World War II helped shape Sen. Mark Hatfield’s political career

by Erin Dahl ,

  • Hatfield talk
    These men took part in a roundtable discussion about Sen. Mark Hatfield's legacy on Jan. 26. (From left to right) Gary Barbour '76, Rick Rolf, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, Tom Getman, Christopher Foss '07, Walt Evans L67 and Jack Robertson.

When he arrived, there was nothing left. No sounds. No people. All he saw were miles of charred rubble — and a child’s shadow.

The impression of a young girl was burned into a concrete wall when America dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. The bomb was one of two deployed in Japan near the end of World War II, killing at least 129,000 people in the blasts.

Navy Lt. Mark Hatfield ’43 — who later served as an Oregon senator from 1967 to 1997 — was one of the first U.S. military personnel to enter Hiroshima after the bombing. He was stunned by the devastation — the eerie shadows, the ruined buildings and the horrifically wounded survivors. The experience shaped his political career and his life-long opposition to war.

“He understood the suffering of people,” says Wes Granberg-Michaelson, a former Hatfield staffer. “He was committed to peace, integrity and humanitarianism.”

On Jan. 26, several of Hatfield’s former foreign policy advisers gathered in Roger Music Center’s Hudson Hall to discuss the late senator’s legacy — including his efforts to stop the Vietnam War, slow the nuclear arms race, cut military expenditures, and promote international human rights.

Visiting history professor Christopher Foss served as moderator, and the roundtable participants were Walt Evans L'67, Gransberg-Michaelson, Tom Getman, Jack Robertson and Rick Rolf. Gary Barbour '76, who had also worked as a Hatfield aide, gave the introduction.

Although the commentators served different roles in Hatfield’s administration, they all described him as a mentor who unfailingly put others’ needs before his own political ambitions.  

“How we got our jobs is not important. What is important is why we stayed,” Getman said. “Our jobs were places to give, learn and be nurtured. He gave the rest of us hope.”

Hatfield served two terms as governor and five as senator. Because of his dedication to public service, Willamette’s Hatfield Library was named after him.

As senator, he co-sponsored the McGovern-Hatfield Amendment in 1970, which called for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. Despite his impassioned plea to the Senate to bring American troops home, the bill failed by a 55-39 margin.

Hatfield later opposed 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.

He helped pass bills to freeze the testing and development of nuclear weapons in the 1980s and 1990s, and he supported a trade embargo with the Ugandan government of Idi Amin, a president who reportedly killed and tortured hundreds of thousands of people in the 1970s.

Although his convictions weren’t always popular, Hatfield was never one to bow to public pressure, Robertson says.

“He had a beautiful sense of grace,” he said. “He was always calm, which helped all of us during those difficult times.”

Moderator Foss said what he most enjoyed about the discussion was hearing the staffers’ stories, which he described as serious, funny, engaging and disarming.

“These men would have given their lives for Hatfield — they were that dedicated to him,” Foss said. “They lived out the Willamette motto, ‘Not unto ourselves alone are we born,’ just as the senator did, and it seems clear that the United States, and the world, are better off for it.”

The panel discussion was sponsored by Willamette University Archives and Special Collections, the History Department and the Politics Department. More information about Hatfield’s life and legacy is available on the Hatfield Library’s webpage.