Mark O. Hatfield, the former Republican senator from Oregon, died August 7 in Portland at the age of 89. He was a political maverick, a pragmatic idealist who worked across the aisle to take on big issues, including the long-running U.S. war in Vietnam, the insanity of the nuclear arms race, excessive military spending, and the global arms trade.
Hatfield was first elected to Oregon’s legislature in 1950 and was elected governor in 1958. He served in the U.S. Senate from 1967 to 1997. Throughout his long Senate career, Hatfield pursued policies to reduce the risk of war and help the disadvantaged at home, even when it put him at odds with his party’s leaders. Oregon’s voters responded by making him the longest-serving senator in the state’s history.
Hatfield was a veteran of World War II and a deeply religious man. As a naval officer stationed in the Philippines in 1945, he was among the first Americans to witness the immediate aftereffects of the devastation of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima on August 6 of that year. The experience of the war in the Pacific and the sight and smell of the devastated city would shape his views and his politics for decades to come.
As Hatfield explained in an interview published in the April 1987 issue of Arms Control Today:
[A]round September 10, we went into Hiroshima. We saw the defeat, the indiscriminate devastation in ever direction. And you try to comprehend that one bomb had done that . . . . We couldn’t.
. . .
We would destroy all human creation, the entire ecosystem, either directly or indirectly. Now, there you come down to a basic question . . . . Is this not the ultimate obscenity, and the ultimate arrogation of power when the creation can say to the creator, “I have the right to divest you of the creation”[?]
. . .
Because we are living on the edges of the abyss, it seems to me that we can and should have only one goal: ridding ourselves of this curse.
“If you’ve been in a war, you cannot but have your views altered,” he told the Associated Press in 1986. “The devastation, the terrible devastation, is not something one ever forgets.”
At the 1965 National Governors Association convention, Hatfield was one of only two governors to oppose President Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Once in the Senate, he teamed up with Senator George McGovern (D-S.D.) to offer multiple amendments seeking to draw down and bring home U.S. soldiers from Indochina. He would later oppose U.S. intervention in civil wars in Central America and was one of only two Republican senators who voted against the 1991 Persian Gulf War resolution.
Hatfield was a champion of effective nuclear arms control and disarmament from the 1970s until the end of hisSenate career. Hatfield worked with nongovernmental leaders such as Arms Control Association president Herbert J. Scoville in opposing the Carter and Reagan administrations’ plans for the MX missile, and he criticized President Jimmy Carter’s Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) II as insufficient.
In the 1987 interview, he said SALT II was a “great example of our inability to deal with the technology behind the arms race.” That treaty, he said, “attempted to limit the weapons of the time but it had nothing to do with…the technology” or “retarding, and ultimately, obliterating all of these weapons.”
During the 1979 SALT II debate, Hatfield introduced an amendment that called for a “strategic weapons freeze,” which helped provide the impetus for the popular Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign and would ricochet back into Washington and prompt Hatfield and other members of Congress to act.
As tensions between Washington and Moscow mounted in 1982 and the two countries built up their nuclear arsenals even further, Hatfield and other members of Congress heard from their constituents, who sought a way off the escalatory ladder and were calling for a “nuclear freeze” with the Soviet Union on the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear warheads and delivery systems.
“We heard from people at every stop who knew about the nuclear freeze proposal and wanted us to support it. ‘Why not?’ they asked. We found that question difficult to answer,” Hatfield and Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) later explained in their 1982 book Freeze! How You Can Help Prevent Nuclear War. “A new arms control initiative was needed to offer leadership in Congress and respond to the growing public concern,” they wrote.
On March 10, 1982, Hatfield and Kennedy joined House proponents of the freeze, including Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.), to introduce a “sense of Congress” resolution based directly on a widely disseminated document, “Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race,” developed by Randall Forsberg, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology defense policy expert who would later join the board of directors of the Arms Control Association. With the backing of Hatfield and Kennedy, the effort gained broad-based popular and expert support, national attention, and increasing political momentum.
After months of debate, a much-amended freeze resolution passed the House in May 1983, but fell short by a 40–58 margin when the Senate considered it in October. Nonetheless, the effort showed Congress and the White House ahead of the 1984 election that public support for renewed arms control was running high and that the appetite for further nuclear armament was running low. The campaign prompted President Ronald Reagan to negotiate limits on nuclear arms during his second term.
