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Letters from alumni about Princeton's motto, "Princeton in the nation's service and in the service of all nations" and about "Dei sub numine viget" (Under God's light she flourishes).

April 16, 2004

What has happened to Princeton's poets and philosophers? The presidents column in the April 7 edition of PAW tells me that the Princeton motto is "In the nation's service and the service of all nations". What a mouthful. I quite like the simpler "In the nations service" and have no difficulty interpreting it from my own Australian/Danish perspective. Why should Princeton provide its poetically minded students with a motto that by being more explicit, leaves less room for interpretation?

If there is a sudden desire to modernize the motto, then why not turn to the many gifted writers at Princeton who will surely come up with something a bit more elegant!

Philip Binning *94
Lyngby, Denmark

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November 10, 2003

In the November 5 issue, the motto was mentioned in the class notes for '37. A brief indication of its meaning was given. I should like to offer a fuller translation of the Latin: Dei Sub Numine Viget: LORD, our God, King of the universe, under the awesome, unsearchable riches of your eternal and limitless wisdom, knowledge, power, love, and sovereignty, it lives and grows strong!

I hope the Rev. Drs. Witherspoon and McCosh would approve.

The operative word is numine (not nomine), meaning divine sovereignty. But it doesn't quite do it to say divine sovereignty unless the reader has a good idea of what divine sovereignty involves.

For quite a few years, now, the once proud motto has been disappearing. Annual Giving letters now show the letters A and G. This has all the appeal of an IRS form 1040, but God has been removed from the picture. Similarly, the Alumni Council now has a shield from which the bible has been removed and its name substituted. The words, "Princeton University" are around the lower part of the shield and a golden calf adorns the top. Of course, since it is Princeton, the calf has become a golden tiger.

As is often said, all that is needed for wrong to prevail is for good people to do nothing. It seems we are approaching this stage in this matter. Shouldn't the University continue to acknowledge god's providence? And if so, isn't its seal the appropriate place to do this? If not, it is only a step to removing our motto: In God We Trust, from the United States currency.

Incidentally. Harvard almost lost its motto: Veritas. Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table and father of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and some of his classmates, campaigned to have it restored. They were successful and Veritas was saved for posterity.

John Maguire ’37
Falls Church, Va.

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October 30, 2003

The letter of Robert H. Braunohler ’68 in the October 22 issue of PAW deftly avoids reality. Referring to his numbered paragraphs:

1. He ignores the increasingly huge chasm between the wealthy and the rest of our population. Tax cuts have accelerated the process. The wealthy should pay more.

2. Underfunding programs for the poor has the same effect as cutting them. Even the President’s “No Child Left Behind” campaign is being left behind.

3. When Bush took office, we were basking in budgetary surpluses that promised to continue and to wipe out a major portion of our national debt, thereby providing protection for the future of Social Security and Medicare. The Bush tax cuts decimated that possibility even before September 11. His frantic use of lies to justify an inexcusable aggression against Iraq have diverted our badly needed resources from programs for our own people. In doing so, they have exacerbated our economic problems.

4. Republican senators habitually rejected Clinton’s nominees to the federal bench. Their screams of outrage about similar treatment of Bush nominees smacks of hypocrisy.

5. It is farcical to claim that a coalition of nations fought alongside us in Iraq. Those few troops that we did extort from elsewhere, aside from Britain, have been provided unwillingly, under enormous economic pressure, and late. Their numbers have been dwarfed by the relatively small and still inadequate numbers of American troops that Bush continues to keep in harm’s way. J. Wilson Morris ’61 is correct in decrying such bullying tactics and in being concerned about their effects upon the long-range attitudes of countries that have been subjected to such treatment.

Bush has attracted terrorists from all over the world to Iraq. He is dismayed at their continued successes in creating and maintaining chaos there. He attributes every attack to terrorists. It is not clear, however, that every explosion and every killing of American personnel is attributable solely to terrorists. Many Iraqis consider them to be patriots carrying on a fight against an aggressor who is imposing its foreign regime upon them. Saddam Hussein was a terrible dictator, but he was their dictator. How would we feel if the situation were reversed?

American soldiers are being killed every day in Iraq. Each of their deaths increases my rage at the senselessness of it all. So does the report of Michael Viola ’59, “Despair flowed from a river that once brought luck,” in the October 22 issue of PAW. I get no solace from the suffering imposed by us upon Iraqi men, women, and children.

Eugene F. Corrigan ‘47
Denver, Colo.

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October 22, 2003

I would like to agree with J. Wilson Morris '61 that certain Princeton alumni in government service do not embody the ideals expressed in the motto Princeton in the nation's service.

