Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with John Sherman Cooper, June 27, 1985

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Visit to Saigon / Meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson about ending bombing in Vietnam / Regrets about voting for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

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Partial Transcript: The following is an unrehearsed interview, the twenty-first in a series, with former U.S. Senator and Ambassador, John Sherman Cooper.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper says he does not remember his trip to Saigon [now called Ho Chi Minh City] after attending Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri's funeral. He also talks about meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson to promote the idea of negotiating with North Vietnam and his thoughts about ending the bombing in Vietnam. He explains why he wishes he had not voted in favor of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

Keywords: Bombing; Cessation of bombing; David Dean Rusk; Gulf of Tonkin Resolution; J. William Fulbright; Lal Bahadur Shastri; Lyndon B. Johnson; Negotiations; North Vietnam; North Vietnamese; Saigon (Vietnam); Senate debates; Senate floor; Senate floor debates; Tonkin Gulf Resolution; William Averell Harriman

Subjects: Bombing, Aerial.; Fulbright, J. William (James William), 1905-1995.; Harriman, W. Averell (William Averell), 1891-1986.; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973.; Rusk, Dean, 1909-1994.; Shastri, Lal Bahadur, 1904-1966.; United States. Congress. Senate.; Vietnam (Democratic Republic); Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

GPS: Vietnam (Democratic Republic)
Map Coordinates: 21.028333, 105.854167
GPS: Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) [formerly called Saigon (Vietnam)]
Map Coordinates: 10.775556, 106.701944
00:07:08 - Division in opinions about the Vietnam War

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Partial Transcript: At that time, there, there was a, there was an awful lot of division among the people who were raising questions about the war.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper says there was not a clear consensus in 1966 about what to do about the Vietnam War. He describes how people went from fully supporting the war at first to supporting it less as time went on. He says he did not like how the people fighting in the war were typically people who had less money, who had not been attending college.

Keywords: Congress; Military drafts; Senate

Subjects: Politics and war.; Soldiers.; United States. Congress.; United States. Congress. Senate.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

00:08:31 - Suggestion to President Lyndon B. Johnson / President Johnson's close advisors about Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: In the--in that meeting you had with Johnson in early 1966, uh, you suggested that the Viet Cong should be included in any peace talks.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper says he does not remember whether he recommended to President Lyndon B. Johnson that the Viet Cong be involved in peace talks. He says people who worked for President John F. Kennedy stayed for the Johnson administration and leaned toward promoting the war.

Keywords: David Dean Rusk; John F. Kennedy; Lyndon B. Johnson; McGeorge Bundy; Politics and war.; President John F. Kennedy; President Lyndon B. Johnson; Robert McNamara; Viet Cong

Subjects: Bundy, McGeorge.; Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973.; Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963.; McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009.; Rusk, Dean, 1909-1994.

00:10:42 - The perspective of "doves" on the Vietnam War / The liberation of colonies across the globe and its impact on Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: Well many--uh--during that period of time, many of the-of the so-called "dove" group on the war in the Senate were actually arguing that there wasn't any genuine conflict between the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese, that it was primarily a political struggle, that there was no such thing as a South Vietnamese nation, that South Vietnam lacked the will to resist.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper says he is not sure whether the "doves" (those against the war) denied that there was conflict between North and South Vietnam. He explains that many colonies after the end of World War II were liberated, and Vietnam started to rebel against French rule.

Keywords: Colonies; Decolonization; Doves; France; French Indo-China; French Indochina; Hawks; Indochina; Indochinese Federation; Indochinese Union; Indonesia; Netherlands; North Vietnam; South Vietnam; United Kingdom; WWII; War hawks; Warhawks; World War 2; World War II; World War Two

Subjects: Colonies.; Colonization.; Decolonization.; France.; Great Britain.; India.; Indochina.; Indonesia.; Netherlands; Vietnam (Democratic Republic); Vietnam (Republic); Vietnam War, 1961-1975.; World War, 1939-1945.

