The following exchange between Senator William J. Fulbright and General James M. Gavin occurred during Foreign Relations Committee hearings in early February 1966. A scholar as well as a US Senator representing Arkansas, Fulbright’s deep knowledge of history and the political past set an example few have emulated, and to our country’s detriment. Fulbright no doubt understood Lee’s postwar statement regarding Northern victory, that “the consolidation of the States into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of the ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”
Who is Encircling Whom?
“Every night for the past week or so, Fulbright had been reading with a growing fascination the classic works on China, its history and culture in anticipation of the forthcoming Committee hearings on China with the top American scholars. Out of this reading was emerging a view somewhat different than the standard clichés.
So he asked General Gavin, “In what respect are [the Chinese] aggressive, contrasting what they say with what they do?”
The General answered him, “I have been exposed to the filmed reports coming out of China of their militancy, of their training their youth and their industrial workers and their people in the use of arms, in the military tactics and so on.”
“Do you consider that aggressive necessarily?” Fulbright insisted. “The training of their troops in China, is that an act of aggression?”
“Is there evidence that they moved troops into Vietnam?”
“There is not at this time.”
“I understand they have made many threats,” Fulbright said, pursuing this, “Normally we use the word ‘aggression’ very loosely.
The Senator spoke of a “very interesting article” by a New York Times correspondent from Hong Kong. “The whole purport is that the Chinese are alleging they are being encircled,” he remarked.
General Gavin replied, “I would be inclined to agree that the Chinese think they are being pretty well hemmed in” [referring to American military bases and nuclear submarines girding China in an arc from Thailand through South Vietnam, the Philippines, the China Seas, Taiwan, Okinawa, South Korea and Japan].
“Is it a fact, do you think, that relatively speaking they are more encircled today than we are?” Fulbright pressed.
“There is no question about that.”
[Fulbright] asked the leading question, “You know a great deal about both military and political history. Have the Chinese as a nation over the last one hundred or two hundred years been especially aggressive? I use that word to mean military, overt aggression on their neighbors?”
“No. They haven’t been to my knowledge.”
“Who aggressed whom during the last century? Was it China attacking the Western nations or vice versa?”
“The other way around. The Western nations attacking China.”
“Was this to a very great extent?” [asked Fulbright]
“Yes. I remember quite well reading about the moving from Tientsin in the Boxer Rebellion, and reviewing the life of Gordon and the British occupation of major segments of China as well as that of other European nations.”
“As a matter of fact, various Western nations practically occupied and humiliated and decimated China throughout almost a century, did they not?”
“That is absolutely true.”
“Don’t you think that might not be a significant element in our present situation?”
(Senator Fulbright: Portrait of a Public Philosopher, Tristam Coffin, E.P. Dutton & Company, 1966, excerpt, pp. 284-285)