FULBRIGHT: A Biography by Randall Bennett Woods

FULBRIGHT: A Biography

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A cool, intellectual biography of the patrician southern politician who became one of America's most influential opponents of the Vietnam war. Arkansas Democrat J. William Fulbright (1905-95), a senator for 30 years, was the longest-serving chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in US history (1959-74). He was capable of great courage: in his crucial early support for American entry into the United Nations, in his opposition to McCarthyism, in founding the international academic exchange program that bears his name, and in his 1966 call for talks with Red China. On the other hand, Fulbright's refusal to break ranks with southern segrationists marred his distinguished record. Woods (History/Univ. of Arkansas) argues that Fulbright, a wealthy intellectual with little interest in domestic issues, was incapable of empathizing with his poorer black and white constituents. His concerns were international, and he was years ahead of most of his colleagues in his nuanced views of communism, anticolonial national liberation movements, and the Cold War. By 1966, Fulbright had concluded that the nation's leaders were tragically mistaken in believing that Vietnam was a crucial battlefield against international communism. He convened historic Senate hearings that for the first time debated a war in which the US government was still involved. Woods offers intimate, thoroughly researched insights into the reasoning behind this and other major policy positions taken by Fulbright over his long career. He is far less revealing about his subject's personal life, saying, in effect, that to know the politics is to know the man. This analytical approach fails in areas, such as civil rights, where Fulbright was sketchy about revealing his decision-making process. On most issues, however, the senator left an extensive public and private record that Woods has mined with great skill. A window into US history from the genesis of the Cold War to America's withdrawal from Vietnam: crucial reading for anyone who would understand the politics of that era.

Pub Date: July 17th, 1995
ISBN: 0521028337
Page count: 704pp
Publisher: Cambridge Univ.