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Senator Fulbright on Free Speech

Harriet Mayor Fulbright talked about her husband's legacy and relevance today at the University of Oslo in February 2005:
As Fulbright said, "In a democracy dissent is an act of faith.  Like medicine, the test of its value is not in its taste but its effects."  In fact, democracy flourishes when its citizens feel free to dream and discuss the impossible.
"We must dare to think 'unthinkable thoughts,'" he wrote.  "We must learn to explore all of the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world. We must learn to welcome rather than fear the voices of dissent. We must dare to think about 'unthinkable things,' because when things become 'unthinkable,' thinking stops and actions become mindless.  If we are to disabuse ourselves of old myths, and to act wisely and creatively upon the new realities of our time, we must think and talk about our problems with perfect freedom, remembering, as Woodrow Wilson said, that 'The greatest freedom of speech is the greatest safety because, if a man is a fool, the best thing to do is to encourage him to advertise the fact by speaking.'"
Senator Fulbright not only thought unthinkable thoughts but felt compelled to make them public when his country’s policies were in his view seriously flawed.  In the mid-1960’s, for instance, Fulbright tried to convince President Johnson that the war in Vietnam was not in the interests of the Unites States for many reasons.  As long as the discussion was in private, Johnson remained cordial, but as soon as Fulbright made his views public, Johnson's intense hostility toward him was perhaps the greatest trial of his political life.  President Johnson lashed out at him in many ways, including engineering a cut in the Fulbright Program funds of 70%.  As we all know the Program survived the attack and grew considerably afterward, but the two men, who were close friends until that time, never spoke again, and this hurt Fulbright deeply.
Senator Fulbright made these comments in his book "Old Myths and New Realities", which is based on a speech he delivered in the Senate in 1964. Harriet Mayor Fulbright quotes from the book in her speech to the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Conference in 2002.

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