On April 4, 1917, Senator William Borah, Idaho Republican, left his apartment on Wyoming Street and walked his usual route to the U.S. Capitol for one of the most difficult and important votes of his career: supporting America’s entry into World War I. Decades later, on August 7, 1964, Idaho’s Democratic Senator, Frank Church, made a similar journey to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the Capitol where he voted in favor of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that yielded unconstrained authority over the conduct of the Vietnam War to the president.

Both men would soon regret their votes, leading to soul-searching re-examinations of their views about the role of America in the international arena.

This is Part II of Curtis Eaton’s essay on Borah and Church and foreign affairs. Read Part I or continue below.

FRANK CHURCH ABROAD, IN AFRICA AND ASIA

Church’s gradual ideation of a new philosophy of American foreign policy was more protracted and introspective than Borah’s, lasting nearly a decade. Following his trip to Africa in December of 1960, Church began to see the turmoil in regions once captive to colonial powers as expressions of a search for independence rather than as a Cold War battle of ideologies. African nations, he learned, were trying to reject the Cold War model of foreign policy as too doctrinaire for the multiplicity of their experiences, according to LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer’s Fighting the Odds. At least by the end of 1961, Church was growing increasingly skeptical of the Cold War model that remained the underpinning all of American foreign policy.Story Guide
Part I: Forty years apart
1. The Borah-Church Parallels
2. Borah And The Monroe Doctrine
3. Borah’s Domestic Turn
4. Church’s Internationalist Evolution
5. High Water Mark of a Cold Warrior
6. Intervention in Mexico
Part II: Development of foreign policy
7. Church Abroad
8. Church Evolves
9. Borah’s Writings
10. Church’s Intellectual Torment
11. Toward Greatness In Global Affairs

In an article for the New York Times Magazine that was rejected for being too long, Church asserted that American foreign policy was the prisoner of dangerous myths. He thought the simplistic characterization of the struggle between freedom on the one hand and communism on the other was an entrapment of logic that often lead to a 1984-type definition of security, resulting in U.S. support of dictators around the world. He thought, according to Fighting the Odds, that, “if Americans could not shake free of their myths about that world, they would stumble through endless disasters — including a dangerous over-commitment in Asia.”

Church was beginning to formulate a new framework for U.S. foreign policy, better adapted to the reality of revolutionary change evident around the globe. Particularly in Africa, but also in Asia and Latin America, Church was discovering a fatal flaw in the policy of intervention inherent in Cold War strategies — it didn’t work.

Frank Church in Africa


Sen. Frank Church travelled to Nigeria and the Sudan in 1960. Frank Church Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University.

His reformulation of the tenets of his philosophy of foreign policy did not follow a straight line. While struggling with what he was coming to believe were disastrous consequences of Cold War policy, Church nevertheless continued to support, at least through appropriations votes, interventionist policies of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

In late 1962, Church and other senators toured Laos and Vietnam. While the senators’ report generally supported the U.S. strategic commitment, the report expressed doubt that the local governments were capable of generating support of their citizens. The U.S. continued to prop up the Diem government, even when apparent that it was not gaining support of the Vietnamese people.

Church toured villages constructed by Diem, with the assistance of the U.S., under the so-called “strategic hamlets” program. It was a plan based on extirpation of whole villages in order to transplant them in locations that arguably would be more militarily secure. Church thought the program destabilized and damaged traditional rural communication networks and following the tour, he called the plan “insane.”

The senator began focusing on ever-clearer evidence that U.S. support of South Vietnam had little to do with support of the Vietnamese people and virtually everything to do with implementing the Cold War policy of “protecting” Vietnam from communist takeover, requisite to preventing the fall of other “dominoes” in the region. Although deeply worried about the developments in Vietnam, as stated by Ashby and Gramer, in 1963 Church continued to look for ways to salvage a bad situation rather than fundamentally reassessing the premises of U.S. policies.

Frank and Bethine Church in Vietnam


Col. Philip S. Pomeroy, Jr. discusses trip to U.S. special Forces Training Center at Dam Pau and Strategic Hamlet North of Dalat in Tuyon Duo Province, Republic ofSouth Vietnam, 1962, with Frank and Bethine Church. Frank Church Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University.

