November 17, 2004: Letters
Letter Box Online
PAW welcomes letters. We may edit them for length,
accuracy, clarity, and civility.
I was disappointed, to put it mildly, by PAW’s Oct. 6 article on Donald Rumsfeld ’54. While alumni/ae who have achieved notably since their graduation are likely subjects of PAW articles, PAW should draw the line at publicizing someone who has been a key promoter of an illegitimate and unnecessary war that is resulting every day in the killing and wounding of United States soldiers and innocent civilians.
Printing the piece on Rumsfeld, in my view, implicitly condones his prime role in causing these killings and woundings.
Chad Johnson ’46
Mark Bernstein ’83’s rather hagiographic article on Donald Rumsfeld discusses Mr. Rumsfeld’s participation in the NROTC and goes on (parenthetically) to say that he “joined the Navy after graduation,” which suggests that was a voluntary act, brave and bold.
What I wouldn’t necessarily expect Mr. Bernstein to know is that service in the active Navy was a compulsory part of joining the NROTC and that, in the early 1950s, there were several compelling reasons to enlist through ROTC rather than face the universal draft upon graduation. First and foremost was personal safety and comfort. There was still a hot, shooting war in Korea when Mr. Rumsfeld was at Princeton and it was commonly accepted that being a naval officer was cushier duty — and safer —than being an Army cannon-fodder draftee. It was also possible to put away some cash on an officer’s pay. The drawback to any ROTC program, though, was a longer tour of duty. Finally, NROTC was considered a first and easy step toward possible government employ.
I don’t know what Mr. Rumsfeld’s motivation was back then. It may have been patriotism and/or his dad’s influence, but I’ll wager some of the above was at least considered.
The irony that Mr. Rumsfeld honored and quoted Adlai Stevenson ’22 — that classically progressive New Dealer —shouldn’t go unremarked (though if Ronald Reagan could start as a left-leaning unionist and Roosevelt supporter and end up as far right as he did, I suppose Mr. Rumsfeld could too).
I played 150-pound football side by side with Mr. Rumsfeld for three years (he succeeded me as team captain) and worked as a fellow waiter in Commons, and I was — still am — a starry-eyed admirer of Stevenson, for whom I cast my very first presidential vote. I was “Madly for Adlai” — as the slogan went — and Roosevelt, but don’t ever remember a word from my teammate about politics. But, it’s true, we didn’t hang out. He was a true jock who socialized with the wrestlers; he was Cap and Gown and I was Tiger Inn. We were in different cliques.
This brings me to the point the PAW article never discusses: the nepotistic aspect of the Princeton experience. Networking is so important to so many in later life and is invariably discussed in recruitment interviews. Mr. Rumsfeld’s associate in latter years was Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci ’52, also a Princeton wrestler/Commons captain, yet no mention is made of him, George P. Shultz ’42, the Carlyle Group, any other Princeton-business connections, or the other Defense Department seniors and juniors (Vice President/Yale man Dick Cheney, for instance, who was famously Mr. Rumsfeld’s aide) who helped Mr. Rumsfeld climb the military-industrial ladder. I would love to see a follow-up piece that tracks the crony trail of this inspirational “Princeton in the Nation’s Service” story.
Samuel W. Gelfman ’53
“Rummy” is not Princeton’s finest hour! Or are you reminding us that we can’t cast that first stone at that New Haven place where “Dubya” also failed to learn to do anything decent in the nation’s service — or the world’s?
Paul D. Spagnoli Jr. ’46
I have been feeling for some time that PAW is in many ways a mouthpiece for Republican agendas in the coming election. There is a conservative bent to this magazine that has worried me for several issues now. The issue with the articles on Rumsfeld and political cartoonist Henry Payne ’84 (features, Oct. 6) confirm my feelings.
We are in a crisis in this country: We are at war for oil, our young men and women, perhaps future alumni, may soon be drafted. If Bush gets in, they certainly will be. There are smear campaigns being crafted against Kerry. Health care, the environment, are all in permanent jeopardy.
