February 15, 2006: Letters
Letter Box Online
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I have just read Vanessa Wills ’02’s article, “Remember the suffering of others” (Perspective, Dec. 14). She attributes her becoming an activist to her experience at Princeton. I would like to say that I, too, became an activist and attribute a lot of that to my experience at Princeton. I learned early on that helping others leads to great personal satisfaction, and thanks to the good advice of my faculty adviser, I went into the medical profession, which is extremely rewarding.
Princeton taught me that one person can make a difference, and I followed that by working together with a lawyer friend to help do away with discrimination in restaurants, motels, and barbershops in California during the 1950s. I would agree with Vanessa that the “intellectual work of figuring out what’s right or wrong needs to be backed up with the practical work of getting out there and putting those ideas into practice.” Good for her.
HENRY MAYER ’35
In her essay, Vanessa Wills casually conflates activism, compassion, and a typical liberal agenda. I say this is sophistry. As antidote, I suggest Max Eastman’s Reflections on the Failure of Socialism, one of the world’s great (short) books. I would love to know if anyone at Princeton teaches it.
Personally, I’d been noticing the last few years how so-called activists always seemed to be liberals. When I decided to set up a Web site (Improve-Education.org) pushing more sensible approaches to education, I decided that I would hail myself, in press releases, as an “education activist.” A little tongue-in-cheek, but when I think about the ignorance and illiteracy that so-called liberal educators have fostered, I have to conclude I’m the real activist here.
BRUCE DEITRICK PRICE ’63
I applaud Vanessa Wills for arguing that Princetonians cannot simply talk about justice and social ideals but must also take substantive action to promote them. It is a shame, therefore, that I find her specific example of such action — a protest intended to shut down an armed forces recruiting center — so repugnant. Ms. Wills seems to forget that since the Vietnam era, we have transitioned to an all-volunteer military: Every individual who walks into that recruiting center does so of his or her own volition. What right do Ms. Wills and her fellow protesters have to impede patriotic Americans trying voluntarily to serve in the military? Ms. Wills claims a moral right, based on the fact that it is only the “marginalized” members of American society who join the military, and who are then sent to fight wars “that aren’t being fought to benefit them.”
As a specialist in the U.S. Army, I feel qualified to dispute both aspects of this claim. I am living proof that the military is not populated solely by the marginalized. I know many other soldiers who had numerous options in life, but chose the Army because they felt it the right thing to do. Even those soldiers who do come from poor backgrounds chose to join and were not forced. Moreover, no soldiers I have ever met joined because they hoped to fight in wars that would bring them personal benefit.
For all her willingness to disrupt the recruitment process, Ms. Wills does not seem to know very much about what recruiters do or say. I recently spent two weeks working with the Army recruiting office in Lowell, Mass. Recruiters certainly do emphasize the positive aspects of the military life, but they do not try to convince anyone that “their fortune lies in Iraq.” Before Ms. Wills’ next bout of activism, she would do well to find a better cause.
SPC. GRAHAM PHILLIPS ’05
As one of only three undergraduates in my class to major in Near Eastern studies some 20 years ago, I appreciated Christopher Shea ’91’s careful and in-sightful description of Mideast studies at Princeton today (cover story, Dec. 14).
Shea describes a department much as it could have been described in the 1980s: perhaps conservative “in intellectual approach if not necessarily politics.” This is precisely why my experience in NES highlights my years at Princeton. By watching, in small classes and in close interactions with faculty and graduate students, a group of people who took their work seriously, were civil with one another socially, and mostly respected one another’s views, my impressionable mind learned how adult organizations and communities function at their best.
Congratulations to this great department for refusing to become a sideshow in the circus of competing political agendas.
ERIC STONE ’87
In reading “Lessons of the Middle East,” I was dismayed to find so little insistence among debating scholars on the importance of criticism and of being the critic. Have we forgotten that criticism is a scholarly responsibility and, arguably, a basic value? Perhaps a fear of being criticized has shut down the well-informed criticism of other scholars’ work as well as of the workings of governments?
Intellectual pursuit cannot seriously be attempted without criticism (and critical self-reflection, simultaneously), whatever the substantive issues. After all, criticism is a key weapon against dogmatism, ideologuing, prejudice, and the arrogance of power.
STEPHEN WILLIAM FOSTER *77
After reading “Mideast Studies: As interest rises, the issue of balance heats up,” I was disappointed to see how much academics have been politicized since I took the course on the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1974. The article itself was so rife with imbalance that I had to read it twice to assure myself that the author wasn’t engaging in some subtle form of satire. There are numerous examples of built-in bias in this article, starting with an inaccurate and biased map used as the front cover (e.g., the term “West Bank” was coined by the Jordanian monarchy to disavow the legitimacy of Jewish homeland rights in an area which was labeled as Judea for centuries on maps of that area).
