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Letter from an alumnus about reworking PrincetonŐs motto

November 17, 2004:

I have recently been reviewing my stack of unread PAWs and I noted with interest your letter “From the Editor” in the March 22, 2000, issue. You describe the origin of the “Princeton in the Nation's Service” motto and point out that President Wilson originated this motto in a speech that generally cast Princeton as a place for “Ivory Tower” learning. The choice of words seems to have caught on, but the meaning has changed almost 180 degrees to refer to significant contributions to society in general in this country.

Now comes former President Harold Shapiro, who announces during the 250th-birthday celebration “with great fanfare” that henceforth Princeton's unofficial motto should be expanded to include “and in the service of all nations.” This revised motto has been referred to by Dr. Shapiro and others many times since in PAW. (It would be interesting to know whether the Dei Sub Nomine motto was initiated by the then-president of Princeton and whether it was approved by the trustees. But I digress.)

May I take this opportunity to object to the word “all” in this enlarged motto? I don't think Princeton should be of service to nations which have declared hatred for this country, or are at war with us, or who harbor and encourage terrorists, or who are ruled by self-serving ruthless dictators, or who develop weapons of mass destruction for use against their enemies, or who deny the blessings of liberty, freedom of speech, religion and democracy to their people. I imagine that I am talking about half the nations on Earth. I have considered recommending that this new motto be revised to “all friendly nations” but that makes the definition of “friendly” a possibly controversial issue. “Some nations” or “most nations” are too vague and sound argumentative. Maybe just “other nations” would be better.

On further reflection I have decided that Dr. Shapiro didn't really mean service to “nations” at all — he meant service to people. In the same issue of PAW, it was reported that the Woodrow Wilson award to the undergraduate alumnus who “best exemplifies Princeton in the nation's service” was given to Dr. Forrest C. Eggleston ’42, who was a medical missionary for 30 years, mostly in India. This was during the time of the Cold War when India, as a nation, was generally a supporter of the Soviet Union and developed an atomic bomb for potential use against its neighbor Pakistan.

There is no question about the dire need for help that Dr. Eggleston and many other Americans provide to people in other countries in desperate need, but I can't see that this help is “in this nation's service.” More accurately, it is in the service of humanity. As you suggest, what Princeton really is trying to honor are alumni who make a significant humanitarian contribution to the world around them. I therefore recommend that Princeton's enlarged motto read “... and in the service of humanity.” I suppose this will irritate the activist animal and nature lovers, but Princeton can't honor everybody.

K.L. Campbell ’46
Hudson, Ohio

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