November 2, 2005: Letters
Letter Box Online
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The recent PAW article on Professor Jan Tomasz Gross (feature, Sept. 14) solved one of my family mysteries. As per the article, Gross’ works were the first prominent effort to dig up the grisly facts related to the active leadership of Poles in the decimation of Polish Jewry. My now-deceased grandfather, even as he mellowed in his later years, maintained a burning hatred of the Poles that until now I never understood and frankly, given his vehemence, was scared at a young age to ask about. My family and I are in part of Polish-Jewish origin, although fortunately our family’s turn-of-the-century migration to the United States allowed us to avoid the direct effects of the horror of the Holocaust. I imagine that my grandfather’s view came through firsthand accounts from survivors who traveled through or settled in his hometown of Cincinnati.
I compliment Professor Gross on his effort to seek the truth. I acknowledge that with American Indians, Cambodians, Armenians, Rwandans, and too many others, there are many other terrible truths to be told. I suggest we should all remain sensitive to these truths and be on guard so that a terrible history doesn’t repeat itself.
REED M. BENET ’84
In 1988, Jan Gross published the extensively footnoted 308-page Revolution from Abroad. This book, chronicling the Soviet invasion of Poland’s eastern lands in 1939, noted the collaboration of some Jewish Poles with the Soviets and against their Christian Polish neighbors. This collaboration contributed to the deportation of nearly 1.5 million Poles to the gulag, most never heard from again. The book, published by Princeton University Press, was greeted with silence, receiving virtually no reviews. Gross was essentially ostracized for what was, in fact, a well-researched book.
Working his passage back to respectability, Gross in 2000 published Neighbors, a slim volume almost devoid of substantiating sources. Relying instead on the testimony of Szmul Wasersztajn, Gross worked to portray Polish peasants as sadistic brutes. In 2003, he became a Princeton professor of history.
Serious historians, e.g., U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council member Marek J. Chodakiewicz and Catholic University of Lublin Professor Tomasz Strzembosz, have pointed out numerous flaws in Gross’ work and its basic shallowness of research. I regret to see that the humanities at Princeton have fallen so low as to let postmodern fantasy take the place of logical conclusions based on checked and confirmed facts. And it is hard to think that PAW has become an enthusiastic supporter of slanders against the Polish nation.
Poland had the highest proportion of deaths during World War II (17 percent of the population). Next to the USSR, the United States, and Great Britain, Poland contributed the greatest number of troops in the war against Hitler. The Polish underground produced the highest number of attacks against the Nazis of any occupied country and suffered the greatest retaliation. There was no Polish Quisling or Petainist government in Poland. Collaboration with the Nazis was rare and punished by the underground Armia Krajowa by death. Poland has the largest number of “righteous Gentiles” recorded at Yad Vashem.
And now Princetonians of Polish heritage and/or sympathies are treated with the Alex Barnett piece, “Recovered Memory.”
JAMES R. THOMPSON *65
While Bernoulli provided us with a theorem relating air velocity to air pressure, the behavior of a curveball (Porter Johnson *67 profile, Sept. 14) is more completely described by the Magnus effect. Spin isn’t the only crucial parameter, since a smooth spinning ball may actually curve in the opposite direction to a spinning ball with a relatively rough surface (like a tennis ball or baseball). Inquiring minds can find more details at the following link: www.princeton.edu/~asmits/ Bicycle_web/sportsballs.html.
DAVE GARBERN ’74
Editor’s note: Bill Binder ’72 wrote that the same article incorrectly reported the distance from the rubber on the pitcher’s mound to home plate: It is 60 feet, 6 inches.
As a longtime Mississippi Gulf Coast resident (1978–2002) and someone who loved New Orleans and trekked 80 miles to get there once a week for Scottish country dance class, I agree with most of what John McPhee ’53 said (feature, Oct. 5).
Most of what the Corps of Engineers has done in the New Orleans area, at the command of Congress and its Louisiana delegation, has been counterproductive. They/we have channeled the Mississippi River through and past the city, preventing it from doing its natural function of replenishing the delta. The result has been both subsidence and erosion of the delta wetlands, which would have provided a partial barrier against the storm surge that drove the flood waters into Lake Pontchartrain and over the levees.
But I have to take exception to one error. John McPhee refers to the (Louisiana) delta of the Mississippi River as the “Mississippi Delta.” Wrong! The “Mississippi Delta” is 300 miles north of there, just south of Memphis, where the Yazoo River forms a delta as it flows into the mighty Mississippi.
