March 9, 2005: Letters
Letter Box Online
PAW welcomes letters. We may edit them for length,
accuracy, clarity, and civility.
If the SEAS had as its objective improving its standing among the nation’s greatest engineering schools, I’m not sure that exchanging students with Smith College (Notebook, Feb. 9) is the right way to do it. Whose brilliant idea is this? Since when does Princeton accept “exchange” students, anyway?
CRAIG CORNELIUS ’01
“Off the Barricades” by Mark Bernstein ’83 in the Dec. 8 PAW brought back memories of the turbulent and magical spring of our senior year, when trust in the government was at its depths, activism was at its heights, and many of us believed we were actually going to change how things went down in America. Nothing I’ve ever read or seen adequately captures the intoxicating idealism of that spring, much of which came crashing back to earth when the deaths of the protesters at Kent State and Jackson State showed us it was not going to be as easy to change the world as we naively believed.
My memory of the major events of that spring differs somewhat from that in the article. I recall that the “Hickel heckling” was in late February or early March, when a group of at least 30 “student radicals” (as they were then called) dressed up in pseudo-Native American war regalia and continuously chanted, “Talk about the [trans-Alaska] pipeline, talk about the war” during his speech so that few in the audience could hear him. They were photographed, later identified (not always accurately), and put on trial in April by an internal University body specially established for this purpose. Then on the third day of the trial, at a time when the radical Freudian Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse was giving a series of lectures on campus, the accused students and about 100 of their supporters left the trial in a boycott and marched to Nassau Hall, which they took over for several hours until leaving to hear Marcuse’s final talk. Later that spring, on April 30, Nixon announced the secret invasion of Cambodia, setting off the events described in part in the article.
What is not mentioned is that in place of classes in early May we had mass teach-ins about the war, racial oppression, white imperialism, right-wing governments the United States supported throughout the world, workers’ rights, etc. But with the canceling of classes and finals came the shocking and inevitable end of our student days and many of us were suddenly outside the Princeton bubble having to make a living, make plans to deal with the draft, etc.
By the way, as the article suggests, the draft was a major reason for the student activism of that time. It affected the privileged and underprivileged equally in a way that the current “all-volunteer” armed services do not. Hence the current administration’s insistence that there are no plans to reinstitute the draft, an assertion of theirs that one can actually believe.
Finally, can anyone confirm the following identifications of classmates on the right side of the photo that accompanied the story: Phil Seib, Hal Roth (maybe?), Gordon Chang (with ’stache), Bruce Funkhouser, and John Kixmiller (head turned left)? Having shared freshman fencing and Commons busboy work with him, Phil is the only one I recognize for sure. Maybe he remembers that day.
HAL ROTH ’70
Julie A. List ’78 wrote a letter (Jan. 26) because she experienced “sadness and dismay” over Mark Bernstein ’83’s cover article about student activism.
Ms. List waxed eloquently about the right to dissent, and encourages undergrads to make a difference — both sound American themes. But she wrote a sentence that saddens and dismays me: “Kids your age are dying in Iraq for no discernible reason ...”
My response is that much about current events is open to healthy debate: what constitutes a threat, the doctrine of preemption, how to handle friends and foes, etc.
But, Ms. List, if you cannot understand the simple yet profound reasons behind some of our young people making the ultimate sacrifice, I suggest you go have coffee with a widow or a parent of one of these kids and have them explain it to you. I’m sure it will be discernible pretty quickly. Or pick up a history book and read how it is that your country has emerged (warts and all) as the most positive force for freedom and democracy in world history. Again, it will be pretty discernible.
And note — it’s not just kids dying. Many of our reservists are your age, who have continued to serve their country long after you put away your “Divest from Apartheid” placards.
JIM PETRUCCI ’86
I applaud PAW for focusing on ethics in its recent special issue (Jan. 26). I note, however, one serious omission. There is no attention given to the role the various religious chaplaincies play in promoting ethical reflection within the Princeton community. As an undergraduate I was often dissatisfied with the quality of ethical reflection in the classroom. Typically, questions of ethics were not addressed at all, and when they were they tended to be addressed haphazardly. “Ethics” was up for grabs; one system was as good as another; reason held priority over virtue. In my case, the Catholic chaplaincy was instrumental in advancing my understanding of what the moral life involves and how it can be more intentionally pursued. I suspect the chaplaincies continue to play this role. Princeton is more than the classroom.
TIMOTHY P. SCHILLING ’87
It is good that Peter Singer (Features, Jan. 26) is teaching at Princeton. It is perfectly rational and consistent to base ethical decisions, as Professor Singer does, on the pains and preferences of the parties involved. Such views, if rationally implemented by fair-minded leaders, could lead to a stable and “peaceful” society. Furthermore, there is absolutely no reason to discriminate on the basis of phylum or genus. After all, feelings are fundamentally biochemical, and biochemistry is no respecter of species. Singer’s ethics is the end of the road for those who walk through life with “reason” but without God. He is to be applauded for showing atheists the rational conclusions of their non-faith.
CHRIS THRON ’80
How does Peter Singer decide whether he should fly to Australia to visit his daughters, or take the thousand dollars or so he spends on such a flight and give it to, say, UNICEF? Of course it’s good to care about the sufferings of children in underdeveloped countries, but it’s also good to have a strong, loving family life. Ethics is not just a matter of figuring out the greatest good for the greatest number of people, as Zell Kravinsky seems to think. There are good reasons for our hard-wiring toward “proximal empathy”: If mothers did not care more about their own infants than about children they can’t see, it is doubtful that any of us would be here. Kai Chan *03 is right when he says that too much logic in ethical decision-making can be “debilitating,” even paralyzing. P.S. I will stop eating animals when animals stop eating animals.
