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Journey Into Our Times
The “conversion” of Arthur Vandenberg, told by a former Secretary of State, his sometime adversary but also his friend
February 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 2
Secretary Hull and I found ourselves in the middle of this “showdown”; that is to say, we found ourselves before a Senate subcommittee appointed to investigate the suspected coup d’état. Hull, quite innocent of evil-doing, took umbrage at the vigor of Senator Thomas Connally’s examination of him and, after the first hearing, withdrew from the proceedings. It was left to Vandenberg and me to restore peace. This was not hard to do. As Vandenberg became informed about the extent of the relief problem and the way it was proposed to bring all friendly nations into the task of meeting it, he became convinced that the plan was a good one. A few changes in the text made plain what we had thought obvious, that the Executive could not bind the Congress to make future appropriations and would seek congressional authorization. To a critic who thought that the result of all the fuss was a long way from the projected “showdown,” Vandenberg replied, “I do not consider this to be the ‘surrender’—I consider it to be the ‘triumph’ of constitutional procedure.”
Well, it was not that, because the issue was never involved. But nonetheless, the exercise was a valuable one. It resulted in Vandenberg’s becoming the proponent and eloquent advocate of UNRRA, after having first and publicly exorcised from it all evil spirits. Without both, it might well never have been possible. And without this episode, much in our postwar history might not have been possible. For not only did this minor experience hasten the education of Arthur Vandenberg, but it was the forerunner of a ritual of statesmanship that I was to experience many times, and always with fascination.
Senator Vandenberg, faced with a proposal to take a step into the strange and frightening postwar world, invariably began by resisting the proposal. He declared the end unattainable, the means hairbrained, and the cost staggering, particularly some mysterious costs which he thought were bound to occur but which the proposer had not foreseen because of faulty preparation. This first phase, the phase of opposition, usually lasted through one meeting and sometimes longer. AH the while, Vandenberg was testing the proposal by attacking it; and he was learning a great deal in the process.
Then followed the period of gestation. The pro posai grew and developed within him. This period had various manifestations, depending on the time available and the importance of the proposal. It could be, as we have seen with UNRRA, a fairly short time, a time of “assuming for the sake of argument that we go ahead with this, where will it lead and what will it accomplish?” This gave Vandenberg an opportunity to try out statements of the merits of the proposal and possible answers to arguments against it. He thought out loud; and his talk would proceed with mounting enthusiasm as conviction and confidence grew. But this period could take another and longer form, as it did in the case of the Marshall Plan. There, upon Senator Vandenberg’s suggestion, committees were set up under Secretary of Commerce W. Averell Harriman and Julius A. Krug, Secretary of the Interior, to determine the capability of the country to carry out the plan and the economic consequences to it of doing so. This gave time for the country, the Republicans, and the Senator to get used to the idea and for the weight of supporting fact to have its effect.
At this stage Senator Vandenberg was convinced but not committed. Before that occurred, one further step remained to be taken. We called it, variously, “applying the trade-mark,” or “determining the price.” This meant either stamping the proposal with a Vandenberg brand, or exacting from the Administration a concession which he thought politically important. AVe have had one illustration in his insistence upon formal changes in the UNRRA draft. Let me give others.
When, in 1947, President Truman was discussing with congressional leaders his proposal for American aid to Greece and Turkey, he stressed that the attacks and pressures upon these countries were not, as surface appearances might suggest, merely due to border rows originating with their neighbors, but were part of a scries of Soviet moves, which included stepped up Communist party activity in Italy, France, and Germany. I can see Senator Vandenberg now, suddenly leaning forward on the sola in the President’s office and saying, “It you will say that to the whole country, I will support you.” The presentation was put in this way, to the surprise and disapproval of some commentators.
Again, when the Administration bill was introduced into Congress, no mention was made in it of the United Nations. Senator Vandenberg pounced on this and insisted that the bill should provide for cessation of United States aid if and when the United Nations should take charge of the situation. Both he and I knew that this event would never occur, since the Soviet Union would prevent it, but he was quite right in his point. The change was important, and provisions like this have been standard practice ever since. I agreed at once and offered to propose the change at the hearings on the bill. But he would have none of that. The change was proposed as the “Vandenberg Amendment.” The brand had been applied; and fair enough it was.