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Previous issue's letters | May/June Contents | Gazette home



Race, war, and more.

 

DISCUSSION ON WHOSE TERMS?

I write regarding Susan Frith’s article “Make it Plain” in the March/April Gazette on Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. It would not be hard to imagine that Dr. Dyson’s courses are very popular. He brings to his field of study an excitement and obvious passion that is wonderful to hear. I agree with Dr. Dyson’s dismissiveness of those like the “Penn Guy” e-mailer who view topics such as African-American studies as politically correct and somehow unworthy of serious scholarship.

Having said that, I wish to take issue with other remarks that Dr. Dyson made. Specifically, with respect to his desire to encourage a real discussion on race relations in this country, it seems to me that Dr. Dyson only wants the discussion to be on his terms. His quoted remarks about Rev. Jesse Peterson were startling. To call someone a “racial parasite” and a “self-hating black man who despises black culture” doesn’t advance Dr. Dyson’s professed desire to encourage a discussion on race relations. If anything, it does the opposite.

Indeed, it seems that Dr. Dyson only wants to debate white Americans where he perhaps feels that he has the moral high ground, but he seems unwilling to entertain opposition to his views within the black community—as though to even acknowledge such opposing views would in some way undermine his own position. The attempt to silence public self-criticism within the black community only serves to stifle legitimate discussion about issues other than racism, which contribute to the problems that exist in the African-American community today.

I am Jewish, and for many years I was told that Jews who spoke out against Israel or who didn’t “toe the line” when it came to issues of importance to the Jewish community were “self-hating Jews” who were uncomfortable in their Jewish skin. I’ve learned two things over the years. First, far from being “self-hating Jews,” many of those who took opposing positions did so because they felt very strongly that their being Jewish required them to speak out. Second and perhaps more important, I learned that there were many more Jews who felt similarly to those who spoke out, but were afraid to, for fear of being verbally abused and ostracized.

Race relations continue to be one of the most divisive issues confronting American society. It is important that we figure out some way to discuss it without rancor. Unfortunately, if the Gazette article accurately reflects Dr. Dyson’s unwillingness to consider different views within the African-American community, then I’m afraid that his ability to contribute constructively to this debate will be severely limited.

Larry Shelley W’80
New York

 

FORGETTING, OR MOVING ON?

Michael Eric Dyson certainly is provocative in his views about black culture, white accountability, and race in America today. But in calling white Americans amnesiacs, he might think about this bit of wisdom from another culture that gets even less attention than black studies in Western-oriented studies:

Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling. Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.

“Come on, girl,” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”

“I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”

Tom Hoskins WG’77
Houston

INSPIRED TO BUY

I found the interview with Dr. Michael Eric Dyson to be very inspirational. It left me wanting more, so I will pick up a copy of Open Mike: Reflections on Philosophy, Race, Sex, Culture and Religion at the local independently owned bookstore today!

Carl Armon C’74
Boulder, Colo.

 

WHITES AND BLACKS CAN ONLY SPEAK
FROM THEIR OWN RACIAL PERSPECTIVE

Professor Dyson laments the lack of real dialogue on race relations. He then posits that whites should speak from a minority position. Whites cannot speak from a black experiential frame of reference: Whites can only speak from their own racial perspective. This might be racist, but it is valid for the white speaker … otherwise the discourse won’t be a dialogue, it will be one group being coached on the “correct” position. Currently, it is the white perception that is labeled as “wrong.”

Personally, I am opposed to affirmative action (particularly as it relates to the admissions policies of selective schools). Affirmative action has ensured that lower income whites are not included in the desired “diversity” … at least that was my experience when I was admitted to the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, after my tour of duty in the military (lower income whites were well represented in Viet Nam, and I am a Viet Nam Era veteran).

