Dean Rusk Hall Dedication Luncheon and Program


Dean Rusk Hall Dedication Luncheon and Program

Friday, September 20, 1996

The Classic Center, Athens, Georgia, 1-3 p.m.

ELSPETH D. ROSTOW (former dean, LBJ School of Public Affairs, and Stiles Professor Emerita in American Studies):

Dear members of the family of Dean and Virginia Rusk, dignitaries, ladies, and gentlemen: I can't help but start with the statement that we have heard and learned so much about Dean Rusk already, that Walt and I are in an invidious position. It reminds me of a story of a man in Washington, who, on Halloween, went to his door to see a neighbor child dressed as an angel; halo quivering; holding out a bag for contributions. He was a nature lover. He took a rosy apple, rubbed it on his tweed jacket, and dropped it in the angel's bag. She looked down, then raised her blue eyes and said, "Son of a bitch, you broke all my cookies!"

There is very little, in short, that we can say about Dean Rusk that has not already eloquently been said in Julia Johnson White's wonderful video, by the eloquence of President Knapp, Dean Spurgeon, and by the knowledge of a great many here of Professor Rusk -- knowledge which we, in distant Austin, knew of but appreciated at remote. However, I will be brief. The routine is this: It's sort of like bookends. I will say a few words; Walt will be the book; then I will say a word or two at the end. However, I should point out to you that, coming from Austin, I come from a town that just recently has dedicated an older building to another member of the Rusk family, Thomas Jefferson Rusk, hero of Texas. The building was the Treasury Building, and the dedication came about through one of our senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison. At the dedication, it was pointed out that Rusk, the earlier Rusk, had been not just a hero, but he had participated in the writing of the Texas Declaration of Independence, that he had been at Washington and the Brazos, and that he had chosen the site for the Battle of San Jacinto which, happily from the point of view of Texas, worked out correctly. However, I will point out to you that the building that you will now see, named after Thomas Jefferson Rusk, the former Treasury Building, represents a fact of Texas that you may not know: We no longer have a state treasury. So, you have a living tradition in international law. What we have is the past of a state treasury, now a part of history.

Well, I'm here, not as a part of history, but as a friend of the Rusks, and I will choose only one story to demonstrate it. In the period looking forward to the election of 1964, the Secretary of State realized that the delegations from the many countries then in Washington were comprised of people, very few of whom know much about the mysteries of U.S. government, not to mention the U.S. Constitution. So, he decided it would be important to establish a seminar for diplomats to which would come high officials to explain what they did and, if they chose, why they did it. Senator Javits would come in from the Senate, Ted Sorensen from the White House, Bob Kennedy from the Department of Justice, etc. The reason for this, and listening to Mr. Rusk at that time, I realized how deep his convictions about civil rights were; because he felt that many of the delegations, particularly from newer countries, were delegations then, in the 1960s, still uncomfortable with some of the conditions that they found in the nation's capitol. And he felt that by explaining American history, explaining the election, explaining what they would see, they would better understand the upcoming '64 election. He didn't then know, nor did I, what Lord Hulme was to say later on when he said, and this from a good British point of view, "Nobody who has witnessed the splendid agony of an American presidential election can doubt the commitment of the United States to democracy." I feel that this comment is particularly appropriate in 1996. But, running the seminar for diplomats and seeing the continued interest of the Secretary in presenting our country at its best to the world, I was aware that this was a Secretary of uncommon, not only knowledge, uncommon experience, but uncommon human sensitivity. And, I never questioned the fact that this was an excellent selection on the part of President Kennedy for the highest cabinet office.

Walt told me, when he saw Kennedy, after he had first met Dean Rusk, that his first impression in seeing the man in West Palm Beach was, he said, "My God, how big he is!" That was not only a physical comment, but it reflects the man, I think, in his fullest sense. He was a big man; and I feel that his stature will grow with time.

That's all I'm going to do for the moment except bring Walt forward as the book between the bookends.

