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Tercentennial Fallout

“Quarrels with Providence” (Mar.), Lewis Lapham’s meditation on the meaning of Yale, struck me as the rarest sort of literary journalism. He has traced an elusive sensibility across the centuries. A familiar place has been redefined for the future. The scene with George W. Pierson comes alive in a way that usually only a novel can manage. The meaning, as Lapham says, is “in the stone.”

Lewis Lapham’s article is both a commendable and heroic effort to describe the struggle for the soul of Yale over three centuries. However, I have two quibbles with his notion of Providence. While Lapham is correct to identify the unchanging history of “remonstrance and dissent” that characterizes Yale, he is remiss in noting the absence of a moral center that puts such dissent in context, as well as the apparent absence of any discussion of such a need in contemporary Yale.

We probably all can agree that Nathan Hale was morally correct in his patriotic belief and sacrifice, while John C. Calhoun was not in his attempts to cobble together compromises to save the morally bankrupt idea of slavery. But the list of “Who’s Been Blue,” which precedes Lapham’s piece, indicates the contemporary dimensions of moral discussion. Henry L. Stimson, Class of 1888, is noted. According to David McCullough '55, Stimson played an instrumental role in dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, including selecting that city as a target. Other notable alumni, such as John Hersey '36 and former Yale professor Robert Jay Lifton, have written about the horrors of this seminal event of the past century, while McGeorge Bundy '40 defended this act. More recently, Tom Wolfe '57PhD, in A Man in Full, has described the moral crisis of a man who could be described as the Dink Stover of Atlanta.

The point is that Yale has played an important role in major events and their impact—a role that demands a moral examination in academe today. One does not have to debate the issue of God or the various “-isms” that plague campuses today to discuss morality from the viewpoint of multiple academic disciplines. To me, that is the fundamental issue confronting an increasingly corporate- dominated society which, as Lapham notes, does affect Yale directly.

I greatly enjoyed reading your collected accounts of Yale’s most significant graduates through the decades. They provide an inspiring benchmark, and I see that I still have some work left to do if I am to appear alongside them in the 400th anniversary issue.

Bravo on the Tercentennial issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine . I’ve been reading the magazine for a frightening number of years, and this was the best, most entertaining, most thought-provoking, and surely the most ambitious effort I’ve seen.

Of course you couldn’t possibly receive that much praise from a Yale alum without some criticism. I was rather stunned to encounter the section of quotes from famous graduates, which included embarrassing entries for Clarence Thomas, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. I’m not sure if this was an attempt at humor or high-minded candor, but it seemed bizarrely out of place given the occasion and the other quotes on the page.

My compliments, nonetheless, on what was overall a fine, fine job.

You did a masterful job with the Tercentennial edition. There is so much good reading throughout, and plenty of evidence of a lot of good planning! You have every right to feel mighty proud of the end result.

It was a joy to read “Eloquent Elis” (Mar.) but a shock to see that not one woman was quoted. Haven’t any female graduates said anything worth repeating? Maya Lin? Wendy Wasserstein? Hillary Clinton? Michiko Kakutani? Jodie Foster? Anita Hill? Camille Paglia? Naomi Wolf? Jane Mendelsohn?

My book, For Girls Only, included over 450 quotes to inspire middle school girls. I worked to include quotes from people of color and both male and female Yalies.

I wish you all a happy 300th anniversary, but I’m afraid the grade I’d have to give to your list of 28 quotes is an “incomplete.”


Presidential Past

As a graduate of the Class of 1966, I enjoyed Carter Wiseman’s article about George W. Bush seeking to remain “aloof to the fray” as an undergraduate in the days of Vietnam War protests (“In the Days of DKE and S.D.S.,” Feb.). I wish only to add a few thoughts.

First, I got the impression that the author felt undergraduates in our day who didn’t side with the antiwar protesters were at Yale just to party, drink, and have fun. That was definitely not the case. Many of us were serious students, some too grateful to Yale for making it financially possible to attend to risk screwing things up with alcohol or late-night parties.

Secondly, I think the impact of the larger fray, the Vietnam War itself, was quite significant even several years before the Class of 1968 had to face it. By at least 1965, those of us registered in Local Board 5, in Wilmington, Delaware, knew that the only secure graduate-school deferments would be for people going on to medical or divinity schools. The rest would have to enlist or would be drafted shortly after graduation. Many members of my class served on active duty; many were sent to Vietnam; and too many, including two members of the small English seminar I took in 1965, were killed.

