July 18, 2007: Letters
To our readers: This is PAW’s final issue of the 2006–07 academic year. Our next issue will be Sept. 26. For more letters during the summer, visit Letterbox online, click here.
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The Guantánamo detainee defenders (feature, June 6) are certainly free to pursue their ideals, a tradition that keeps this country great. However, when I think of the detainees, three thoughts come to mind: the four tiny, uncomprehending faces of my neighbor’s children at his funeral after 9/11 and the absolute devastation his murder had on his wife; the efforts and sacrifices of our service members — and, especially, their families — as they deal with these villains on the battlefield; and, selfishly, the effect on my family if another 9/11 happens and one day I never return from my commute to Manhattan.
Despite the predominantly negative coverage in the media, I have complete faith in the honorable professionals in our military to conduct fair hearings on the detainees while protecting this country. Though the critics make some legitimate points, many focus exclusively on the former objective while ignoring the latter. The detainees will receive justice more equitable than what they could expect in their own countries and in stark contrast to the “justice” meted out by their fellow al-Qaida and Taliban jihadists to Muslims who get in their way and the unfortunate American soldiers and other Westerners who have fallen into their hands. For those found guilty, the justice they will receive, by their own standards, will be much better than they deserve.
PATRICK SWEARINGEN ’84
Thank you for the article about Princetonians representing detainees at Guantánamo. I’d like to share with PAW readers a relevant quote from a speech by the courageous Fifth Circuit Judge Elbert Tuttle, given in 1957 to graduating law students at Emory University. Judge Tuttle, a wounded and decorated war hero who served as a battalion commander in Guam, Leyte, and Okinawa, said: “Now let us recall the stigma that attaches to the lawyer today who has the temerity to defend an unpopular client. How readily are we inclined to identify the lawyer with his client, to confuse a vigorous defense in behalf of justice with partisanship for the client’s beliefs. The task is at hand! Who dares to be the hero? Who dares for the sake of justice in court to counsel an accused whose alleged conduct or circumstances makes him really untouchable? If capable counsel is denied by the pressure of popular opinion, then our trials are a mockery of justice.”
We can claim a Princeton connection to Judge Tuttle through his distinguished son, Dr. Elbert Tuttle Jr. ’42, whose class just celebrated its 65th. It is worth noting that, before Judge Tuttle ascended to the bench, where his jurisprudence during the civil-rights era made the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit a beacon of hope to those seeking justice, he argued several civil-rights appeals, including his victory in the U.S. Supreme Court that established the constitutional right to counsel in federal criminal trials (Johnson v. Zerbst, 1938). He dared to be the hero then and later. I salute these Princetonians who are equally daring in the defense of American ideals.
KATHERINE BROKAW ’82
I am always amused when celebrities on Jeopardy! play for some meaningless charities like “People providing roses to dyslexic turtles.” In their defense, most “stars” have limited cognitive ability. At Princeton, I expect more from undergraduates. The Princeton Animal Welfare Society provides a fine example (Notebook, June 6). Here is an issue I suggest society tackle when all of us are at the tip of Maslow’s pyramid.
When terrorism, racism, religious intolerance, pernicious marginalization of women, hunger, poverty, health care, and the issues of the elderly all have been resolved, then let’s ask if little fuzzy animals are getting a fair shake. Until then, I shall be enjoying a filet mignon or a veal chop while I write checks to organizations that address societal ills of import.
FRED EBERT ’80
The affable seminar (“What’s The Big Idea,” cover story, June 6) left me feeling bad that I had been so hard on Professor Cornel West *80 in previous letters. “What a nice, erudite guy!” I started to think. “And look how well George gets along with this hombre!”
Then reality set in, and it seemed to me that the joys and privileges of being a professor at Princeton have so eclipsed their previous differences that Robert George and Cornel West can now spend their remaining time just chillin’ together and acting as if nothing matters so much as dazzling freshmen with all the books they have read.
Outside of strictly academic circles, West is a far more famous guy than George. After all, he helped bring down Harvard’s president, a mighty blow for today’s P.C.-campus orthodoxy.
If George is really serious about his beliefs, how can he have such a high regard for a man who embraces politicians and dictators who are bigots and who find it so easy to slander and jail and murder their opponents? What about the Cuban dissidents who are jailed in tiny, squalid three- by five-meter cells in the island paradise? What does West have to say about the black martyr for liberty, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet? Has he ever tried to visit him in his tiny cell? Where is the free press on this island paradise, and what happens to people who try to operate private libraries there?
And why is his Venezuelan buddy, Hugo Chávez, closing down TV stations and sending water cannons and goons to beat up peaceful demonstrators? Why does West embrace Chávez, who just loves the Iranian monsters who have vowed to vaporize the nation of Israel? Are we supposed to think that West will have some moderating influence on these thugs?