But there was one area that particularly disturbed me — the imbalance of labeling Martin Kramer ’75 *82 a “gadfly” while Rashid Khalidi is held up as a “fine scholar,” even as he continues to espouse the tired old propaganda line about Israel’s supposed “racism.” How can we honestly hold Israel up as a racist pariah when it is a parliamentary democracy with over 1 million Muslim, Druze, and Christian citizens, while its neighboring Arab countries are all but Judenrein since the 1950s, with the expulsion of over 980,000 Jews whose families had lived there for generations? I am saddened to think that this is what Princeton now regards as scholarship.
TED STERN ’76
Here’s my vote for Rashid Khalidi’s appointment and for a fearless and contentious Middle East studies curriculum. For one who grew up in the age of McCarthy and the blacklists, it’s depressing to see the same kind of fear, self-censorship, and neutering of free speech and academic freedom in the guise of “balance” in Middle East studies. Although Christopher Shea tiptoes all around it, anyone who’s experienced the synchronized might of the Israel lobby and its nasty smearing of anyone who dares to speak out for Palestinian rights knows it’s not about balance, it’s about stifling of any dissent or critical thinking about Israel. To my knowledge, no one is attacking Middle East studies except these would-be thought police.
KENNETH E. SCUDDER ’63
Richard Land ’69 (A Moment with, Dec. 14) highlights a crisis for universities with his statement, “I don’t care if everyone disagrees with me, so long as I believe I’m right.” Invoking God, he and others tar civil society with the epithet “liberal” and brush aside human community, tolerance, understanding, and consensus respectful of self and others. Unfortunately, “stubborn and ornery” misses the evil in divinely revealed certainty about values, truth, and righteousness.
I am no “liberal.” I am committed to common human decency. I embrace obligations toward others: health care, decent work, economic security, healthy environment, fairness. I am repelled by persons coercing others to one truth. I know coercion and certainty as companions of dictators.
Mr. Land’s God would brush off this dissent just as Pat Robertson’s God abandoned Dover, Pa. I say, let each of us dedicated to human decency speak out and oppose these enemies of civil compromise. Congress will remain a bystander to citizen defenses of civil fairness and decency against religious ideology. Universities know history’s warnings that religious battles could shed blood in American streets. Look at Northern Ireland, Iraq, Indonesia. ... Speak out to beat back this ideological grab for power with ideas before we descend into intolerance and risk violence.
I want a society where Mr. Land can hold beliefs — but also one where you, I, and he hold beliefs and live in peace with each other. Compromise and consensus respect God’s creation of each of us as each uniquely different. Mr. Land’s homogenizing truth is a dangerous enemy of this God-given human diversity. His ideology must have limits set on it before its self-righteousness destroys its followers and our civil society. To not betray their traditions, universities must join this defense of civil decency against ideologues and not be bystanders.
ROBERT E. BECKER ’55
In his Dec. 14 column, “Religious Life at Princeton” (President’s Page), Dean Thomas Breidenthal describes the mission of the Office of Religious Life as inclusively as possible. The ORL supports “religious life on campus in all its forms, including those forms that resist being described as religion.”
It’s unfortunate that the dean, in the spirit of inclusion, seems to drain what most folks think of as religion of much of the spirit and passion that inspires real devotion.
It is difficult to generalize about religion when religious belief is relegated to the eye of the beholder.
Authentic religious belief must involve an element of submission to an authoritative body of beliefs, shared by a community with some institutional basis (having a God also helps). That is what distinguishes religion from secular humanism. The values of Princeton, like those of American society as a whole, are rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It is those values that have made the society one that is committed to diversity and equality. They ought not to be deliberately underemphasized out of concern for offending nonbelievers. Belief need not, and cannot, be inclusive.
PAUL C. ATKINSON ’74
The family of Stephen Thomas Case ’89 would like to thank friends and family for their kind contributions to Stephen’s memorial fund at Princeton University. His family has chosen to honor his memory by dedicating a stone in the University Chapel.
The inscription on the stone will read as follows: Stephen Thomas Case, Class of 1989/“Think Where Man’s Glory Most Begins and Ends and Say My Glory Was I Had Such Friends.”/In Loving Memory from Family and Friends.
