Hickenlooper. It’s an odd name, and yet it rings a bell: John Hickenlooper, it seems, is the governor of Colorado. For some of us, though, the name also rings a fainter bell, one from long ago: Bourke Hickenlooper (1896-1971) was a governor of Iowa and then a senator, and his name comes to mind in the context of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 50 years ago.
What brings all these Hickenloopers up today is the odd coincidence that both of them were mentioned in this newspaper on Feb. 23, Bourke in a story on Page 1 and John on Page 2. The item on Gov. John Hickenlooper was about the buzz at the National Governors Association meeting, where other governors were asking him how things were going with legalized pot for recreational use, a trend of which his state is in the vanguard. He said it was too soon to tell; “I urge caution.”
The story about Sen. Bourke Hickenlooper — a distant cousin of John, although it’s possible they never met, because of the age difference and the distance between Iowa and Colorado — goes back to 1968, when he and Sen. William Fulbright, of Arkansas, who both were serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met with John White, of Cheshire, to question him about the alleged naval attacks, which were used to justify the Tonkin resolution, which was used by President Lyndon B. Johnson to get us much more deeply involved in the Vietnam War.
White, then a Navy lieutenant, had spoken to the sonar officer aboard one of the U.S. ships that supposedly had been attacked on Aug. 4, 1964, and was told that there had been no attack. “He saw nothing, not the slightest sign of enemy presence,” White said.
The Tonkin resolution was a sham — a sham that would cost tens of thousands of lives — but it would continue to be used by pro-war elements as the conflict dragged on through Johnson’s term and finally came to a heart-wrenching end under President Richard M. Nixon.
But White didn’t know the name of that sonar officer until 1987, when Vice Admiral James Stockdale, who had been in the Gulf of Tonkin at the time, gave White the guy’s name. White called him, and his belief was confirmed. “I felt a huge relief,” White said. “I was cleared in my mind about speaking out against government deception and cover-up.”
(Stockdale would later run for the vice presidency on a ticket with Texas tycoon H. Ross Perot, whose candidacy is generally believed to have tipped the 1992 election to Bill Clinton, who, during that campaign, was criticized for having protested the Vietnam War while in England during his college days, where he was studying on a Fulbright Scholarship — a program established by the senator, who, along with Hickenlooper, had questioned White back in 1968. Now, isn’t that interesting?)
White had left the Navy in 1965 and was teaching at Cheshire High School in 1967 when he wrote a letter to the New Haven Register in response to an editorial that had called the anti-war movement futile. White was a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
“I was revealing classified, secret information. I knew that,” White said. “I feared a knock on the door from the FBI.”
That knock never came, but in those days there was still general support for the war. Protesters were called hippies, cowards and worse.
It took guts to speak out — especially for a public school teacher, with plenty to lose. Lessons? Try this: We need less government secrecy and more whistle-blowers.
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.