WALT W. ROSTOW (former Special Assistant to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and Professor, LBJ Library and Museum):

Mr. President, Dean, and the family of Dean Rusk: I don't have any story that can match the one with which Elspeth began; but I want to tell you a true story about Dean Rusk and the University of Georgia. He was immensely devoted, not only to the University and the students, but also to the football team. So much so, that he very gently, but firmly, turned down any appointment which would clash with a football game. And, more than that, he was so much attached to the victory of this University's football team that if it got to a tender moment, a moment of crisis, he would leave his seat. He would walk back to the aisle behind the seats smoking furiously, and wait until the moment of crisis had subsided.

It is, as a familiar phrase goes, and as the dean reminded us, a distinct honor to speak on this occasion. I have the privilege of serving as colleague of Dean Rusk from the first Kennedy day to the last day of Lyndon Johnson: eight years. Roughly half that time, I served in the White House at National Security posts, half as Rusk's policy planner in the Department of State. I got to know him from 1961 on; and my respect and fondness for him only grew in that period of eight years. Dean Rusk was one of the handful of men, in a reasonably long life, I truly admire.

When I looked back at those eight years, I came to a somewhat different conclusion than those who have written about the 1960s. In those books, Dean Rusk is examined as Secretary of State during a critical part of the Cold War. For example, THE NEW YORK TIMES, in the obituary published at his death, devoted most of that to Vietnam. Of course, we faced many problems that rose out of our confrontation with the Soviet Union; and both the President and the Secretary of State took very seriously and personally the war in Southeast Asia and the losses that we faced. But there were crises over the Arabs in Israel, about apartheid in Africa, about the Greeks and Turks in Cyprus, about one or another country in Latin America and the Caribbean, about how to develop poor countries in almost every part of the world. Diplomacy in the 1960s concerned more than the Soviets; and I find my memories of Dean Rusk were less about the Cold War in Vietnam and more about how an honorable man represented his country in times of great difficulty.

When I undertook this paper, I jotted down at random some ten anecdotes about him. Only then did I find they grouped in two parts: one part about a view of the office of the President and the other a view of the office of Secretary of State. As for the President, Rusk had a respect which bordered on reverence for the responsibility the President carried. Several times he said, "We can give the President advice. If it proves to be bad advice, he can fire us and we will disappear from Washington; but he must live with the consequences of his action before this country and the world." Rusk knew that the President must make decisions with partial information. He must step off in the dark every day. That is the nature of the President's job, and no one can share it. When students ask me what I learned in Washington, I tell them, "I learned the difference between advice and responsibility." That is why Rusk sat 'Buddha-like', as some of his critics described him, at the Cabinet table. He never debated with President's aides. He gave his advice directly to the President, who made sure he saw him alone; and he discussed that advice nor the President's reaction to it. But never, even when we used to meet outside in the afternoons, and weren't wearing dark suits, and would break out a drink late in the afternoon, and he would, in a sense, confide in me, as near as it was correct to do so; but he never once discussed his advice to the President.

This reminds me of my colleague and friend, McGeorge Bundy, who died a few days ago. In Richard Rusk's excellent book on Dean Rusk, he says at one point that McGeorge Bundy, my successor, regarded us both as allies, not competitors. Now, that didn't always happen in the half century that we've had a National Security Adviser as well as a Secretary of State. And I dare say that Mac Bundy, whose loss I greatly feel, would regard his friendship and being an ally of the Secretary of State, and holding the President and the Secretary of State close together, because they were very different men, as perhaps the finest moment of his career as a public servant.

I recall a rare occasion when he let his depth of feelings about the President show. It was an extremely low moment after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The President left the room briefly to talk with an African head of state; I believe it was Hastings Bond. The conversation around the Cabinet table had wandered. The assembled group around that table needed sleep, had lost perspective, and were filled with a doubt and guilt that often attends disaster. Feeling the desolate mood of his colleagues, Rusk pounded with his left fist the arm of the President's empty chair and said, "It is this man we must think of."