Upheavals of that year, highlighted by the assassinations of both Diem and Kennedy, caused Church to become ever more reflective about the deficiencies of American policies and heightened his fear that the morass of Vietnam precluded the American government from focusing energies on important domestic issues. The social disorder beginning to boil over in American cities was reflected in Church’s personal turmoil. Like Borah at the end of WWI, Church was increasingly attuned to the human and financial costs of the Vietnam War.

In June of 1964 Church took the floor of the Senate intending to speak about the 20th anniversary of the United Nations. He spoke differently. He extemporaneously poured out his thoughts about current events in Southeast Asia. He said the war was political and unwinnable. He thought that expanding the war was counterproductive and was causing the U.S. to sink further into the Southeast Asian quicksand. This speech was the first public indication of his reconsideration of the foreign policy paradigm that he was beginning to reconstruct.

Despite misgivings about the war, Church nevertheless supported President Johnson’s request for expanded authority to prosecute the war.

Church wanted to leave no doubt about his patriotic support of the Administration:  “There is a time to question the route of the flag, and there is a time to rally around it, lest it be routed,” he’s quoted saying in Fighting. Additionally, Church was so fearful of a Goldwater victory in the 1964 presidential contest with Lyndon Johnson that he came to Johnson’s aid in his claim of being tough on the communists by supporting Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Soon after, Church began his fight to reel in the expansiveness of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that had led to increased military presence rather than the limitations he had envisioned at the time of his vote.

The UN speech that revealed his skepticism toward U.S. foreign policy in June and the Tonkin Resolution vote of unlimited authority for the president in August 1964 show Church’s ambivalence toward bucking the underlying Cold War assumptions and the protective skin of popular opinion. Expression of his deep reservations about the war in June of 1964, however, foreshadowed the philosophical direction in which he was headed.
Story Guide
Part I: Forty years apart
1. The Borah-Church Parallels
2. Borah And The Monroe Doctrine
3. Borah’s Domestic Turn
4. Church’s Internationalist Evolution
5. High Water Mark of a Cold Warrior
6. Intervention in Mexico
Part II: Development of foreign policy
7. Church Abroad
8. Church Evolves
9. Borah’s Writings
10. Church’s Intellectual Torment
11. Toward Greatness In Global Affairs

CHURCH EVOLVES ON VIETNAM AS NIXON COMES TO POWER

Church continued to vacillate between support for the curtain-drawing policies of the Cold War and his emerging views that the U.S. should not use its military might to interfere in other countries’ indigenous conflicts. In 1965, he wrote an article for the New York Times called “We are in too Deep in Africa and Asia,” in which he questioned the efficacy of U.S. involvement in the various regions of the world. He said the U.S. had been acting as if, “we had been designated on high to act as trustee in bankruptcy for the broken empires.” Nevertheless, he continued to support the Johnson Administration’s expanded military involvement in Vietnam. Church even commended the president for sending Marines to the Dominican Republic to quell an insurgency.

church, et al, with Borah portrait


Sens. Fulbright, Mansfield, Church and Morse with Borah portrait. Frank Church Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University.

Church’s refusal at the time to abandon Cold War policies was partly due to practical re-election politics. He was asked, since he was opposed to U.S. actions in Southeast Asia, why he did not just vote against appropriations for the war. He said that there simply were not enough votes for the opposition to succeed and, as Ashby and Gramer state, “he was not about to join a few senators in a futile stand that would open him to criticism for betraying American soldiers in battle. It would only show that he could cut off his own political head.”

At the end of the Johnson Administration and the beginning of Nixon’s, Church continued to advocate for a negotiated peace that would lead to the end of the war. It was evident that Johnson had waited too long to effectuate any serious negotiation. It later came to light that Nixon’s advisors were sending word to the North Vietnamese that they would receive better terms in a negotiated settlement if they waited for the Republican presidency.

Nixon’s campaign promise of a secret plan to withdraw from the war by expanding into Cambodia and Laos was revealed early in his administration. Shortly after Nixon’s accession to the presidency, according to Bethine Church’s book, it became evident to Church that he needed to lead the congressional effort to restrict the executive branch’s claim of unlimited authority. With his legislative activism directed at ending the expansion of the war in Southeast Asia, Church exited the transitional phase of his thinking about foreign policy and firmly opposed the Cold War paradigm of intervention.