If your travels should bring you to Princeton and you would like to visit Stephen’s memorial, please do stop by the chapel. His stone is located in the first bay upon entering the chapel on the south side. It is the third stone from the front, the first above the bench.
JENNIFER CASE ’95
As an alumnus of what has become a more senior graduating class, and longtime admirer of Princeton basketball, I am appalled by the falloff in quality of this year’s men’s team compared with past performances. How well I remember the glory days of Bill Bradley ’65, sinking baskets from all angles; Pete Carril’s teams with their rhythmic possession play ending with a backdoor layup; the near-miss against Georgetown; and the astounding defeat of UCLA in the NCAA tournament.
Now it seems that Princeton basketball has set a record for futility. No other Division I team has managed to score 21 points in a 40-minute game since the three-point shot was adopted. “We have to learn from this and grow up real quickly,” Coach Joe Scott ’87 was quoted as saying after an earlier game. Never mind the growing up; just send these boys out to some city playground and let them practice against their betters until they get the hang of the game!
WILLIAM SPENCER ’45
When I read in the Nov. 16 PAW (features) about the incredible amounts of money libraries spend in the current market for an author’s papers, I was reminded of the part my husband, Henry Dan Piper ’39 *48, played in getting F. Scott Fitzgerald ’17’s papers for Firestone Library in the 1940s. In a lecture at Southern Illinois University where Dan was a dean in 1963, he described how he helped get the Fitzgerald papers for Princeton in a far less mercenary and more “sentimental” time. Here is what he said:
“During the last war I began reading ... a forgotten American author named Scott Fitzgerald. ... It finally led me to a trunk of Fitzgerald’s papers ... all that remained of his literary estate. Legally, it belonged to his widow, who was practically destitute and in a mental hospital.
“The trunk was in the care of Fitzgerald’s former college roommate, a federal judge whom Fitzgerald had designated as his literary executor. Judge Biggs was willing to sell the complete set of papers to me for $750. But by then I was a graduate student in English and, by definition, broke. Since Fitzgerald had gone to Princeton, I tried to talk the English department into finding the $750 to buy the Fitzgerald papers. But the English department was not in the least interested. ...
“The librarian at Princeton ... arranged to have the papers deposited on loan, with the understanding that the money would be paid eventually. Actually, it never was. By the time the University decided the papers were worth $750, Fitzgerald’s books had come back into print, his daughter was getting large royalties again, and she was willing to give the collection to the Library. It was a wonderful gift, containing hundreds of letters of Fitzgerald’s, over a hundred from Hemingway, a hundred from Ring Lardner, and others ...
“There are two morals to this story. If you haven’t the money to buy a collection, try to get it on deposit anyway. The other is that a good library is often more interested in helping you do your research than your colleagues on the faculty.”
ROBERTA PIPER w’39
I am ecstatic for Princeton music students to read in the Dec. 14 PAW (Notebook) that Willie Tee has accepted an invitation to teach on campus. Anyone who has an opportunity to interact with and hear him play should take advantage of him being there.
Princeton jazz teachers and students are frequently visited by and have the opportunity to learn from great jazz musicians. I’ll bet they rarely get the opportunity to meet and learn from living legends of R&B and funk as well. Willie Tee is in the class of New Orleans legends Allen Toussaint and the Meters and keyboard greats Herbie Hancock and Bernie Worrell. I wish him the best in putting his life back together after Katrina.
ANDY MACALEER ’88
I have feedback for Mark F. Bernstein ’83 about his Nov. 16 cover story. The two versions underscore the points Julie King ’82 makes in her parenting workshops.
Version 1: It seems hard for you to believe that the parenting approach advocated helps children learn. I can understand this skepticism, as parenting experts Faber and Mazlish have a very different way of disciplining than most of us are used to. Their ideas must seem foreign to you, and you are not the first parent to react this way. But I would ask for an analytical approach to their ideas by testing them out yourself. Also, reading John Gottman’s book, The Heart of Parenting: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, which presents excellent research data in support of this approach, would probably turn you into an advocate of these strategies.
Version 2: “That’s not the way we write about our teachers.” Your article is dismissive and closed-minded. I expect more of an analytic inquiry from a Princeton alumnus. If you had really researched the ideas, you would not be so negative about them.
My point is that lessons are often more easily learned after some understanding is given. It is harder to take in information after being berated for perceived negative behavior or attitude.
LIZA HALLORAN ’87
After reading about the sprint football team’s 40 consecutive losses (Sports, Dec. 14), I recall the good old days — like when the 1942 150-pound football tem was unbeaten, unscored-upon and untied.
“JEEP” JESSUP ’45