Letters to the Editor
In your excellent May/June issue covering many divergent memories of the Spring 1968 rebellion, you failed to identify Herbert Deane on the far right of photo No. 5 on page 32 with Professors Wm. Theodore de Bary ’41 and Richard Hofstadter. (The fourth man in the photo is unknown to me.) I had Deane for a political philosophy class and he was a first-rate professor who assigned good books and made you think about them.
Unfortunately, when he became Dean Deane, he had the misfortune of telling the protestors that if 80 percent of the students supported one cause or another it meant as much to him as telling him that 80 percent of them liked strawberries. The comment was quickly immortalized as The Strawberry Statement, the title of a book and a film and a symbol of administration indifference to student concerns. Yet Deane was a first-rate professor who deserves to be remembered for his excellence in the classroom. I remember one of the adages learned in his class via philosopher R.G. Collingwood: “History is reasoned knowledge of what is transient and concrete.”
Lee Lowenfish ’63
New York City
I was disappointed at the comments of some of the participants whose narratives were included in the “Spring ’68” article in the May/June issue. Many seem to be proud of what they were against at the time, including, in their words, “Columbia as an institution,” “the police, the courts and the press.” I wonder if the participants remember what they were for. I recall photographs of Vietcong flags flown from occupied buildings; I saw these flags myself during a strike in 1972, and I remember the chant “Ho Chi Minh! Madame Binh! NLF is gonna win!” There was something fundamentally disturbing at the time about hearing students cheering on the people who were killing their countrymen. I am more sensitized now as a full-time physician for the Department of Veterans Affairs. But I read no expressions of regret, let alone remorse, about the students’ support for the North Vietnamese government, with its Maoist/Stalinist ideology, and their joy at its military successes.
The photograph on page 37 of three students sitting on a ledge — one wrapped in a blanket, one smoking, all three laughing while a policeman stood nervously below — was to me a picture of the smug, arrogant smirk of privilege. The attitude conveyed is the antithesis of the egalitarian sensitivity that was so large a part of what I loved about Columbia. That these students imagined that the oppressed of the world looked upon them as comrades is, from this distance, bitterly amusing; at the time, it was disgusting.
Matthew Movsesian ’74
Salt Lake City, Utah
In the July/August issue there is a letter from Don Beattie ’51, whom I do not recall. Did I spend too much time in the Jester office? Beattie sent quite a polemic. Has he forgotten our Humanities courses? “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat that history.” Or Voltaire saying, “I may disagree with what you are saying, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.”
I disagree with Beattie’s take on the events of 1968. He is totally mistaken about the Partisan Review. The magazine was an important publication, created to bring a number of intellectuals together who fought Stalinism and the distortions and dangers of the Soviet Union. Partisan Review was never an organ of the Communist Party. The editors and writers predicted the revelations about Stalin as a psychopathic murderer and stupid, denying the Germans would invade Russia!
As for Dwight Macdonald, a brilliant satirist, he would not have anything to do with the Communist Party. As for “Marxists and hooligans,” Eric Fromm spoke to the students in 1968. He was outspoken for the humanistic goals of Marxism that were distorted and warped by the Russians and Castro. Beattie refuses to feel events of the ’40s and ’50s: the McCarthy hearings, the destruction of innocents, the provocations of South and North Korea that led to a war. I lost two friends who were in the ROTC because of that war.
In 1968, the Vietnam War was a nightmare. The helplessness and futility of that generation led to so called “hooliganism.” In the here and now, we have a President who stole two elections, and the apathy is deadening. Beattie needs to get his reality back.
Dr. Jay Lefer ’51
In your July/August Letters, one of the correspondents refers to Dwight Macdonald as a Communist, as evidenced by his editorship of Partisan Review. I’m sure other alumni who specialize in New York intellectual history or literature can give a fuller account of this, but even I, a European economic historian, know that this reference is not quite right. Whatever their origins may have been, by the ’60s neither Macdonald nor the Review was Communist. A quick glance at Wikipedia is sufficient to tell you that.
Jonathan J. Liebowitz ’61
I was surprised to read in the July/August issue the letter of Dr. Michael T. Charney ’62, and his reference to the Michelin rubber plantation northwest of Saigon and his assignment there in spring 1968. The 34th Engineer Battalion, of which I became the chaplain, passed by the Michelin plantation in summer 1970 as we built a Class C road to Phuoc Vinh. We lost two men in the process: one, to an RPG round that struck the segmented compactor he was operating, during an ambush; and a second, who was blown to pieces when he stepped on a land mine planted along the edge of the road.
It is a small world.
Charles C. Currie ’48
It was with sadness that I read the nostalgic reminiscences of Spring ’68 and noted the omission of a detail of history, the inconvenient fact of the purposeful destruction of the research notes of Orest Ranum, then-associate professor of history and subsequently recognized as one of American’s outstanding scholars of 17th-century France. Ranum went on to become a full professor at Johns Hopkins, but the work he had spent 10 years preparing, a general history of early modern Europe (under contract for a series directed by J.H. Plumb of Cambridge) had been destroyed. This volume was never published, and as The New York Times reported on May 23 and 26, 1968, it was irreplaceable.
Attacks on culture often precede attacks on people. In Afghanistan, the destruction of monumental Buddhas anticipated the carnage of 9-11, and one might well remark that the burning of Ranum’s manuscripts anticipated the killing field of Cambodia, which was the inevitable consequence of our precipitous and rapid withdrawal from Vietnam. Students at Columbia today should reflect on these events when they remember Spring 1968.
