From the Archives: An Interview With Former U.S. Sen. Mark O. Hatfield About the Sept. 11 Attacks

Though often a very conventional member of Congress, Hatfield stunned his fellow Republicans by opposing the Gulf War.

From the archives: The week following the Sept. 11 attacks, WW published a number of interviews and columns about the reactions of the government, society at large and Portlanders. Not all of it ages well. However, this interview with former U.S. Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (for whom the downtown federal courthouse is named) offers a window into what was known a week later and what local leaders had on their minds.

For 30 years, Mark Hatfield confounded the Washington, D.C., political establishment.

In some ways, the former Oregon governor was a very conventional member of Congress, using his post on the Senate Appropriations committee to bring home some millions of dollars for pet projects, such as OHSU, and protect the region’s cheap hydropower. But there was another side of Hatfield that was anything but typical.

A lifelong Baptist, he was fascinated by the intersection of faith and policy, a crossroads that often resembled an accident scene during times of war. In the early ‘70s, the Oregon Republican drew national attention by joining with South Dakota Democrat George McGovern to vocally oppose the nation’s military action in Vietnam. In the early ‘80s, he teamed up with Ted Kennedy to call for a nuclear- weapons freeze. A decade later, near the end of his Congressional career, he once again stunned his fellow Republicans by opposing the Gulf War, one of only two party members to do so.

Given his reluctance to call in the troops, we wondered how he was responding to last week’s terrorist attacks and to the president’s declaration of war. We caught up with him at his downtown office where, sitting below a black-and-white sketch of a dove, he offered a message of hope.

Willamette Week: How did your first hear about the attacks?

Mark Hatfield: My son who lives in New York called us at six in the morning. And then my other son called. He had, up until a year ago, been the spokesperson for the Port of New Jersey on the 16th floor of the World Trade Center. He says they’ve now counted about 220 of his fellow workers as...gone.

So this was both immediate and personal.

Yes, it was. It became our all-encompassing focus of attention. So many weird things go through your mind. I kept thinking, looking at those images that got repeated, that Spielberg had done the greatest of all his props.

For Americans, who’ve largely been spared from such acts, this was much more like fiction than reality. How does one respond? Given your historic role in our country’s response to past aggression, I’d be interested in your thoughts on what we should do now.

I’m not trying to set myself up as a sage of how to solve all the problems, but only to say how those problems hit my generation and the response we took. I grew up in a time of great poverty, because it was the Depression.... Today, the world is awash in the poverty of abundance. The materialism of this period of time has created a totally distinct situation. I think in some ways the problems are greater today, because the people have grown used to materialism.

And what’s wrong with that?

We have come to rely on our powerful position. We believed that our weapons, economy and materialism were going to protect us from any outside intrusion, invasion or challenge. And all of the sudden, all of that has become very puny. We realize that no matter how wealthy we are, how many cars we have, we’re not an island. Whatever we have put our trust in has crumbled. It is really a traumatic shock, far greater than the Depression and even World War II, in a way.

So you’re saying it is not just our foreign policy that’s becoming more isolationist, ifs our entire cultural outlook.

That’s right. I don’t mean to say I told you so, but some of us who are concerned about the poor, the minorities, over this recent, say, decade or two decades, felt that it never got into the consciousness of the vast majority of the people.

If you asked them, ‘Are you aware there are poor people in Portland? Are you aware that minorities do not have the same opportunities as others?’ they’d say, ‘Oh, yeah.’

It’s not that they’d deny it. But as long as they weren’t poor, as long as they were busy in their own activities, it never came into their thoughts. This attack is a shock in that sense, a wake-up call. Fundamentally, we’re all now exposed to the possibility of being obliterated.

The day after the attack, before we even knew who was responsible. President Bush declared it not just an act of terrorism, but an act of war. You’re someone who has a history of thinking carefully about such terms. Was that appropriate?

We going to have to redefine everything.... War is when one nation attacks another nation. Is nationhood going to be redefined? When you look at nationhood, not many of those Muslim countries could call themselves nations, at least as we call ourselves a nation, with a national economy and other things. Is Osama bin Laden a nation? He’s got a following. We’re constantly redefining words. So, to answer your question, was it appropriate? He used the word, and I think it was understood.

So we’re at war with an enemy that we’ve yet to name, though we’ve been pretty willing to guess. How should we, as a nation, respond?

We have basically a righteous cause at this point, in bringing to justice the perpetrator of this evil act, and it is an evil act. And I think how we do that is going to determine whether we maintain that high purpose or whether we start to imitate the enemy in vengeful retribution—they took out 4,000, we’ll take out 8,000.

