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Letter Box


A letter from an alumnus about right thinking

January 2, 2002

I have read PAW's letters columns for 60 years and probably never a column without at least one letter that bemused or dismayed me with its narrow and immature perspective and an excess of ego.

In the last few months, I have realized that most of us in the U.S. and everywhere, outside of personal interests and specialized areas of expertise, do not bother or are not able to think clearly and logically. Only a few of us are blessed with exceptional role models or mentors, and learn to think responsibly and independently. Some of us do earn graduate degrees from top-quality schools of hard knocks, which helps us mature. But no one has ever attended a class focused on developing one's innate intelligence, learning how to use common sense and balanced judgment. Many of those leading quiet, privileged and protected lives, never have to and don't learn the art.

I recently read a locally published letter, from a conservative Republican woman, who wrote that "tolerance and enlightenment are the work of the devil." She undoubtedly is very sincere, a nice person, and good neighbor. The lady, unthinkingly I assume, wants to encourage more prejudice, intolerance, and blissful ignorance? I surely hope not.

Ninety percent of the people in America, led by Republican fundamentalists but obviously including most Democrats, united in fear and hate, approve of Mr. Bush and his war. They do not consider the consequences of vengeance against 60 nations, with one down and another 59 to go. We can only inspire more hate and terrorism; it is a self-righteous and self-deluding madness that cries for cessation, not support. Think !

Were Princeton to offer a one-semester class focused on maturity and thinking, other universities and the nation might sit up and take notice, accept reality and join the good fight for more awareness.

Some Princetonians who know that their prejudiced views are absolutely right, who assume that material success assures wisdom, may vehemently object. The core of the 90 percent urging war are apt to see the new instruction as a twisted, far-left plot — for enlightenment!

The following essay, "Tocsin," is intended to invite people to have second thoughts, not to offend anyone, but it may be viewed with indignation by some as questioning their intelligence and politics. They will not understand that intelligence and education have little to do with one's ability to reason well.

Many of my classmates, who out of curiosity read "Tocsin" carefully, in some cases ruefully, will admit its truth and report their concurrence at our 60th reunion in May, but alas, some will want to stay with the comfortable, unthinking, 90 percent majority.I believe very deeply that a foolish and futile war should be ended, ASAP. More, that there is an awesome need for errant humans to wise up, particularly super-powerful and super-comfortable people, Americans.


The ghoulish, loathsome events of September 11 have left us all with the toxins of fear, hate, and vengeance, which will be with us indefinitely, as long as the war of retaliation continues. The terrorist horrors should also have served as a tocsin, a warning bell, calling for some questions as to why this happened to us, with some self-examination and changes. But the alarm did not serve that good purpose.

Yes, to some degree we asked for the hatred and the dreadful acts it provoked. But affluent and powerful, comfortable and complacent, egocentric America (the "asking") has had no time for any thoughts beyond righteous indignation, punishment, and revenge against primitive, poverty-stricken Afghanistan, the host nation for the al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden.

For years, the U.S. has been increasingly influenced or mesmerized by wealthy, successful, and powerful, aggressive, political, and social conservatives, anxious to protect and extend their powers and privileges, and to push their narrow-minded, so-righteous agenda. Religious fundamentalists have taken political control of the nation, under the leadership of President Bush. Arrogance, pride, and inflexible thinking led Mr. Bush to ignore possible error on our part and make a very popular but very unwise decision, to declare war against 60 Islamic nations, all with underground cells of terrorists.

With an intense and extremely costly show of air power, over a nation defenseless against bombers, we have quickly reduced Afghanistan to rubble, with only 59 other countries to go. Will war-making inspire respect for democracy, or will it assure more terrorist acts, ten weeks and ten years hence?

Ninety percent of the American people enthusiastically approve of Mr. Bush and his war of terror, with its thousand ground-zeroes, and an unreported number of Afghan casualties and dead. We accept political rhetoric as gospel truth; we approve of our violence and believe we will win the war against Islam and terrorists. We assume the truth of what we are told, what pleases us ... without question or thought.

