Fulbright Essay - Critical Essays

Randall Bennett Woods


As “life-and-times” books go, this biography is a decent one. While its focus is on J. William Fulbright’s chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), especially his opposition to the Vietnam War, Woods does not neglect the roots or political education of the “Junior Senator” from Arkansas (so-called because John McClellan’s six-term tenure as U.S. Senator from Arkansas, beginning in 1942, commenced two years prior to Fulbright’s first of five terms). Labeling Fulbright a conservative internationalist, the author interprets many of Fulbright’s actions, values, and personality traits (including his snobbishness, vanity, and contentiousness) in the light of his formative experiences as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford.

Proud, stubborn, and intellectually arrogant, Fulbright was a natural dissenter, like his Republican predecessor on the SFRC, Henry Cabot Lodge. More pragmatic but only slightly less preachy than Lodge’s nemesis, Southerner Woodrow Wilson, another Anglophile and scholar in politics, Fulbright was more capable of intellectual growth on world matters than on the race question. In this, Fulbright was quite the opposite of his nemesis, Lyndon B. Johnson.

While the book is not particularly intimate, fails to assess fully the impact of the Fulbright exchange program, and essentially reiterates arguments made with more cogency in William C. Berman’s WILLIAM FULBRIGHT AND THE VIETNAM WAR (1988), it is well-researched, readable, and, unlike most books of its genre, gives proper credit to a group of remarkable staff members, including SFRC Chief of Staff Carl Marcy and speechwriter Seth Tillman, who, among other things, put together THE ARROGANCE OF POWER, Fulbright’s seminal critique of American postwar foreign policy.

Sources for Further Study

Chicago Tribune. August 27, 1995, XIV, p. 1.

The Economist. CCCXXXVI, September 16, 1995, p. 99.

Foreign Affairs. LXXIV, November, 1995, p. 124.

Houston Chronicle. September 3, 1995, p. Z23.

Library Journal. CXX, July, 1995, p. 90.

National Journal. XXVII, September 16, 1995, p. 2285.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLII, June 12, 1995, p. 55.

The Wall Street Journal. August 7, 1995, p. A13.

The Washington Post Book World. XXV, August 13, 1995, p. 1.