tv Donald Ritchie on the 1966 Vietnam Hearings Dean Rusk CSPAN February 27, 2016 10:00pm-10:09pm EST
history tv come all weekend, every weekend. to join the conversation, like us on facebook. tv,ext on american history a look back 50 years to the 1966 the anon -- vietnam hearings. defendinge dean rusk administration policy in seeking $275 million in supplemental aid. this 90 minute broadcast from cbs news includes opening statements and many questions and comments from senators. the first, donald richie providing context for the hearing. >> february 18th, 1966 -- secretary of state, dean rusk, testifying at the vietnam hearings. set the stage for us. >> secretary of state dean rusk had been secretary of state
since 1961. john f. kennedy appointed him. when kennedy was assassinated, president johnson kept him on. relied on him even more so. even more so than kennedy had. kennedy himself was very interested in foreign affairs, wanted to be his own secretary of state, essentially. johnson had specialized in domestic affairs and leaned heavily on foreign policy advisors, particularly rusk and secretary of defense, mcnamara who also carried over from the kennedy administration. so rusk became one of the great loyalists. he defended the vietnam war to his dying day. he believed that the vietnam war was right, that it was a continuation of american policy since world war ii. he constantly cited munich and other world war ii analogies that we had to stop aggression early on, that we had learned this early, but somehow he could conflate ho chi minh with hitler. beyond that, he was thinking about china, communist china, somehow they were planning to
take over all of asia. that if the u.s. did not stand in south vietnam, that like a row of dominoes, all other countries would fall to communism. and that vietnam would be a puppet state of china. he misunderstood vietnamese nationalism, anti-colonialism. in fact, after the vietnamese fought a war against the united states and unified vietnam, then they fought a war against china and tried to keep china from coming to dominate vietnam. so there was great deal of nationalism that rusk had a great deal of trouble confronting and accepting. part of the problem was that anybody who really knew anything about asian policy has been -- had been drummed out of the state department during the mccarthy era, when mccarthy thought that anybody who had advised on asian policy was responsible for the fall of china to the communists. and a lot of great experts on foreign policy were no longer in the state department and the
people who were there, they believed that the u.s. had to fight every battle. one exception was dean rusk's undersecretary, george ball, who saw from the beginning that the war was a great mistake. who wrote lengthy memorandums for the secretary of state, for the president, warnings them of the dangers.em of the war was a quagmire, that we would get deeper and deeper into it. that it was not winnable, basically he thought it would disrupt our relations with the soviet union. he believed it would basically humiliate the united states if we were not able to prevail in vietnam. he warned the president repeatedly against this, but there was a sense that once the president made up his mind, everybody stood behind him. so ball agreed to support the president's policies. dean rusk never had the doubt that george ball had. he was always very convinced that we needed to be there, he was always a defender.
senator fulbright got increasingly perturbed about dean rusk, a man that he did not think was up to the job. someone at that time said that dean rusk would have been the perfect undersecretary of state, but he was the wrong person to be secretary of state and they needed a secretary of state in a sense, that could speak against a policy that the president wanted from time to time. not necessarily go along with the president on everything, that dean rusk was too much of a bureaucrat, too much of a person who went along with the president and the secretary of defense. rusk articulated the policies as well as anybody in the administration. he did it constantly. he did it in closed sessions, public sessions, fulbright was just frustrated beyond belief with him. thier once strong relationship became very estranged, just the way that fulbright's was with president johnson. and after the hearings were over, rusk found excuses not to appear in public hearings.
he would only testify during a closed session, much to senator fulbright's great anger over that. that the administration really did not feel like it could level with the committee, or with the american public, about what the policies were really. >> hearings such as this today can sometimes get combative, what was the demeanor? would that have happened in 1966? >> there were sparks. when asking questions, even when fulbright is asking questions, but you will note that these are polite hearings, these are more genteel hearings. even though the subject matter is heavy, they are respectful of members of the cabinet and members of the administration and of the military, and the cabinet is respectful of the senators. they treat each other in a much more dignified way than perhaps we might see at some of the more polarized hearings we have
today. and the parties were very divided, democrats in favor of the war, democrats opposed to the war and the republicans made the same split. so this was a very much a bipartisan approach, this is not a party line drawn. and here is a democratic president who is being defended by republican senators at times and getting attacked by democrats. >> from your perspective as a historian, what is the value in somebody watching these 50-year-old hearings? >> i think, we always, we live history from the beginning forward to the end. but we read history from the end, back. and we know how the vietnam war ended. we remember the pictures of americans being evacuated from the roof of the embassy in 1975. we know that north vietnam took over south vietnam and made a communist nation bed we know nation, but we know that
everything we fought for, just the opposite happened. and we also know that we are now -- we recognize vietnam, we have an ambassador there, president clinton got huge crowds when he went to vietnam. it is a very different country -- very different country. this is the war that they call the american war, which we call the vietnam war. this is part of their history. they fought a war with china more recently than they fought a war with us. so it is a different situation. we know that. but we hear the testimony that was given in 1966 and none of those people knew how it would end. they projected the ending and how they hoped it would end. dean rusk was hoping that the enemies would give up, decide it was not worth the fight. that they would go back to north vietnam and let the south vietnamese live themselves, as if the viet cong was going to disappear. that was his vision. and george kennan saying that we need to get out with the most face-saving way possible. this is not a winnable war. the general saying we need to create enclaves and defend the
parts of the country that we still control. and not try to take back everything in the process. general taylor talking about why the realities of the government in south vietnam. none of them know what we know. in fact, some of the books that were written by historians, as we now know, because now they know the end. and even mcnamara went back in the 1990's to meet with the people who had been his opponents. and he had to rethink his policies and came to the conclusion that the war had been a mistake. so, this takes us back to that time, giving us a chance to see the people who were involved as they try to grapple with creating the policy and the senators who had to decide whether or not they could support or should oppose the policy. >> so here is dean rusk from february 18, 1966.