WASHINGTON – Charles Whalen, an Ohio Republican who criticized military spending and U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War during his six terms in Congress, died June 27 of renal failure at Sibley Memorial Hospital. He was 90 and lived in Bethesda.
Whalen had served in both houses of the Ohio General Assembly before winning election to the U.S. House in 1966 as a representative from a district centered on Dayton, a largely middle-class factory town. During his 12 years in office, he built a reputation as one of the most liberal Republicans in the House.
He served on the Committee on International Relations (now Foreign Affairs) but was perhaps best known for his years as the most vocal Republican dove on the Armed Services Committee. He was one of the panel’s “Fearless Five,” known for raising the ire of Chairman Mendel Rivers, D-S.C., for insisting on scrutiny of military spending requests.
Whalen also co-sponsored several Vietnam troop-withdrawal bills and the unsuccessful 1971 Nedzi-Whalen amendment, which would have cut off military spending for weapons.
He was an early and outspoken proponent of ending U.S. military conscription. In 1967, he and four other members of the Wednesday Group – an informal group of liberal and moderate House Republicans – wrote a report describing how the country could successfully build an all-volunteer Army within five years.
That report helped make draft reform an issue in the 1968 presidential election, according to a history of that period published by the Army in 1996, and both political parties came out in favor of ending compulsory service. The draft ended in 1973.
Mr. Whalen won his reelection campaigns handily but found himself increasingly distant from the GOP establishment, both in his home state and in Washington. He decided to retire rather than run again in 1978.
“I had more trouble every year with the Republicans,” he told the Dayton Daily News in 2001. “I just decided I might as well give it up.”
In 1979, after leaving office, he registered as a Democrat.
Charles William Whalen Jr. was born in Dayton on July 31, 1920. He graduated from the University of Dayton in 1942 and received a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University in 1946.
During World War II, Whalen served with the Army in the China-Burma-India theater.
He was the vice president of his father’s dress factory in Dayton and an economics professor at the University of Dayton before entering politics in 1955 as a representative in the General Assembly.
He won election the U.S. House over a one-term Democratic incumbent after walking an estimated 880 miles through the neighborhoods of Dayton to ring strangers’ doorbells and introduce himself. He also pulled a child’s wagon at least 100 miles, according to a 1966 Washington Post account, from which he dispensed recipes for chicken supreme.
In retirement, he lobbied on foreign affairs issues and served as a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
He had written a book while in Congress, “Your Right to Know” (1973), in support of reporters’ privilege to protect confidential sources. He went on to write several books with his wife, journalist Barbara Gleason Whalen, including “The Fighting McCooks” (2006), about a family that sent 17 members to fight in the Civil War.
“The Longest Debate: A Legislative History of the 1964 Civil Rights Act” (1985), about of the protracted and difficult negotiations over the landmark legislation, won praise in a Washington Post review by historian Howard Zinn.
“The Whalens’ account of the compromises, the deals, the deceptions, the behind-the-scenes maneuvering,” Zinn wrote, “is a fascinating lesson in how a bill really gets passed.”
In addition to his wife of 52 years, of Bethesda, Md., survivors include six children, Charles Whalen of Delray Beach, Fla., Daniel Whalen of Washington, Edward Whalen of Reston, Va., Joseph Whalen of Lambertville, N.J., Anne McLindon of Bethesda and Mary Scherer of Brambleton; and seven grandchildren.