GPS: Vietnam (Democratic Republic)
Map Coordinates: 21.028333, 105.854167
GPS: Vietnam (Republic)
Map Coordinates: 10.75, 106.666667
GPS: India.
Map Coordinates: 21, 78
GPS: France.
Map Coordinates: 47, 2
GPS: Indonesia.
Map Coordinates: -5, 120
GPS: Indochina.
Map Coordinates: 21.0333, 105.85
GPS: Great Britain.
Map Coordinates: 54, -2
GPS: Netherlands
Map Coordinates: 52.316667, 5.55
00:13:04 - Cooper's thoughts about free elections in Vietnam / Cooper's perspective on whether the United States should have gotten involved in the Vietnam War

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Partial Transcript: Well in, in 1954, the, the Geneva Conference recommended that, that eventually free elections be held.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper talks about why he proposed a truce for three to five years with free elections afterward in Vietnam. He discusses whether he could accept the consequences if Ho Chi Chi Minh were to win. He talks about hearing about slaughters in Vietnam and wanting to get the United States out of the war. He also talks about a man named Bill Ramsey who fought in World War II and the Vietnam War whom he says he would like to talk to. He states that the United States should not have gotten involved in the Vietnam War.

Keywords: Free elections; Geneva Conference; Ho Chi Minh; Korean War; North Vietnam; South Vietnam; Vietnam War; WWII; William Westmoreland; World War 2; World War II; World War Two

Subjects: Elections.; Geneva Conference (1954); Hồ, Chí Minh, 1890-1969.; Korean War, 1950-1953.; Peace.; Politics and war.; Somerset (Ky.); Vietnam (Democratic Republic); Vietnam (Republic); Vietnam War, 1961-1975.; Vietnam.; War.; Westmoreland, William C. (William Childs), 1914-2005.; World War, 1939-1945.

GPS: Somerset (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.083056, -84.609444
GPS: Vietnam (Democratic Republic)
Map Coordinates: 21.028333, 105.854167
GPS: Vietnam (Republic)
Map Coordinates: 10.75, 106.666667
00:22:08 - The amendment to a military appropriations bill

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Partial Transcript: Well, do you recall in, in early 1966, Senators Morse and Gruening, uh, introduced an amendment to a military appropriations bill.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper says that he would not have supported the military appropriations bill Senators Ernest Gruening and Wayne Morse proposed. He explains that it would have taken away funding for the troops in Vietnam, which, in turn, would have left them vulnerable.

Keywords: Bills; Ernest Gruening; Gulf of Tonkin Resolution; Military appropriations bill; Tonkin Gulf Resolution; Troops; Vietnam War; Wayne Morse

Subjects: Bills, Legislative; Gruening, Ernest, 1887-1974; Morse, Wayne L. (Wayne Lyman), 1900-1974; Soldiers.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.; Vietnam.

GPS: Vietnam.
Map Coordinates: 16, 108
00:24:15 - Cooper's views on South Vietnam and whether to stay involved in the Vietnam War

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Partial Transcript: The, uh--in the, in the spring of 1966, there was a lot of difficulty between the South Vietnamese government and the Buddhist leaders.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper talks about his beliefs about whether the United States needed to continue to help South Vietnam fight in the Vietnam War. He says he exercised caution when it came to withdrawing from Vietnam due to wanting to protect American troops. He also comments on the corruption within South Vietnam and his ideas about the Paris negotiations between the United States and North Vietnam.

Keywords: Doves; Hawks; Immolation; North Vietnam; South Vietnam; Vietnam War; War hawks; Warhawks

Subjects: Buddhist monks; Buddhists; Paris (France); Self-immolation.; Vietnam (Democratic Republic); Vietnam (Republic); Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

GPS: Paris (France)
Map Coordinates: 48.856613, 2.352222
GPS: Vietnam (Republic)
Map Coordinates: 10.75, 106.666667
GPS: Vietnam (Democratic Republic)
Map Coordinates: 21.028333, 105.854167
00:31:03 - Speech about funding for the Rural Electrification Administration

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Partial Transcript: Well let's, let's switch, then, abruptly to, to something else.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper talks about a speech he made at the National Convention of the Rural Electric Cooperative Association recommending that the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) find supplemental funding. He says he felt that electric power did not extend far enough through rural areas.

Keywords: Power; Rural Electrification Administration (REA); Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

Subjects: Electricity.; Public utilities.; Speeches.; Tennessee Valley Authority.

00:36:25 - Bill for financing rural electric projects and telephone lines

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Partial Transcript: --[phone rings]--Well then, then later on, you introduced a bill along with a, a man by the name of Bass, B-A-S-S, from Tennessee.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper comments on a bill he proposed to finance rural electric projects and telephone lines for rural areas by setting up federal banks. He relates these issues to the TVA, REA, and public utilities.