Paul Saenger ’66
[Editor’s note: The author is curator of rare books at the Newberry Library in Chicago.]
As an alumnus of the Class of ’48, I wasn’t sure in reading the Letters (July/August) that this was the same Columbia I attended, or that the year 1968 with its nationwide turmoil was somehow missed (except as experiences on campus) as evidenced by some of the comments in “Spring ’68.” In the era of Vietnam, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and the turbulent civil rights movement, the reactions and temper of the letters seemed as that of having one’s toes stepped on. Don Beattie ’51, in noting this (’68) as a “disgraceful time,” went so far as to invoke the names of Lenin and Fidel, mirroring the red scares of the ’50s. Lee Dunn ’66 refers to the revisited “travesty” and the “public relations hit” that the University bore.
At this period of time, having long left my Columbia days behind, I was active on the streets of Berkeley, Calif., protesting the way alongside University of California students who proudly accepted the mantle of radical. Revolutions, even in historical terms tame, are never polite or free or disruptions that upset propriety. Columbia survived Spring ’68 much as the rest of the nation did the decade, but not without uproars, and yes, anarchy, reflecting a pervasive and greater breakdown of society in general. Perhaps there is something missing of this reaction today.
Ed Bergeson ’48, ’51 Arch.
[Editor’s note: A reminder, the original issue of Columbia College Today that covered the events of Spring ’68 may be viewed here.]
Robert Siegel ’68
The overview of Bob Siegel ’68’s career [May/June] was an interesting analysis detailing the progress of a prominent newsman. Here is an another view of his contribution to WKCR’s reportage during Spring ’68.
To begin, Bob was never president of WKCR. He was chief announcer, which position he held by dint of his amazingly talented voice: Like Cronkite or Murrow, Bob was gifted with an extraordinary vocal timbre and intelligence that set his on-air work way above that of the mere mortals at the station. His was a professional announcing voice.
When the student strike erupted, the 1967–68 WKCR Board of Directors still was available, but title and authority had passed to the Class of ’69. The boards of ’68 and ’69 worked together to deal with the problems and challenges the strike presented. And Marty Nussbaum ’67, ’70L, president during ’66–’67, was uniquely suited to supervise the on-air coverage. His wacky sense of humor tied to a pitch-perfect news sense set the ideal anarchic tone for a band of budding John Reeds reporting on revolution. At the same time, Bob took on the job he was evidently born for: on-air anchor for the constant news stream. Marty and Bob were tasked with the effort of shaping and streamlining the news pouring in from student-run remote stations all over the campus, as well as handling interviews, preparing feeds to the outside media and creating a professional tone for WKCR. Their instincts were so fair and solid that everyone involved was thrilled to participate.
With Marty running the show, the gestalt at WKCR became total giddiness. Now it was unnecessary to return to the dorm for the minimal sleep we required. At any rate, to go back meant we might miss something. So we slept at the station, on couches and on the carpet. We were dispatched around the campus or kept at the station to do essential work. As the weeks drew on, the station settled into a new routine. Marathon bridge games kept us alert, and at slack times we took turns on the air. One memorable time, Bob, a French major, laid down his bridge hand and went into the announce booth to intro The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan entirely in French. With that unique Bob Siegel resonance, tinged with self-deprecatory humor, he announced le disque prochain, Le Bob Dylan Insouciant. Insouciant: an ad-libbed counterpart for freewheelin’! Marty, Bob Papper ’69, ’70J and I roared our approval as Bob returned to the bridge table.
During the strike we often were reviled by the factions, and Bob would instruct us how to tell that we were succeeding in evenhanded reporting: “As long as they attack us equally, we know we’re reporting fairly,” he said.
The events of Spring ’68 shone bright lights on many individuals at Columbia. Marty Nussbaum and Bob Siegel managed a student-staffed radio station and created award-winning team coverage within it. Frankly, they were heroes.
Roger Jay ’71
Hampstead, QC, Canada
A True Gentleman
As happy as I was to see Maryam Parhizkar ’09’s wonderful piece on Pablo Medina’s and my new translation of García Lorca’s Poet in New York (Bookshelf, May/June), I found myself saddened by the news of Charles Robespierre O’Malley ’44’s death (yes, that was his middle name). I was one of the many Columbia students who was fortunate to work in the Columbia Scholastic Press Association offices while at the College (in fact, I was a CSPA Joseph Murphy Scholar, which meant four years of full-paid tuition and a 20-hour-a-week job, which didn’t help with all the other things one wanted to do as an undergraduate but meant Columbia was there for me). I remember once having lunch with my father, who had met Mr. O’Malley (we only called him Chuck behind his back), and my father described him as “one of the last real gentlemen.” There was an elegance and graciousness about him, a sense of dignity and purpose even on the days when he came racing into the office telling us how he’d “woken up in a cold sweat” because a certain letter (he always typed his own) hadn’t gone out.
He was a true gentleman. Rest in peace, CRO.
Mark Statman ’80
What Goes Around …
It was Columbia that got me into radio at WKCR. It was radio that got me to the Olympics, and the Olympics that got me to Korea in 1988. It was in Korea that I bought and sent home a traditional musical instrument called a kayageum (Korean zither) for my musician wife’s birthday. It is CNBC (where colleagues and former colleagues include David Friend ’77, John Metaxas ’80, Jonathan Wald ’87 and Wally Griffith ’84) that gave me the largesse to allow me to donate the kayageum in my late wife’s memory to the Columbia music department.
Columbia never left me, and, I guess, I never really left Columbia.
Andrew Fisher IV ’65