here at home. And I thought it was really almost symbolic of that Robert Kennedy. The younger brother in India partition him participant himself. One of the early architects. Of that policy. Of 961 62. Was in 1968. Running against it. Running against the war. Saying we had to really redefine. Our foreign policy that we could no longer be as we had been. The policeman of the world that there were things that we ought to stay out of that it wasn't maybe we really weren't doing. The local people. A lot of good.
But we weren't the policemen of the world. And indeed that we sometimes cause more pain and more deaths and more hardship by our presence and by our absence and I think that we have not yet. Defined a new foreign policy. We're in a transitional period. Anti-communism is an end in itself has died an economist even the Nixon administration occasionally into this although I don't think this is really the. Illustration to look for for new policies. But I think that you will see. As we get along and as the years pass. I'm moving back a belief that American foreign policy that. Our commitment really. Is limited our ability to help other peoples is limited. That indeed. The indigenous forces. If if if if a society. Wants to stay pro-Western that indeed those indigenous for the burn beyond the indigenous forces within the society itself. But if it takes 500000 troops and. 30.
Billion dollars a year it probably can't be done. And it also. Shouldn't be done. But if it can be done it's very it will be done with very little have American help. And and that indeed probably better off without us but that which is most effective in these wars. But they're going to be this kind of war is indigenous and our role is very limited and I think this will be I think you'll see much more of this as the new definition. Of American foreign policy. I think it is. Interesting to. Look upon ourselves and see a little bit where we went wrong and. 960 want to 62 and 1065 in the. Commitment. To this particular war. A couple weeks ago I was in Cambridge. Massachusetts. An interesting place you know when. When John Kennedy. Was elected he was warned by his friend Robert Frost the poet as he was being inaugurated. The more hardcore The more Irish. Than Harvard.
That was a warning I think to be tough. Rather soft I think that. Poor Mr. Frost and realize that. The groves of academe had produced a new and rather tough form of Bombardier and I don't think he knew that. But indeed the intellectual community or what was believed to be the intellectual community. Would indeed be this kind of new activist warrior class and I when I was up there. A couple weeks ago it was interesting to see the changes because this war has indeed collapsed a certain sense of values that which existed as values when I was there has already gone I don't know that it's been replaced by anything but that which the past has certainly ended. I had lunch. With David recently a very distinguished sociologist really one of the one of the recent period intellectuals of our time and we were talking about despair Lee Kennedy era from which I think so much of the. Present tragedy. Traces I was talking about. The aggressiveness. And combativeness. Of the early.
Kennedy years of the intellectuals who'd gone down and confident of their role in America's role in the world. And I don't know if some of you even recall this period because nine years is a very long time in the way we move today but this was a time when we ready the torch had been passed and we had a great sense of the American mission around the world that we were the new British that we were but that we were a. Phrase that any follow. No but we will support any and all the pretties against against tyranny and the torch had been passed and we wouldn't we were the new Romans ready. And we really believed in ourselves a bit in guerrilla warfare or that we we had a we had Harnish done more our duty to our foreign policy that the world wanted our protection our institution our Coca-Cola all these great and mighty things and we would do this bit in with nuclear weapons or with guerrilla warfare. And growing warfare was indeed quite fashionable in that period there was a. Belief in the Special Forces Green Berets that
was really very exciting you had a feeling of sort of. Oh. Guys a swing through trees who had Ph.D.s in history and written spoke Chinese and Russian and and eight other languages and ate snake meat at night and was a very exciting concept and and my friend David Reese MN. Had lunch one day in the early days of the new frontier when this feeling was at its most virulent and he listened to the sort of almost combativeness and aggressiveness and with two of his friends are one with a really are. A part time consultant to the Kennedy years and named Henry Kissinger I don't know if the name means anything to any of you out there. And he listened for a while he finally stopped and he said have. It Have you ever been to Utah. And they said Utah known. You. And his they said you have you ever been to Utah I said no he's a bit of research that I've been to Utah but I've spent. A lot of time reading. About the church. Of the Latter-Day
Saints. And I know something. About the evangelical strain in America. And I know something about the breadth of this country. And the fact that you people with your eastern seacoast elite ideas I'm going to sound like Agnew but with the eastern seacoast elite ideas about the small sophisticated class which is going to run this country and run this war are going to be bitter playing with dynamite. It isn't just a small elitist country it's a very big. Country with great powerful emotion latent in it sometimes just barely suppressed. But you play with a war. And you maybe get more tragedy and more pie you may uncap very powerful forces indeed. And you may not be able to control. What you let loose. And of course this was a time of limited war who would have thought that we would get into a limited war against a little nation of 14 million people 15 million people. But they would fight total war. And so of course this was a feeling there was this
elite ism that we have the best of a generation. The establishment had taken over and they can really guide America to a higher purpose to an almost new American nationalism. And of course there were people reading people like Bundy. Ross. McNamara. And Kissinger. Men who were sort of foreign policy experts. Men who'd really never run for public office. Never been in a process see as it always moved up on the strength of their intellect elitist function by the telephone call. Never had to really go down and meet the steelworkers or. The poor blacks or whatever it was of me. In the. Difficult fabric of our society they had this elite view that you could turn things on turn things off they sometimes envied indeed if the word the truth really be known. The communist because the communist foreign policy makers really. Were not tied by an umbilical cord to a Senate and to a free press the communist
