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Henry Wriston

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Start of film
Introduction 
Introducing Dr. Henry Wriston
Opening credits
Interview
About Dr. Henry Wriston
American pessimism
WWI and WWII
Senator Fulbright
Senator Hubert Humphrey
Middle East
Nasser
United Nations
Phillippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba
Lebanon
Batista, Trujillo
King Saud
Red China
Spain
US Government's Foreign Service
 
Closing
Next week: Edward Weeks
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Dock windowTranscript
THE MIKE WALLACE INTERVIEW
Guest: Dr. Henry Wriston
August 17, 1958
WALLACE:  This is Dr. Henry Wriston, President of the influential Council on Foreign Relations.  A man whose ideas are sought by top officials in our government.   Recently Dr. Wriston said that as a nation we've been over-dramatizing the issues of summit conferences, war threats, diplomatic exchanges and the Middle East problem.   We'll find out why he says that in a moment.
ANNOUNCER:  The Mike Wallace Interview presented by the American Broadcasting Company  in association with the Fund for the Republic brings you a special television series discussing the problems of survival and freedom in America.
WALLACE:  Good evening, I'm Mike Wallace.  Tonight we'll discuss the Middle East crisis, our foreign policy and the possible threat of war.  A good deal of what is being said on these issues  comes from men involved in partisan politics.  Tonight's guest is not. He's Dr. Henry Wriston, former President of Brown University,  a consultant to the Secretary of State on the reorganization of our foreign service, and now President of the Council on Foreign Relations.
WALLACE:  Dr. Wriston, first let me ask you this.  Through the years in your writing and speaking, you've criticized American pessimism, American defeatism,  in the face of the Soviet challenge.  For instance, back in 1950 you said: "Unless we break this mood of pessimism and recover the confident temper which has long animated our  history, we will be beaten without a struggle."  Now, in view of recent events could it be that some hard-headed pessimism about our world position was, and is now, justified?
WRISTON:  No, I don't think any pessimism is justified.  I think that a good many people think of optimism as being complacency but there's a world of difference between those two  and I think we need now what McMillan has given to England - the kind of a shot in the arm that's come into British diplomacy  since he began to speak with confidence and with vigor is a great thing.  I feel that De Gaulle is producing it to some extent in France.   And I would like to see American public opinion have confidence that we can work out our problems in the future as we have in the past. 
WALLACE:  Well, maybe it is the very statements, the very programs of those two leaders, of those two states, that has inspired the confidence and the optimism.   Perhaps that is what is lacking here, Sir.
WRISTON:  It may be.
WALLACE:  Take a look, though, at recent events..in view of your own confident temper. The Soviets beat us to the punch with Sputnik ... their lead in the ICBM is reportedly increasing...  the overthrow of the pro-Western government in Iraq and the trouble in Lebanon... what some commentators call our failure to understand and cope with current history. Now, here are a series of major events that would seem... well that give you cause evidently for optimism and what you call confident temper and I fail to understand it.
WRISTON:  Well, I have been an educator all my life and have always felt that we didn't get as much support as we needed and Sputnik proved it...  and I think it has given a good deal of a shot in the arm to public opinion on the subject of education. So far as ICBM is concerned, I don't know... what the facts are...
WRISTON:  I do know that it's easier to assume that it's operational in Russia where everything is secret than in America where we know every time a squib goes off in Cape Canaveral  and we all cry in our beer that we made another failure.  We don't know how many failures the Russians have.  So far as the pro-Western government of Iraq is concerned...  what could we do about it?  It fell and that's the end of it.  We have to live with the successor government and we are... we recognized it.
WALLACE:  Well, now, I'll come directly if I may in just a little while to what we may have to do about it now, as to your comment.   I have lumped a good many issues and events together there, Dr. Wriston, and I think that you would agree that all or any of them are fairly serious... 
WRISTON:  They are, indeed.
WALLACE:  ...setbacks for the United States, and they are so regarded by newspaper editorials, political commentators like Walter Lippman and Joe Alsop and Jimmy Reston,  our magazine writers, our television and radio analysts and their pessimism, I guess is the accurate word, has affected public opinion.   Now, what I don't quite understand is how to account for their alarm, on the one hand, and your seeming calm on the other hand.
WRISTON:  Well, I set it down to perhaps my training as a historian.  I've been taught as a professional matter to look at things in long perspective and not in short perspective.   And the Near East problem is not a new problem.  King Richard of England was fighting the Saracens there a long long time ago.   It's been a boiling pot for a thousand years and I think it's going to boil some more.  It's had its moments of calm in the back water but when oil came it boiled up again of course. 