I had not finished high school, but I had SAT and GRE scores substantially higher than the median scores for applicants at both institutions. I am glad that the emphasis on the standardized scores was beneficial for me, but feel that the primary indicator of ability for admission to selective schools should be high school rank. This would allow any applicant who performs well in a poor school district to receive additional points and gain a relative “merit” advantage.

I did not receive any institutional aid and worked full-time while I was, concurrently, a full-time student. I was partially responsible for the financial support of my mother and younger siblings, and a little grant money would have been very welcome, as I could have dedicated more time to studying, and fewer hours working. The playing field was not level for me, and I suspected that it would have been less obstructed if I had been black.

These experiences led me to believe that any system presenting all whites as advantaged and all blacks as disadvantaged was illogical. Determining admission with additional points applied for race alone results in situations where a Nigerian applicant who recently arrived in the U.S. would receive a racial bonus. Affirmative action should be confined to rectifying the economic marginalization of African-Americans and other groups (including poor whites): It should not be addressing British, French, Belgian, Spanish, and Portuguese imperialism.

Reparations for slavery is a really hot topic in some quarters. Most of my ancestors arrived in Philadelphia in the mid-19th century. Seven out of my eight great-great grandfathers fought in the Union Army (they were drafted, and I can only imagine their colorful bog trottin’ oaths when they were told they were going to free the slaves). When I receive the reparations due me for their service (and the tuition and fees that I have paid at various Ivy League schools), then I’ll entertain ideas about the reparations I owe.

Tom McCarron CGS’74
Philadelphia

 

DROP “RIDICULOUS QUEST FOR DIVERSITY”

Please remove my name from your mailing list immediately! I have written twice before on the consistent over-doing of your female/African-American/ethnic/ diversity (woe unto the Christian white male!) bit at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania!

The worst was the very ugly, uncalled-for portrait of Ben Franklin on the cover of the November/December Gazette to which you definitely heard a lot of adverse reaction! [“Letters,” January/February] Now, you continue to put another cover of African/ Middle Eastern(?) appearing figures on the March/April issue of your useless/provocative magazine. I don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, but I do not want any part of it, including any association with the University!

You may want to scoff at me and put me down as some insane senior citizen in Oregon but I would like to tell you this: I am a retired VP of the International Division of a major U.S. company; I have lived in Hong Kong and China for nine years, speak, read, and write Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese; speak fluent Spanish; and have traveled frequently for over 30 years on business to Europe, Asia, Latin America (from Mexico to Argentina) Australia, New Zealand, etc., etc.

I have enjoyed all the peoples I have met and worked with, so I am not a bigoted/prejudiced individual as you may presume, but you have really gone too far in your ridiculous QUEST FOR DIVERSITY!

Fredric C. Rath W’55
West Linn, Ore.

 

With the exception of Gary Leiser’s, the following letters in response to “Lines in the Sand,” our March/April interview with Dr. Harvey Sicherman G’67 Gr’71, were received before the start of the war in Iraq.—Ed.

DOING THE RIGHT THING?

I intend to consider carefully, as a civilian, your interview with Dr. Harvey Sicherman on Iraq in particular, and the Middle East in general [“Lines in the Sand,” March /April]. It’s hard to understand whether President Bush is doing the right thing—in preparing for war or postponing it, or both—because he knows so much that we can’t. Dr. Sicherman’s credentials indicate that he has had access to some of that information—and still may. My respect for his opinions is tempered, nonetheless, by my unease whenever people state that Iraq’s people in general, or their soldiers more specifically, will almost gladly surrender if Hussein appears to be “losing,” if or when Iraq is invaded.

Those Iraqis who may have gone into Kuwait, that former tiny corner of Iraq (no disrespect to Kuwaitis intended—I aim at the possible Iraqi mindset here), with the inner attitude that it was a harebrained scheme that might never work, may feel enormously differently about Baghdad.