Keywords: Bob Kerr; Robert Kerr; Ross Bass; Rural Electrification Administration (REA); Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

Subjects: Bass, Ross, 1918-1993; Kerr, Robert S. (Robert Samuel), 1896-1963; Public utilities.; Tennessee Valley Authority.

00:40:31 - Criticisms toward the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

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Partial Transcript: Well now, you had always been a, a great friend of the TVA, but in, in 1966, you, you made some criticism of the TVA.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper talks about his criticisms about the TVA due to its harmful coal buying practices toward small coal mines in Kentucky. He remarks that he feels he might have overextended himself. He also criticizes the strip mining in places like Muhlenberg County in Kentucky that benefited the TVA. He talks about other counties he tried to help join the TVA.

Keywords: Green River; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

Subjects: Coal.; Muhlenberg County (Ky.); Pulaski County (Ky.); Strip mining.; Wayne County (Ky.)

GPS: Muhlenberg County (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.21, -87.15
GPS: Wayne County (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 36.81, -84.83
GPS: Pulaski County (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.06, -84.35
GPS: Kentucky.
Map Coordinates: 37.5347, -85.3021
00:46:08 - Opposition to federal safety regulations to small coal mines

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Partial Transcript: In, uh--also in 1966, the Congress extended the, the mandatory federal safety regulations even to small coal mines.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper talks about why he opposed a bill regulating small coal mines. He explains why the small mines would suffer due to having to change their way of operating. He also talks about how the people who ran small mines would have to resort to joining strip mines.

Keywords: Family coal mines; Small businesses; Small coal mines; Small family businesses

Subjects: Coal mines and mining.; Kentucky.; Strip mining.

GPS: Kentucky.
Map Coordinates: 37.5347, -85.3021
00:49:27 - Truth in Packaging Bill / Opposition to federal regulation

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Partial Transcript: Another kind of a controversial bill that was passed by Congress in 1966, one which-which you opposed, uh, there weren't very many votes against it, but yours was one of them. Uh, remember the Truth in Packaging bill?

Segment Synopsis: Cooper talks about his opposition to the Truth in Packaging Bill in 1966. He says he cannot remember the precise reason he voted against the bill, but he suspects it may be due to not wanting federal control over packaging. He also talks about his objection to the Civil Rights Act of 1966 due to the open housing provision, which he says would be unconstitutional.

Keywords: Bills; Civil Rights Act of 1966; Civil rights acts; Civil rights bills; Fair Packaging and Labeling Act; Federal control; Federal power; Federal regulation; Legislation; States' rights; Truth in Packaging Bill; Unconstitutional bills

Subjects: Civil rights.; Constitution.; Legislative bills.; States' rights (American politics); United States. Constitution.; United States. Fair Packaging and Labeling Act

01:00:15 - The Dirksen Amendment of 1966

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Partial Transcript: Now in, in 1966, Senator Dirksen introduced another, uh, amendment to the Constitution.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper talks about the reason he approved of the Dirksen Amendment of 1966. He acknowledges the difficulty the amendment would cause given the different religions in the classroom. He also comments on the practice of using an opening prayer in the Senate.

Keywords: Dirksen Amendment; Dirksen Amendment (1966); Dirksen Amendment of 1966; Everett Dirksen; Prayer in schools; School prayer

Subjects: Constitution.; Dirksen, Everett McKinley.; Prayer in the public schools.; Prayer.; United States. Constitution.

01:03:53 - Voting for a bill about labor strikes for airline workers

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Partial Transcript: Uh, you voted for the passage of a bill in 1966, uh, that required striking airline machinists to go back to work.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper talks about voting for a bill that required striking airline workers to return to work. He talks about the regulation that the Taft-Hartley Act imposed on unions. He talks about whether his opinion on this issue went against his previous actions and how it impacted his campaign.

Keywords: Airline strikes; Airline union workers; Airline unions; Bills; Strikes; Striking; Taft-Hartley Act; Taft-Hartley Act of 1947; Unions

Subjects: Labor unions.; Law and legislation; Legislative bills.; Strikes and lockouts.; United States. Labor Management Relations Act, 1947.

01:06:07 - Cooper's 1966 primary campaign

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Partial Transcript: Well le, let's talk about that, that 1966 campaign then a little bit.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper talks about his 1966 primary campaign. He talks about his opponents and visiting one of their speeches. He mentions three counties he could never win over and the counties he never lost. He also talks about defeating Senator Alben Barkley and his relationship with him.

