When it was becoming clear that the tide of World War II was turning, after Battle of Midway, after Battle of Stalingrad, when Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps was on the run, an unknown, first-term congressman introduced a resolution that would help shape the post-war world.
The freshman congressman was J. William Fulbright, Democrat of Arkansas. His resolution was only one sentence, as “plain as an old hat,” said Life magazine at the time: “Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring) that the Congress hereby expresses itself as favoring the creation of appropriate international machinery with power adequate to establish and to maintain a just and lasting peace among the nations of the world, and as favoring participation by the United States therein.”
In June of 1943, an isolationist Republican from Ohio, John Vorys, rose to voice his approval, and the resolution was passed. Vorys’s conversion marked the beginning of the United States’s bipartisan, multilateralist foreign policy that would lead to the forming of the United Nations, reversing America’s decision after World War I not to join the League of Nations.
Fulbright, a former Rhodes Scholar and University of Arkansas president, was elected to the Senate the following year. He would go on to become the only senator to vote against the appropriation for Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Un-American Activities Committee, and, afterward, as the longest serving chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which so ably illuminated the absurdities of the Vietnam War.
Flowing from his early internationalist resolution came the creation of the Fulbright Scholar Program, signed into law by Harry Truman in 1946. It promoted educational exchanges between foreign students and Americans to facilitate “mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries of the world.” It is a program I have been involved with over the years.