policymakers could make decisions and nobody would doubt there will be no free press. Press reporting there be no Senate Foreign Relations Committee No no problem in the way and they almost envy them because they really are thought of. Foreign policy. As an you know an especial art almost like playing chess and a higher intellectual level and at best a should be. Separated from the sweaty masses that we won on to conceive of the society that really very brilliant men oughta get around and play the chess pieces. And they were wrong. And that really is one of the great lessons I think of this decade. And I think the end was the end of an era of this kind of elitist. Running our foreign policy with this idea almost an American super empire. Ahead they were wrong. And David recent. Was quite right. Their foreign policy finally is I think. A reflection. Of what you are as a society of your limits as a society that you're not all powerful. Not all wealthy but you have just as perhaps the Germans had jingoism
and chauvinism. Possibly their own to be uncapped. We have it here at home that we are indeed a very delicate balance as a society. But you take a society like this. And you get it into this kind of war. For five years and all kinds of things come apart and all kinds of genies come out of the bottles all kind of hate and fallout goes into the air and the foreign policy finally. Is not some empirical little thing studied by a few graduates of the. Council of Foreign Relations in New York who are a legit expert. But it is a tough. Informed. Putting together in the democratic processes tied to the limits. Of your society not just the strength and the length of your hardware. But the failings. In the moralities and the morality of your foreign policy the morality of your Phar of your society. Can only be really as good as the morality of your foreign policy. And I want to generation young Americans. Indeed looks over at
Vietnam. And sees the morality of that war and begins to doubt it. Their doubts will not just stop. Over there. They will come back and begin to doubt everything I think justifiably they see around them. To what kind of a nation we are where our resources go will we as we did. Spend endless money. For. Pig fat nurse in South Vietnam to be used against the communists which we did. You know because we had to make our pigs fatter for the peasants to keep them from going to the calmest. And yet in our very cities here at home. Where there are rats in the teeming ghettos rats growing bigger where the rat problem is out of control. When the question of money to put an end to rats came before the Congress United States there was a laughter it was a joke. It's kind of mean. Is there something wrong somewhere here. Is this really a great nation and a great superpower. Is the definition of one the foreign the foreign America out of touch with the other. Isn't there a
contradiction. I think there was. If there was. And I think it has been a. A sobering time. For us we have learned. We really and I think a lot of us and I include myself began that. ERA. Of the early. 1960s really believing. That we were the new and noble Romans. That the age of the colonialist had passed that it was indeed almost America's mission throughout the world to help these people in spite of themselves that we would give them our institutions as it were and you know do them good whether they liked it or not to protect them whether they really almost wanted to be protected at this but this was really almost. Our mission and it was it foreign to us. The Mantle had been passed and that this was the best thing that could happen to them. Now I am not so sure and I think that has been a. Decade of. Of learning hardware sins and bitter lessons I don't that we were different from the others the colonialist
nations that we would know better that we are more generous I now am not so sure by a long shot that we are any different. Any greater. That we have that there is something to be said indeed for a country that. Before it starts playing with the world and improving or alleging to improve. The plight. Of the poor man in Vietnam or in Latin America really or maybe the thinking of the poor man at home and I think we have. Come through. A decade. Of great mythology. You know it is. Commonly said by the. Apologists for the. The war. That we really went out there in 1985 and we made this most difficult combat commitment. Because we wanted to. Save the Vietnamese and. And make their life easier and improve their life well. That makes a very good. Rationalization for secretary of state when he goes on Meet the Press on Sunday but it
really isn't very much the truth. And and the evidence I suspect I know because I've seen some of the private papers because I'm working on a book on the our regions of the war. The truth is in their own papers in 1065 Mr. John McNaughton. Who was the. Special assistant for the actually system secretary defense for international security Robert McNamara's right hand man. Was put down because he was a great quantify and he loved to break things down by percentage. Brokedown the reasons by percentage that we were going to send. Combat troops. To Vietnam. 70 and it wasn't. Saving the Vietnamese making their life better. Seventy five percent was. Saving our face saving our credibility. 15 percent. Was to stop China. Change China. And 10 percent was the possibility of the lives of the Vietnamese might be a little bit
better if they were. Non common. So I think that there was a certain cynicism in this I mean. When. We the United States always like to talk about Asians. Saving face but really was us finally wanted to save face of the war really was a war of vanity. That our foreign policy was a foreign policy of certain kind of vanity. That perhaps just perhaps. The war might teach us a certain humility. That humility. Would be good for us. But I don't think anybody really doubts our power our capacity to defend ourselves and those who really want to be defended. Those who really want to come under our Should I don't think anybody really doubts. The length or shyness of our rockets or our real power. But the more humble definition of who we are and what good we can do the world. The more the humble definition of what we are here at home. Kind of a nation of kind of a people whether we've met our bills here at home.
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