Does the class discuss what has always happened and what will probably happen again and again when leftists take over? Will they remember Stalin’s famous quote, which goes something like this: “A few deaths are a tragedy, while millions of deaths are just a statistic”?
STEPHEN MOLASKY ’63
Philip Haas’ cinematic portrayal (Books and Arts, May 9) of American soldiers as morally bankrupt child-murderers rings hollow and insulting to this writer, who’s been there and seen the behavior of our service members in complex and stressful missions. It is high time we all recognize that when wartime atrocities do occur, they usually represent failings of flawed human nature under conditions of extreme stress; they are most certainly not representative of the character of the American soldier, or the policy of the U.S. Army.
As chief psychiatrist of a combat support hospital in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle in 2005, I found one of the most common causes of combat stress in soldiers reporting for counseling stemmed from their encounters with children in a combat zone. In one notorious incident, insurgents shot up a minivan driven by an innocent Iraqi family, leaving two adults and five children inside dead or bleeding. They then set up IEDs (improvised explosive devices) around the van, with several members of the family still alive inside, and placed a call for assistance, ambushing coalition forces as they arrived. It is a sad fact that children are involved in war in many ways — as witnesses, as victims, as orphans, as cover for movement, and occasionally as enemy combatants.
The overwhelming majority of the Iraqis that I met supported coalition efforts to rebuild their country, and passionately despised the insurgent minority bent on fomenting instability and destroying their already debilitated infrastructure. This ground truth — that our side is trying to protect innocents and build infrastructure while the other side is shooting up families for ambush bait — exposes as ludicrous the thesis of Haas’ film, in which he self-admittedly strives “to dispel the idea that there are good guys and bad guys.”
If all this indeed be — to quote the article’s subtitle — “getting behind the headlines,” then indeed the truth is no more than whatever tired, old myth a filmmaker wants it to be.
LARRY H. PASTOR ’80, M.D.
As a former consul in Iran, I was very much interested in the article, “An American hero in Iran” (feature, May 8). I confess my sympathies lie less with Howard Baskerville 1907 than with the consul in Tabriz at the time. He was undeniably right in forbidding American citizens to become involved, above all militarily, in the internal affairs of a foreign country.
Moreover, this uprising was an act of defiance against an internationally recognized government. Yet here was an American citizen taking up arms against this government’s attempt to reassert control over its territory. This is a legitimate function of any sovereign state, including our own during the Civil War.
It is worth recalling similar events in Azerbaijan in 1946, when the Iranian army did the same thing in the same province. I wonder how the U.S. consul at the time would have acted if an American had taken up arms against the central government’s reassertion of its authority.
I find it curious that in 2003 a bust of Baskerville was erected by the authorities of the Islamic Republic. After all, this was the same regime that had rejected the constitution of 1906 — the one for which Baskerville gave his life — and replaced it with a theocracy. Moreover, just as an earlier Iranian government had done in 1909, the Islamic Republic brutally suppressed uprisings by the Azeris who had seized control of Tabriz following the Revolution of 1979.
While it is gratifying to know that at least one American is regarded as a hero by the Islamic Republic, the reasons for this tribute may seem puzzling.
THOMAS A. CASSILLY ’45
I was taken aback by the April 4 letter from Russ Nieli *79, a lecturer at Princeton, concerning the subject of racial diversity. As an ASC interviewer for the last 10 years, my perspective is that racial diversity could be encouraged at Princeton without the slightest harmful effect of the negative stereotyping that Mr. Nieli fears. First of all, one must consider the huge number of applicants for each spot at Princeton and, indeed, at all the other “first-tier” (Mr. Nieli’s phrase) colleges now. It is more than five times the number than in my day (1966), and the college has grown only slightly in proportion. Of the candidates I interview in Upper Bucks County, Pa., each year, at least half seem to be outstanding candidates who would contribute greatly to the University in all sorts of unique ways. The constant frustration for me as an ASC interviewer is that only one, on average, gets in.
Somehow the admissions committee makes its decisions, leaving many of us wondering how they choose. Clearly the University looks for different aspects and talents each year. To me, racial diversity is a positive goal for each class. Given the huge pool of excellent candidates, the admissions committee could pursue any type of diversity or concentration that it wished by simply, very slightly, hedging the variables that are used for decision-making. Mr. Nieli seems to make the unfortunate assumption that there are only a very few qualified applicants of whatever minority he is discussing (seemingly only black), and that by encouraging diversity any given year we would seriously diminish the pool available to other colleges. He greatly underestimates the size of the pool available.