WRISTON:  It has always been a subject of great tension between Russia and all the other powers, because Russia wanted a port on the Persian Gulf  and Britain and Russia virtually partitioned Persia in 1908.  People act as if what's going on now is new... it's very old indeed.
WALLACE:  Well, you talk about the long perspective of history and it's perfectly understandable, but we live here today and we have to decide,  each for ourself whether certain events are good for us from day to day, from month to month.   We have to make judgments and for the first time in our history, I think that you will agree, we have to realize that one big mistake...  could cause one big war which would destroy all of us.  In that perspective are you satisfied that as a nation we are doing well?
WRISTON:  Oh well, I don't agree with the statement, to begin with.  One big mistake, according to Woodrow Wilson, would have destroyed us in 1917.
WALLACE:  Well, I'm talking about the possibility of hydrogen war.
WRISTON:  Oh, yes, but then people were talking about gas warfare...  Will Irwin wrote a book after the first World War that said we could never have another because it would be so horrible that it couldn't be fought...  that everybody would be wiped out. We never used gas in the Second World War.  Bacteriological warfare is horrible. But we didn't use it.   And there are some evidences that the very fact of the horror of the hydrogen bomb is acting as a deterrent upon people who would otherwise be adventurous.
WALLACE:  What I don't quite understand, Dr. Wriston, is this.  What are you saying?   Are you saying to me: "young fellow, as you grow older, you're going to understand how these things work themselves out. Relax."
WRISTON:  No, I'm not going to say "relax."  I never was a person who gave that advice to anybody, so far as I know.  I do say that these are old problems and perhaps I shouldn't use the word problem....  I think it is one of the things which distorts our thinking.  I regard these as chronic diseases... that the Middle East has been in a chronic state of disease for a long, long time.   It's like arthritis or rheumatism... you have to live with it... it's painful... you do what you can to ease the pain... but there is no solution.   If there was any magic solution why hasn't some bright man thought it up a hundred years ago or fifty years ago... ten years ago.
WALLACE:  But we've got to keep searching for solutions, do we not?  Let me quote to you if I may from a speech made recently in the Senate by Senator Fulbright.   He says: "The truth is that our foreign policy is inadequate, outmoded and misdirected.  It's based in part on a false conception of our real long-term national interests  and in part on an erroneous appraisal of the state of the world in which we live.  Worse, it reflects a dangerous apathy and a quite incomprehensible unwillingness to look facts in the face."   Now he's talking about the administration, but those are clothes that perhaps you could wear too sir. 
WRISTON:  Oh, I would be happy to put those clothes on, but he also called for bold, new, imaginative programs, but didn't give any.   It's very easy to string the adjectives together and tell about our troubles, but what are you going to do about it.  You said that these problems we ought to work at them... of course, we should.
WRISTON:  We ought to have a strong foreign service. We ought to have a strong policy-planning staff.   We ought to have far more research in these matters than we have in the universities and colleges of the country.   There are a thousand things that need to be done. But to say that they are not being done is to say they aren't being done anywhere else in the world, either.   But we ought to be doing them.
WALLACE:  Well, then you are saying that we are apathetic and that our leadership is not leading us properly in the road of doing enough to overcome some of these problems?
WRISTON:  Of course.  I have been an educator all my life and have been insisting that they ought to spend more money on education... that we ought to have more research...  that we ought to have better facilities.  I have been working at the foreign service matter in my mind for about forty years now since I first went into the department as a student. 
WALLACE:  Well, we'll get to the foreign service, if we may, a little bit later in the program, but right now I'd like to stay in the Middle East, if I may.   Talking about the Middle East, and I think you'll agree that it's a troubled spot... now as well as back in the days of the Saracens... 
WRISTON:  And will be, for another fifty years.
WALLACE:  Well, Senator Hubert Humphrey said recently that, "after the Suez Canal crisis, when the times cried out for a general attack upon the deep social and economic ills of the Middle East,"  he said, "the Administration could only produce the so-called Eisenhower doctrine, simply another plan of primarily military character."   And Senator Humphrey says that this was just another error in a record of errors in the Middle East, What about that?
WRISTON:  Well, I would like to see a development plan, in the Middle East, but there's plenty of money in the Middle East to have a development plan.   Kuwait has enormous sums of money and is doing, I may say, a pretty good job in spending some of it for improvement.   Saudi-Arabia has a tremendous income.  Iraq has a large oil income and is setting aside a good share of that for development.