While his legislation very practically focused on the fiscal issues of the war, his philosophy became a framework for casting off a simplistic, bi-polar analysis of international affairs and replacing it with the greatly more complex and difficult task of defining America’s vital national interest in the modern global environment.

BORAH’S WRITINGS ON INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

Borah’s advocacy, decades prior, of recognizing the Soviet government was two-pronged. He was very critical of the U.S. sending troops to Russia to try to undermine the Revolution and he thought that failure to recognize this new government was hypocritical because the U.S. recognized dictatorial regimes in other countries. He thought that sending an expeditionary force of U.S. troops to patrol territory extending from the Baltic to the Ukraine, lasting more than a year, was precisely the imperial behavior that the U.S. had traditionally disdained. He thought the expedition was diametrical to the American tradition of refraining from tampering in the affairs of a sovereign state.

“I take the position,” he said, “that the Russian people have the same right to establish a socialistic state as we have to establish a Republic.” In fact, according to Maddox, he believed that use of force to confront the Bolsheviks actually served their cause.

William Edgar Borah

Harris & Ewing / LOC
William Edgar Borah

Borah thought that native peoples in each region of the world held an inherent right to express their cultural values in the forms of government they choose and that the U.S. should support movements of nationalism and domestic reform everywhere and not oppose them with American dollars and lives, according to McKenna’s Borah biography. Borah believed that the Soviet government represented over 90 percent of the Russian people, who had suffered and sacrificed to produce a governmental structure similar to the manner in which the United States reconstituted following its Revolutionary War in 1789. As Borah analyzed the Russian Revolution and the American Revolution, he concluded that the causes were similar.

Borah responded to critics who asked how the U.S. could justify approval of the government of Soviet murderers by reminding them that the U.S. had recognized the tsars before and Turkish governments as well, and that they were, “decidedly bloody and murderous.” According to Claudius O. Johnson’s early biography, Borah rejected the idea that recognition of the Soviet government meant endorsement of the type of government it represented.

As Maddox writes, “Tampering in revolutionary situations all over the world, Borah thought, was a hazardous pastime with no chance of success. These upheavals contained their own ‘inevitable logic’ which outside pressures were powerless to alter significantly.” Remote regions of the world have their own internal logic, he supposed, the subtleties of which are incomprehensible to outsiders. Intervention in their affairs for the purpose of imposing Western political values on an alien culture is chimeric.

Borah was perplexed by hand-wringing American businessmen mortified by proposals to include Bolsheviks in the councils of respectable capitalistic nations. According to Maddox, Borah thought that if they believed so strongly in the superiority of capitalist system, they should not fear Bolshevik contamination.

Borah’s scorn toward the Treaty of Versailles after World War I was consistent with his attitude toward the recognition of Russia. He thought the treaty preserved the status quo for the imperial courts of Europe. He saw revolution in Russia as cutting off one branch of the European monarchical tree. He was sure that the Russian Revolution was an example of nationalistic upheaval in which the U.S. should avoid involvement because, as Frank Church wrote 50 years later, it will be discovered too late that the U.S. was in too deep.
Story Guide
Part I: Forty years apart
1. The Borah-Church Parallels
2. Borah And The Monroe Doctrine
3. Borah’s Domestic Turn
4. Church’s Internationalist Evolution
5. High Water Mark of a Cold Warrior
6. Intervention in Mexico
Part II: Development of foreign policy
7. Church Abroad
8.Church Evolves
9. Borah’s Writings
10. Church’s Intellectual Torment
11. Toward Greatness In Global Affairs

CHURCH’S INTELLECTUAL TORMENT

As early as 1965 Church’s writings foretold coming changes in his thinking about the role of the U.S. in international affairs. In “We Are In too Deep in Africa and Asia” he argued that the real underlying causes of conflict were forces of nationalism that resorted to violence in order to throw off shackles of colonialism. In “How Many Dominican Republics and Vietnams Can We Take On?” Church critiqued the U.S. penchant of rushing around the world as self-appointed fireman, extinguishing fires it suspected communists had ignited. He was becoming convinced that failed Cold War policies were driving the U.S. to the brink of fiscal and moral bankruptcy. The press release for his Senate speech, “Torment in the Land,” on February 21, 1968, said he believed that there must be an “agonizing reappraisal” of American foreign policy.

