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Oral History

The Wit and Wisdom of Senator George Aiken

Aiken and Mansfield
U.S. Senate Historical Office

The following is an excerpt from the oral history interview with former Secretary of the Senate Francis Valeo, conducted by associate Senate historian Donald Ritchie on December 11, 1985.

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RITCHIE: On the Republican side you've talked about Wiley and Bourke Hickenlooper. What about George Aiken?

VALEO: Well, George Aiken went around the world with us on one of two trips as I recall. He was a great personality. Simple man but wise, and in his own way very sophisticated. His habits were simple but his wisdom was a very sophisticated wisdom. He was I guess the only enduring, close friend that Senator Mansfield had in the Senate. I don't need to go into the details. You know they breakfasted every morning together, almost every morning. George Aiken was here alone for a long time, his wife never came down to live here. Then I believe she died and he married Lola Perotti, who had been his right hand for years and years, even as governor of Vermont.

He also helped to bring the war to an end in Vietnam. A very important contribution, by kind of an amusing twist which is well known: his saying we ought to just declare victory and get out. Because he saw that we were carrying on that war as though it were a football game, and that all we were really concerned with was winning. Winning for what? Nobody had ever asked for what or why, this whole question of why. You're in a war, you win it automatically, nobody asking what it might take and what that might have in terms of the real interest of the United States. Unfortunately, Johnson thought about war as though it were a football game, as did a lot of other people. So part of the problem was to get that mind-set, that kind of a thought process, broken up in some way, and his humor I think helped because it was quoted widely and repeatedly afterwards, and helped to bring it to an end.

Beyond that, I don't know how much you know about him, but did you know that he was a wildflower authority? He wrote a book on wildflowers, and an authoritative book, on wildflowers as a matter of fact. He raised them—I don't know how you raise wildflowers, but I think he raised them. He had a marvelous sense of humor. It was a wry, New England sense of humor, but a good one. He was invariably cheerful. I can't remember ever seeing him depressed or ever depressing anyone else around him. He was a very even-tempered, charming, warm and lovable man. That's about the best way to describe him.


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