WRISTON:  Now does this mean that Papa - Uncle Sam - must take everybody by the hand and lead them. Why can't the Middle East get together?   We'll cooperate, but I don't see that it's up to Uncle Sam to tell the Middle East how to manage their own economic interests.
WALLACE:  Well, now wait.   Isn't that just exactly what Mr. Nasser is trying to do is to get the Middle East together and aren't we trying to keep the Middle East from coming together under Nasser.
WRISTON:  You mustn't confuse two things, Mr. Nasser is trying to bring it under Nasser.   Whether he's trying to have a development plan which would do something for the common people of the Middle East is an entirely different thing.   If you look at his record in Egypt, he hasn't done very much for the Fellahin in Egypt as yet.   He has made some steps but he's been more interested in imperialism than he has been in social reform or economic development.
WALLACE:  Well, before... I would imagine that before the social reform can take place, as he sees it, he needs some of the very oil resources that we're talking about,  because Egypt doesn't have enough in the way of money to start some of the social programs that perhaps he would like to start.   Mind you, I'm no apologist for Mr. Nasser.  But what you're saying is why doesn't the Middle East get together and do it.   Why do they look to the Americans, let us say, in order to...
WRISTON:  No, I don't say they should.   Why should a United States Senator look to America to do this.  Is America going to reform the whole world or have we got a few problems here of our own?
WALLACE:  Well, we hear now that the Administration has a new plan to stabilize the social and economic difficulties in the Middle East  through a broad program under the supervision of the United Nations.  Are you against that?
WRISTON:  Oh, of course not. Under the aegis of the United Nations, I would be strongly for it.  And I would like to see us participate in it.   And I think that we would always have participated in any such plan.   But for us to undertake as a nation to tell the Middle East how to do and how to spend their resources I think is outside of our own power.   This is what I think a little bit of idealistic imperialism.  People think that we ought to fix the world.  And I think that's a very large order, indeed.
WALLACE:  What is American imperialism?
WRISTON:  It is the notion that anything that's wrong anywhere in the world, it's up to us to fix it.  I always remember I once fixed a clock which had a little thing wrong with it.   And the boy in the house immediately went and got an alarm clock which he had pulled all apart - and he gave me all the wheels and he said "fix".   He had pulled it apart - he wanted me to "fix."  Because I could fix one clock, he wanted me to fix that clock.
WRISTON:  Now, there're a lot of people who think that if anything is wrong anywhere, in the world, we ought to come up with a plan for it.   I think we ought to cooperate.  I think we ought to work through the United Nations.  I think we ought to make suggestions.   But after all, if there's to be independence in those nations, and that's what we want, then we have to leave to them the initiative in setting up their own cooperative plans.
WALLACE:  You talk about independence, if there is to be independence in these nations.  Let me ask you this, Dr. Wriston.   You have constantly criticized policies based on what you call merely cold calculations of power, and you've called for morality... for moral commitments, and so forth.   I'd like to ask you - specifically, just what do you mean you talk about morality?  Moral commitments? What does this mean?
WRISTON:  I mean, for example, that when we went into the Philippines, we said we were going to try to make them fit for self-government and then give them self-government.   We put in schools... we put in education... we put in industries... we developed an economy... we gave it a shelter... and then we gave them independence, as we had promised to do.  We had Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico is now a dominion.  It can leave us.   It can stay, as it chooses.  In order to give them that opportunity to develop themselves. 
WRISTON:  We had the Platt Amendment in Cuba which gave us a right to intervene in Cuban affairs and again and again we did intervene in Cuban affairs.   We told the government of Cuba what it could do and what it couldn't do.  We've learned not to do that now.   We said they have won their freedom - they're entitled to their freedom, even if they abuse it.   We don't like Batista, but as long as the Cubans have Batista, we have to live with him.   When I speak of our moral commitment... we have a moral commitment not to interfere with the freedom, the independence, the integrity of nations large or small. 
WALLACE:  Do we have the commitment to try to keep Batista or Trujillo in this hemisphere in power?
WRISTON:  We certainly do not.  We have no obligation.  In fact we would be delighted, I think, to see them overthrown.   But our government can't say that because otherwise they would be provocateurs in exactly the same way that Nasser is calling for the assassination of King Hussein.
WALLACE:  Well...
WRISTON:  Which is immoral.
WALLACE:  ...you make a very good case for the morality of the United States in the areas about which you've talked.   Let's come now to the Middle East, if we may, and I'd like your reaction to this, a recent editorial in the Nation magazine.   Referring to our policy in the Middle East, it says: "The regimes we have supported there have been misbegotten, corrupt, dictatorial, semi-feudal and fantastically unpopular."