Church, “had come, reluctantly but inescapably, to the conclusion that current policy… is leading the country toward disaster.” Noting the riotous destruction and despoliation of American cities rampant in the late ’60s, Church said the U.S. should turn its attention to its own troubled land; he vehemently decried the foreign policies that diverted fiscal and human resources toward the warfare state away from critical domestic needs.

Church with Borah, eagle


Sen. Frank Church, flanked by an eagle and image of Borah, for campaign publicity shot. Frank Church Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University.

In “Torment,” Church said, “The doctrine of universal intervention is nothing less than a prescription for disaster.” Virulent nationalism cannot be cured by U.S. intervention — merely another Western nation interfering in the affairs of a distant country, he stated. The policy of universal intervention bought neither security nor peace. Instead of an “ostrich-like isolationism,” Church proposed a middle ground for U.S. foreign policy. He advocated a policy of strength with restraint.

We should, “rediscover the guidance bequeathed to [the] U.S. by our earliest statesmen, men who understood, from the first, that our capacity to influence other lands depends upon our moral leadership, not our military might; upon the force of our example, not the force of our arms.”

Church advocated a policy position similar to that of John Quincy Adams’ speech on July 4, 1821, which described the U.S. “[as] the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.” Adams continued, “she will recommend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and by the benignant sympathy of her example.” Adams said that if America were to become habitually interventionist, “she might become the dictatress of the world (but) would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit.”

Even though the senator was in a serious contest with a very conservative Republican for his third term, he felt compelled to speak openly and honestly about the American foreign policy he thought was near bankruptcy. In the year following his ’68 re-election, Church published a paper entitled “Revolution and World Order,” in which he critiqued the status quo of global affairs and the attempted domination by two countries, acting as if they were empires prior to World War I, acting out a ritualized and anachronistic 19th century concept of the balance of power.

The balance of power that the U.S. and the USSR sought to preserve was leading each country into mammoth expenditures of resources in order to preserve a precarious stalemate across a parceled-out world. In “World Order,” Church wrote, “We must and can learn to live with widespread revolutionary turmoil. We must because it is not within our means to stem the tide; we can because social revolution is not nearly so menacing to [the] U.S. as we have supposed…”

We must, he said, liberate ourselves from ideological obsession — from the automatic association of social revolution with communism…” He concluded: “We need not rely on military intervention to give freedom a chance of surviving in the world; and that only by being true to our traditional values and our own best concept of ourselves can we hope to play a decent and constructive role in a revolutionary world.”

In December of that same year, Church wrote “The Only Alternative” published in the December issue of Washington Monthly. Church advocated for the complete and early withdrawal of forces from Vietnam without mentioning a deadline. One of the rationales for on-going fighting in Vietnam had been that the war was exemplary and must be prosecuted in order to show the world that the U.S. will stand by its commitment to uproot communist fervor wherever it may be found. But Nixon had just announced in a speech in Guam that Asia could not look for U.S. support in other Vietnam-type upheavals.

So, Church wrote, if in fact Vietnam had such a purpose, it was lost with the acknowledgement by Nixon that the U.S. would resist such future temptations. The country must come to its senses as, “nearly everyone now recognizes that our intervention in Vietnam was in error” and that, “this country has no vital interest at stake in Vietnam.”

Church wrote further: “The deep disillusionment of young people in their country has its roots in the Vietnam war… Once moral authority of the government is rejected, on an issue so fundamental as a wrongful war, every lesser institution of authority is placed in jeopardy. I am convinced that we must end the war… before we can begin to stick this country back together again.” Church added a heartfelt comment toward the end of his Washington Monthly essay: “There is one thing in which we can take hope, and that is the great force of our American moral traditions.”

TOWARD GREATNESS IN GLOBAL AFFAIRS

Story Guide
Part I: Forty years apart
1. The Borah-Church Parallels
2. Borah And The Monroe Doctrine
3. Borah’s Domestic Turn
4. Church’s Internationalist Evolution
5. High Water Mark of a Cold Warrior
6. Intervention in Mexico
Part II: Development of foreign policy
7. Church Abroad
8.Church Evolves
9. Borah’s Writings
10. Church’s Intellectual Torment
11. Toward Greatness In Global Affairs

Although serving in different eras, each senator concluded that it was not in the vital interest of the United States to attempt to preserve the status quo everywhere in the world. Civil wars between indigenous peoples in regions and countries around the world generally are struggles of native populations trying to rid themselves of oppressive governments that were the legatees of colonialism. The senators came to believe that whether or not revolts and civil turmoil result in a form of government that melds easily with U.S. values, it is a question of internal politics in the region and not something to be imposed by foreign powers.

