Galbraith, JK.



Nitze, Paul H

Tucker, R.


Interview with Prof. J K Galbraith


Q: Can we move on to the McCarthy era and the importance of the Hiss trial. How far do you think there was real danger here and how much was it simply part and parcel of the anti-Communist scare by the Republicans to dislodge the Democrats? How do you see those early years of the McCarthy era?

A: There are very few people that have a larger place in American history and deserve it less than the late Joe McCarthy. This was a - I think looking back on it - I didn't realise this at the time - that this was a political flare up of the sort that we have from time to time and not something that really reflected the substance of American political life. Joe McCarthy seized on an opportunity to, on the one hand, to exploit the deep anti-Communist fears of Americans, and the American right in particular, and at the same time to embarrass the government, first Truman and then Eisenhower, and that it was a surface political phenomenon. Nonetheless very unpleasant for some of the people that were involved.

Q: It seems almost a reversal of what you were saying. You were talking about the State Department as being housed by aristocrats and here you've got Joe McCarthy saying it's full of would be Communists. There's an odd -

A: This is an interesting feature. The State Department was a haven in those days of anti-Communist attitude. They all line of aristocrats there were powerfully anti-Communist, but at the same time Joe McCarthy seized on the State Department as a haven of Communism. It could hardly have been - you could - it could hardly have been more ....... But Joe McCarthy seized on the State department as a haven of Communism. It was really, looking back on it, it was really quite ridiculous. There was the people in the State Department who on China had seen no future in Chiang Kai-shek and therefore had taken the rise of Communism there as inevitable, and he seized on them as the focal point of the Communist tendencies of the State Department. But no mature view of history would ever think of the State Department as being a left wing enterprise.

Q: How important was the loss of China to American fears and what bred that whole idea of seeing Communism as a monolith do you think, that the Soviet Union and China were the same. How did these things feed into each other? It seems bizarre today.

A: The descent of China into Communism, rather prejudicial way of putting it - was extremely important in its relation to American attitudes, because part of the poor countries, and this will China was a very - in those days - a very primitive country. An elementary, agricultural community. No real industry. No real substance to its economic life, other than peasantry,and trade. And there was this economy descending into Communism, and that focused a whole range of American thought. The idea that the poor countries of the world were particularly vulnerable to Communism, that it might be arrested in - in Europe by the Marshall Plan and by European recovery and the more mature political attitudes of western Europe. But there was a particular vulnerability of the stand, I would say, as the greatest single error of American policy in the post-war years, focusing on the greatest tragedy of all, namely Vietnam.

Q: Now sir you in 1961 went to Vietnam, you reported back to President Kennedy. Why do you think your words fell on such stony ground? Why was the climate all the other way?

A: Let me talk a little bit about the relation of Communism to the poor countries. I don't claim to any especial perception on this in that matter at that time, except that I'd had experience in that part of the world. I had been or two extended visits to India in 19 - let me start this whole thing again...

A: I had more experience in that part of the world than most of my colleagues and I was persuaded that you could not turn a simple peasant economy into a Communist state, a Communist economy simply by having a Communist government. That it would still be a poor elementary economy. And I had formed that impression in India, with which I was substantially familiar, so far as anyone ever understands India, and I formed that impression further in Vietnam when President Kennedy sent me there in 1961. I may say that President Kennedy sent me to Vietnam in 1961 because he knew I didn't have an open mind. I had already discussed these matters with him. He wanted a report saying that Vietnam was not a good end, a good possibility for any large American commitment and I obliged him.

Q: Why do you think things moved later on the way in which they did?

A: Oh there were three sources of pressure. There was first the old established anti-Communist paranoia, that these Communists are enormously powerful people who will always succeed if they're left alone. That would turn out strongly out of the descent of China into Communism. There was second the military mind, if such can be called, which saw Communism as the natural enemy of the United States and there were also the - as we came to call them - the Cold War liberals who wanted to prove that they were as tough on these matters as the Generals and who also had an exaggerated view of the danger of Communism in those countries.

Q: Tell me something about the Committee of East-West Accord and what you were actually trying to do. You were trying to lower the temperature, yes. Tell me something about that?

A: I was for a long time Honorary Chairman along with George Kennan of the American Committee on East West Accord, a prestigious organisation, designed to lower the temperature of the Cold War. I don't think any of us expected to bring the Cold War to an end, but we did want to make communication with the Soviet Union, negotiation with the Soviet Union. Cultural relations with the Russian people, respectable and sale and, that was the purpose of it and we recruited for it the names of people that would be most impressive in proving that it was respectable to be lowering the temperature of the Cold War relationship.

Q: And yet as time went on you had people like President Reagan talking of the evil empire, you had people like Paul Nitze and so on moving rapidly the other way. Do you think really that the Committee did a good job, did it work?

A: One has always to ask himself what good a committee of that sort did. I think it did. I think that we had some effect in showing that we could have negotiations with the Soviet Union, we could have trade relations with the Soviet Union, we could have cultural relations with the Russian people, in the context of the Cold War. That was our hope and I think we had some success in that regard. I do, I think, on the whole, we helped lower a little bit the temperature of the time.

Q: If you look at various bigger issues in the Cold War, for example the Korean War, brought about inflation you could say. The Vietnam War conceivably ended any chance Johnson had of the great society. Was the great society a victim of the Cold War?

A: Oh, there's no doubt that the Cold...

Q: What was the effect of the Cold War?

A: How did the Cold War, we have to ask ourselves, affect domestic policy? Well, there's no doubt that the great casualty of the Vietnam War was Lyndon Johnson's vision of a great society, and the steps that were taken to ameliorate poverty. Steps that still need to be taken. And I think to some extent, the Vietnam War was seen by some as the antidote to steps, unwelcome steps in a liberal economic policy and liberal social policy in the United States. I don't want to exaggerate that point though. I think they had - I think the Vietnam War over-wrote - over-rode........

Q: If you see Vietnam as part of the Cold War, what was that effect on American society?

A: The effect of the Cold War on American society and American economy and policy, was, of course, very great. Lyndon Johnson came to office; he was a man I greatly admired, we were close personal friends, came to Washington at the same time - with a vision of the United States, particularly as regards the poor. Particularly as part - regards the poverty ridden parts of the United States, which was much stronger than that of any President, at least since Roosevelt. May be stronger than Roosevelt. And that emerged in a poverty programme in the so called great society design. And the Vietnam War captured the attention, the minds, the resources and took them away from that vision, took them away from that goal. And one of the tragedies was that Lyndon Johnson, who would be remembered otherwise as a great progressive President went down in history as the casualty of Vietnam.