Issue and inquiry; 13; American Politics: On Vietnam and Violence
From Northeastern University the National Information Network presents issue and inquiry. Our generals today are telling President Nixon exactly what they used to tell President Johnson and before him President Kennedy there telling him that the enemy are collapsing at the Vietcong a fading away that they're all they're all now women and 13 year old kids if they are on the run everywhere and the only intensify the pressure for a little while more. There will be a startling improvement in our military position in Vietnam and improvement which will strengthening our bargaining position in Paris and bring negotiations to a speedy and successful conclusion. President Nixon has said that he does not propose to be the first American president to preside over a military defeat. And this incorrigible military optimism but no doubt fall receptive presidential ears.
This week on issue an inquiry. Arthur Schlesinger historian and advisor to President Kennedy. This week's program American politics. Arthur Schlesinger on Vietnam and. Violence. Here is your host Joseph arbiter. We're talking with a man who has given yeoman service to the United States. Mr. Arthur slays Ingur historian former special assistant to President Kennedy author of many books about American history notably is volumes on all Andrew Jackson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and most recently the author of books and articles on violence in America and America's changing role in world affairs as a superpower. Professor Slager the first question I have for you here at the beginning of the program is how do you feel about the tactics of protest being used by students today on college campuses for example. One of the best known liberals of our time Hubert Humphrey was booed and heckled during an
appearance recently at a campus here in Massachusetts. What is your reaction to this sort of treatment. Well I never thought that progress justice or anything else could be served by suppressing the advances of those with whom you disagree. When there are obvious limits to civil disobedience on moral conscience can't be the rationalization of the disobedience means of individual withdrawal of assent from someone or something but I think breaking up meetings of this is not civil disobedience breaking at meetings is a form of aggressive protest which does not seem to me to have or should be entitled to any moral for a balance. Yes some students feel that the end is justifiable and any means toward it are also justifiable. Well our economy has felt that the Nazis felt that just because students fail it doesn't make it any better than when the Nazis or communists. And yet are still going to hope for the future of the younger generation is where we place so much of our trust. They seem to be the repository of little extra special wisdom. What's happening.
Change panic or saddening the younger generation is always the future because the earlier generation dies first. So I think that the number of people many students who honestly are afraid to hear the expression of opinion which they disagree is very small. Unfortunately a small number of people can break up a meeting. I believe that impression is of most young and most students today do believe in the free you know civil liberties is. That story by the first bend of the constitution other any case is when the fanaticism of the nature which we just refer to bowing and heckling interruption of free speech is there any justifiable situations in this regard and particularly in view of the great threat of a nuclear holocaust or ecological disasters or which some people take the use of justifications for immediate action because the time is very short. There is no time for the moderate slow rational democratic processes to be affected. I think that there is no question that forms of demonstration historian is
bound to say often speed up processes. I think that as a far as civil rights are concerned that good demonstrations by the Negroes of very much accelerate this process made white America what it should have done long since. That's a different thing from from the suppression of speech with which you disagree. I don't know that it's helped much of anything anywhere. I think it's a very bad principle as any group supposes it has the right to meet up and clamp down and utterance with which that group disagrees they expose themselves to the same action from some other group. I gather from the article that you wrote that you feel that some intellectuals nevertheless endorse this kind of tactic rationalizes romanticize violence. Well yes her that's quite true but my cruiser for example two or three years back was fashionable an influential figure among some students as argued against the notion of a bill of rights to the notion of civil liberties and that makes
it a matter of principle to deny the right of people to say things with which he happens to disagree. Is this contagious or does this indicate a broad movement among intellectuals to sort of reject the life of reason. I think there is a bad mood among not a broad movement where there is a significant strain in the American so-called intellectual community. Stop being intellectuals. What does this say about our intellectual community. A group that the rest of the society looks to for guidance and sobriety and rationality. It was the phrase international community is itself misleading because intellectuals are a group who come together and pass binding resolutions and act as a body and lecture community based definition is very diverse and I suppose the vice president would probably say there are rotten apples in every barrel. A lot I wonder whether in the long run even the violence in the ghetto the rioting there has perhaps not hurt the blacks cause more than it has helped the
cause of Afro-Americans it's hard to say but I think we deceive ourselves if we suppose that white America would have done on its own out of its own bad conscience. But it has been felt compelled to do under the threat of black pressure. I mean if the fact of the matter is there now been so expression of grievance and protest from the blacks that they be in the same situation they were a hundred years ago. And yet what about the reality of money the gains that the negroes have made and they have they have made by their own determination. And yet are there instances in the history of the Afro-American in which games have been wiped out eclipsed by events that came after for example with a black renaissance. My reading indicated that the blacks to a degree got lost in the shuffle in the thirties. How does this relate to what you're saying. Well the games in the 1064 65 66 Civil Rights Acts came in part from the awakening I mean if you take take first place a
black renaissance was the fact that it just disappeared or faded away as they nothing to do with black militants. But if you are saying that the blacks would be better off if they never protested in the white America suddenly would have its own virtue and conscience would have. Try to make it equal and just society. I really think that's an attitude and example of white self-righteousness which it's hard to sustain well historically. For an example of an attempt to play a devil's advocate role here on an issue which perhaps is not susceptible to that approach but let me pursue it if I may for just one more step Father Hesburgh of Notre Dame has recently come out in a speech in which he talks very bleakly about the possibility of homegrown fascism backlash pushed to its ultimate conclusion here on the North American continent and in reaction to not only student writing but writing in the ghettos. Again the returns are not yet in. We cannot entirely be sure that what was again may not and ultimately be a loss.
