November 8, 2006: Letters

At the helm in Beirut

Reviving the draft

More Tiger presidents

Lucky to stay at home

Where was the band?

Wilson’s stroke

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At the helm in Beirut

John Waterbury ’61

John Waterbury ’61 (Photo courtesy AUB)

John Waterbury ’61 (A Moment With, Sept. 27) is to be congratulated for his evident courage serving as president of the American University of Beirut during trying times.

But what was he trying to say when he stated that our country does not “honor” American values “when we deal with the Middle East”?

In the Middle East and elsewhere, are we not honoring our love of, dedication to, and support for freedom, liberty, democracy, tolerance, justice, peace, and security? All with no desire for territory other than, to paraphrase former secretary of state Colin Powell, a small patch of land in which to bury our dead, killed in a selfless effort to assist others in achieving those values?

For well over 100 years, our military actions begin and end with: How and how soon do we exit? We are not the imperialistic Europeans of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

Los Angeles, Calif.

The “moment with” John Waterbury talks about the longtime contact between Princeton and the American University of Beirut. While it mentions that Malcolm Kerr was assassinated on the campus while president of AUB, it overlooks that he was Class of 1953. As an undergraduate at Princeton, his home was listed as Beirut, where his parents taught at the university. After teaching at the college level in the United States, Mal returned to Beirut as president of the university there.

Avalon, N.J.

The introduction to the most interesting interview with John Waterbury, president of the American University of Beirut, was unfortunately flawed by an all-too-frequent inherent bias against the Palestinian plight in the Middle East, and a lack of understanding of the complex roles played by Hamas and Hezbollah.

PAW introduces Mr. Waterbury by saying that the last resident president of the AUB, Malcolm Kerr ’53, “was assassinated on the campus, and Waterbury told the online publication that students affiliated with Hezbollah regularly win election to student government positions.” While Hezbollah certainly has contributed to the miseries inflicted on the Lebanese population, PAW seems to ignore the reality that two Hezbollah leaders are members of the Lebanese cabinet. Why then should it be so surprising that Hezbollah supporters are elected to the student government? And the association in the same sentence of Hezbollah with the killing of President Kerr, with the necessary implication of its responsibility for his death, is irresponsible journalism.

As too many innocent victims in Lebanon are aware, it was not Hezbollah that bombed the airport in Beirut, blockaded the ports, destroyed much of its infrastructure and dropped cluster bombs on the hapless Lebanese civilian population during the days immediately preceding the cease-fire.

Paris, France

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Reviving the draft

Frank Schaeffer is the co-author with alumna Kathy Roth-Douquet *91 of AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service — And How It Hurts Our Country (Books and Arts, Sept. 27). Your article notes that Mr. Schaeffer “wants to reinstate the draft.” I volunteered years ago and served a total of six years active and reserve military service for the nation. I have reflected long and hard about wars and military duty ever since.

I think now that a draft would be fair and equitable to institute if those conscripted were offered full tax exemption (local, state, and federal) for their period of service, plus some predetermined time beyond service (to compensate these individuals for personally shouldering the burden of defense for those who do not or cannot).

I also think that those killed in the line of duty should have their tax exemption passed on to their immediate heirs (spouse and children) for the lifetime of the heirs. We call it the “ultimate sacrifice,” so as a nation let us prove it so to the families that pay the price.

The little medals and the neatly folded flag are indeed thoughtful and encouraging, but what people really need is substance and not window dressing. The subsequent loss of tax revenue from the above exemption should draw from any government project or service not directly related to public safety and national security.

Those who are wounded, disabled, disfigured, and otherwise incapacitated in the line of duty should receive an equitable annuity drawn at least partially from the pension funds of the executive and legislative branches of government. This action will help to focus the attention of these parties to the gravity and irreversible consequence of war. And then when this leadership declares that they do truly feel the pain of their fellow citizens’ sacrifice, we will know — unquestionably — their earnest and heartfelt sincerity.

Effectively legislated, these conditions could prove a mighty recruiting tool. They might actually preclude the suggested need for any draft at all.

Alexandria, Va.

Re Reading Room Sept. 27: Both Kathy Roth-Douquet *91 and Frank Schaeffer are correct. A citizen Army with citizen officers is preferable to a professional Army. The problem is that, except for wartime, in a true democracy the draft is really not acceptable.

The Vietnam War was fought by the lower classes, as the wealthy ones escaped the draft. That was wrong, as we need the involvement of the upper classes in the armed forces.

Skillman, N.J.
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More Tiger presidents

I was surprised that one of my Princeton roommates, Steven Poskanzer ’80, did not appear in “Tigers at the Helm” (feature, Sept. 27). In 2003 he was named president of SUNY New Paltz, which has about 8,000 students and is a leading institution in the New York state university system. “Potzie,” as we knew him 25 years ago, is among Princeton’s youngest undergraduate alumni to head a university. To honor his achievements, his Princeton roommates are campaigning (with little success thus far) for the institution to change its name to “SUNY New Potz.”

Washington, D.C.

The “Tigers at the Helm” piece was excellent but did not recognize at least one major leader. Christopher M. Thomforde ’69 has served as president of Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, and of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. He is now president of Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa. As a president and as a person, he’s pretty terrific, but then who’s not proud of a distinguished classmate?

