Revelations of an inquisitive historian

I knew Schlesinger for almost 50 years, and valued his intelligence and friendship even when we disagreed.

schlesinger 88 (photo credit: )
schlesinger 88
(photo credit: )
In the recently published Journals: 1952-2000 of the late American historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. one finds only a few references to Israel. There are perhaps no more than two or three occasions that the Holocaust is mentioned, and only scant discussion of the Middle East. In perspective, that picture probably reflected the actual marginal role that those concerns, so close to us, were perceived by Schlesinger and his interlocutors. Yet they are still highly illuminating. The reader may be partly right, I suppose, in assuming that much more of these special preoccupations to us may be hidden in the 5,000 typed pages that were not included in the published Journals. From my personal experience I could testify that Schlesinger always showed keen interest in what was happening in Israel. Most of the 800-page volume reflects his profound and extensive involvement for almost half a century in American politics and manifests his intense preoccupation with US foreign policy. The extent of what was fit to be published was determined by the editors and the publisher. They may have not been indifferent after all to market considerations. A personal note might be in order here: I was drawn to these Journals because I had known Schlesinger for almost 50 years. I valued his intelligence and enormous erudition and sustained friendship even when we occasionally disagreed on some matters. I first met him at Harvard when I served in New York as the consul assigned to cope also with Boston and Cambridge Mass. Later on, we met in Washington (when he was one of Kennedy's advisers). After Kennedy's assassination and Lyndon Johnson's succession, Schlesinger resigned and moved to New York to teach and write. From that point on, the Century Club became our meeting place for over 30 years. He passed away last February. A MONTH after Kennedy's election, Schlesinger recorded in his diary a resume of his conversations with the president-elect. The central topic was the task of shaping the new administration. When they reached the subject of who would be secretary of state, the name of David Bruce, a veteran diplomat, was mentioned, but Schlesinger thought he would "not have too many ideas of his own." Later, at Kennedy's house, the president-elect talked favorably about senator J.W. Fulbright. For Kennedy, the influence of Fulbright in the Senate "seemed a paramount consideration." Schlesinger asked Kennedy if Fulbright would not "alienate the negroes and the Jews?" and Kennedy said, "I don't care about the Jews" [in this connection]. A few days later, Schlesinger learned that the apparent candidate would be Dean Rusk, who was ultimately nominated. In early December 1960 Schlesinger noted that Harris Wofford (one of Kennedy's advisers) had "succeeded in stirring up the Negroes and Jews so effectively that the uproar killed Fulbright, who was apparently Jack's (Kennedy) first choice." It appears that Fulbright never forgot his defeat. The next reference to Fulbright and Israel appears in April 1973. Schlesinger was flying to Palm Beach Florida, and he found that Fulbright and his wife were on board. Here is what Schlesinger recorded of the conversation with the senator: Fulbright "began by talking about the Middle East. He is fed up to the teeth with the immensely successful Israeli lobbying operation in the Senate... Senator Jackson could rely on about 80 votes in the Senate for any Israeli issue. The other day Fulbright had a couple of Arab diplomats for lunch. He asked a number of senators; most made excuses; one said he would come by after luncheon but did not; and only three or four accepted." What an obsessed scoundrel was this Fulbright. IN HIS entry of May 1, 1974 Schlesinger reports what Senator Ted Kennedy told him after his four-hour talk with Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow. Ted Kennedy was surprised by Brezhnev's bitterness about Henry Kissinger. He claimed that Kissinger "had deceived him into thinking that Moscow would have a role in the Middle Eastern negotiations and then had excluded Moscow from the negotiations. He implied that until Moscow was given a role, his government would have no choice but to continue sending arms to Syria." When Kennedy asked Brezhnev what he considered the three most important problems from the Soviet viewpoint, Brezhnev listed them as follows: the nuclear arms race; overall relations between the USSR and the US; and the Middle East. On January 9, 1975, Schlesinger met senator George McGovern, who was pondering whether to seek the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee's subcommittee on the Middle East. Fulbright had personally held this chairmanship himself, "in order, as he told McGovern, to prevent its falling into the hands of someone who would be too responsive to the Israeli lobby, and he has encouraged McGovern to take it on." On June 11, 1981 Schlesinger lunched with the prominent journalist Joe Alsop. The topic was "the sneak Israeli attack on the nuclear installation in Iraq, an appalling action" in Schlesinger's view; but he recorded that Bill Paley, president of CBS, and Alsop, the Wall Street Journal and even Schlesinger friend's the liberal journalist Jim Wechsler applauded the attack. When Kissinger was asked his view at a dinner party, he said, "Privately, I am pleased. I think many Arabs are pleased." At a party in April 1982, Kissinger told Schlesinger that he had "much less sympathy for Nixon now than he had in 1974-75. 'What really finished it for me was the trip to Sadat's funeral,'" when Kissinger went along with Nixon, Ford and Carter. As soon as they got into the plane, "Nixon was his old self again, trying to manipulate everybody and everything, dropping poisonous remarks, doing his best to set the people against each other." When they were later in the car without Nixon, former president Ford said to Kissinger: "Sometimes I wish I had never pardoned that son of a bitch."