In the 1930s there was a nationwide "dementia," or dreadful, erratic thinking. Every good and intelligent German, denying the reality of concentration camps, approved of Hitler and his policies, or had to pretend to. All German newspapers remained silent, sharing the delusions or fearful of stormtroopers, or of offending readers and advertisers. There is zero equivalence between leaders and policies, but ...
Similar nationwide, irrational, mass-misthink or non-think, is happening here. The media echo popular illogic, or feel pressured to remain silent, to ignore most protest.

President Bush is a master politician, who is known not to be bothered with analytic reasoning. His thinking is purely ideological, conservative Republican orthodoxy. He and most of us swallow, whole, fantasies and propaganda. We wave flags furiously, but do not think clearly and calmly, or face reality.

Unfortunately, higher education can reinforce prejudices and pretentions and hinder honest, objective reasoning. It is likely, however, that a major university will soon offer a course focused on basic logic, mature thinking and awareness — how to overcome inborn and accumulated misconceptions and petty conceits, how to broaden one's perspective. Other schools are certain to follow. Students will be taught not what, but how to think. They will be made aware of the self-serving, half-truths of the far left and right, and be urged to be open-minded, expand their outlook. Not needed in less complicated times, such classes have become an imperative.
Because of space limitations, I will now briefly mention only a few recent and particularly distressing examples of America's short-sighted, conservative attitudes, and the resulting, regrettable policies.

Mr. Bush has restricted stem-cell research, that could bring relief and cures to millions of Americans with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other dreadful diseases. Except for the death penalty, conservatives claim a reverence for life, including unborn embryos — which most Americans have been deceived to believe are dear, tiny fetuses, little pre-babies, to be dismembered for ruthless research.
In truth, the stem-cell tissues used are microscopic bits or blobs of a few undifferenciated cells — without hearts, lungs, brains, or limbs. The blobs, most destined to be discarded, are being saved at the expense of millions of suffering youngsters and adults of all ages. Such mindless, political cruelty!

This was done to add strength to the equally thoughtless wish of rightists, that distraught women with unwanted pregnancies should suffer for their predicament, be forced to go full term, to deliver their unwanted infants — or else submit to illegalized, often fatal, back-alley abortions. The wish to impose one's own personal values on strangers, while denying practical reality, is deplorable.

Brief mention must also be made of the bipartisan gift by Congress of billions of dollars in tax relief, mostly to benefit our wealthiest taxpayers and legislators, and its increase in their annual salaries to $150 thousand — while the minimum wage remains at $5.75 an hour! A democracy in form, we have become, in fact, a plutocracy — government by the wealthy, with the lower classes regularly short-changed.

Do the above policies show good thinking, fairness and responsiblity? Are they demonstrative of the American way? Can our leaders have some second thoughts, learn to reflect, think?

Now, what should we do, realistically, to combat terrorism? First, stop the pointless bloodshed, withdraw our aggressive forces from the area and declare a cessation of hostilities. Then, very belatedly, commercial pilots should be urged to volunteer, with extra pay and instruction, to carry lethal weapons. In the alternative, they and all other flight personnel, should be encouraged to carry nonlethal, defensive stun-guns, mace, etc.. We still make highjacking easy. Of lesser importance than secure aircraft, we have to continue to improve airport and general security and our intelligence operations.

But most important, above all else, more of us must learn how to better program and use our marvelous computer-brains. We must be taught how to think more honestly and independently.

Before that is possible, however, we must accept reality, acknowledge that yes, there is indeed a problem, a need for more aware and mature thinking. The rest will be, would be, easy!

How often today, do we all say "what a shame (or damn it!) he (or she, they) just didn't think." A more thoughtful, honest, and mature America would give everyone, particularly Americans, wonderful benefits, with less hypocrisy and frustration for all. We would give more thought and corrective action to the plight of those deprived of hope and opportunity, here, in Afghanistan, everywhere. We might be enabled to stop the buying and selling of votes and favors, with election financing reform, have more responsible politicians. The American people and their leaders could and should be universally respected as caring, sharing, and wise, thinking people. With responsibility, awareness and determination, all of this could happen, with (much of the cause for) terrorism sharply reduced.

Walter Hewitt ’42
Lansdale, Pa.


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