Letters


The War of the Words
It was wonderful to read your Columbia and the World issue (winter 2004–05). The interview with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was brilliant and inspiring, especially to women who aspire to combine raising a family and obtaining an advanced education.

After reading this piece, and given the present state of our foreign affairs, the admonition of more than one of our great presidents that we must not be the world’s policeman would be well considered.

Irwin Perlmutter ’37CC, ’41PS
Miami, FL

Thank you for the interview with Madeleine Albright. Quite possibly she does not appreciate the wide circulation given her fall 2004 assessments and predictions, which, after the January 30 election in Iraq, proved to be wide of the mark. For those of us who rejoiced that her term of dour influence on policy had expired, it was sweet confirmation.

Now that we have seen the corruption of the Iraq oil-for-food program and rampant sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers in several places, and have come to realize the horrific scope of the Rwandan genocide, we can only be astonished that Albright, or anyone, could still promote the UN as she did in this interview.

Articles such as this make us appreciate all the more the access and sway given to Columbia University.

Daniel F. Johnson ’61CC, ’66GSAS
Charlotte, NC

I strongly object to Madeleine Albright appearing on the cover of your magazine. This is a naked, left-wing, political piece inconsistent with your 501(c)(3) status. I hope you lose your tax exemption.

Martin Heilweil ’66CC
New York, NY

I am amazed that Madeleine Albright is blind to the progress in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Egypt, and, yes, even Saudi Arabia and Syria. Democracy is on the move in the Middle East and she cannot bring herself to call it anything but “a mess.” 

Christian Seger ’66BUS
Houston, TX

I was disappointed to read the interview with Madeleine Albright. She had the opportunity to take the high road and be the elder statesperson, but instead she chose the lower road of partisan politics.  When asked about the war in Iraq, Albright parroted the talking points of the Democratic National Committee about a war of choice, not necessity.  Given the state of technology, waiting to react to an event that is potentially catastrophic is foolhardy. Being proactive — preemptive — is the only choice. 

I am insulted and embarrassed for the United States, when I read that “we would be better off if we do things [such as the war in Iraq] in partnership with other countries.” Every time a brave person from Italy, Great Britain, Poland, Australia, or another coalition country dies in this battle for freedom and democracy, I am infuriated to hear that the U.S. is going it alone. These men and women are making the ultimate sacrifice only to have their families and countrymen told that they are not there, they are not contributing, and they are not dying for this most noble cause. Madam Secretary, you owe all of these brave people and their countrymen an apology.

Hugh Narciso ’84SEAS
Santa Barbara, CA

I was struck by Madeleine Albright’s unrelieved negativity toward the Bush administration’s efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. I read not a word of gratitude for the liberation of millions of women from the brutalities of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, not a hint that our nation has not been attacked since 9/11, no reference to the sleeper cells that we’ve dismantled here and abroad, nothing about Saddam’s having “disdained” 17 UN resolutions to disarm, no sense of disappointment over the UN’s corrupted oil-for-food program, and not a single suggestion that the Clinton administration bears any responsibility for the growing strength of Al Qaeda, despite the increasing severity of its attacks in the 1990s.

Now that Columbia has featured a one-sided and decidedly hostile interpretation of the war on terrorism, I would like to see the magazine reach out to other prominent alumni for a more thoughtful and judicious perspective on the subject.

Steve Kogan ’60CC, ’80GSAS
New York, NY

Before the Deluge
Dean Lisa Anderson’s “Living Legacy” article on James T. Shotwell’s extraordinary career dedicated to organizing peace brought to mind a unique incident on the Columbia campus in the summer of 1936.

I had just come to the graduate school as a brand-new 20-year-old AB from City College, and chose to begin graduate work that summer by taking two courses. In one term, C. J. H. Hayes, chairman of the history department at the time, was scheduled to teach one-half of a six-week session on nationalism and internationalism. A personal interview was required for program approval. The second half, on internationalism, was to be taught by Shotwell.

The summer of 1936 was record-breakingly hot. As the course began in the first week of July, with Hayes lecturing leisurely to about 25 students on the history and characteristics of modern nationalism, Franco invaded Spain, igniting the Spanish Civil War. Urbane and mannered, Hayes gave no sign of his feelings about this latest assault upon democratic self-government and peace in Europe. Later on, he disclosed his pro-Franco views publicly. Subsequently, President Roosevelt appointed him our ambassador to Franco’s Spain.