He ran the State Department on George Marshall's dictum, "Officers do not have morale problems; only enlisted men do." He was considerate of his colleagues, extremely civil, and sometimes humorous. But he assumed that they, like him, would bottle up any personal feelings and perform as professionals. His view of his post as Secretary of State was paradoxical. As a number of people have said, he was a modest man. But he never forgot that he belonged to a line that leads directly back to Thomas Jefferson. And he took the responsibility of that office seriously. He said several times, "We face problems we ought to approach on our knees." And he said this without sounding at all pretentious. If diplomacy failed, the alternative was war in a nuclear age. He hated war as only those who have seen it close up do. You will recall in this taped interview we have had, he referred to war as 'the ultimate obscenity'; and that was his real view of it. He felt the duty of diplomacy was, to use his own phrase, "to find the 'wiggle room' for the diplomat to go to work."

From the first days I knew him in early January '61, his deepest concern was to get through the Cold War without resort to nuclear weapons fired in anger, as was shown in this tape. It followed directly from this view of his profession that he regarded all foreign ministers as colleagues in a struggle against violence. This was no small thing. He dealt with the representatives of the Third-World countries with great respect, as full members of his 'trade union of foreign ministers,' as he called it. I do believe that Kennedy and Johnson were unique among the post-war presidents in taking the developing countries seriously every day, not merely when a crisis forced their attention. In Dean Rusk, they had a Secretary of State who translated their view into day-to-day practice.

On a plane to the second Punta del Este meeting early in 1962, Rusk fell into a conversation with me about his boyhood in impoverished Georgia during the inter-war years, then going on to Oxford and the world beyond. It was a vivid account of how much could be accomplished in the life of one man and in one state. I urged him to include some of this in a speech to the Latin American foreign ministers; and he did this to good effect, coming, as it did, from the great Colossus of the North, as we were seen by Latin Americans at that time and now. They did not remember that Franklin Roosevelt, in his inaugural address, described one-third of the nation as ill-fed, ill-clothed, and ill-housed. This was particularly true, at that time, of the South. The special tie between Dean Rusk and Lyndon Johnson partly flowed from their common experience in the American South, an experience which includes, of course, their personal struggles against racial discrimination.

There was another side to Rusk. I recall going with him to a conference in Rio de Janeiro. Our hosts arranged that we see a first-rate soccer match between the Dynamo Club of the Soviet Union and the National Team of Brazil. At a certain moment, the Brazilian goal tender prevented a goal and was awarded a free kick. The Dynamo players moved back, leaving only a small line lying some yards in front of the Brazilian goal tender. He kicked, but it was low. It struck the knee of one of the Dynamo defenders and went back swiftly into the Brazilian goal. As the crowd erupted in anguish, Dean Rusk leaned over and said, "Now he knows how the Secretary of State feels every day."

In the same mood, he once said this, "My last thought as I go to bed at night is that it is daylight in half the world and that people are making trouble which will arrive on my desk in tomorrow morning's cables." There is another moment I treasure, which is also in Richard's book: Dean Rusk was notably terse on the telephone. He said what he wanted to say and hung up. One day I was working in my office, and there was a continuous ring on the phone, which indicated the President was on the line. He said, in an amused, not an angry way, "He's done it again! Rusk hung up on me before I was finished." Dean Rusk had many distinguished moments, but I suspect he was the only man to hang up on a President in full flight.

Perhaps my most serious thought about Dean Rusk as Secretary of State, I want to set down this way: The post of Secretary of State in the 1960s was certainly the most exacting post in the government. It was loaded with inescapable overhead commitments, protracted ordeals before congressional committees, overseas trips to international conferences, an endless flow of meetings with ambassadors, White House and Diplomatic dinners, State visits with the need for fined-grained exchanges with foreign ministers, an intense series of bilateral exchanges at the annual gathering of foreign ministers at the U.N. General Assembly gathering in September. All this, plus the need to administer a large department; to be fully informed on the state of a fissionable world; to be responsible for the daily flow of cables to every corner of the globe, of which a half dozen or so carry heavy freight and require that every word be weighed; and then, above all, the need to be prepared to render advice to the President at any hour of the day or night.

I simply don't know how Dean Rusk carried his responsibilities for eight difficult years; but he did so with grace, with eloquence, and with character. Whether applying to hostile members of a congressional hearing on The Hill or dealing with unbroken courtesy with a representative of the Soviet Union, or a NATO ally, or a neutralist state in Africa, America was never better represented to the world than by Dean Rusk. And, the University of Georgia is wise and does itself proud to name in his honor the hall dedicated to international and comparative law.