Frankly, I’m more inclined to believe that this time Hussein is more likely to run and hide (but not surrender openly) while the rank and file die defending their homeland. I even suspect that his escape might come in a massive urban catastrophe of some nature which would at once provide many civilian deaths to stigmatize the invaders and very few clues where he really went—possibly into hiding with Osama et al., carrying a figurative sack of scientific CDs, research papers, and researchers that would make our space program’s debt to Werner von Braun’s work on the Nazi V-1 and V-2 rockets at Peenemunde look tiny. Instead of Father Christmas, Father Armageddon.

Averell Harriman’s observation that no one should claim that he “understood the Russians” has certainly proven valuable concerning Russia. And it gives me caution about being too sure that I understand Iraqis.

Kenneth Rumbarger C’78
Audubon, PA

 

REALPOLITIK IN IRAQ

As one of Dr. Robert Strausz-Hupé’s many students in the 1950s, I found your interview of his successor at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Dr. Harvey Sicherman, to be most interesting. His comments project a sense of realpolitik.

Relying upon my recollection of Professor Strausz-Hupé’s lectures, I have been telling friends that President Bush is carrying out a realpolitik policy against Saddam. Realpolitik means, if I am not mistaken, the threat of military action becomes one of the negotiating elements within the diplomatic process. Preparation for war is required to make the threat credible. Today’s problems with the French are déjás vu. Almost 50 years ago, the French Prime Minister, Mendes-France, was cozying up to the Soviet Union during the summer months. At his opening lecture that Fall, Professor Strausz- Hupé addressed the class. “I’m sure you’ve all read of the actions of Mendes-France,” he said, “or should I call him ‘Mendes-Moscow.’” The lecture hall erupted into laughter and we were on our way to another fascinating semester.

I sincerely hope that the University continues its relationship with the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Robert W. Burian C’56 WG’60
Fairfield, Conn.

 

A “POWERFUL STATEMENT” ON IRAQ

Hooray! An overdue, welcome, clear, powerful statement to remove a threat of world-shaking upheaval by the only nation that can effectively lead this cause shirked by most other nations bowing to their own self interests.

S. E. Asquith W’49
Beaufort, S.C.

 

“INSIPID ASSERTIONS” TELL NOTHING

If Harvey Sicherman’s pronunciamentos on the Middle East were meant to provide insight into the “crisis” with Iraq or the Israel-Palestine problem, they were sadly disappointing. Indeed, with respect to Iraq they were simply Bush boilerplate; and with regard to the Israel-Palestine problem, they can best be described as “primitive” or a dead-end. On Iraq he says, “The Iraqis are guilty until they prove their innocence,” Saddam Hussein is “a megalomaniac of global proportions,” and Saddam might one day obtain a weapon of mass destruction. Such insipid assertions tells us nothing.

We know Saddam is a thug. Well, pick your thug. How about Ariel Sharon or Kim Jong Il? We know they have weapons of mass destruction and use them to threaten their neighbors. What is the real reason Bush wanted to invade Iraq?

On the Israel-Palestine problem, Sicherman’s claims can be summarized as follows: Everything is Arafat’s fault. Nowhere does he mention Israel’s illegal and brutal occupation of Palestinian lands. This longest such occupation in modern times of unmitigated cruelty is apparently not a factor for Sicherman. He also maintains that, “Most Palestinians don’t want a two-state solution; they want a one-state solution,” one brought about by the return of some Palestinians to their homes in Israel. I wonder if Sicherman, who appears to be a proponent of ethnic cleansing and ethnic purity, has ever spoken with any Palestinians? Does he really have any idea what they want?

Finally, I find it amusing that Sicherman should be described as “the intellectual heir of the late Dr. Robert Strausz- Hupé,” Penn professor, diplomat, author, and theorist. As a Department of Defense employee in Turkey in the 1980s, I met with Strausz- Hupé on a number of occasions when he was ambassador to that country. In fact, his wife often bounced our baby son on her knee. Strausz- Hupé was the supreme Cold War Warrior, but his knowledge of the Middle East was virtually nil.

Gary Leiser Gr’76
Vacaville, Calif.