To those he mentioned I would like to add former Secretaries of State James Baker ’52 and George Schultz '42? The former is more responsible than anyone for the disputed elevation of George Bush to the presidency, and my understanding is that the latter is responsible for convincing our Yalie president that he possesses the qualities of intellect the presidency requires.

Perhaps what all Princetonians in government service need to keep in mind is that a philosophy of winning at any cost will be ultimately destructive of the democracy Princeton so much wants to serve.

Robert J. Hall ’67
W. Hartford, Conn.

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October 17, 2003

Over the years, many graduates of Princeton have brought honor upon the University through their service to our country in the halls of power. "Princeton in the nation's service" has become a meaningful statement of the mission of the University in this democratic society.

There are a few graduates, however, who, in the view of many, have not served our country well in the exercise of their power. One of these is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Class of 1954, whose malignant counsel regarding the war on Iraq has embroiled our country in a no-win conflict, severely damaging our credibility with other nations, and energizing the forces of terrorism everywhere.

The deceptions used to justify the war are now coming to light, but Rumsfeld's inability to admit and correct his errors guarantees that the exorbitant cost in blood and dollars will continue for some time to come. He is clearly not the only person in high office deserving of this criticism, but his has been a key voice in the creation of a truly disastrous foreign policy.

Franklin A. Dorman (Rev.) ’48
Cambridge, Mass.

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September 20, 2003

I write to second J. Wilson Morris' 61' call for a reexamination of just what "Princeton in the nation's service" means. And what I also read into it is a suggestion that PAW might approach some of our prominent Princetonians in a slightly less hagiographic fashion.

Many of us knew, worked with, and question the contribution of the dread Dulles brothers with their American global-hegemonic dreams and schemes. More recently, George Schultz and the other Bechtel boys, James Baker of oil interests, Messrs Daniels, Frist, and Rumsfeld, whom Mr. Morris mentions, all seem to have a possible smidge of self-interest. And perhaps those readers of the right might be interested in an alternate look at Norman Thomas, the standard bearer of the Socialist party or even poor old Adlai. 

However, I would say that one of the most interesting researches might be totally nonpolitical and that would be the weird little man who graced your September 10 cover, John Prentiss Poe Jr. He must've been a feisty bantam of a man - small even for a hundred years ago — to have made such an impact in two brief years on the gridiron, but what else did those letters reveal? Was there ever a love in his life? Male or female? Princeton has always been Anglophilic and when I was there in the early ’50s, many were the whispers of secret homosexual cliques or, more grand and scandalous, the equivalent of de Sade's Hellfire club of exquisite perversion.

Poe would certainly seem to have had an affinity for exclusively male companionship with his choice of professions: cowboy, miner, soldier. His motto, "If you won't be beat, you can't be beat." Oh? His frequent references — at least in the letters quoted — to his looks and grooming, his posturing in male uniforms and poses. He seemed to be a man constantly attempting to establish traditional macho manliness. What does that say about him and the sycophantic group who apparently admired him beyond measure? And what is one to make of that smirky, side-long glance at the sweet, little, Alice-In-Wonderland girl in one of the photos? Perhaps a little psycho-pathological speculation might not be amiss in your biographical pieces.

Samuel W. Gelfman '53
Los Angeles, Calif.

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September 15, 2003

I am writing with some observations on the letter of J. Wilson Morris ’61 about “In the nation’s service In referring to various policies, he asks the rhetorical question (given its context) have Messrs. Daniels, Frist, and Rumsfeld really been in the nation’s service.

First, although I may not agree with many of the policies these men are acting on or advocating, they are indeed constitutionally elected and appointed. I believe that they are people trying to do their best for the American people in very difficult circumstances. If Al Gore had been elected, the Democrats won the senate and a different group of Princeton graduates were following different paths to dealing with the extraordinary difficulty and complexity of a new world, I would be confident that these men and women were doing their best. It is up to the electorate to decide whether their best is good enough or not, but these people following a different way would also be in the nation’s service.

Second, Mr. Morris states that ‘…does ‘Princeton in the nation’s service mean only the holding of high office.’” Here, I think he missed the opportunity to make a broader point. Our graduates who have done significant work in entertainment, literature, science, social work, and many other fields are also in the nation’s service. In the same issue, Shirley Tilghman, writes about my classmate, Henry von Kohorn ’66 who with others is “…looking for way to recognize and encourage high school students who are taking initiatives to improve race relations in their schools and communities.” I do not know what Mr. Von Kohorn’s politics are. Could care less. Here, is a person who represents, Princeton in the nation’s service at its best.