WALLACE:  And the Nation goes on: "But we found them useful.  They were 'anti-communist', they were 'reasonable' and they did grant oil concessions."   Would you disagree with the implication here that our motives in the Middle East are hardly moral, or would you equate it with our motives in our own hemisphere...  in Latin America?
WRISTON:  I would put it on exactly the same basis.  We didn't put any of those regimes into power.  We found them.  We didn't throw them out of power... we dealt with them. When they fell from power, we dealt with their successors.  We dealt with Farouk but when Naquib threw Farouk out, we recognized Naquib.  We recognized Faisal.   When Faisal was killed and the new Iraqi government came, we recognized that.  In other words, we do not support those governments, we work with them.  
WALLACE:  Tell me this.  Why did we go into Lebanon, in your understanding, Sir?
WRISTON:  In my understanding, we went into Lebanon because of the fact that to the best of the knowledge and belief of the authorities in Washington,  its rebellion was not a domestic rebellion, but was an instance of indirect aggression and that government was to be overthrown not in the interests of the Lebanese people,  but in the interests of some outside government.  Now incidentally, going into Lebanon had one effect which has delighted me.
WRISTON:  All these pessimists have been saying because we depended on massive retaliation and they have wrung that phrase, which is taken out of context by the way, to death.   They've taken just two words out of a very carefully phrased thing.  That we would never react with anything else... and therefore we had paralyzed ourselves.   On one of your programs, one of your speakers said we're paralyzed to take any other less action because we're so dependent on the bomb.
WALLACE:  Dr. Kissinger... I think....
WRISTON:  This puts an end to that forever.  Because we went in there.  Now, it'll be said, we didn't have to fight, but when we went in, we didn't know whether we'd have to fight or not.   And the President in his address to the people said there were real dangers here.  We faced those dangers.  And we asserted just enough force... this is the point...  just enough force, or the show of force... to stabilize the situation and give the Lebanese people a chance to settle their own problems.  
WALLACE:  Would you say that our sending our troops into Lebanon had nothing whatsoever to do with the Iraqi Revolution?
WRISTON:  As such, it had nothing to do with it.  It was triggered by that.  Because at the moment, when the massacres occurred, when the mob was in control, when the blood was shed,  it looked as if that might have been stimulated and managed from without.   As soon as we became convinced it was a domestic revolution, we recognized the new Iraqi government and planned to live with it.
WALLACE:  Suppose the population... say in the Middle East... suppose the population of Saudi Arabia were to rise up in the near future to try to topple King Saud?   And King Saud, who is a friend of ours, calls for our help to protect his legally constituted government. Should we help him?
WRISTON:  Of course not, if given the situation that you developed, namely that the people of Saudi Arabia do this.   But if we're convinced that this is a plot from outside and that it is indirect aggression, then we might have to do it.   But we would not do it to protect King Saud... we would do it in order that the Saudi's themselves could settle their own problems.   Whether they have a monarchy or a republic is of no concern of ours.  It's not our business.
WALLACE:  Dr. Wriston, what are we after in the Middle East?   To help people there realize themselves as free men, which would seem to be the moral commitment that you talk about it,  or is it to make sure that we keep so-called friendly governments in power and protect Western oil interests? 
WRISTON:  Well, we're not keeping friendly governments in power.  One of the friendly governments fell in Iraq... recently... and we did nothing about it.  
WALLACE:  Well, what we after?
WRISTON:  We're after precisely this: The independence and integrity of those states, letting them work out their own relationships within themselves.   We have commercial relationships.  We have business relationships with them.  We will work with anybody.  We even tried to work with Mossadegh.   We let the Mexicans take all of our oil companies away from us, many years ago.  We didn't go in with force.  We worked it out in an entirely different way.  
WALLACE:  Why don't we, under those circumstances, deal with Red China?
WRISTON:  Well... the emotional situation is such that I think that our policy with Red China is completely frozen.   Just as our policy was of non-recognition of Russia for many years.  As you remember, after the Russian revolution,we were virtually the last great power to recognize Russia.   It took a change in administration and then Mr. Roosevelt sent Bill Bullitt there as our first ambassador.  He was somewhat disillusioned.  
WRISTON:  But I don't think any body would... or I'm wrong in that - there is a fringe who would suggest that we break off relations with Russia;  but the mass of American people think it's better to do business with Russia.   I think if the Chinese Communists stay in power, as they appear likely to, that sooner or later we will do business with them, as best we can.   Not happily.  We're not happy with our relations with Russia.
WALLACE:  You think that eventually we can and should recognize Red China?
WRISTON:  Assuming that they remain in power indefinitely, yes.  I don't see what other choice we have.