I'm not defending Valens or advocating it. I'm simply saying that militants for the blacks is not the bad consciences of the whites is mainly responsible for the gains the negroes have made to our getting their rights. To which they are entitled under the American Constitution. How is the violence of the 960 is different from that of the preceding decades and more of the 30s for example more and there's not necessarily more social violence but imagine that more people still are killed moved in the labor organizing activities of the 30s and the racial struggles of this of the 60s many more riots and so on. Now that of course is much more individual violence means you could rock in the bottom of the depression three streets in Boston and New York which would be very imprudent to walk today. I gather from some of the things you said in our conversation so far that you feel that there is a certain extent to which extra little violence is built right into our democratic process. Well I would say is it speaking as a historian that it's certainly been a constant factor in American
life. Do you think that there are occasions when we have opened a Pandora's box with regard to violence by justifying it from time to time. The Rowan Emerson justified John Brown's raid for example because the results were something that they agreed with. In other words do we ever take the risk of justifying violence to moral because it happened today to coincide with our own beliefs. We do and it's very manifest that in the actions of our government for example which regards violence in Vietnam as a noble cause but balanced by people the United States for a cause their constitutional rights is something terrible. You have these these very divided standards now because a certain amount of moral confusion. Let's turn our conversation for a moment to depending on how you look at the chief villain or the hero figure in American society or one of the hero figures in American society today the policeman the plight of the police as been described
by social commentators a great deal recently and there are certainly many documented cases of police brutality insensitivity stupidity. And I wonder if you don't think that perhaps there is a certain case it could be made for the policeman as an unsung hero in our societies under-paid under-educated low in status in our society and yet asked to be the cornerstone in our judicial and law enforcement system. Yeah I agree with that I think many things I would be done to upgrade the position the police are going paying him better including different forms of recruitment going in getting more college graduates in the police forces and so I think that it's a shame to make the policeman the scapegoat for social troubles which are rather deeper in their age and what do you think he has become the scapegoat particularly among young leftists because they do I suppose they don't like people who beat them up. Is it a natural prejudice it is simple as that. Why you ask why they become a scapegoat I think but the situation of policemen is more complicated when you witness the police raid a university hall
Harvard Harvard spring a year ago when he thinks the police don't think so that there is no doubt that because of the very frustrations of the lot of the policemen that there filled in many cases of that he's really detonated rage which takes the form of often of seizing upon pretext to beat people up. It's a fact of life you ask why does a student not like a policeman that maybe one reason high. I wonder if we can move to perhaps what is implied by our conversation as far a very fundamental question about where the country is headed. Do you think we'll ever come to a time a point in history when our students in our high schools will be reading in their history books about a second American Civil War. I find it hard to visualize a civil war without a situation of s.o. conflict and division. But I think that unless the national government of this country begins to do something about the deep and deepening systems in American society that we are in for a period of
trouble. Do you think the president on ministration is capable of doing something about that I don't think it is I don't think it's intellectually as either the intelligence or the imaginative sympathy to identify the problem as President Nixon talks about the great silent majority. By which he means the white lower middle class as far as I can see. And these problems that group are very real to them he thinks that he can rally that group that he can govern the country. Nixon's view seems to be that he can construct a majority on the basis of the UN puir the uncolored and the young and that he can govern in their interest and ignore the problems of the poor the black and the young. I think that's an error because I think the more he tries to deal with the problems of the alienated groups in terms of benign neglect the deeper the tensions will be and the more chance we have of the country will get even more serious trouble. Here's a key word here alienated. Isn't there a certain extent to which of the lower
middle class share in the alienation and the low income whites. You feel that you share it. When will someone come up with the idea of making a coalition of the lower income whites on blacks pulling both groups together they seem to be antagonistic but need they is this inexorable inevitable thing. Hard to say Questran couldn't Roosevelt had such a coalition. And Robert Kennedy had that kind of support behind him in 1968. I don't see any on the rise and know who is likely to do that. Do you think the Democratic Party is capable of putting together a coalition like that as a party. Irrelevant whether a chosen leader or a charismatic leader like Bobby Kennedy would be able to come along. Could the party itself pull a coalition together like that. We could try I think to have it have some effect. You don't seem too optimistic though. Well it's hard to say. I think that both groups are substantially I suppose within the Democratic Party. Blacks mostly vote Democratic. Those low income whites who respect the labor movement mostly vote Democratic.
