December 19, 2001: Letters

Prophetic words

ROTC on campus

Tilghman as president

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Prophetic words

On my discharge from the Navy at the end of World War II, I returned to Princeton and enrolled in the basic philosophy course taught by Walter Stace. Professor Stace had been a British civil servant. His last post was that of governor general of what was then known as Ceylon.

As I recall, about midway in the fall term, Professor Stace one day came to class and began to discuss the founding of Israel in terms of political morality. He said that the justifications for a political state — Jewish settlers would make orange trees bloom in the desert; God in the Old Testament had promised the land belonging to the Palestinians for so many years to the descendants of Abraham; the Balfour Declaration in 1917 recognized the Zionist claims to establish an independent Israeli state in Palestine; and the recognition and acceptance of the situation created by the acts of Israeli terrorists and activists in Palestine — did not excuse the basic immorality of our actions. It was wrong for the U.S. and England to use their immense power against the Palestinians by aiding and abetting in their expulsion from lands they have owned for many generations. He said that the moral thing for the U.S. and England would be to accept the displaced Jews from Europe into the U.S. and England. He said that it was simply easier and more palatable to us to use our might to create a state for the displaced Jews in derogation of the rights of the Palestinians.

He then went on to predict that the fallout from the establishment of Israel would have consequences that would be paid for by my generation and future generations. He said that the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine would unite the entire Muslim world against us, and he predicted that the Muslim world would inevitably coalesce and fight to try to right the wrongs now being done to their coreligionists, the Palestinians. He also mentioned the fact that Muslims controlled vast reserves of petroleum. He told us we could no longer view the Arabs as nothing but simple nomads in pajamas and bathrobes riding camels around in the desert.

As I watched with horror the events of September 11, the memory of Professor Stace’s prophetic words sent anew a chill that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

William Prickett ’47
Wilmington, Del.


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ROTC on campus

The Wall Street Journal recently described most effectively the disdain with which the Ivy League schools view the ROTC program, Princeton and Cornell excepted. The terrorist tragedies of September give poignant proof of how short-sighted and unwise this policy is.

In World War II, Princeton provided, literally, hundreds of ROTC officers who fought and led with distinction. In our Class of 1942 War Book there are no fewer than 86 stories about our ROTC officers who served America well, some also serving in Korea, even Vietnam.

On behalf of the Class of 1942, I would like to give copies of our book to the two ROTC graduates of the Class of 2001, Lieutenants Geoffrey F. Gasperini and Matthew Scherrer. Please send your current addresses to: Princeton ’42 Book, 9 Baynard Peninsula, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928. You two are truly “In the nation’s service”!

John Farrington ’42
Hilton Head Island, S.C.


The following is a copy of a letter sent to President Tilghman:

I read with great interest your installation address, The Role of the Academy in Times of Crisis, and your call for students to develop expertise in public service by developing a strong sense of civic responsibility, including challenging prevailing orthodoxies and a departure from the status quo.

One campus orthodoxy that needs to be challenged and changed from the status quo is a disdain for the military by students and faculty at Ivy League universities. Banning ROTC, banning on-campus military recruiters, and bashing the FBI and the CIA for their clandestine activities that root out terrorists is a mind-set left over from the Vietnam War and the campus fight for gays in the military.

At Harvard, only 69 percent of students were in favor of a military retaliation against those who destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon. This is totally out of touch with the rest of the country. According to campus newspaper surveys, only 38 percent of students said they would be willing to take part in military action themselves. The elitist and privileged attitude that military service, fire protection, and police work may be necessary but are somehow beneath the dignity and sensitivity of Ivy League students is wrong and needs to be addressed by your administration.

Please exert your moral leadership and influence to restore the time-honored values of duty, honor, and country to our young people. Princeton needs to actively promote honorable careers in the military, a more clandestine CIA, and a besieged FBI fighting terrorists. Too often, today’s students think patriotism means flying a flag, forwarding a few e-mails about candlelight vigils, and worrying whether “God Bless America” should be sung in our public schools.

At the very least, Princeton needs to actively promote its ROTC leadership program.

It is very important for a new Princeton president to step forward with a focused agenda that helps this generation of students understand more clearly that freedom has to be won on the battlefields of life, both militarily and diplomatically, and to prepare young minds for both of these types of conflicts. Only by restoring this balance can Princeton truly claim its proper role of “Princeton in the nation’s service.”

Robert C. Hazard, Jr. ’56
Paradise Valley, Ariz.

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Tilghman as president

Please excuse my late response to an earlier letter by Stephen Dartt ’72 questioning Princeton’s choice of Shirley Tilghman as its 19th president. Unlike many alumni of my era I do know Shirley Tilghman as a fellow molecular biologist and colleague. My response to Stephen Dartt is based upon that knowledge and upon tradition.

It is interesting that Mr. Dartt’s conclusions were supposedly based upon “Princeton tradition.” My response to learning of Dr. Tilghman’s appointment as Princeton’s 19th president was also based upon tradition. The tradition I remember is that of Princeton choosing a leader from “its own,” from the ranks of its faculty. This tradition in the past has often picked a talented faculty member who had never prepared for, nor considered, any role in administration, a person from the very core of the institution. How refreshing in this age where the CEOs of many corporations are expert “managers” but do not have a clue as to the actual business or technology of that corporation, that Princeton reached back to the “traditional” way and appointed an incredible scholar and teacher as its 19th president.

After all, Princeton is a great university and should be run by a great scholar and teacher. Dr. Shirley Tilghman is definitely a great scholar and teacher. In responding to her appointment I can never remember thinking about the fact that she was a woman. Perhaps, from one who knows her and her work, this speaks volumes about her stature as scholar and teacher.

Thomas E. Wagner ’64
Greenville, S.C.


When I read Stephen Dartt’s letter several weeks ago I envisioned the letters editors sharing knowing looks on deciding to publish it. The response was predictable, all seething disbelief and indignation, and self-congratulatory to boot. I am reminded of a lead “investigational” article in the New England Journal of Medicine many years ago; it described a small cohort of young women with pelvic inflammatory disease who had been treated with much higher-than-recommended doses of an antibiotic. The study had been performed in Arkansas with all black women; a number had died. The Journal’s reason for publishing the “investigation” was clear, the response was vociferous, appropriate, and certainly predictable but had nothing to do with science.

One always hopes that the Letters section of the Weekly would be a true forum; there are still, I feel, cogent arguments for wishing the president of Princeton to be a Princetonian, an American (“Princeton in the nation’s service”), a nonatheist, as well as one schooled in the humanities. In fact, I suspect various Princetonians have written marshalling arguments on each issue. One wonders, in this political climate, who the real bigots are.

Stephen Nagy, Jr. ’60
Sacramento, Calif.


I enjoyed reading the numerous and passionate responses to my letter expressing my concerns about the selection of Shirley Tilghman as Princeton’s president. I very much appreciate everyone taking my letter so seriously and agreeing with the accuracy of all my statements. My only disappointment was in reading how little value and importance so many graduates place in their Princeton degree. I certainly do not share that view, which is why I felt compelled to express my concerns. Being a graduate of Princeton does not make me better than anyone else, but it does make me different from almost everyone else — including Shirley Tilghman. I am proud of my degree and how hard I had to work to get it. And I am proud of Princeton’s heritage.

Stephen R. Dartt ’72
Lilburn, Ga.
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