Op-Ed on “Senator Thomas F. Eagleton, a great Senate leader”
Washington, DC—The following Op-Ed appeared in the March 14, 2007 issue of The Hellenic Voice, page 5.
Senator Thomas F. Eagleton, a great Senate leader
By Gene Rossides
Thomas F. Eagleton, 77, a Missouri Democrat who played a leading role in Greek American history, died March 4 in Richmond Heights, Missouri, outside St. Louis. A family spokesman said the “cause was a combination of heart, respiratory and other ailments.”
Mr. Eagleton had a distinguished career in public service, winning election in 1956 as St. Louis’ chief prosecutor at the age of 27; followed by election victories for state attorney general in 1960 and lieutenant governor in 1964; and election to the U.S. Senate in 1968.
He had an outstanding career in the U.S. Senate for eighteen years from January 1969 through December 1986. He vigorously opposed the Vietnam War and played a leading role in legislation to stop the illegal U.S. bombing of Cambodia in 1973. He supported a draft lottery that would not create a “poor boys” army.
The New York Times obituary stated: “He was a leading advocate of the 1974 Turkish Arms embargo.” (NYTimes, 3-5-07, page 21, col. 3.) He was one of the leading sponsors and advocates of the War Powers Act which was designed “to limit the president’s ability to make war without Congressional approval.” (NYT, Ibid) Despite his significant accomplishments, “history will probably remember him primarily as a vice presidential candidate for 18 days.” (NYTimes, Ibid)
“He was in his first term as Senator from Missouri when the presidential candidate, Senator George McGovern asked him to join him on the Democratic ticket” in July 1972. (NYT, Ibid) He resigned on July 31, 1972 “after it was revealed that he had been hospitalized for depression.” (Associated Press obituary, 3-5-07.) Eagleton himself stated that he was in “good, solid, sound health” for the 1972 campaign. (Wash. Post, obituary, 3-5-07, page B6, col. 1.)
The sequence of events of how we got Senator Thomas F. Eagleton to lead the effort in the U.S. Senate in 1974 for a rule of law embargo on arms to Turkey is a primer on political action in the U.S.
On July 15, 1974, the Greek, dictator Brigadier Demetris Irannides, initiated a coup against the government of Cyprus and tried to assassinate President Makarios. The coup was initially successful. The assassination was not. Nicos Sampson was installed as President by dictator Ioannides. Turkey used that fact to claim the right to invade under the Treaty of Guarantee, which she did on July 20, 1974, with the illegal use of American supplied arms and equipment, including planes and tanks, in violation of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 as amended. U.S. supplied arms can be used only for defensive purposes, not for aggression. The Treaty of Guarantee did not authorize the use of force by Turkey to invade Cyprus.
On July 22, 1974, a UN ceasefire was established which Turkey violated by bringing more troops and arms into the foothold she had established in the north, totaling about 4 percent of Cyprus’ territory. The Sampson government fell on July 23, 1974 and the legitimate government of Cyprus was restored with Glafkos Clerides as Acting President.
The UN negotiations on Cyprus were adjourned on July 30, 1974 and resumed on August 8, 1974. On August 13, 1974, Turkey issued a 36 hour ultimatum to Britain and Greece, co-guarantor powers, and proceeded to execute a massive renewed aggression on August 14 to 16, 1974, this time against the restored legitimate duly elected government of Cyprus and occupied an additional 1/3 of Cyprus for a total of nearly 40 percent of Cyprus. Kissinger encouraged Turkey’s aggression by having the State Department issue a statement on August 13 that the Turkish Cypriots needed more security.
On August 26, I called Congressman John Brademas and informed him that the continuation of aid to Turkey was illegal and had to stop immediately and that it was not a matter of discretion on the part of the Executive Branch. He asked me to send him a memorandum. On August 28 I sent John Brademas a memorandum with citations of the relevant statutory sections and a draft letter to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. With edits that draft became the August 29, 1974 letter signed by Congressmen Brademas (D-IN), Peter Kyros (D-ME), Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) and Gus Yatron (D-PA) which initiated the rule of law arms embargo struggle in the House. The letter was delivered by messenger to the State Department, the White House and selected media. It did not receive much play in the press.
I needed to find someone in the Senate who would be willing to take on Secretary Kissinger. I called my fellow Ahepan Sam Nakis in St. Louis. Sam, a former Supreme President of Ahepa, was a friend of Senator Thomas Eagleton and had been active in his campaigns. Through Sam Nakis I made contact with Eagleton and sent him the material on Turkey’s violation of our laws and the statutory non-discretionary requirement that military aid to Turkey cease immediately.
I worked closely with Brian Atwood, Senator Eagleton’s legislative assistant. Senator Eagleton made a statement on Turkey’s aggression on the floor of the U.S. Senate on September 5, 1974. This time the New York Times gave the issue proper coverage- a full column by Bernard Gwertzman. Senator Eagleton’s statement and the rule of law arms embargo legislation he initiated joined the issue in the Senate.
In an editorial on September 14, 1974, the New York Times put the responsibility for the tragic events in Cyprus on Kissinger’s shoulders. The editorial states in part:
Eagleton had arranged for a vote on September 19, 1974 on a non-binding sense of Congress resolution that military aid and sales to Turkey be immediately suspended until Turkey complied with United States laws.
Kissinger asked to speak to a caucus of Senate Democrats before the vote. Kissinger argued against the resolution. However, in a response to questioning from Senator Eagleton, Kissinger admitted that the consensus at State was that the law had been broken. Kissinger then made the statement that there were times in world history when diplomats had to act outside the law. I obtained this information in telephone interviews with Senator Eagleton and Brian Attwood. The information became common knowledge after the Democratic Caucus.
The Eagleton resolution passed 64 to 27 and gave an important lift to the Greek American community’s effort in support of the rule of law.
From September through December 1974 there were a dozen votes in the Congress to force the Executive Branch to enforce U.S. laws. John Brademas deputy Democratic whip, and Ed Derwinski (R-IL) led the effort in the House. Senator Eagleton led the effort in the Senate.
Congress in one of its finest hours succeeded in upholding the rule of law. The embargo legislation regarding arms to Turkey passed on December 17, effective forty-five days later on February 5, 1975. It was an historic achievement for Congress. Senator Thomas F. Eagleton was essential to that achievement.
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Amended/2007: Op-Ed on "Senator Thomas F. Eagleton, a great Senate leader"