WALLACE:  You've written that we in the United States must bear a heavy responsibility, not only for the survival and freedom, but also for its spread to the rest of the world.   Now, what are the unfree peoples of the world to think of us when we boast that our free world is held together by ties with nations like Franco Spain? 
WRISTON:  I don't think that has any relevance to the question.   We went into Spain because of the fact that we had to re-insure our bases in order to protect the free world from aggression, and we didn't...  we tried not recognizing Spain... Spain wasn't allowed in the United Nations.  There was a long period where it was treated as an outcast.  
WRISTON:  But Franco stayed in power and we had finally to come to terms with the fact or else stimulate a revolution.  And our business was not to do that.   Now we have never said that we think the Franco government is a good government.
WALLACE:  Well, our own Secretary of State..when he was there in Spain just about a year ago I believe... last December... returned from a conference with Franco  and he told us in a television broadcast, he said "I felt there a genuine spirit of friendship and cordially as indeed had been the case when I was in Spain previously.   It is ties like this," he said, "that hold the free world together." 
WRISTON:  That's what I call a diplomatic statement.  I don't pay too much attention to that kind of thing.  What else could he say?   We had the bases there, he had to go and negotiate, and then he makes what is known as a diplomatic statement.   It reminds you, you know, of a diplomat is a man sent abroad to lie for his country... or to lie abroad for his country.
WALLACE:  But it's a little difficult for us to take as moral a stance as we occasionally do... our government occasionally does...  and then say things that we must regard as cynically as you regard that statement.
WRISTON:  No, I don't regard it as wholly cynically.  He didn't say approved of the Franco government.  He said he was friendly.   I don't think it's any secret that everybody in America, including Mr. Dulles, I think, would like to see a new government in Spain of a democratic character.   But we can't put it in there.
WALLACE:  We have about two minutes left, Dr. Wriston, and I know that you would like to have at least those two minutes to talk about one of your main interests...  our government's foreign service.  You have one severe criticism... one serious criticism of our foreign service as our frontline of defense, and the way it is currently going.   Would you care to...
WRISTON:  I have a very violent criticism of it.  Our front line of defense is far too thin.   It needs to be very much stronger, but you can't do this in a moment, and the weakness of our front line comes from 20 years of neglect  and the fact that the Congress of the United States has been unwilling to pay enough money in order to have a professional in London, Paris or Rome. 
WRISTON:  The first question the President has to ask is can this man afford to be the Ambassador there.   This is the wrong way to go about it.  We ought to be able to appoint anyone who has the capacity without reference to finances.  
WALLACE:  How much money would it cost annually...
WRISTON:  Five million dollars more would make it possible to have a strong foreign service and to have an adequate representation allowance  so we could put professionals anywhere where they could do the job.
WALLACE:  It certainly seems like a pittance, if it is indeed our front line of defense and becomes more so with each passing day because of our position of leadership.  
WRISTON:  That's correct.  We have shot off at Cape Canaveral in the last two months more than it would cost us.
WALLACE:  Thank you so much, Dr. Henry Wriston for coming in from Cape Cod to spend this half hour with us.   In his latest book, "Diplomacy in a Democracy," Dr. Wriston writes:  "Armaments, economic strength, alliances are not enough - policy must also be based upon moral considerations as well as the more tangible factors.   The human spirit," he says,"cannot be entered upon a balance sheet nor weighed nor measured.   Yet the human spirit remains the most potent force in all the world."  If we agree, we must pay more than lip service to that creed. 
WALLACE:  Next week we'll take a look at American culture, the American mind and what's happening to them in the so-called "Age of the Common Man".   Our guest will be a social critic who says: "I wonder whether we are producing the 'uncommon man' in sufficient quantity."   You see him here, he's Edward Weeks, author, lecturer, long-time editor of the monthly magazine, The Atlantic.   If you're curious to know why Edward Weeks worries about what he calls the pressures of bigness on American integrity and American taste and what he thinks of our press,  magazines, Hollywood films and television, we'll go after that story next week.   Till then, Mike Wallace, good night.
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The Mike Wallace Interview:
Henry Wriston

The Henry Wriston interview was digitized and indexed for the Harry Ransom Humanities Research by Bryce Spencer, School of Information, University of Texas.  Austin, April 2006.

Project coordinated by: Steve Wilson (HRHRC), Quinn Stewart and Grete Pasch (School of Information).  Rich media players and software tools by GLIFOS.  Hosting and technical support provided by Shane Williams, David Wilson, and the School of Information IT Lab.

Made possible by a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services.






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