SHANNON STONEY ’76
Serving on the President’s Council on Bioethics, I have over the past few years read countless articles on embryonic stem cell research and how our society ought to deliberate about and resolve the ethical issues it raises. Rarely, however, have I encountered an analysis as thoughtful and illuminating as the one offered by President emeritus Harold T. Shapiro *64 in the Jan. 26 issue of the Alumni Weekly.
Although I disagree with him on the ultimate issue of the moral standing of human beings in the embryonic stage of development and the ethical question of whether we ought to be willing to create and kill them for purposes of biomedical research, I found President Shapiro’s proposal for how we ought to deliberate about the problem to be rich in wisdom. There is, as he reminds us, a connection that cannot be erased between “the world of science and the world of meaning.” We should, as he says, never “confuse what we can do or are doing with what we should do.” Above all, we must “find venues for serious conversations between scientists and nonscientists where all participants leave open the possibility of changing their minds on the appropriate uses of our new [biotechnological] powers.” Harold Shapiro is a wise man who has much to teach people on both sides of the issue. He continues to be a great asset to the University and the nation as we struggle with the vexing and profoundly important bioethical questions that new technologies have thrust upon us.
ROBERT P. GEORGE h’88
I have just finished reading the special issue of PAW on “Exploring Ethics.” It was particularly of interest to me as a magna cum laude graduate with a degree in philosophy and as a retired physician.
I applaud your excellent collection of articles. Keep up the good work.
CHARLES REUL ’60, M.D.
The Jan. 26 PAW issue on ethical decision-making leads me to hope you’ll extend coverage to other areas of great interest: business and government. All-too-frequent reports of corporate corruption, fraudulent audits, and financial double-dealing lead me to wonder about ethics in the business world. The same is true about areas of government that deal with, for example, the buildup to the war in Iraq and the use of torture against prisoners of war. Are these matters honestly dealt with and explained to the public?
Students headed for careers in business administration and government need some preparation for difficult ethical situations, including real-life examples comparable to those in Professor Singer’s classes in medical decision-making.
DEAN A. ALLEN ’47
Bravo to Victor Brombert for his “Return to Omaha Beach” (Perspective, Jan. 26), especially for his description of the earth shaking at the Saint-Lô breakthrough and the contortion of the dead afterward, images that have never left me.
Thanks also for his expression of indignation at Gen. Patton, which I too have shared unspoken for all too long.
HARRY DIXON ’40
According to Tiger E-News, “faculty from 13 departments pool talents to examine what it means to be human.”
I have thought about this a lot in my life. Unfortunately, this course comes at a time when, as I understand it, Princeton does not plan to continue creating Internet courses that alumni can study (and my motive for writing is to register a dissent from that decision). I guess I will never know what it means to be human. As they say, “It gives you something to think about.”
WALT BARNA ’74
In his letter in the Dec. 8 issue, Charlie McMillan ’67 criticized President Bush’s assertion that terrorists hate us because of our freedoms and democracy. While certainly many in the Middle East oppose us for the reasons articulated by Mr. McMillan, the social and political conditions in Afghanistan while
al-Qaida was the most powerful group in that country showed its position on freedom and democracy. More recently, the statements attributed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi opposing democracy in Iraq, calling it a “lie,” and opposing freedom of religion, arguing that it is “against the rule of God,” support the president’s assertion.
DAVID TOSCANO ’87
I am pleased to find that the new space, the courtyard laid out at East Pyne, has become what it deserves to be: a soulless place where the snow drifts high and unprettily in all four corners. There is no comfort there for the passerby, nor shade in summer, nor shelter from the wind and rain. (This occasioned the uprooting and dismembering of several fine white poplars, countless ferns, and the inhabitants of a goodly number of squirrel nests whose residents ran freely through the open windows of the offices that looked out upon the small oasis, now brutishly buried beneath very handsome, and no doubt, very costly blue stone slabs.)
In this place, peopled as it is with countless poet laureates, philosophers, and professors emeriti, was no remark made, not a peep, not a murmur of protest? I wonder. I knew the secret garden: the setting for many a lovers’ tryst; the surprise of it when you entered through the archways; the shade, and sound of creatures busy with life; a place of contemplation and repose. I remember it and know now that having much, you can lose plenty.
To the Class of 2009, coming as you do after its loss, I say, when you walk through the cold blank space, know that there in the four corners, like a garland, buried now beneath dead stone, nature flourished. Somewhere, a small plaque should be placed and inscribed with two words: Still Life. What was taken of nature has returned in snow, rain, and ice. Is it my imagination or a trick of the light, but is the center of that grand stone floor already beginning to buckle?
The Jan. 26 memorial for Oswald Elbert ’34 reported an incorrect year of death. The correct date is Aug. 5, 2003.
The Feb. 9 memorial for William Carey Crane ’51 identified his father, Brig. Gen. William Carey Crane, as a member of the Class of 1913. Bill’s father graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1913 and not from Princeton.
Our Dec. 8 story, “Off The Barricades,” incorrectly reported the date of the disruption in 1970 by student protesters of a speech by Interior Secretary Walter Hickel. It took place March 5.