You know there was a noticeable difference in the nature of the followers of Senator McCarthy and Robert Kennedy McCarthy had a rally here the Fenway Park in Boston in the 168 campaign and one would have searched in vain for a black face or for that matter a for a lower income white face a lower socioeconomic background. There seemed to be an emphasis on the more affluent better educated suburban constituency I think that's right. What does this say about the McCarthy we approached I think I'm a kind of his general view was he was that you should try to have a coalition of the educated essentially the college educated. That's why his appeal was particularly strong in the suburbs and he probably had a greater appeal than any other the Democrats for Republicans. But doesn't this smack of the leaders of. Well I think it does it seems to me dangerous in a certain sense because I think it's terribly important to draw in the international community and these alienated groups and the fact of the McCarthy tactic in one way in the
of the Nixon tactic in another is to confirm their sense of exclusion. Whereas I think the effort that Roosevelt made of the Kennedys made was to use the political party as one means of bridging the incipient divisions in our society. Capi Kennedy who probably was not willing to lose the lower income whites to the George Wallace kind of dissy you know if you saw it recede and I was not he felt it would be dangerous for the country if it if they believed in Wallace and he felt that the Democratic Party. They were traditionally Democrats and that their best interests were continue to lie and liberal Democratic policies. I'd like to talk about foreign policy. You have written some books recently and some articles on the superpower status or the lack of it of the United States and the Soviet Union. In what sense Mr. Solicitor do you think the United States can be said to be an imperialist state and if so what
is the cause. Well I'm not so sure. Imperialism is a very helpful phrase because as you know why disagreement among historians as to what to imperialism means theories of imperialism have prevented offered a number of divergent interpretations of imperialism. Is there any sense in which it might apply. But I think one could argue if you want to go into the technical side of it the notion of imperialism for example as something repelled by the needs of the capitalist system and those in the Lenin at that time I was and had. I do not see applying very much to the United States. I do think that the notion of imperialism a sham baiter that is something piled by the actions of a military class and the needs of military leadership and this is sad in that we do have an imperial drive springing from his sources one day so were in Vietnam the war in Vietnam obviously isn't being fought because we expected Vietnam to
provide great outlets for American capital investment or because we thought it was going to be a great market for American products or because our killer. I think our economic system required raw materials to be found only in the US. They have pressure in every case for the escalation of the Vietnam War came from the professional military. And I think if one are looking for the sources of American imperialism the military establishment which is very familiar in conditional service of the Imperial adventurism would be the most reasonable source in this country. We disarmed quite rapidly after World War 1 World War 2. In so doing decrease the influence of this military establishment. Could you trace briefly the coalescence of power in recent years of the military establishment. But I wouldn't say that we disarmed after the Second World War we mobilized our army but we view the fact we had possession of the only atomic bombs of that time and we did
our best to enlarge our arsenals and so on. But I would say that during the crisis of the Second World War the military establishment became a very significant and independent factor on the formation of American policy. It was under considerable restraint so long as the generals of the Second World War generation people like Marshall and Eisenhower and Bradley were still around. But in the course of time as we got involved more and more. Military commitments around the country around the world and there's a new and less experienced group of generals came in. They came in increasing pressure within the government to suppose that all problems. About odd were military problems and were susceptible to military solutions. I really don't blame the military for all if they felt the job that their job their responsibility was a protection of the security of the United States in that they for their for they should ask for everything they conceived is necessary to discharge that responsibility. And they gave the kind of advice they've given on
everything exactly the kind of advice that professional men in their situation I give I don't blame them for giving that advice. I blame the civilian leaders who accepted that advice. The audience no doubt has noticed in the background the noise of radiators and air conditioners. We'll explain. We're talking with our guest Mr. Slager in the student lounge of Marian hall here at Emanuel College in Boston Massachusetts. I'm going to pause at this point in our conversation Mr. Slager to let our audience around the country hear a portion of the speech that you gave this evening at Emanuel College a speech that coincides in fim with our discussion of America's role in world affairs and America's foreign policy. Professor Arthur Slater. Our generals today are telling President Nixon exactly what they used to tell President Johnson and before him President Kennedy there telling him that the enemy are collapsing at the Vietcong a fading away that they are all they are all now women and 13 year old kids if they're on the run everywhere
