Remembering Ernest Gruening

I’m just back from a vacation to Alaska and family fun to a political scientist means you visit the State House. There on the walls were duplications of newspaper stories proudly recalling Alaska statehood in 1959 including photographs of one of the most important politicians in achieving statehood, Ernest Gruening.

That name may have faded from memory but it should be recalled and honored. Senator Ernest Gruening was one of only two United States Senators to oppose the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which permitted President Lyndon B. Johnson to escalate the War in Vietnam. Johnson’s case for war, by the way, was based on lies, if that should sound familiar at all.

Here are excerpts from the remarks by Senator Gruening during debate:

Regrettably, I find myself in disagreement with the President’s Southeast Asian policy. . . The serious events of the past few days, the attack by North Vietnamese vessels on American warships and our reprisal, strikes me as the inevitable and foreseeable concomitant and consequence of U.S. unilateral military aggressive policy in Southeast Asia…. We now are about to authorize the President if he sees fit to move our Armed Forces . . . not only into South Vietnam, but also into North Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and of course the authorization includes all the rest of the SEATO nations. That means sending our American boys into combat in a war in which we have no business. which is not our war, into which we have been misguidedly drawn, which is steadily being escalated. This resolution is a further authorization for escalation unlimited. I am opposed to sacrificing a single American boy in this venture. We have lost far too many already….

Who was the other senator in opposition? Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon; excerpts from his remarks:

I believe that history will record that we have made a great mistake in subverting and circumventing the Constitution of the United States. . . I believe this resolution to be a historic mistake. I believe that within the next century, future generations will look with dismay and great disappointment upon a Congress which is now about to make such a historic mistake.

By the way, Senators Gruening and Morse were both Democrats; they were in wise opposition to a president of their own party.

Closer to home, I understand that Senator Edward M. Kennedy stated that his vote in opposition to the War in Iraq was his proudest vote. He explained why in a speech at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies:

There is clearly a threat from Iraq, and there is clearly a danger, but the Administration has not made a convincing case that we face such an imminent threat to our national security that a unilateral, pre-emptive American strike and an immediate war are necessary.

Nor has the Administration laid out the cost in blood and treasure of this operation.

With all the talk of war, the Administration has not explicitly acknowledged, let alone explained to the American people, the immense post-war commitment that will be required to create a stable Iraq.

In recent weeks, in briefings and in hearings in the Senate Armed Services Committee, I have seen no persuasive evidence that Saddam would not be deterred from attacking U.S. interests by America’s overwhelming military superiority.

I have heard no persuasive evidence that Saddam is on the threshold of acquiring the nuclear weapons he has sought for more than 20 years.

And the Administration has offered no persuasive evidence that Saddam would transfer chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction to Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization.

As for the supposed armed conflict with the North Vietnamese that precipitated the Gulf of Tonkin “crisis” LBJ later remarked that “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.” More recently in Iraq we recall the absence of weapons of mass destruction, an advanced nuclear program, or alliance with Osama bin Laden. All lies.

So before we again listen to the likes of Dick Cheney, John Bolton, and Bill Kristol (combined days of military service: zero), let’s remember to listen to Senators Kennedy, Morse – and Ernest Gruening of Alaska.

 

 

 

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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One Response to Remembering Ernest Gruening

  1. John J. Fitzgerald says:

    Great commentary. The Gulf of Tonkin has to go down with the “Remember the Maine BS of 1898.

    Claim an attack by an enemy and you get the sheep to follow into line.

    Can I recommend my book on Vietnam?

    The Vietnam War: A History in Documents. NY: Oxford, 2002. See: Marilyn Young, A. Tom Grunfeld and John J. Fitzgerald.

    Best,

    John

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