Keywords: Alben Barkley; Cities; Country; Rural areas

Subjects: Barkley, Alben William, 1877-1956; Breathitt County (Ky.); Elections.; Fayette County (Ky.); Frankfort (Ky.); Franklin County (Ky.); Jefferson County (Ky.); London (Ky.); Owen County (Ky.); Political campaigns.; Political candidates; Primaries; Somerset (Ky.)

GPS: London (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.1275, -84.084167
GPS: Somerset (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.083056, -84.609444
GPS: Owen County (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.53, -84.83
GPS: Frankfort (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.2, -84.866667
GPS: Franklin County (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.24, -84.88
GPS: Breathitt County (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.52, -83.32
GPS: Jefferson County (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.19, -85.66
GPS: Fayette County (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.04, -84.46
01:11:38 - Cooper's campaign opponents / Campaign memories

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Partial Transcript: Were, were you surprised in, in '66 that the, that the Democrats chose John Y. Brown as your opponent?

Segment Synopsis: Cooper says he always expected someone to run against him in his reelection campaigns. He talks about his relationship with his political opponent, John Y. Brown. He says he does not remember whether A. B. Chandler or Breckinridge campaigned against him. He says he does not know whether Democrats said it was not worthwhile to run anyone against him. He also comments on whether he consented to a poster that Gene Snyder's campaign made or whether he remembers some of his campaign chairmen. He also talks about an occurrence at a speech he made in Danville, Kentucky.

Keywords: A. B. "Happy" Chandler; A. B. Chandler; Gene Snyder; Happy Chandler; John Y. Brown, Sr.; Ralph Holman

Subjects: Brown, John Young, 1900-1985; Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Danville (Ky.); Elections.; Political campaigns.; Snyder, M. G. (Marion Gene), 1928-2007

GPS: Danville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.645556, -84.769722
01:18:06 - Labor's position regarding Cooper

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Partial Transcript: Now the--during that campaign there was, there was a lot of confusion about what, what Labor was going to do.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper talks about the Kentucky AFL-CIO's critiques of his votes and how he was able to get many labor votes. He talks about the meetings of the AFL-CIO's executive council and the approval of its head.

Keywords: American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO); George Meany; John Y. Brown Sr.; Strikes; Striking; Taft-Hartley Act; Truth in Packaging Bill

Subjects: Brown, John Young, 1900-1985; Elections.; Labor unions.; Meany, George, 1894-1980.; Political campaigns.; Strikes and lockouts.; United States. Fair Packaging and Labeling Act; United States. Labor Management Relations Act, 1947.

01:21:36 - Campaign debate with John Y. Brown Sr.

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Partial Transcript: Did, did--during the campaign, did, did you and Brown have any debates?

Segment Synopsis: Cooper says he remembers one debate in the campaign against John Y. Brown in Louisville in front of the Chamber of Congress during the State Fair. He talks about debating him about war controls. He also talks about his friendship with Brown and encounters he has had with him.

Keywords: Harry S. Truman; John Y. Brown, Sr.; State fairs

Subjects: Brown, John Young, 1900-1985; Debates.; Louisville (Ky.); Political campaigns.; Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.

GPS: Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.256111, -85.751389
01:27:19 - John Y. Brown Sr.'s attacks on Cooper in political debates / Campaign expenditures

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Partial Transcript: Well Brown, Brown--uh, it, it seems to me that the, the kind of campaign he, he waged the, the, the kind of things he picked out to, to make issues may have backfired on him in a number of cases.

Segment Synopsis: Cooper comments on John Y. Brown's claim that he voted against the Truth in Packaging Bill because Thruston Morton owned stock in Pillsbury Company. He says he did not worry about his campaign for reelection. He also comments on Brown's claim that the current tobacco program was making Kentucky farmers lose acreage. He comments on Brown's strategies to take votes away from Cooper in the cities and the first district. He also talks about campaign financing. Cooper comments on the Paducah Sun-Democrat and Courier Journal supporting him.

Keywords: Campaign finances; Courier-Journal; John Y. Brown, Sr.; Paducah Sun-Democrat; Poundage provision; Thruston Morton

Subjects: Brown, John Young, 1900-1985; Courier-journal (Louisville, Ky.); Debates.; Elections.; Morton, Thruston B. (Thruston Ballard), 1907-1982.; Pillsbury Company; Political campaigns.; Taft, Charles P. (Charles Phelps), 1897-1983; Tobacco farms; Tobacco.