After three weeks, Shotwell took over. The contrast between the two was striking in manner and probably in less overt respects as well. Shotwell’s idealism and practical wisdom came through his more prosaic style as he meticulously traced the development of international law and cooperation, embodied in treaties and new institutions of international cooperation. By the mid-1930s such world order as there was had collapsed under combined aggressions of imperialist and fascist states: Japan, China, Italy in Africa, above all Hitler in Central and Eastern Europe, and now Franco in Spain. Yet Shotwell’s impeccable scholarship and idealism were bound up together in a vision that remained defiantly optimistic. I did not dare to probe his more personal reactions to the ongoing challenges to that vision.

The course was a dramatic counterpoint to what was happening in the world at large. In that very hot summer, it seemed to me that Hayes and Shotwell, on the Columbia campus, epitomized the starkly different version of the future that was to come.

Oscar Zeichner ’38GSAS ’46GSAS
Bronx, NY

Jewish History Sans Tears
Thank you for publishing Professor Michael Stanislawski’s piece on Salo Wittmayer Baron. Although Baron may have underestimated the role that anti-Semitism played in Jewish history, his approach freed Jewish scholarship and scholars from the “lachrymose” model that emphasized only the negative aspects of a people who, in fact, experienced many golden ages. Baron’s world view had and still has a major impact on the way I, both as a student at Columbia 20 years ago and now as a teacher of Jewish history in south Florida, study the chronicle of the Jews. All Jewish historians are indebted to Baron.

Eli Kavon ’87CC
Sunrise, Fl

I thoroughly enjoyed your article about Salo Baron. It was a loving testimony to Baron’s genius for teaching Jewish history, his “anti-lachrymose philosophy,” and his superb opus, A Social and Religious History of the Jews.

I studied with Baron in the late 1950s and was awed by his ability to lecture for two solid hours and quote hundreds of historical facts without referring to any notes. Moreover, the lecture was as well organized, lucid, and persuasive as if he were reading it word for word. He insisted that history was not just what happened to the Jews, especially the centuries-long persecutions, but also what the Jews created, accomplished, and believed. After all, Jews had only to recite the words for conversion to Christianity or Islam, and our troubles would have been over (with some notable exceptions like the Inquisition).

One minor correction: Rabbi Stephen S. Wise [1892CC, 1901GSAS] did not train at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. He was ordained by Adolph Jellinek in Vienna.

Rabbi Donald M. Splansky ’62CC
Framingham, MA

West Is Best
Globalization is in essence the worldwide extension of principles originating in western civilization: the science emerging from the Renaissance, the ideals of democracy and human rights developed in the Enlightenment, and the technology ushered in by the Industrial Revolution. India and China are examples of the application of native industry to these templates. It is unfortunate that Columbia’s administration, based on the articles in the Columbia and the World issue, seeks to obscure these unique achievements in its plan for global outreach. To recognize them as our original contribution to civilization is  not only a matter of pride and identity, but gives impetus to their further development and elaboration.

Grover Wald, MD ’56CC
San Francisco, CA

Freedom Is Messy
It is with great consternation that I read about the establishment of the committee to investigate “concerns about faculty conduct in their roles as teachers.”

The news article entitled “Academic Freedom for All” reports that the impetus for this investigation comes from accusations in a film released by The David Project, a pro-Israel advocacy group. This makes me pause and wonder, “For All?” For Palestinian viewpoints? For equal rights of expression by Muslims or blacks? The lobby groups that support Israel are quite strong and outspoken throughout North America; I notice their power here in Montreal and the impact upon universities as well as on the Canadian government.

I hope that the pressure of one side in this complex issue will not intimidate the other and that the rights of teachers — “academic freedom” — will also be protected in an environment “that promotes the frank and open discussion of ideas” by all.

Malcolm Goldstein
’56CC, ’60GSAS
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Columbia magazine’s announcement of a committee to investigate charges of intimidation of students was itself biased. The news item stated that the charges were made public in the film Columbia Unbecoming and went on to say that the film was released by The David Project, “a Boston-based pro-Israel advocacy group.” What is the relevance of this description of the group to the formulation of the Columbia committee? Could it be that the authors of the article were expressing their biases about Israel and the charges against faculty?

