Web Exclusives:On the Campus...

October 24, 2001:
Personal or political
Campus responds to terrorism in dorm rooms and in the Prince

By Abhi Raghunathan '02

In some ways, the campus is returning to normal. Seniors are posing for yearbook photos. Hundreds of students head out to the Street on Thursdays and Saturdays. The flags that dotted the campus in the days after the attacks on September 11 have mostly disappeared. Even Lawnparties was rescheduled.

But the confusion and disruption that spread over the campus like a dark cloud in the days after the attack still linger and have recently surfaced in the editorial pages of the Daily Princetonian. When Dan Wachtell '02 wrote a column in the Prince urging restraint rather than immediate attack, he set off a feud in the pages of the newspaper. In his column, he wrote that "The conflation by this country's leadership of the terrorists who commit such acts and the nations that harbor them‚ is dangerous, illogical, unacceptable and, in fact, nothing short of a prejudiced and racist statement."

Two students immediately responded with a letter declaring Wachtell's views to be wrongheaded and unpatriotic. Peter B. Hegseth '03 and Nathaniel L. Hoopes '03 defended military action and also wrote that "We hope you, Dan Wachtell, would be ashamed to send your article to the families of 5,500 victims or to the exhausted firefighters who have been digging mutilated bodies out of the wreckage of two 110-story buildings and the Pentagon."

Another student wrote a letter criticizing Hegseth and Hoopes for such a harsh attack, writing that "I am deeply troubled by the fervor with which Mr. Hoopes and Mr. Hegseth endeavor to squelch the opinion of Mr. Wachtell."

Such dialogue differs greatly from the letters that usually appear in the Prince. But the incident became even more bizarre when the flare-up soon engulfed two professors.

Professor Uwe Reinhardt wrote a column in which he cited passages from Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America that his daughter had told him about to show how Americans can sometimes be reluctant to debate controversial issues. He concluded his column by questioning whether Hoopes and Hegseth had joined the armed forces or would just be content to sound the call for war.

The response was not kind. Assistant Professor of Politics Patrick Deneen responded in a letter to the Prince that criticized Reinhardt's reading of De Tocqueville. He wrote, "I also invite professor Reinhardt to continue his reading of Tocqueville beyond those few passages that were pointed out to him by his daughter."

He concluded by asking: "Perhaps, given his criticism toward several students who called for a military response to the terrorist attacks - namely that they should hasten to sign up for military service themselves, Professor Reinhardt implicitly approves of a form of universal military or civic service that accords with the broad outlines of Tocqueville's calls for civic commitment? Or could it be that Professor Reinhardt was invoking Tocqueville's name in the service of his own position without knowledge of the full implications of Tocqueville's analysis?"

Reinhardt responded in a letter, noting that "Politics professor Patrick Deneen's remarkably condescending recommendation in his Oct. 3 letter that I read Tocqueville beyond the few passages I was able to cite in my Oct. 1 commentary on 'Political Correctness' completely misses the central theme of my piece."

He went on to commend Hegseth for being a member of ROTC, a distinction he said made him a genuine patriot rather than an "ersatz" patriot. Reinhardt also noted that he had been commenting on political correctness in his column, not militarism or pacifism, a point that he said Deneen had missed.

But this fight in the pages of the newspaper has been one of the few public ones in the weeks since the attacks. For the most part, grief and debate have been carried out in dorm rooms with friends and away from crowds. A number of faculty panels have wrestled with the issues of terrorism and Middle East violence and about 75 people rallied against the attacks on Afghanistan, but not much else has gone on. The biggest concerns for many students on the campus remain personal, not political.

You can reach Abhi at abhishek@princeton.edu