Because those people who are innocent in other areas of the world, as opposed to the handful of terrorist nuts, are going to be portrayed in news stories as suffering and holding dead children in their arms, and I think the world opinion and support we have now would tend to melt away. So I trust that we are going to be very surgical in our response, and have definite and complete and unassailable knowledge that this is the target because these are the perpetrators.

I don’t know if you saw, but there’s a Washington Post/ ABC poll out today, showing that two-thirds of the respondents would support retaliation even if it resulted in innocent lives being lost.

Yes, but you know, it’s like a toothache. Pain is very mercurial. It is very high today, but it can change. When we get back to normalcy, whatever that is in the future, I think those sentiments are going to be diminished.

The flip side of that anger is the tremendous desire for people to help the victims and their families. Can that be somehow channeled into a positive force?

Yes. We need to capture this tremendous outpouring. People can give blood or money, but very few of us will ever be in contact with a family that lost a loved one. But if we can begin to look beyond ourselves and our own egocentric materialistic culture, we have the opportunity to reach out to someone else who has not been bombed, but who is a refugee on the streets of Portland. If we try to lift them up, then I think we can see the whole culture of America diminish in the materialism and refocus on suffering people.

I’m sitting here thinking how incredibly naive and idealistic that sounds. I know you’re not naive. Do you think you’re idealistic?

I hesitate to use the word ‘idealist.’ I’m very pragmatic and live in a world that is not like I would like it to be. But I believe we have a real need today to adopt a new view about our relationships to people in need. We’re seeking help...I think every one of us. I look at those images and I want to go hug my wife. I want to get close to another human being. I want to embrace. I really want to cry. And I don’t know when I last wanted to cry when seeing something that wasn’t right here in front of me. This is a prime moment to help fill that human need to identify with others and realize that there are a lot of people in need.

Isn’t it also, however, a prime moment for the military industrial complex to use this to its advantage? Haven’t we already seen that with Congress’ rush to authorize more than $30 billion?

Let me respond to that. One, I said this awakening will not come from government.... No revolution in the history of humankind was ever carried on by the majority; it was always a committed, well-focused, defined minority. From the roots of my faith, 12 people overturned the Roman Empire. And, if you go back and study a little Marxism, you’ll find that it was people like John Reed who helped bring about the Bolshevik revolution. There’s not going to be a mass movement, there’s not going to be a political edict that’s going to succeed. I’m waiting for those weeping people today, of whom I count myself as one, who will catch a vision that there’s something more dependable and lasting than what they have been seeing and living of life in the last two decades.

But isn’t there just as great a chance that the attacks will cause people to lash out indiscriminately against others who are perceived as the enemy?

Let me tell you another experience that makes me who I am. I was a sophomore at Willamette when the word came that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. In Salem we had a place called Lake Labish, which was just to the north of Salem, where a colony of Japanese-Americans had truck gardens, growing celery and radishes, and those kids went to Salem High School. All of them were my classmates, my friends. And many of them, as I, went to Willamette.

Then the day came when Earl Warren of California, later Chief Justice, and Governor Charles Sprague of Oregon—both of them what I would call moderate-liberal Republicans—telegraphed President Roosevelt to “get the Japs out of state.” And that’s the word they used. They sent testimony to the Congress, and it said “Japs” were a danger. So President Roosevelt issued the order.... Many of us went to the railroad station right across from campus to wave goodbye to our classmates.... Now, having seen that, I can picture the women with the black shawls over their heads and others who appear to be Muslim or appear to be Afghan. And having seen or experienced that, I can’t help but say, as an old codger, let’s raise that warning flag.

In your years in the Senate, how much understanding did you and your colleagues gain about the religion of Islam and its intersection with our foreign policy?

That is the most pertinent question you’ve asked. That is one of the most neglected areas in academia and politics. It’s going to affect our lives every bit as much as when Ottoman arrived at the gates of Paris... We look at a map, we see [Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak as a friend and we see him as what we might call a secular Muslim, and he’s obviously threatened from the right, from the fundamentalists. As they got Sadat [assassinated in 1981], they’ll get Mubarak. Or at least there’s a good possibility that they will assassinate him and they will have a Khomeini-type leader.

We see today that Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates have given us air space and use of their bases. But how long? How long will they be able to keep that political power? And when they don’t keep it, it will be put back into the hands of your religious Muslim groups. So pretty soon, we’re going to look at that map and see all of our oil—that’s going to get our attention—and we will then say, ‘How did this happen?’ Even in this breathing time we have, I doubt if anyone is really analyzing in-depth Islam as a whole. I don’t have the answers. But I know the difficulties that ignorance brings.

Other Sept. 11, 2001 Willamette Week stories from the archives:


Willamette Week’s Hiss & Vinegar Column Describes the Music Scene’s Reaction to the September 11 Attacks

Red, White and Queer

Stomaching It

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