and the only intensify the pressure for a little while more. There will be a startling improvement in our military position in Vietnam and improvement which will strengthening our bargaining position in Paris and bring negotiations to a speedy and successful conclusion. President Nixon said that he does not propose to be the first American president to preside over a military defeat and this incorrigible military optimism would no doubt fall. Receptive presidential ears. Now perhaps these military prophecies are correct but if they are it will be the case for the first time in the long and melancholy record of our Vietnam involvement. The military told President Kennedy that the army of South Vietnam was about to win the war in one thousand sixty one thousand nine hundred sixty two and one thousand sixty three. After we Americanize the war in 1965 the military told President Johnson one hundred sixty five one thousand sixty six thousand nine hundred sixty seven and one thousand sixty eight that we
were on the verge of victory if he would only give them a few more months and a few more troops. Never in our history have our generals compiled such a record of miscalculation Missa valuation and mis prediction. It would require an exceedingly gullible president to take their forecasts seriously enough yet. President Nixon is evidently convinced that the Vietcong are at last in a bad way that the North Vietnamese have been beaten that our Been their army of the Republic of South Vietnam is beginning to fight a pacification is becoming a success. And that's a farce the military balance is concerned. Time is on our side. The more we strengthen the Saigon regime calculates the more the military balance will be in our favor the better terms we can demand and paralyze the greater political success will be in the United States. In the meantime by judicious reduction of the
American forces in Vietnam combined with the suggestion that his plan will work only so long as all of the sense in the United States is silenced and with the rallying of more primitive forces in American politics through the unleashing of the vice president. These various ways is seriously the Presidents intention to keep domestic public opinion under control. Professor Slager as our audience has just heard your speech was well received this evening at Emanuel College in Boston with a Frenchman serve on Shriver wrote a book recently which has had some impact here in the United States. Book addressed to the French public but nevertheless I think with a message for the American public the book entitled The American challenge what do you think the message of this book is. That's right interesting because they. Look is it essentially a message address the people of Europe
saying that if Europe is going to matter at all in the future it will have to follow the example of the United States and then modernize its industry and to develop itself technologically and unify itself. What Savion Schreiber sees in the United States is very different from what the present secretary of commerce would see the United States he sees the United States not as a triumph of free competition and less a fair but rather a triumph. Industrial planning under the leadership of the government that they message and in fact if there is any implied message of The People United States it is that our industrial and impact through the world is not the result of the way some sacred rights of free competition. Because rather through the Catskills and the kind of industrial planning. Required by the new technologies to achieve the stability the United States must pull in its horns or reform around the world not overcommit itself
as the policeman for the world's problems. I would think that if we have any sense we will we would recognize as a consequence of Vietnam that there are limits to our wisdom and limits to our power. And they that particular policies of military intervention have been very successful and that probably the best thing he could do is to contract our military presence through the world dismantle a lot of the bases withdraw a lot of the troops and so this is not an argument for isolationism which is obviously impossible. It is an argument for selective. Crudeness in our foreign policy. One last question here at the end of the program what kind of leadership do you think the United States will exert on the rest of the world as we move out of the 20th century will to be a moral political and economic social technological. What will the nature of my feeling is that in the immediate period to come. That we will not. Achieve leadership through the kind of policies we followed in Vietnam.
The role of military bully is not a role that is good if it ever had much involved. It's not going to have much influence the future. Nor will I leadership depend on arm strength. We have more arm strength Riverhead in the world before any country's ever had but our influence is not very great. And I would think that most of the countries in the world as industrialized themselves are going to. Expose themselves face whole series of crises within their own society. We're facing the first because we're the most industrialized nation we stand on the frontier of technological change and I think our success in coping with the internal problems of a high technology society is something which the rest of the we're expecting to face comparable problems is going to watch with great attention and for that for some time to come it may well be that we will exert more influence in the world through our success in dealing with our own problems. And then he will through acting the military belayer flourishing atomic bombs.
We've been talking in the past 30 minutes with a citizen who has served his society as a thank or and his government as a presidential advisor to President Kennedy. Professor Arthur Schlesinger. Mr. Slater thank you very much. Northeastern University has brought you Arthur Schlesinger historian and adviser to President Kennedy. Today's program American politics Arthurs lays Ingur on Vietnam and violence. The views and opinions expressed on the preceding program were not necessarily those of Northeastern University for this station. Questions arise where the moderators method of presenting many sides of today's topic. Your program host has been filtered armiger Director Department of radio production. This week's program was produced by Carolyn Durtro directed by letting your mind with technical supervision by
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