To the Editor:

. . . Just how much I shall miss Hans J. Morgenthau’s lucid political analysis became painfully clear to me while reading Mr. Henry Fairlie’s recent contribution [“Johnson and the Intellectuals,” October 1965]. Mr. Fairlie seems to have known some British politicians very intimately, but can he ever have known any intellectuals? To say, as he does, that intellectuals hesitate to make definite and unqualified statements within their specialized fields is absurd. What about such recent controversies as those involving the Dead Sea Scrolls, the origins of the Second World War, the age of the universe . . .? A scholar, like a politician, must frequently make up his mind without all the evidence he would like to have—which hardly absolves either one of them from the obligation of basing his decision on the best available evidence. But Mr. Fairlie demurs. “Power is safe,” he tells us, “only if it is exercised . . . without claim to reason.” If, as this suggests, power should be exercised without reason, we might as well go back to divination by the flight of birds. . . .

The critical point is this: without a fundamental respect for the truth, the political leaders of a powerful country like the U.S. may all too easily delude themselves as to the motives and consequences of their policies. This is the point which Professor Morgenthau has been reiterating in his recent writings on Vietnam. On the occasion of the CBS teach-in last June, to which Mr. Fairlie refers, Mc-George Bundy “annihilated” Professor Morgenthau only by employing that crudest of all debating tricks—simply giving the lie, with no supporting evidence, to every one of Professor Morgenthau’s assertions; these included the assertion that the desertion rate in the South Vietnamese army was growing—a fact Professor Morgenthau had learned that very day from an unimpeachable government source. . . . Apparently Mr. Fairlie not only approves of Mr. Bundy’s debating style but thinks it is the only appropriate style for politicians. And on the subject of style, I might mention that few of the intellectuals I know object to Johnson’s style or were taken in by Kennedy’s. Many of us do object, however, to policies based on the mindless slogans of American cold warriors. In Vietnam, particularly, U.S. policy has been crippled by such intellectually impoverished substitutes for real political ideas as the domino theory, the defense of the free world, and counterinsurgency. (Whatever happened, by the way, to the strategic hamlet program?)

One final irony on the subject of Vietnam and the intellectuals should be noted. It was in fact a group of American professors who initially helped to maneuver the U.S. into an increasingly deep involvement in Vietnam. I refer to the Michigan State University group who acted as advisers to Diem during the years 1955—60, helping among other things to build up his notorious secret police apparatus. . . . To undo the tragic errors perpetrated in Vietnam by an unholy alliance of academics with military advisers and CIA agents, we now need some imaginative initiatives. . . .If intellectuals don’t provide these initiatives, who will? Surely not the State Department, Department of Defense, CIA, or a thoroughly cowed Congress. An example of such an imaginative initiative in Vietnam is the Mekong Delta project designed to develop the land and water resources of a great river basin. President Johnson recognized the political significance of this project when he alluded to it in his Johns Hopkins speech (April 1965). I can only conclude that there are more relations between politics and intellectual pursuits than are dreamed of in Mr. Fairlie’s philosophy.

Robert Palter
Department of Philosophy
University of Texas
Austin, Texas

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