How can you run a front-page article on a political cartoonist who calls George Bush “eco-friendly”? And what about the waffle-stand cartoon on Kerry? Where are the positive balanced images of Kerry and cartoons that point to the truth about Bush?
More disturbing is the laudatory article on Rumsfeld. There’s some attempt to portray his disturbing traits and his bad decision-making, but on the whole, it’s a publicity piece that’s good for “Rummy.”
For what he’s allowed to happen to our military, another kind of article ought to be written, with a more truthful, balanced perspective. It’s almost like this magazine has a Republican agenda. And I, for one, find that dangerous decision-making on the part of an editor.
Kent Klineman ’82
I am curious as to why, if Henry Payne is a “conservative satirist” and “is more apt to focus on Kerry’s missteps,” PAW chose to publish four of his cartoons critical of Bush and only two of his cartoons critical of Kerry.
Sarah Beth Murphy ’97
I have rarely been assailed by anything as revolting as the casually cynical manner in which Steven Simon *83 cursorily dismisses both America’s wartime policy and its staunchest ally in the Middle East in half a sentence (A Moment With, Sept. 15): “The U.S. also needs to stop doing things that many Muslims find deeply repulsive and a moral affront, such as invading Iraq, allowing the Palestine issue to fester, describing our actions in the region as being part of a ‘crusade,’ and fostering the idea that the United States is at war with a particular religion.”
Let’s perform a reality check.
First, in the crusade against terror, we are now at war. Our enemy’s declared objective is to destroy us; our enemy’s tactics consist of intentionally targeting unarmed civilians with explosives-laden suicide bombers. This enemy is verifiably seeking weapons of mass destruction.
Who are “we”? The worldwide West, individuals and governments led by the United States and brought together by shared global economic interactions and an approach to life (not death) that forms the basis for common values.
Who is the enemy? Followers of a branch of the Muslim religion. That particular “religious” interpretation is being used as an ideological underpinning for mounting attacks on the West. So while the U.S. is in no way at war with the entire Muslim religion, it is at war with a radical subset of that religion.
Where are the supporters of this anti-Western ideology located? In the Middle East! In order to attempt to keep the enemy from bringing its war to our shores (again), we must fight them where they are: Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestinian-inhabited areas under Israeli supervision, Iran, and elsewhere. Ask the non-fundamentalist Iraqis: It’s “liberating Iraq,” not “invading Iraq.”
Second, “allowing the Palestine issue to fester” is disingenuous politico-talk meaning “screw the Israelis.” As if the U.S. should (and could) singlehandedly devise a one-sided solution to an intractable problem and force the Israelis to perform some kind of action inimical to their basic interests, with nothing in return! Objectively, the Palestinians are part of the enemy — over two-thirds of Palestinians openly support Hamas, a recognized terrorist organization — and they are the ones responsible for introducing suicide bombings, airplane hijackings, and political hostage-takings to the current world scene!
Third, the word “crusade” only denotes massive popular support for the long-term goal of eradicating any enemies who consider terror attacks against civilians as acceptable.
Terrorism will be vanquished only when radical, fundamentalist Islam is once again pushed back into the deserts of Arabia, using both “physical pressure” (war) against the currently brainwashed fundamentalists and their supporters, and “theological discrediting” to prevent the underlying radical ideology from attracting future recruits.
Finally, the folks sitting comfortably in leather seats at the RAND think-tank in Washington should be supporting the folks sitting uncomfortably on their behalf in the driver’s seat of an Abrams main battle tank in the Middle East.
Martin Feder ’78
Lawyers and cognitive-science researchers know all too well that human memory is very unreliable. PAW readers should keep this in mind when reading Stan Stevenson ’53’s triumphant 50-year-old recollection of Einstein “preach(ing)” at a 1952 Chapel service and professing his belief in a deity (Letters, Oct. 6).
