In January and February 1966, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, J. William Fulbright, held a series of televised public hearings to discuss the deepening military involvement of the United States in Vietnam. Fulbright summoned to testify three pro-Administration witnesses (Secretary of State Dean Rusk, AID Administrator David E. Bell, and General Maxwell D. Taylor, Ret.) and two non-Administration witnesses (Lieutenant General James M. Gavin and Dr. George F. Kennan, former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union). An abridged transcript was published under the title The Vietnam Hearings (Random House, 1966).
Historians have been struck in particular by the prescience of Kennanâ€™s warning against the use of American arms to prop up a government that lacks the popular support to defend itself. In the comment reprinted here, prompted by a question from Senator Frank Carlson (R-KS), the only changes necessary for a translation to the present war are to substitute Afghanistan for Vietnam, and to substitute the Taliban for the Communists. ~DB
from Testimony of the Honorable George F. Kennan, Thursday, 10 February 1966
SENATOR CARLSON: This morning you stated in response to a question, and this is not an exact quote but as I took it down, â€œWe cannot order the political realities or views of other nations by our military power.â€ Would you want to elaborate a little on that? If we are not going to do it by military power in this age when we are confronted with nations who seem to respect only military might, what can we do?
KENNAN: I am talking about the internal affairs of other peoples here, and about theâ€”our entering into those internal affairs and deciding what sort of political conditions shall prevail, and this gives me opportunity to say something that I feel very strongly about. When it comes to helping people to resist Communist pressures of all sortsâ€”whether you call them aggression or whatever you call themâ€”it has been my conviction for many years that no assistance of this sort can be effective unless the people themselves have a very high degree of determination and a willingness to help themselves. The moment they begin to place the bulk of the burden on us, I think the whole situation is lost. So strongly do I feel about this that I have often said publicly that the only people worth helping in this world are the people who say, â€œWe propose to survive whether you help us or not, and just because you donâ€™t help us doesnâ€™t mean we are going to go under. It means that we are going to fight to the last ditch anyway but it may be a little easier if you help us.â€
Now, the people who take that standpoint, there is something you can latch onto. But I am extremely suspicious every time I hear it said that â€œIf you Americans donâ€™t give us more than you have given us or if you slacken your efforts on our behalf, we will become fainthearted, and then what will become of you?â€ And I think there is only one answer to this, and that is, â€œWhatever becomes of us will not be as bad as what becomes of you yourselves if you become fainthearted.â€
In other words, I do not believe in the possibility of helping people when it comes to problems that are partly problems of their internal political life, unless they themselves have a very high degree of determination and of internal self-discipline; and if things have deteriorated so far in these countries that they canâ€™t mobilize this sort of public morale and determination, I donâ€™t think any foreign force can put it into them. I think, then, the entry of a foreign force into the situation confuses it and creates new confusing elements which make it all the more difficult, and I think this is what has happened inVietnam, and I have seen it happen in other situations in history.