On the other hand, the writer laments the harm done to “white and Asian peers,” while not recognizing that the few changes necessary would scarcely affect the huge pool of applicants who are not getting in anyway. If a racially and sexually and economi-cally diverse class is an asset, and it would have been in my class, then the committee could now, I believe, accomplish this with no loss in quality. I strongly feel the admissions committee should increase, not lessen, its work in this direction.
CHARLES A. FRITZ III ’66
When the March 21 issue came to my husband, Bill McRoberts ’55, my eye caught “Princeton’s Attic” on the cover and, underneath it, the words “Audubon’s shotgun.” I was eager to read the article, because I knew that my deceased father-in-law, John Stanton Williams ’25, had given John Audubon’s shotgun to Princeton.
John Williams was an ardent collector of Audubon, including Audubon’s elephant portfolios. I well remember the many beautiful Audubon prints on the walls of his home in Old Chatham, N.Y., and I feel fortunate to have some of his Audubons in our own home. But the story always was that he gave Audubon’s gun to Princeton.
He graduated with honors in English and considered teaching, but joined his father’s investment firm on Wall Street. He married Sarah McLean of Philadelphia and had four sons — the eldest of whom was John S. Williams Jr. ’50 — and a stepson, Mat Delafield ’55. John Williams also has two Princetonian grandchildren, Katharine Williams Bowes ’86 and my son, Stephen G. Williams ’87.
He was very successful, retired in his early 40s, and bought a farm in Old Chatham. He raised dairy cows and prize steers and then started collecting Shaker furniture and artifacts with a passion that evolved into the Shaker Museum, the largest collection of Shaker artifacts in the world.
When returning to Princeton, I’d often wonder what happened to Audubon’s shotgun that he gave to the University. I’m so glad to know that it still exists and is safe in the archives.
I think Princeton needs a section in the library museum to showcase these fascinating artifacts of history.
MARLIE McROBERTS s’55
The wonderful Reunions of 2007 are now history. I had the honor to co-chair my 50th this year, and it was an outstanding success, with over 350 classmates returning from among 580 surviving members. There were 820 folks in all, including family and friends. All were unanimous in praise of Princeton for the wonderful homecoming thrills we all received.
Princeton has no peer in creating this permanent loyalty through its warm and welcoming spirit each June. The many people who made this reunion a success include the students who helped us and the outstanding food-services staff that provided our Class of 1957 with the finest food served in the most warm, friendly, and expedient manner.
I inquired of the food-services staff as to their wages, and was terribly disappointed to learn how very low they are. At a school that now prides itself on graduating the Class of 2007 without any student debt and has an endowment larger than the worth of some foreign countries, it seems very sad to me that we, Princeton, cannot make employment at our University as special as is being there as a student or member of the faculty and administration.
I will not be so crass as to announce here the wages of crew members, but I learned that most must maintain multiple jobs to make ends meet. Certainly, the University is aware of the situation. I hope Princeton can begin to make life better for these wonderful folks who served us so well at Reunions, just as we have continued to make life and education better each year for all those who attend this great University.
JAY LEHR ’57
Editor’s note: Vice President of Human Resources Lianne Sullivan-Crowley said that the hourly wage rate among the University’s 174 unionized dining services workers ranged from $11.96 to $22.14, and the average was $14.46, prior to increases that took effect July 1. “We lead the Princeton-area market for dining-service workers in wages, and we far and away exceed the market for benefits,” she said.
S. Fred Singer *48 (Letters, April 4) continues to oppose the substance and deny the existence of today’s scientific consensus that climate is warming due largely to human activities. Though his letter contains too much dodgy reasoning to rebut briefly, I cannot pass over his attribution to me of an “error of logic” found nowhere in my earlier letter (Feb. 14). As I made straightforwardly clear, I cited the shrinking of most glaciers to correct a misconception introduced by yet another writer, not to bolster the attribution of observed climate change to human causes — the evidence for which is far too abundant to fit in this forum.
Though Professor Singer is free to tilt at the windmills of his choice, he will gather more support in the nonfictional world if he takes care that faithful steed Rocinante does not trample minimum standards of discourse.
RIC MERRITT ’74
I took the unattributed From the Archives photograph in the April 18 issue. The location is the green in front of Nassau Hall (where graduation ceremonies take place). The barefoot dancer in the middle of the photograph is Martha Keeney ’74. I do not remember the names of the others in the photograph, but I would be interested to hear what you find out from your readers.
MARK MELNICOVE ’73
PAW’s April 18 feature story on neuroscience at Princeton incorrectly stated the penetration depth of two-photon microscopy, which is used by Professor Sam Wang’s lab to digitally film the brain tissue of anesthetized rats. The technique allows researchers to see neural impulses one-half of a millimeter under the brain’s surface.