Commentary

J. William Fulbright: Can an Empire Change Its Attitude?

Posted by tbaker |
Empire

J. William Fulbright

If you previously knew anything about J. William Fulbright, it was probably of his educational exchange program, one of the world’s most admired peacemaking innovations. One proposed exchange, as recounted in his last book, The Price of Empire, never began.

In the early 1970s Fulbright approached the Soviets to apply part of their World War II Lend-Lease debt owed to the U.S. to Fulbright fellowships. Remember, this was in the middle of the Vietnam War in the middle of the Cold War, but Nixon’s détente was advancing. The Soviets had agreed to repay about $800 million, and Fulbright hoped to get “maybe a hundred million.” But the détente was sabotaged by a group of Cold War Senators, and the Soviets abrogated the exchange agreements and other joint ventures in retaliation.

The story has a larger meaning. On the first page of Fulbright’s first book, The Arrogance of Power (1966), you encounter a main foundation for all. In Old Myths and New Realities (1966), he writes (my italics): His purpose is “to stimulate public thought and discussion free of the rigid and outdated stereotypes which stultify many of our foreign policy debates.” This is a main duty of Congress, he writes, “under our Constitutional system.” We should and can rid ourselves of dogmas dangerous to humans, such as the Evil Enemy.

While the poet of “Howl,” Allen Ginzberg, cries out for “breakthroughs!” to explode the entrenched cruelties and stupidities, in dispassionate syntax and vocabulary Fulbright applies facts and irony to weaken the foundations of “prevailing practices” adhered to “with a fervor befitting immutable principles.”

In his last book, The Price of Empire (1989), Fulbright’s guide to a humane community and global culture of peace continues to unfold. By practicing international cooperation, joint international ventures, negotiation and diplomacy, international understanding, a cosmopolitan perspective, knowledge, facts, reason and empathy will gradually reduce fear, paranoia, parochialism, nationalism, jingoism, fanaticism, arrogance, militarism and wars.

The world was made by human actions; actions are based on attitudes; and it is “possible to alter human attitudes,” he believes. Wars are not inevitable (speaking of today: nor are empire and warming); we can learn, and we must choose.

Join the Discussion, Learn From Others

J. William Fulbright: Voice of Reason and Diplomacy

A Forum discussing Fulbright’s resistance to dogma and fanaticism, to war and empire, during the 1960s to 1980s.

Panelists: Prof. Hoyt Purvis, Prof. Sidney Burris, Prof. Emer. Dick Bennett

At Giffels Hall, University of Arkansas.

Tuesday, Feb. 25, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Sponsored by the OMNIUA Student Organization.

 

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