It is also inaccurate to portray the film as the vehicle for publicizing the charges. Long before the release of the film, the charges were described and commented on in the Columbia Spectator.

Fred Dziadek ’55CC
Silver Spring, MD

“Academic Freedom for All” fails to point out that some members of the ad hoc committee to investigate student intimidation by faculty of MEALAC are known to be hostile to Israel and that some are personal friends of the professors being investigated. Columbia Professor Judith Jacobson is quoted in the New York Sun of February 11 as saying, “If I were naming a committee to investigate a problem in a particular department, then I would select people who didn’t have a conflict of interest with respect to the subject matter or the people involved.”

The retention of an expensive First Amendment expert like Floyd Abrams suggests that President Bollinger needs to brush up on his constitutional law. Academic freedom is not protected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment prohibits the government from stopping people saying what they want to say in public. It does not require any private institution to employ anyone. Suppose Columbia inadvertently hired a history professor who denied the Holocaust. Would the First Amendment stop Columbia from firing him?

Dave M. O’Neill ’67GSAS
New York, NY

A Great Wall?
Marcus Tonti’s article asks, “Is Post-9/11 Security Grounding Scholars?” The answer is, “Obviously not.” The only substantial decline in international applications was from China, and the primary concern was whether or not these students would return to China after completing their degree programs. Their desire to stay in the U.S. has nothing to do with terrorism, but has everything to do with the quality of life here compared to their native country. 

Judith Lapkin Craig
Mendham, New Jersey

The Second Second
Your article on the Hamilton-Burr rematch (“Duel Degree,” winter) failed to note that Burr’s second this time around was Peter Tavino [’78SEAS]. Not only did he portray William P. Van Ness, but Peter also provided the dueling pistols, which are old replicas of the real thing.

Cliff Wattly ’72SEAS
Ridgefield, CT

Having worked with the Weehawken Historical Commission to plan the bicentennial event, Peter Tavino was indeed Antonio Burr’s second at the July 11 reenactment. Last fall he lectured to the Columbia University Alumni Club of Fairfield County on Burr and Hamilton and fired his pistols in another restaging of the duel. “I met David Rockefeller at the Council on Foreign Relations,” Tavino told us, “and we discussed the original pistols he has in the vault of Chase Manhattan, the bank founded by Aaron Burr. My pistols were used in the History Channel documentary Duel, with Richard Dreyfuss.” — Ed.

The Myth Bought Round the World In his review of two baseball books (winter), Harry Bauld repeats a myth so often told that it has acquired the status of fact: that Bucky Dent’s home run in 1978 “clinched the pennant for the Yankees.”

It did not. I am beginning to think nobody actually watched that game. The score was 2-0 in Boston’s favor in the seventh inning when Dent hit his three- run homer. The Yankees scored once more that inning, and the final score was 5-4. Dent’s homer may have turned the tide, but that’s all it did. The Red Sox had three opportunities to recover the lead but failed.

For counter examples, Aaron Boone’s home run in 2003, Bill Mazeroski’s in 1960, and Bobby Thomson’s of 1951 were true “clinchers.” No debating those.

I believe Dent’s home run illustrates what I have come to call a Red Sox Moment, a play that does not lose the game (or the series), but is an omen of the disaster to come. Every Red Sox fan knows that Bill Buckner’s error did not cost them the 1986 series, and, indeed, Cubs fans know that Steve Bartman’s interference on a foul ball did not cost them that game either. But a true Sox or Cubs fan knew what was coming. The Red Sox blew a three-run lead in Game seven against the Mets, and the Cubs (no strangers to these moments themselves) fell apart after the Bartman incident through no (further) fault of his.

I would argue that Alex Rodriguez’s interference with Bronson Arroyo’s tag attempt last fall (“The Slap Seen Round the World”) was the Yankee fan’s introduction to Red Sox Moments.

May there be many more.

Albert S. Kirsch ’61CC
Bal Harbour, FL

Albert Kirsch shows the admirable skills clearly developed in the College’s Core Curriculum and applies them correctly to the text that has been Red Sox tragedy, and I second his emotion. — Harry Bauld ’77CC