BURR LOOMIS ’61
In response to Charles E. Tychsen ’43 (Letters, Sept. 14): I feel bad. You really think that less-qualified minorities are taking away spots that deserve to go to the supposedly “extremely well qualified” students you interviewed (four white, one Asian). And you dare say, “Let’s bare the hard facts of admission.” The hard facts are simple: A majority of the students interviewed, regardless of ethnic background, do not get acceptance letters. The University received 16,510 applications; the Class of 2009 consists of only 1,229 members.
And let’s not even touch upon legacy students. But you don’t hear me complaining about the well-qualified minority students who didn’t get accepted because their fathers didn’t donate buildings. Why? Because there is no correlation. Minorities are not taking away what whites deserve. We are not destroying the fabric of this country. We are holding it together, standing right beside you, despite the poor treatment that we’ve historically received and continue to deal with on a daily basis.
You ask, how is it appropriate that 41 percent of the class comes from a minority background when they only make up 28 percent of the population? How is it appropriate that a great majority of the CEOs in this country are white and male, making 185 times the salary of the average worker? Despite the inequities of society, I still believe in the true moral values of this country — just as I know you do.
I worked very hard with a young high school senior, one of the brightest and most talented young women I have come across. She’s a poet, an activist, a young woman who would have made a wonderful contribution to the Princeton community. She did not, however, get accepted. But that’s the way it goes. It’s called competition. And I for one appreciate it and respect the numerous hours that admission officers spend deciding who gets the opportunity to work with Nobel Prize winners and tirelessly committed professors.
Over 16,000 applications — that’s a lot of personal essays. Each one is to be appreciated, admired, and encouraged.
JOE HERNANDEZ-KOLSKI ’96
There are several things that I find troubling about Graham Phillips ’05’s article, “Why I Joined the Army” (Perspective, Sept. 14). I’m not sure which one worries me the most.
It may be the uneasy feeling that perhaps a large segment of the current generation of undergraduates has not learned anything about Vietnam, or has not perceived the similarities be-tween our experience there and in Iraq.
Or perhaps I am troubled to realize that some people hold on to the notion that joining the Army to fight such a war could somehow be morally positive. This notion seems, at best, highly anachronistic.
I was pleased to see that Mr. Phillips seems to have realized that the real battle is for the minds and hearts of the Iraqi people. But he does not seem to realize that we lost that battle at Abu Ghraib, and when we mistreated copies of the Koran in Guantánamo.
Perhaps it is his assertion that our democracy is defended by soldiers, without any mention of the fact that our democracy is, in the long run, better defended by adherence to high principles (many of which we have, alas, sacrificed in recent years).
Perhaps it is the failure to consider that our military presence there may be causing the very resistance that we would like to quell.
Or perhaps it is the failure to consider that people who are dedicated to making the world a better place have several unquestionably positive options available, such as the Peace Corps.
In the end, though, I think what troubles me the most is the fact that some 60 million people died in World War II, not to mention untold millions who suffered horrible injuries, including Mr. Phillips’ grandfather. And the greatest benefit that we earned for all of that death, destruction, and suffering was the establishment of a principle, embodied in the Charter of the United Nations, that wars of aggression were henceforth illegal. Our willingness to toss out that principle — and by implication, to forget the suffering that brought it into being — because of some inflated fears of terrorism that had no significant basis in the country we attacked, is what I found most troubling of all.
JAMES TYSON ’76
I just heard about the Pre-rade (Notebook, Oct. 5), a relatively new tradition wherein the entering freshman class is invited to enter the campus officially through FitzRandolph Gate to start off their undergraduate experiences, while alumni cheer them on.
What a cool idea. I like the symbolism of entering and leaving through the same door. It reminds me of Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. In her story, young wizards who enter the wizarding school need to figure out how to get past the doorkeeper to get in, and how to get past the doorkeeper to get out once they’ve graduated.
STEVE SASHIHARA ’80
I wonder how many readers spotted John F. Kennedy on the far left in the photo (Notebook, Sept. 14) in connection with the “1945” exhibition at Mudd Library. James Forrestal is front and just left of center (in bow tie), and it looks like Averell Harriman at far right.
Forrestal, then assistant secretary of the Navy, gave an impressive speech at our freshman convocation in 1942. In 1945, when he was Navy secretary, I received my commission from his hands at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine upon completion of Midshipmen’s School at Columbia University. He was an outstanding public servant.
By the way, the item notes that Forrestal was in the Class of 1916; it was 1915, but he did not graduate.
DICK BOERA ’46