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The Enduring Spirit of a Dissident Senator


Norman Solomon

The

black-and-white TV footage is grainy and faded, but it still jumps off the

screen — a portentous clash between a prominent reporter and a maverick

politician.

Thirty-five

years ago, on the CBS program "Face the Nation," journalist Peter

Lisagor argued with a senator who stood almost alone on Capitol Hill, strongly

opposing the war in Vietnam from the outset.

"Senator,

the Constitution gives to the president of the United States the sole

responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy," Lisagor said.

"Couldn’t

be more wrong," Wayne Morse broke in. "You couldn’t make a more

unsound legal statement than the one you have just made. This is the

promulgation of an old fallacy that foreign policy belongs to the president of

the United States. That’s nonsense."

Lisagor:

"To whom does it belong then, senator?"

Morse:

"It belongs to the American people. … And I am pleading that the American

people be given the facts about foreign policy."

Lisagor:

"You know, senator, that the American people cannot formulate and execute

foreign policy."

Morse:

"Why do you say that? … I have complete faith in the ability of the

American people to follow the facts if you’ll give them. And my charge against

my government is — we’re not giving the American people the facts."

In early

August 1964, Morse was one of only two senators to vote against the Tonkin Gulf

resolution, which served as a green light for the Vietnam War. While reviled by

much of the press in his home state of Oregon as well as nationwide, he

persisted with fierce oratory for peace. It would have been much easier to

acquiesce to the media’s war fever. But Morse was not the silent type,

especially in matters of conscience.

On Feb.

27, 1968, I sat in a small room at the Capitol to watch a hearing of the Senate

Foreign Relations Committee. Six members of the panel were seated around a long

table. Most of all, I remember Morse’s voice, raspy and urgent.

"My

views are no longer lonely," he noted at one point, adding: "You have

millions of people who are not going to support this tyranny that American boys

are being killed in South Vietnam to maintain in power."

Morse

summed up his position on negotiations between the U.S. government and its

Vietnamese adversaries: "Who are we to say there have to be two Vietnams?

They are not going to do it and they shouldn’t do it. There isn’t any reason in

the world why the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong should ever come to a

negotiating table on the basis that there must be two Vietnams."

Moments

before the hearing adjourned, Morse said that he did not "intend to put the

blood of this war on my hands."

At the

time, Oregon’s senior senator was remarkable because he challenged the morality

– not just the "winability" — of the war. He passionately asserted

that the United States had no right to impose its will on the world. In the

process, he made enemies of many fellow Democrats, including President Lyndon

Johnson.

Like most

heretics, Morse suffered consequences. After 24 years in the Senate, he lost a

race for re-election in November 1968. The winner was a slick politician named

Robert Packwood, who denounced Morse’s anti-war fervor.

In his

lifetime, Morse became a media pariah. In the quarter-century since his death,

political reporters have rarely mentioned his name.

But a

vivid new documentary, premiering this fall, will allow viewers to see and hear

for themselves. Produced by independent filmmakers Christopher Houser and Robert

Millis, "The Last Angry Man" chronicles the extraordinary efforts and

intrepid spirit of Wayne Morse.

The

one-hour movie (summarized at www.squaredeal.net) includes stunning excerpts

from speeches and interviews that convey the fortitude and courage of a senator

who put principle above politics.

"I

don’t know why we think, just because we’re mighty, that we have the right to

try to substitute might for right," Morse said on national television in

1964. "And that’s the American policy in Southeast Asia — just as unsound

when we do it as when Russia does it."

Three

years later, he declared: "We’re going to become guilty, in my judgment, of

being the greatest threat to the peace of the world. It’s an ugly reality, and

we Americans don’t like to face up to it. I hate to think of the chapter of

American history that’s going to be written in the future in connection with our

outlawry in Southeast Asia."

Such

heresy infuriated many powerful politicians — and journalists — while Wayne

Morse did all he could to block a war train speeding to catastrophe.

Norman

Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "The Habits of Highly

Deceptive Media."

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