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
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.
the Constitution gives to the president of the United States the sole
responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy," Lisagor said.
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."
"To whom does it belong then, senator?"
"It belongs to the American people. … And I am pleading that the American
people be given the facts about foreign policy."
"You know, senator, that the American people cannot formulate and execute
"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."
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.
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.
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."
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."
before the hearing adjourned, Morse said that he did not "intend to put the
blood of this war on my hands."
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
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.
lifetime, Morse became a media pariah. In the quarter-century since his death,
political reporters have rarely mentioned his name.
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.
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.
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."
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."
heresy infuriated many powerful politicians — and journalists — while Wayne
Morse did all he could to block a war train speeding to catastrophe.
Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "The Habits of Highly