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Fulbright Memorandum

The so-called Fulbright Memorandum was a devastating critique of the National Education Program (NEP), which was founded in the mid-twentieth century by Harding College (now Harding University) president George S. Benson to disseminate his ideas on Americanism. These included three fundamental principles: belief in God, belief in the U.S. Constitution, and belief in the free-enterprise system; the NEP wedded fundamentalist Christian religion with free-enterprise economic thought, which became foundational to the conservative movement that gained prominence with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. The memorandum was sent by Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in June 1961. The memorandum mentioned by name Benson; Clifton L. Ganus Jr., who had become vice president of Harding and dean of its American studies program; and John Birch Society–affiliated film producer Glenn Green, who was executive vice president of the NEP. The memorandum also drew attention to the activities of Fred C. Schwartz of the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade, a Benson protégé and a frequent speaker at the NEP-hosted Freedom Forums. In particular, the memorandum expressed alarm at the use of NEP speakers and materials in the indoctrination of members of the United States military.

The memorandum put forward the matter of the implementation of a directive of the National Security Council issued in 1958 authorizing military officers to help “arouse the public to the menace of the cold war.” Fulbright, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent the memorandum because he was alarmed by the indoctrination of soldiers and civilians by top-ranking officers of the armed forces using what he called “extremely radical rightwing” speakers and materials. Notable among these officers was General Edwin Walker, who had served as overall commander of the U.S. Army forces during the Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis in 1957. Subsequently, while commander of the Twenty-Fourth Infantry Division, he had instituted his Pro-Blue training program using rightwing John Birch Society literature. Fulbright viewed the actions of Walker and others as a threat to the principle of military subordination to civilian control.

The memorandum first became known by late July 1961 when articles about it were featured in several newspapers, including the Washington Post and the New York Times. Democratic senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the 1948 Dixiecrat presidential candidate and a staunch anticommunist, was incensed by the memorandum’s content and delivered speeches criticizing Fulbright’s actions. On August 2, 1961, Fulbright officially entered the memorandum into the Congressional Record. The memorandum resulted in the House Government Information Subcommittee investigating the activities of military officers involved with ultra-rightwing organizations. The Defense Department issued a directive in 1958 restraining “the freedom of military officers to advocate rightwing political theories in official public appearances.” Also, the assistant secretary for public affairs assumed authority over all further implementation of the directive. In response, anticommunist activists charged that the government was “muzzling the military.”

The memorandum cited numerous cases of misconduct, including several involving officials from the Church of Christ–affiliated Harding College in Searcy (White County). These officials included Benson, who was president both of the college and the NEP; Ganus, Harding’s vice president and dean of its American studies program; and Green, the NEP’s executive vice president. In one instance, Major General William C. Bullock, area U.S. Army commander in Little Rock (Pulaski County), persuaded the city’s chamber of commerce to sponsor a conference attended by Benson, Ganus, and Green. The conference featured a showing of the NEP filmstrip “Communism on the Map.” During a Strategy for Survival conference in Fort Smith (Sebastian County), Ganus allegedly claimed that Congressman James M. Trimble had “voted 89 percent of the time to aid and abet the Communist Party.” Ganus and Green were involved with Project Alert, implemented at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida. Endorsed by Vice Admiral Robert Goldthwaite, chief of naval air training, Pensacola-area community leaders were flown to Harding College for briefings before sessions, while naval personnel and civil service workers were required to attend meetings. In another incident, Captain Kenneth J. Sanger, commander of Sands Point Naval Air Station in Seattle, Washington, on several occasions showed “Communism on the Map” both on and off base. His audiences included high school and college students.

The memorandum received criticism from Arkansas politicians including Governor Orval Faubus and Congressman Dale Alford. Mrs. Alfred Lippman Jr. of Benton (Saline County), a prominent member of the Arkansas John Birch Society, challenged Fulbright to a debate. The senator also received letters of protest from both Benson and Ganus. Harding College professor James D. Bales, a prolific writer known for his anticommunist and fundamentalist Christian polemics, wrote several critical letters to Fulbright. He also wrote a book, Senator Fulbright’s Secret Memorandum (1962).

With the prospect of Fulbright’s reelection in 1962, Benson considered challenging the senator in the upcoming Democratic Party primary. One rumor claimed that he was being funded by Haroldson Lafayette (H. L.) Hunt of Dallas, president of Hunt Oil Company. The billionaire tycoon, whose fortune was rooted in the oil fields of El Dorado (Union County), had formerly financed Senator Joseph McCarthy and, in 1951, established the anticommunist Facts Forum (in 1958 revived as the Life Line Foundation). He was also a member of the Church of Christ and maintained a correspondence with Bales. Hunt denied the rumors, and, by May, Benson had decided against a run for office.

The memorandum earned Fulbright, who remained in the U.S. Senate until losing his seat to Dale Bumpers in 1974, the undying ire of radical rightwing activists from Arkansas and the nation. Throughout the rest of his term, he remained one of their frequent targets.

For additional information:
87th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 106, pt. 10 (July 26, 1961): 13604–13608.

87th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 107, pt. 11 (August 2, 1961): 14395–14398; 14433–14339.

Bales, James D. Senator Fulbright’s Secret Memorandum. Searcy, AR: Bales Bookstore, 1962.

J. William Fulbright Papers. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

James D. Bales Papers. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Todd E. Lewis
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Last Updated 10/31/2017

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