The rugged Borah, who always looked somewhat rumpled and disheveled, bulldozed his way through issues. Less imposing physically, Church (sometimes referred to as Senator Cathedral because of his tendency to moralize) was never in a fist fight and would have lost if he had been. He slogged through issues as meticulously as a scientist. Through his patience with the legislative process, including arduous and protracted negotiations leading to the Cooper-Church and the Case-Church amendments limiting presidential control of the Vietnam War, Church gave credence and impetus to widespread anti-war sentiment.

For 12 years, Borah gave voice to the very unpopular cause of official recognition of the Soviet Union. During the Roosevelt presidency, Borah’s attitude became mainstream thinking. As elaborate and sophisticated as the two senators’ arguments could be at times, their underlying rationale for a restricted U.S. foreign policy framework was very simple: America should return to its tradition of influence-by-example and abandon the futility of military force.

Borah and Church reached the similar conclusion — considered by many in each of the eras in which they served to be heretical — that the U.S. could not afford to waste its money, lives or moral capital pursuing an ever-expanding interventionist foreign policy. Intervention was too costly, didn’t work and seriously tarnished America’s image abroad.

Frank Church letter to Curtis Eaton

Courtesy Curtis Eaton
Frank Church penned this heart-felt letter to the author, Curtis Eaton, in 1969, as Church’s opposition to the Vietnam War — and how to get the U.S. out of the war — strengthened. [Click to read the letter.]

Both senators agonized over the costs of war and America’s failure to address long neglected domestic issues. In the Senate and in speeches across the country, the Idaho senators called attention to the hypocrisy of U.S. policy in supporting dictators and despots wherever convenient to U.S. interests and opposing, through military intervention, dictators who were not pro-American. In their different eras, as fringe members of the conservative establishment, the senators propounded a plausible yet unconventional underpinning for change in U.S. foreign policies. From Church’s 1969 letter to the author, Curtis Eaton: “Don’t judge your country, the integrity of its institutions, the character of its people, too harshly. The times are soured by a mistaken war from which there is no easy path of extrication.”

Both Borah and Church were sometimes seen as radicals if not traitors. They eventually acquired reputations as respectable spokesmen of a strand of foreign policy that had antecedents dating to the first days of the republic. They invoked American sacred texts on the nature of revolutionary change, including the preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another… (and) when a long train of abuses and usurpations… evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government…

For Senator Church and Senator Borah, American foreign policy at its best recognized the global diversity of cultures and traditions and the right of native peoples to change their government when abuses, usurpations and oppression demand it and, most importantly, without interference from foreign governments.

Borah was an idealist — at times a utopian — who thought Washington and Jefferson’s century-old principles of non-intervention in world affairs were meant to be acted upon. And so he did. Church’s favorite play was Man of La Mancha and from “Dream the impossible Dream” he often sang, “this is my quest… to reach the unreachable star.” Quixote had challenged the powerful and in so doing occasionally tilted at windmills. And so did Church.

Borah and Church’s transformed views on American foreign policy, while different in nuance, were dramatic departures from policies they each supported and advocated at the beginning of their careers. Each fought for his belief that traditional American values needed to be retrieved from the misguided policies of interventionism in global affairs.

In the last quarter of the 18th Century, Gibbon observed that, “the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness.” Borah, and Church after him, sought an alternative way to express American greatness in global affairs that would help to avoid American decline.

The author would like to thank Dr. LeRoy Ashby, Washington State University professor emeritus, and Dr. Russ Tremayne, professor at the College of Southern Idaho, for their stimulating encouragement and well-informed guidance in researching and writing this chapter and Garry Wenske, director of the Frank Church Institute, for his valuable suggestions.

Share:Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on TumblrBuffer this pageEmail this to someonePrint this page

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University or the School of Public Service.