 

LOOK TO SOUTH AFRICA FOR A
MODEL FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE

Allow me a few comments on the interview with Dr. Harvey Sicherman:

Dr. Sicherman doesn’t care that there is “a dislike for us across the Middle East.” It is not in the best interest of our country to so cavalierly dismiss the feelings of the Arab/Muslim world—all 1.2 billion of them.

President Bush may be the first president to say that he favors the creation of a Palestinian state but several presidents have given cautious support for a national entity, often using the expression “national homeland” or “self determination” to blur the question. They have all backed away under pressure from the Israelis and Bush is in the process of doing the same.

A March 9 New York Times article quotes a European diplomat as saying, “This administration will never do anything opposed by Sharon.” It is more than embarassing; it is humiliating to have our foreign policy dictated by a man who, when he leaves office, will be liable for prosecution as a war criminal.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the architect of the Peace and Reconciliation plan that rescued South Africa from civil war, will give the Commencement address at Penn. Dr. Sicherman would do well to consider carefully whether the Tutu model does not hold the key to bringing an end to the bloodshed in Israel/ Palestine.

Henry C. Clifford W’52
Wainscott, N.Y.

WAR OBJECTORS ACTING
ON FALSE ASSUMPTIONS

This is to reinforce with additional facts Dr.Sicherman’s appraisal of Saddam Hussein, as outlined in the March-April Gazette.

Objectors to the President’s determination that Saddam Hussein’s reign in Iraq must be terminated base their position on (1) Congress has not declared war on Iraq and (2) Iraq has not harmed the United States. These people fail to recognize that:

(1) The United States is already at war with Iraq, approved by Congress a decade ago. Only a truce exists. Several terms of the truce have been repeatedly violated, including repeated shootings at U.S. planes patrolling portions of Iraq to verify compliance with terms of the truce. It is axiomatic that when terms of a truce are violated, the offending nation is subject to resumed military action against it by the other nation. This is the present situation in Iraq.

(2) On September 11, 2001, a separate war was declared on the United States—in the form of sudden attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania by an enemy from the Middle East directed by Al Qaeda, a stateless terrorist organization. Almost 3,000 Americans were killed, and billions of dollars worth of damage to buildings and equipment occurred during these attacks. Additional attacks against the U.S. have been threatened by Al Queda.

The President was authorized to respond to the attacks through a Joint Resolution of Congress adopted September 14, 2001. This resolution states that “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.”

Saddam Hussein is the only Arab leader who has failed to speak out against the 9/11 attacks. He said on September 12, 2001, that the attacks were the result of America’s “evil policy.” The President and the Prime Minister of Great Britain have advised in public statements that classified intelligence reports available to them confirm that Saddam Hussein gave aid to the attackers.

Under the above circumstances, the President, as Commander-in-Chief, and also in accordance with his oath to “faithfully execute the Laws,” and to “defend the Constitution,” is required to “provide for the common defense” by authorizing the nation’s military arm to do what is necessary to prevent Saddam Hussein from ever again contributing to the destruction of lives and property in the U.S. by terrorists.

The recent U.N. resolution and related inspections in Iraq are a separate matter which could provide justification for military action againt Iraq under the auspices of the U.N. But this potential development does not alter the above facts; nor does it alter the President’s obligation under the Constitution and the Resolution adopted by Congress on September 14, 2001.

Joseph H. Leopold CE’40
Soddy Daisy, Tenn.

 

OUTSTANDING FEATURE, REMARKABLE MAN

Thank you for your outstanding feature on the Hon. Walter H. Annenberg W’31 Hon’66 [“The Good Citizen,” March/April].

You marshalled so many facts and comments about that remarkable man. My business career was in commercial broadcasting, so I was eager to learn more about him.

Frederick Griffiths W’42
Providence, R.I.


Previous issue's letters | May/June Contents | Gazette home

2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 04/28/03

 

 

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