I urge those who are interested in Einstein’s beliefs to consult the detailed documentary record. For example, in Albert Einstein: The Human Side (Princeton University Press, 1979), on page 38 one finds a 1954 letter from Einstein, a passage of which reads as follows: “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious, then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
Jeffrey Shallit ’79
Catesby Leigh ’79 is wrong about smog (feature, Sept. 15). According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “the term was probably first used in 1905 by H.A. Des Voeux to describe atmospheric conditions over many British towns. It was popularized in 1911 by Des Voeux’s report to the Manchester Conference of the Smoke Abatement League of Great Britain on the more than 1,000 ‘smoke-fog’ deaths that occurred in Glasgow and Edinburgh during the autumn of 1909,” not “coined in L.A. in 1942” as alleged on page 24.
Ruth Wielgosz s’93
I was disappointed to learn of Princeton’s decision to stop creating new programs for @Princeton courseware, the University’s online education program for alumni. This program was an entertaining, informative, and generally outstanding method of communication. I was delighted to be able to experience innovative lectures by Princeton faculty at my own pace and convenience, and anywhere I have Internet access. That the University undertook this program gave me the impression it was truly attempting to reach out to all alumni in a fundamentally educational (as opposed to a merely fund-raising) sense.
The range of topics and the outstanding presentation made the course offerings both compelling and stimulating. I assume that these were being enjoyed by many alumni around the world, making me wonder what kind of cost/benefit analysis was used to reach the decision to terminate the program. Moreover, I understand that some of the offerings were available to the public and were being utilized by secondary schools and other institutions of higher education, helping us live up to our motto by providing educational “service.”
I am just not able to afford either the time or money to avail myself of the expensive (why are they so expensive, anyway?) travel programs that seem to constitute our only other source of alumni education. I would like to see the University re-examine this decision in light of interest shown by alumni who voted with their participation, and with an eye to Princeton’s real mission: education.
Doug Schmidt ’81
Starting with some number-facts: Analysis of the Class of 2002’s graduating GPAs showed that a straight B average ranked 923 of 1079 students. A straight C ranked 1078 of 1079. Dominance of the “A factor” is clear. Another analysis: Between 1997 and 2002, 45.5 percent of grades awarded were A’s; 38.7 percent were B’s; 7.3 percent C’s; and all others including non-letter grades, 8.5 percent. Grade “creep”: From 1987—92 the mean GPA was 3.21. From 1992—97 the mean GPA was 3.30. From 1997—2002 the mean was 3.36.
Looks bad!? But doesn’t it take a C overall to graduate? Therefore, C is the bottom of the curve for those seniors graduating. Mr. Brock labeled it perfectly (Letters, Sept. 15): grade compression. There once was the “Gentlemen’s C”; now, our students and the goals they espouse leave no room for such.
Consider the next set: If the percentage of A’s and B’s were reversed (38.7 and 45.5), would we be so upset? I think not — because there would be fewer A’s like there are fewer “extremely bright” people. IQ scores are based on that assumption. However, it is another assumption, very risky, that Princeton, attracts, then selectively admits, more “truly/really” B- than A-performing students. If our kids are the cream of the crop, why must we grade them like they’re just damn good? Third, grade creep, a consistent rise over three measures, but how significant? From 1987—92 we see a GPA rise of .15, which nicely translates into .01 — one hundredth of a grade-point — per year. Considering the competition for career slots over the last 15 years, this reflects a remarkable stability in grade distribution.
Suppose Dr. Jones said you really were an A student but you got the top of the B’s because she/he had just run out of A’s. That’s statistical tyranny. It is Dr. Jones’ responsibility to select the course material, the amount, the complexity, its breadth, and depth, according to class level (freshman to senior). If 78 percent of a class “gets” 93 percent of the material, don’t 78 percent deserve A’s? If Jones is teaching a “crib” course, the answer could be “yes” and “no,” but that is Jones’ fault, the department’s fault, and the University’s fault — not the students’. At Podunk U., perhaps; at Princeton, not likely.
Ernie Roberts ’51
Our Oct. 6 story about Donald Rumsfeld ’54 at Princeton mistakenly identified former professor Walter “Buzzer” Hall. He was a member of the history department.