Third, being in your nation’s service often means doing your duty because that is the right thing to do. I, like many of my classmates, fought in Vietnam — a stupid, despicable war that still mars the American psyche. There was a president and a vice president I despised. They were constitutionally elected, and I, as many of my class mates, did their duty. Princeton in the nation’s service — no second guessing who the elected leaders are.

David M. Kinard ‘66
Ocean Grove, N.J.

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September 8, 2003

J. Wilson Morris ’61 (Letters, September 10) decries the recognition of Mitch Daniels ’61, Bill Frist ’74, and Don Rumsfeld ’54 as exemplars of “Princeton in the nation’s service” because they are “extreme and partisan.” I would like to address each of the allegations he listed as purported indications of the inadequate leadership of our nation embodied by these men:

1. “They aim to shift the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class.”

Even after the modest Bush tax cuts, the top 5% of taxpayers will pay more than 50% of the income tax burden. The top 1% will pay 35% of all income tax, while earning about 17% of all income. Perhaps Mr. Morris can explain how this is unfair to the middle class.

2. “They are cutting programs for the poor.”

Under the current administration, no programs for the poor have been cut. This is pure hyperbole.

3. “[They are creating] massive public debt to undercut Social Security and Medicare as universal programs.”

In the two and a half years since President Bush took office, Senate Democrats have proposed more than $1.9 trillion in spending over and above what the President has asked for and what the Congress eventually approved. As for Social Security and Medicare, the huge unfunded liabilities of these programs originated in legislation passed between 30 and 70 years ago. The current administration is the first one that has had the political courage to try to do something about them.

4. “[They are trying] to install an ideologically supercharged federal bench.”

Mr. Morris is presumably referring to nominees such as Miguel Estrada. Mr. Estrada, a true American success story, has been given the highest possible rating by the American Bar Association. However, because he and certain other thoughtful nominees are unwilling to make a public pledge of allegiance to Roe v. Wade, Mr. Morris feels justified in branding them “ideologically supercharged.”

5. “[They would] advance foreign policies which isolate our nation and make us the enemy of former friends.”

Apparently having 28 other nations fighting alongside us in the liberation of Iraq was of no consequence, as long as France and Germany disagreed. Mr. Morris seems to think it was wrong to respond to the events of September 11th by taking out regimes friendly to terrorists. Does he have a better plan?

Mr. Morris reveals a very partisan perspective on what constitutes acceptable service to our nation. I suggest he examine his own prejudices before casting aspersions on dedicated Princetonians in the public sector who happen to disagree with his political point of view.

Robert H. Braunohler ‘68
Washington, D.C.

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May 10, 2003

It is natural, instinctive, that we are proud of fellow Princetonians who have risen to prominent place. But does "Princeton in the nation's service" mean only the holding of high office. Is not more required? Must we not also ask to what end our fellow Princetonians exercise power?

Do they aim to shift the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class while cutting programs for the poor, or to create massive federal debt to undercut Social Security and Medicare as universal programs, or to install an ideologically supercharged federal bench, or to advance foreign policies which isolate our nation and make us the enemy of former friends? Are they extreme and partisan while giving lip service to moderation and bipartisanship?

Before Daniels or Frist or Rumsfeld or anyone else are honored by Princeton or featured by PAW, we should know how their leadership has been "in the nation's service."

J. Wilson Morris '61
Savannah, Ga.

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December 17, 2001

To those who have quoted "Princeton in the service of the nation" as a sacred reason for appointing an American as president, I would like to point out that Princeton's motto is actually "Princeton in the service of all nations." Shirley Tighlman may not have a Princeton degree, but I would bet that she is more in tune with the university's current mission than some of its alumni.

Evelin Southwick ’98
Boston, Mass.

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October 21

Princeton's new and expanded motto, "Princeton in the nation's service and in the service of all nations," seems cumbersome and unmemorable. Just moving the apostrophe to "Princeton in the nations' service" would create the same meaning.

William E. Holmer ’68
Lake Oswego, Ore.

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May 3, 2001

At my 55th reunion, at Blair Arch, some students were selling wrist watches with the university seal. At $35, it was the greatest bargain I ever made.

You would be astounded at the large number of people who notice it. The following exchange usually occurs:

Curious Observer: I’ve noticed your watch.

T.F.: There’s a story attached to it. The fact has the Princeton motto in Latin.

C.O.: I know Harvard is "Veritas."

T.F.: yes, and Yale’s is "Lux et Veritas" – a bit of one upmanship, for which our Eli friends are well known.

C.O.: What is the translation of Princeton’s motto?

T.F.: God went to Princeton.

It never fails to draw an unexpected and respectful chuckle.

Ted Fenstermacher ’40
Cortland, N.Y.

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