Cincinnati, Ohio

I was very interested to read the Sept. 27 sidebar about college and university presidents who are Princeton alumni. I’ve been the president of Southern Polytechnic State University for eight years. SPSU is part of the university system of Georgia. We have about 4,200 students (at the undergraduate and master’s level) and a special-purpose mission, focusing on science, engineering, technology, and architecture.

My graduate work at Princeton (Ph.D. *83) was in geological and geophysical sciences. I have read (a slightly eerie sensation) that I am the only woman geologist ever to become a university president in North America.

President, Southern Polytechnic State University
Marietta, Ga.
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Lucky to stay at home

I found the article “Work and Family” (feature, July 19) very interesting. Amy Sennett ’06 brings up lots of issues that our society should be discussing. However, as a woman who has not had a child yet, she is missing an important point. She speaks of the sacrifices women make in staying home with their children or being primary caregivers even if they work. Like many people who write on this topic, Amy takes the male role as the best one and sees how women fail to be able to have what men have.

I’d like to offer a different perspective. Many men are making huge sacrifices by being the primary breadwinners in their families and not having time for their children. Many working parents leave the house in the morning as their children are getting up and get home as their kids are getting ready for bed. They miss all the wonderful and miraculous things their children do all day. They miss the experience of being forced to slow down and see life from a child’s perspective. They miss the first steps, the first solid food, the first words, the social life of the nursery school, the homework, being a fly on the wall in a carpool. It’s not that these parents love their children any less than stay-at-home parents, and their children don’t necessarily even miss having them around, especially the social ones who thrive in the day-care setting. It’s the parents who are missing out.

Being there for those moments is not really valued all that highly by our society, and the pay sucks. But the rewards are amazing. Before I had children, “staying home” was not even an option for me. I was working on a master’s degree in international affairs and had grand plans to save the world. Yet, once my first child was born, all I wanted to do was be with her — for my sake, not hers. I feel lucky that I have the option, the choice, to stay home. I don’t want to miss a thing. I don’t want to regret not having taken advantage of every moment with my children when they are ready to head off to college, or wherever their journeys may take them.

White Plains, N.Y.
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Where was the band?

My brother-in-law is a Lehigh graduate, and he invited me to come down to witness the Lehigh-Princeton football game in Bethlehem, Pa. It turned out to be a beautiful, warm, and, for the Tigers, successful afternoon.

From my seat on the Lehigh side of the field, I was astonished when the Princeton University Band, ragged as it usually appears, did not show up for the pregame festivities. In fact, it did not appear all afternoon. No cheer-leaders were there to lead locomotives on the Princeton side of the stadium. There was no mascot in orange and black.

The crowd in the Princeton stands, though to its credit an enthusiastic group, was few in number. This was puzzling to me, since I would assume that a fairly large contingent of Tiger alumni must live within a reasonably short drive of eastern Pennsylvania.

I left Goodman Stadium feeling good about the team’s second-half heroics, but wondering what has happened to support for the athletes of “the best old place of all.”

Wilton, Maine
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Wilson’s stroke

“Woodrow Wilson Revisited” (cover story, April 19) quotes Harvard historian Erez Manela as finding it “hard to say” if Wilson, after his stroke, was “to blame for what happened or whether he was just out of the picture.” Begging the professor’s pardon, I would say there’s absolutely no need to equivocate on either count.

From the morning of Oct. 2, 1919, when Woodrow Wilson 1879 suffered coronary thrombosis and a paralyzing stroke, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson insisted that her husband was yet a dynamic leader, physically enfeebled only temporarily. “I, myself,” she protested, “never made a single decision regarding the disposition of public affairs.”

All turned to ashes in 1990, however, when the sons of Wilson’s physician and confidant Cary Grayson released the original diagnoses made by their father and his colleague, Dr. Francis X. Dercum, on the occasion of Wilson’s stroke.

These papers make it clear for the first time that on Oct. 2, 1919, Wilson suffered a devastating trauma, so extensive that it precluded anything “more than a minimal state of recovery.” Given Wilson’s beclouded presidency, the late Professor Arthur S. Link, dedicated editor of The Papers of Woodrow Wilson who had originally dismissed the idea that Edith Wilson ran the government after her husband’s illness as “pure nonsense,” would concede that “Edith emerges as the master of the cover-up (such as it was), doesn’t she?”

The truth of Wilson’s incapacity naturally poses questions of its consequences for world affairs. Link seems to imply that a healthier Wilson would have been a more conciliatory diplomat. Entry into the League of Nations could have transformed the record: “In a world with the United States playing a responsible, active role, the possibilities of preventing the rise of Hitler were limitless.”

Had Edith Wilson permitted the vice president, Thomas R. Marshall, to supplant her incapacitated husband in the White House in 1919, and given Marshall’s reasonable temperament, is it not possible that he might have reached a compromise with Henry Cabot Lodge over the degree to which Americans ought to involve themselves in foreign wars, and thus have led the United States to membership in the League of Nations?

Such profound issues, I would hope, might be brought to light as the nation marks the 150th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson’s birth in December.

New York, N.Y.

Editor’s note: Phyllis Lee Levin is the author of Edith and Woodrow: The Wilson White House. She is working on a biography of John Quincy Adams.
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