I left the article wondering why there was so little mention of that larger fray, which all of us had to face in one way or another when we graduated, and specifically no mention of why and how Bush got into the National Guard. I heard stories from new Guardsmen, who were putting in their four months of training with me at Fort Dix before going home to resume their lives. They told me about how hard it was to get into the Guard at that time. I heard how families literally moved to other states to position their sons for rumored vacancies in the Guard. I also heard how the rich and well-connected found spaces where supposedly none existed.

I don’t suggest that Bush entered the Guard to avoid Vietnam service, but I do suggest that in the late 1960s, there was huge demand for scarce positions in the National Guard. It was a time when people did not get into the Guard by remaining “above the fray” and letting things happen; it took very good luck or very hard work on someone’s part. I would thus like to have heard “the rest of the story” about the future commander-in-chief’s becoming a Guardsman.

Thanks again for an interesting article.

Carter Wiseman obviously wrote his feature article on George W. Bush before Bush assumed office. In his closing paragraph, Wiseman sounds like all the pundits in the weeks before January 20th. I admit I was saying similar things: Bush “remains a man in the middle,” and he’ll be “walking a line in Washington no wider than the margin that elected him.”

What a difference a day makes! From his Cabinet appointees, to his global assault on women of childbearing age, to the environment, to his military procurement and tax policies, Bush reveals himself to be completely in hock to the far right. He is shamelessly ramming it down our throats while the Democrats, the media, and the country at large still seem to be willing to give a new president the benefit of the doubt. He will inflict suffering on the poor, while rewarding his wealthy friends.

I, for one, will be working overtime to elect a true opposition Congress in 2002—if voting still remains an option by then. Maybe we can stop the madness before it blows up in our faces.


Drinking Dilemma

I wish to refer the reader to the February "College Comment,” in which Kara Loewentheil '03 asks the question, “Why Do Yalies Drink So Much?”

Most Yalies, like all people who drink moderately, choose to do so to be comfortably sociable, to relax, or to “loosen up.” To drink or not to drink is a matter of choice for some people. There are other people, however, who either have lost the ability to choose or have never had this ability to begin with. Having lost the ability to say “no” is a disease called alcoholism.

By the time I entered Yale in the mid-1940s, I had already experienced some loss of choice. I had no reason to believe that my student lifestyle was different from that of my friends and classmates. My academic standing was good. I was invited to join Tau Beta Pi and was elected president of the chapter. I enjoyed playing the piano and the trombone in the Yale Band. I graduated with honors.

During these years, the disease of alcoholism progressed, encouraged by the University atmosphere. Mory’s, the Duncan Hotel, and the Anchor bar were within a few steps of my room and served as pleasant sanctuaries to which I could retreat. Yale’s attitude toward alcohol was demonstrated by free college beer parties, which I enjoyed immensely.

After graduation, I enjoyed a reasonably successful business career and had a family with five children. Being totally ignorant of the disease that plagued me, I continued to drink. After 25 or 30 years of medically baffling stomach pains, progressively poor health, and a constant feeling of depression, I was driven to seek help—first by hospitalization and then from Alcoholics Anonymous.

It appears to me today that perhaps some education on alcoholism during my stay at Yale, although perhaps not preventing the disease, might have stimulated my desire to seek help sooner.



In the March issue, we misstated the year in which Thorstein Veblen earned his PhD, which was 1884, not 1862; Calvin Hill graduated in 1969, not 1959; DKE and most of the other Greek-letter fraternities did not leave the campus until the early 1970s; Jane Kaczmarek '82MFA was wrongly identified as Sam; the quote attributed to Thornton Wilder '20 came from The Matchmaker, not The Skin of Our Teeth; and because of an editing error, In Christi Gloria, which was quoted in Dan Oren’s article on the Yale Seal as Harvard’s early motto, was translated as “Glory in Christ”—it should have read “For the Glory of Christ.”

Our worst record was in the “Great Moments in Sports” section, in which the following mistakes have been detected: The upset of a heavily favored Princeton football team by 11 Yale starters who played the entire game took place in 1934, not 1932; the swimming team’s record streak of 201 consecutive dual-meet victories began in 1945, not 1940; the score of the 1968 football game against Harvard stood at Yale 29, Harvard 13 when Harvard began the 16-point, fourth-quarter rally that ended in the 29–29 tie; Yale’s “worst-ever” football loss—to the University of Hawaii, in 1987—ended in a score of 62–10, not 62–0.

We apologize for the errors, and salute the sharp-eyed readers who brought them to our attention!



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