I'm not sure that President Kennedy did not know Dean Rusk before he met him. I once argued with Professor Rusk that the article that Rusk wrote in Foreign Affairs in April of 1960, which was certainly read by President-elect Kennedy -- It was an article on the President, and it came out at a time when many people were giving advice to the incoming President. Rusk participated also, in an American assembly meeting which set out the qualifications for the Secretary of State. If you look through this now ancient volume, you will see that the structure of the office of the Secretary of State described here was carried through, as Walt has indicated, in an admirable fashion by the man he chose. And it's interesting that, I'd looked over the list of the men, and, of course, in 1960 those thinking about high policy -- Well, no, I won't finish that sentence. But in any case, they were all men. Included, I would say, I counted something like fifteen people who thought themselves highly qualified to become Secretary of State and who gave their names to this volume, perhaps in the hope that lightning would strike in their direction. Although Dean Rusk was there, we have good evidence that he did not so imagine himself, but that was where Kennedy elected to have the lightning strike.

I think it appropriate, at the end, to let Rusk, again, have the words. And from this article on the President, I will quote part of the opening paragraph:

The United States, in this second half of the twentieth century, is not a raft tossed by the winds and waves of historical forces over which it has little control. Its dynamic power, physical and ideological, generates historical forces. What it does or does not do makes a great deal of difference to the history of man in this epoch. If realism requires us to avoid illusions of omnipotence, it is just as important that we not underestimate the opportunity and the responsibility which flow from our capacity to act and to influence and shape the course of events. Involved is not merely a benign concern for the well being of others, but the shape of the world in which we ourselves must live. The range within which the nation can make deliberate choices is wide. If we do not make them deliberately, we shall make them by negligence or yield the decision to others who will not be mindful of our interests. When the emphasis of discussion falls too heavily, for my taste, on the limitations of policy, I recall from early childhood the admonition of the circuit preacher, "Pray as if it were up to God, work as if it were up to you."

I suspect that Kennedy, looking at that, thought that the man who so spoke would make his best choice as Secretary of State, and Kennedy was correct.

Thank you.


Thank you so much for coming and for sharing your thoughts and your knowledge about the man and his contributions.

I want to ask Peter White if he would come up: Peter, who heads the Southern Center for International Studies, and who, along with Julia White, has played a major role in helping us plan today's events and in inviting the Rostows to join us. Peter.


Thank you, Ned. In 1985, Ann Dunn and Rich Rusk and Julia entered into a great conspiracy which was designed to get Mr. Rusk before a camera. At that time, his eyesight began to fail, and we were concerned about that; and so we got together -- Julia did -- here on this campus, sat Mr. Rusk down after a great deal of research, and for three days, as you saw on the video tape, we were fortunate enough to capture his reminiscences. We did this without any money. Took several years. But in the end we were able to pull together the funding; and these three days of taping resulted in a thirteen-part television series. Some of these tapes have been seen on -- I know you're not supposed to do this to the gift, but I want to make the point here by tearing off the wrapping. We ended up developing some, Julia did, editing, thirteen thirty-minute television programs. We've gone through this process before. We presented these thirteen tapes, which are available through the Southern Center, to the University some years ago, but they ended up in the University library and no one has access to them there. So, we thought on this occasion it would be appropriate to give this series to the Law School, present it to the Dean, so that the students of the institution might have it. If you enjoyed these words on this tape, these tapes are quite extraordinary. It's the best of Mr. Rusk, and we were deeply honored to have that opportunity. So I hope the students of the Law School will enjoy these tapes.


The students and the faculty and our visitors will very much enjoy them. Thank you. I might remind you that tomorrow at two o'clock on the North Campus, because we know the weather is going to be fine, we will dedicate the building. All of you are invited. Governor Miller will be here to help us honor and dedicate the building. That concludes our program. I want to invite any of you who are not able to join us tomorrow and who would like to have a tour of Dean Rusk Hall to meet outside the north entrance, which is the entrance closest to the Law School, at about 3:30; and we would be happy to give you a tour of the building. It will take 30 to 40 minutes, or however much time that you can devote to it before you have to leave. Thank you very much for coming; and we hope to see you tomorrow.