In response to:
The Responsibility of Intellectuals from the November 9, 1967 issue
To the Editors:
Since my correspondence with Senator Fulbright appeared in the NYR (Dec. 9), I have received a number of letters which indicate that I did not make my reasons for resigning from the selection committee sufficiently clear. Many of the letters remind me that the Fulbright scholar is left entirely free to express critical opinions of American foreign policy. I agree. I said as much in my original letter, but I also tried to indicate why that very fact places the scholar in an awkward position. May I try once again?
Let us suppose that the scholar appears in a symposium on American foreign policy in Paris, and that he takes a forthright position against our intervention in Vietnam. At the same time the audience knows that he is in France under the auspices of the government that is waging that savage war. “See,” the American government in effect is saying to the French audience, “we are so deeply committed to the cause of freedom that we sponsor our critics.”
At this moment, to repeat, the scholar finds himself in an awkward, not to say false, position. He has been allowed to say what he thinks, to be sure, but his presence serves to advance quite another, dubious proposition. While he is saying that the war is wrong, his role implies that on balance the actions of his government serve the cause of freedom. The question he must ask himself, then, is whether he wants to endorse the tacit claim that our government makes when it sends him abroad. In other words, should the scholarly community help to confer upon our government a more benign and dignified character than it deserves? The question, admittedly, is not easy to answer, but surely we do not want to endorse the view, implied by some of my correspondents, that we will go on accepting the favors of our government, no matter how militaristic or destructive its actions, so long as it favors us.
Department of English
February 15, 1968