Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Fulbright, James William (1905–1995)

U.S. congressman and senator. Born in Sumner, Missouri, on 9 April 1905, James William Fulbright moved with his family to Arkansas. He was educated at the University of Arkansas and won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, where he studied history. He then earned a law degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. During the 1930s, he worked in the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice and was an instructor at the George Washington University Law School. In 1936 he returned to Arkansas where he taught law, and from 1939 to 1941 he was president of the University of Arkansas.

In 1942 Fulbright won election as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives and in 1944 was elected to the Senate, remaining there for thirty years. Deeply interested in international affairs and in enabling different nations to understand and respect each other, in 1943 Fulbright introduced a resolution calling for U.S. membership in a postwar international organization to maintain peace, an important step in congressional endorsement of the future United Nations (UN). In 1946 Fulbright sponsored legislation that established an international exchange program for scholars and students that eventually subsidized the studies of several hundred thousand individuals from more than sixty countries. Strongly committed to the UN, Fulbright also sought to preserve Western Europe from the potential Soviet threat by opposing resurgent congressional isolationism and staunchly supporting the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the containment policy.

In the 1950s Fulbright worked to censure and restrain the anticommunist excesses of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and in the 1960s challenged the right-wing John Birch Society. By the late 1950s, Fulbright saw no practical alternative to the policies of peaceful coexistence that both Soviet and American leaders advocated. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) from 1959 to 1975, Fulbright admired John F. Kennedy's relatively flexible responses to Soviet threats in Berlin and Cuba.

Fulbright initially supported his longtime Senate colleague, President Lyndon B. Johnson, on Vietnam, voting for the August 1964 Tonkin Gulf resolution that gave the president great latitude to handle the burgeoning crisis there. Soon, however, Fulbright's reading and interviews with journalists and others convinced him that the United States was supporting an unpopular puppet regime against an indigenous and genuinely nationalist revolutionary movement. He clashed repeatedly with Johnson and Secretary of State Dean Rusk. In 1966 the SFRC held televised hearings on Vietnam in which such misgivings were openly expressed, and the following year further hearings questioned the continuing U.S. nonrecognition of the People's Republic of China (PRC). In 1967 Fulbright published The Arrogance of Power, a widely read and sweeping critique of American foreign policy.

When Richard M. Nixon became president in 1969, Fulbright applauded his initiatives to improve relations with China and the Soviet Union but quickly parted company with him over Vietnam and Cambodia, deploring his policies even more than Johnson's. Believing that strong Cold War executive leadership had caused growing abuses, Fulbright publicly advocated the passage of congressional legislation curbing presidential power. After losing his 1974 reelection race, Fulbright left the Senate, practicing law and enjoying the role of elder statesman and mentor to his Arkansan protégé, future president Bill Clinton. Fulbright died in Washington, D.C., on 9 February 1995.

Priscilla Roberts

Further Reading
Powell, Lee Riley. J. William Fulbright and America's Lost Crusade: Fulbright's Opposition to the Vietnam War. Little Rock, AK: Rose Publishing, 1984.; Woods, Randall Bennett. Fulbright: A Biography. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.; Woods, Randall Bennett. J. William Fulbright, Vietnam, and the Search for a Cold War Foreign Policy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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