Hatfield’s efforts hardly diminished after the freeze resolution of 1983. He turned his focus to achieving progress on a U.S.-Soviet nuclear test ban, which he recognized as a critical barrier to the further technological improvement of superpower nuclear arsenals.
Following new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s announcement in July 1985 that the Soviet Union would forgo tests and that the Soviet Union would not test until and unless the United States began testing, the Reagan administration declined to reciprocate. In October 1986, a bipartisan group of 63 House and Senate members, led by Hatfield, Senator Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Representative Les Aspin (D-Wis.), and others, sent a letter to Reagan urging him to reciprocate and call off the next scheduled test in Nevada, code-named Glencoe.
Cranston and Hatfield also introduced legislation seeking to bar the spending of money to carry out U.S. nuclear tests if the Soviet Union was not doing so. Their initiative did not succeed, but it would get another chance.
Five years later, following the October 5, 1991, announcement that the Soviets would suspend nuclear testing, Hatfield, along with Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine) and Representatives Mike Kopetski (D-Ore.) and Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), introduced the Nuclear Testing Moratorium Act, which called for a one-year U.S. testing moratorium. The idea gained bipartisan support over the next several months, picking up additional political momentum as France declared a testing moratorium in April and Russia’s new president, Boris Yeltsin, extended the Russian moratorium in June.
On September 13, 1992, after a sustained, months-long, national grassroots lobbying campaign led by disarmament groups, the Senate voted 55–40 for legislation jointly sponsored by Hatfield, Mitchell, and Senator James Exon (D-Neb.) that called for a nine-month U.S. testing moratorium, placed strict conditions on any further U.S. testing, and required the pursuit of negotiations on a comprehensive global test ban and a prohibition on U.S. testing after September 30, 1996, unless another country conducted a test. On September 24, the House of Representatives adopted the amendment by a margin of 224–151. On October 2, President George H.W. Bush reluctantly signed into law a bill containing the test moratorium legislation.
In the spring of 1993, Hatfield again led the way. Along with Exon, Mitchell, and Kopetski, he expressed strong opposition to a draft Clinton administration plan to renew U.S. testing and to substitute a one-kiloton threshold treaty for a comprehensive one.
On the morning of April 30, when a report in The Washington Post first revealed the administration’s draft threshold test ban proposal, senior staffers from the Hatfield, Exon, and Mitchell offices huddled around a keyboard in the Hart Senate Office Building to craft a joint letter to respond to the White House. Hatfield told the Post he was “dismayed” by the report. The three senators’ letter said the administration’s proposal to allow continued underground nuclear tests would conflict with the nuclear test moratorium law, which called for a comprehensive ban on nuclear tests. They would soon rally the support of 38 senators and 159 representatives in support of a test moratorium extension and negotiations leading to a ban on all nuclear testing.
Their decisive action helped change the course of the administration’s test ban policy decision. Soon after, editorials from more than 40 leading newspapers called for extending the moratorium. Public opinion polls showed that 72 percent of the U.S. public favored continuing the moratorium.
On July 3, 1993, President Bill Clinton announced that he would extend the moratorium at least through 1994 unless another nation conducted a test and that he would pursue completion of negotiations on a comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT) by September 1996. Clinton determined that the U.S. nuclear arsenal was “safe and reliable” and that there was no immediate need for further tests—a policy that has been sustained by every president since then.
Shortly before Hatfield’s departure from the Senate, talks on the treaty were concluded, and the CTBT was opened for signature on September 23, 1996. Clinton was the first to sign it.
The final chapters in the history of the causes Hatfield championed are not finished. Hatfield sought to put in place a code of conduct to prohibit U.S. arms sales to undemocratic regimes and human rights violators. He noted shortly after his departure from the Senate that the United States is “still the largest arms peddler in the world, and we infect the rest of the world with our lust for weapons.” Today, there is a renewed global push to negotiate commonsense standards for international weapons sales—an arms trade treaty—which the Obama administration supports but many Senate Republicans oppose.
Today, nearly 20 years since the last U.S. nuclear test, the logic and value of the CTBT are even more powerful. Winning Senate approval for ratification of the CTBT and other arms control initiatives yet to come, however, will require a few more leaders with the courage of conviction, the bipartisan touch, and the political savvy of Mark Hatfield.