Letter from an alumnus about Issues with Rumsfeld, his fans, and his detractors
I’m going to give Princeton in the 1950s the benefit of the doubt and not hold it responsible for the defective historical and moral education that led Donald Rumsfeld ’54 (feature, Oct. 6) to think that a defeated Iraq would resemble a defeated Germany, and to wink at widespread torture of prisoners, then refuse to draw the consequences and resign in shame when it was discovered.
David Dollenmayer ’66
Anyone reading Samuel Gelfman’s self-serving criticism (Letters, Nov. 17) of Mark Bernstein’s article on Don Rumsfeld ’54 must wonder … why? Was it really necessary for Mr. Gelfman to question the motives of those of us who joined the Army ROTC, the Navy ROTC or the Marine Corps, PLC? I wanted nothing less than to graduate from Princeton and to serve my country as a Marine Corps Officer.
However, why question the motives of Mr. Rumsfeld as a NROTC student and as a Navy fighter pilot. Was it really necessary to question Mr. Rumsfeld’s admiration for Adlai Stevenson ’22?
Mr. Stevenson spoke at the Class of ’54 graduation exercises and delivered a memorable keepsake for us all. Was it necessary to use the word “crony” in describing Rumsfeld’s many friends? Funk & Wagnell’s Dictionary defines the word “crony” as a noun meaning a familiar friend. Or from the Greek chronius, meaning lasting friendship.
He tried hard, but Mr. Gelfman failed pathetically in his ponderous attempt to denigrate Don Rumsfeld’s obvious ability to attract and to keep many friends who respect and admire him. Many of these old friendships were forged in the brutal caldron of scholastic, athletic, political, and economic competition.
Mr. Gelfman’s attempt to link Mr. Bernstein’s article to cronyism is an untoward stretch and the real Rumsfeld story is one of solid friendships maintained over many years. Sorry, Mr. Gelfman didn't make the grade.
Somers K Steelman, ’54
Boy! I want to thank Samuel W. Gelfman ’53 for setting this retired officer straight. And to think that in 1956 I actually thought that joining the Princeton AFROTC cadet program was a decent path to what turned out to be a 22-year Air Force career, much of it “out at the tip of the sword.”
Mr. Gelfman seems to posit that honorable military service was more, or should’ve been more, heavily weighted toward draftees who got to be rifle-toting legs, as opposed to those who volunteered and earned commissions. As far as his charge of “... cushier duty — and safer — than being an Army cannon-fodder draftee,” I take it Mr. Gelfman has no fighter-aircraft experience, and, as opposed to Donald Rumsfeld, certainly no experience coming aboard ship at night at 140 knots. Having flown with squadron mates who earlier endured gut-wrenching, day-after-day attacks over North Vietnam, some of whom became longterm residents of the Hanoi Hilton, I can assure Mr. Gelfman that, as flying-officers-to-be, safety wasn't why they worked for and earned commissions. Every peacetime or wartime sortie is a life threatening experience because things can go fatally wrong, very quickly, especially at 600 knots and 100-feet altitude. In my opinion Mr. Gelfman has demeaned not only the military service of the secretary of defense but of every Princetonian who ever sought an officer's commission through ROTC.
As to Mr. Gelfman’s admission of still being a “starry-eyed” admirer of Adlai Stevenson ’22, this Cannon Club member is reminded of the country preacher who, after listening to a farm boy’s confession to inappropriate behavior with barnyard animals, remarked, “Don’t b’lieve I’d’a tol’ that.”
Maj. H. Philip Brandt II ’60
May I echo the view expressed by your published letters on the article about Don Rumsfeld ’54? It seemed like the content, the timing, and the story was not appropriate considering that he is not a role model for a vast number of Princetonians in his present position. Perhaps it would have been more illuminating if you had done a profile by one of his supporters and one of his critics side-by-side. Many alumni are not only disillusioned by this administration and its foreign and domestic policy, we are angry. Laying out an article about Mr. Rumsfeld cast as it was, just waves a red flag before us.
Why not do an article on his classmate, Paul Sarbanes ’54, who has represented the ideals of Princeton for several decades as an outstanding senator from Maryland? Perhaps you have and I don't recall it. But, if you do a laudatory profile on Bill Frist, then Katy bar the door with the disenchanted letters that will pile up in your inbox.
Laurence C. Day ’55
Today, Nov.10, while celebrating the 229th birthday of the USMC in which I served in Korea, I received my PAW with the anti-Rumsfeld letters of Professor and Mrs. Uwe Reinhardt, Tom Corwin ’62, and Jeff Wells ’84. If these weren’t purely political, which I don’t think PAW should carry, they are at best pure ivory tower, expecting perfection of others than themselves. The truth is, we’ve seldom embarked on a war with ideal arms, equipment, plans, etc.
For example: In World War I, troops had no summer uniforms (had to wear wool), and only second-rate French submachine guns (the chaut-chaut: very unreliable and clumsy); in World War II’s initial phases, our troops had to practice with wooden guns and dummy tanks; in Korea most vehicles, weaponry, and ammo were old, many retrieved from the South Pacific Islands and refurbished by the Japanese (about every fifth or sixth grenade or mortar round proved dud), and clothing was inadequate that first winter; in Vietnam the undependable early M-16 rifle frequently jammed, costing many lives; and we had a secretary of defense who refused to send tanks into Somalia and this directly resulted in the fiasco “Blackhawk Down.”
The nice thing about one’s ivory tower is one can demand that things be perfect and pretend they are, and one needn’t get one’s feet wet. This is quite different from the real world wherein those who do get their feet wet live with shortcomings and make the best of them. That’s essentially the story of the USMC: normally last in budget and secondary in equipment, but first to fight and so often able to prevail despite whatever inadequacies. But in fairness that’s true of most of our military.
As Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia said, it’s the soldier, not the professor, who wins and preserves our freedom; it’s the soldier, not the poet, who protects our right to free speech; it’s the soldier who salutes, fights for, and gets buried in our flag to preserves others’ rights to burn it!
Mr. Rumsfeld and our military gave us a quick and unbelievably low-cost win in Iraq. My own cup is thus half full, if these complainers’ cups are half empty! To me it’s just third-rate Monday morning quarterbacking, at which even fools succeed.
John J. Auld Jr. ’50
“I was disappointed, to put it mildly” — to quote Chad Johnson ’46’s Nov. 17 letter — that PAW chose to publish three letters, each so hatefully critical, of the Oct. 6 article about Donald Rumsfeld ’54 as an undergraduate.
As to the nitpicking in the second of these attacks, that of its own admission skates close to the thin ice of defamation, active service in the Navy was not necessarily a compulsory part of joining NROTC. Many Princetonians who joined NROTC in the ’60s, for example, were able to resign from the program before commissioning. Moreover, the secretary of defense was a naval aviator, always a billet for which one would need to volunteer in order to be selected for flight school, by definition a voluntary act.
To publish hate mail that disgracefully denigrates Mr. Rumsfeld’s integrity, to say nothing of his "brave[ry] and bold[ness]," is certainly not what I would have once expected from PAW.
Gregory J. Winsky ’71
I’m disappointed, but not surprised, that so many Princeton graduates despise Don Rumsfeld ’54. They are the products of a liberal education who have never grown up. Those who need to know, know, what Don Rumsfeld has done for Princeton, his hometown, and his country to make them better for all.
Charles T. Brumback ’50
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