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Meijer explains relevance of former Grand Rapids senator at Hauenstein event

  • Senator Arthur Vandenberg, right, with then-Congressman Gerald Ford.

Posted on November 03, 2017

Hundreds of people filled Grand Valley's Loosemore Auditorium on November 2 to hear historical biographer and grocery magnate Hank Meijer provide a sneak peek into his newly published biography of Arthur Vandenberg, a senator from Michigan who served in the mid-20th century.

At the event, hosted by Grand Valley's Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, Meijer described Vandenberg as a longtime newspaper editor who was willing to consider differing viewpoints, a trait that served him well in his years in the political sphere. 

Early in his political life, Vandenberg was an isolationist, convinced that U.S. involvement in foreign affairs was largely unnecessary, Meijer said. But Vandenberg's willingness to keep an open mind and consider change when it was necessary led him down a different path in the long run.

"For Vandenberg, compromise was almost an art form. He was moving away from isolationism, Pearl Harbor played a part," Meijer said. "He was moving in a new direction, but mostly behind the scenes. Most of the public still thought of him as a stalwart isolationist. But that changed on January 10, 1945."

Meijer said that as the tide of World War II was shifting, Vandenberg gave a speech that was dubbed, "The Speech Heard Round the World," on that January day where he proposed a post-war security treaty among winning allies of World War II. It was a speech that changed Vandenberg's place in the world, Meijer said, leading to his appointment to the conference in San Francisco that would create the United Nations.

Vandenberg also cooperated with the Truman administration in attempts to generate support from the Marshall Plan, NATO and the Truman Doctrine.

From that time until his death from cancer in 1951, he became known for his work seeking cooperation and input from both sides of the political spectrum as he worked on various matters of foreign policy. 

"Vandenberg was willing to change and bring along with his millions of anxious Americans who were anxious about their future after the war," Meijer said. 

Meijer's presentation served as the launch of his new Vandenberg biography, Arthur Vandenberg: The Man in the Middle of the American Century, which was published earlier this month by University of Chicago Press.

Gleaves Whitney, director of the Hauenstein Center, moderated a question-and-answer session after Meijer’s lecture.

For more information and to see the presentation, visit hauensteincenter.org.