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  “Disgusting” Debate

I read the article, “Much Ado About Drones,” by Charles Kels [“Expert Opinion,” Nov|Dec] and found it disturbing to say the least. Disgusting, actually. Most drones, as far as I can tell, are used off the battlefield where the dead they leave behind are not enemy combatants but usually civilians who are denied their basic human rights, their death delivered by a country that once was in the business of advancing human rights. Drones are weapons used to murder people without due process, and to have an attorney speak about murder as if there is really legitimate controversy about the legitimacy of using drones to murder innocent people turns my stomach.

Of course the person pulling the trigger does not intend to kill innocent people. But they do. And who has the right to issue a death sentence on a civilian without due process? I keep looking in the Constitution and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and I can’t find the clause. Reading this article only made me feel dirty and unclean that I live in a country that can do what it does … not only to its victims, but to its sons and daughters who it betrays. I don’t know if my reaction was what Mr. Kels had in mind, but if it was, it worked.

Mark A. Goldman WG’71 Vashon, WA

Better Than Bombing

Much Ado About Drones” is an interesting example of how the public reacts to a new type of weaponry. How soon we forget about the bombing of England and Germany in World War II. I would call the proliferation of bombing created by friend and enemy of that war much more hideous than that caused by a drone.

It would appear drones can pinpoint a target much better than a bomb dropped from a plane. Civilian deaths are part of the horror of war, and drones are a more decent type of weapon than a bomb so far as innocent civilian casualties are concerned.

John L. Gregory W’48 Erie, PA

Big Oil Backs War

Charles Kels seems to be saying that the electorate must understand that their stake in America’s wars should be high, because we must realize the goal is “the long-sought ideal of democratic peace.” Was that the goal of George W. Bush’s war of choice in Iraq, a war which was fought to control oil reserves in the Middle East but was “sold” on the lie of weapons of mass destruction, the validity of which he did not allow the UN to finish ascertaining before “shock and awe”?

Bush’s policy was oil-driven. Obama has continued it in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and increased greatly the drone bomber attacks. The number of civilian deaths, as Kels powerfully shows to be the consequence of the use of any weapon, is a “tragic fact of warfare.” So true, and especially tragic in that drones and targeted assassinations are terrorist actions, just as clearly as al-Qaeda’s are. Is the goal “world” peace, or further control of oil reserves?

The beneficiaries of these wars of choice, sold as necessary actions to save America from ruthless enemies that oil policy has incited in the first place, are Big Oil, Halliburton, privatized contractors, and a privatized elite military force somehow needed to police cities and “protect dignitaries.” Meanwhile, the citizens of this country are asked to sacrifice their young, and ignore the fact that oil and gas industries, chief source of pay-offs to legislators, are dedicated to preserving fossil fuels as our chief source of energy. Very democratic. And very much in the interests of world peace.

The phrase “sacrifices that Americans are prepared to make in their nation’s defense” has, therefore, a tragic ring to it. There is nothing worse, as we saw in Vietnam, than forcing young soldiers to participate in the occupation of a foreign country, and for more than one tour of duty, thanks to Bush’s stop-loss policy.

Apparently there is nothing more difficult for a politician or military officer than to explain honestly to the electorate why, exactly, our soldiers fighting for “world peace” suffer so much trauma. Instead, Americans are given an offer they cannot refuse—“support our troops.”

Jay A. Gertzman Ed’61 Gr’72 Philadelphia

Try This Thought Experiment

In writing about the military use of drones, Charles Kels neglects two crucial questions. How do citizens of Pakistan, Yemen, and other countries targeted by US drones regard their use, particularly the drone’s incursion into their country’s airspace? And how do they feel about the targeted assassinations of persons, such as Anwar al-Awlaki, living in their presence? Having never lived outside of the US, I do not know. However, the following thought experiment is worth considering.

Imagine that the USSR still exists and that the Cold War is as cold as it was in, say, 1962. Daily, military drones depart from Cuban airfields bound for south Florida, some doing passive surveillance, others actively targeting anti-Castro Cuban exiles. When forced to acknowledge their presence, the Cuban Minister of Defense officially defends the drone strikes as “surgical,” but local hospitals and morgues suggest otherwise. Although these exiles are often unpopular even within their adopted Miami community, public outrage over the attacks is undiminished. The attacks are widely seen as part of a larger conflict, one involving Cuba’s close alliance with America’s nemesis, the Soviet Union. Scholars and demagogues alike in Florida and throughout America talk of a “clash of civilizations.”

If one replaces south Florida, Cuba, and the USSR with western Pakistan, America and its global network of military bases, and India, respectively, then one has a picture roughly analogous to our current situation.

So, is our use of drones helping us win the hearts and minds of the people of Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere? Or, could the high-value assassinations we have seen this year be meant more for domestic consumption, perhaps as trophies bolstering the foreign policy credentials of a president facing a difficult re-election campaign? Kels aptly notes a danger of drone warfare: it seems “antiseptic and riskless” and so can be pursued “without galvanizing public support.” Yes indeed, and it appears to me that not only is public support absent but also missing is a willingness to consider the issues raised by this thought experiment.

Paul B. Laub Gr’95 Sarasota, FL

Drones and Dangerous Games

What I found interesting in Kel’s article was the concern for the psychological impact of the use of drones on those giving the order to use them and those completing the mission to kill targeted persons. It appears to me, to use terms current among those in the area of cognitive behavioral psychology, to overgeneralize the impact of Awlaki’s killing. I believe that the statement that targeting him as an individual will lead to extensive use of drones against innocents is inaccurate. There is no evidence to date that drones have been used extensively against unidentified or innocent targets intentionally. As concerns collateral damage, I would reframe the conversation in terms of, What would Harry Truman have done if he could have used drones to go after Hirohito and his generals in ending World War II?

While there may have been, tragically, some loss of innocent lives, it would have saved many thousands of innocents who were incinerated by the use of atomic bombs. Since all agree that there would have to have been a significant loss of life to end World War II, the most important question, from my perspective, is how to minimize the losses.

Last, and most important, I am intensely concerned about the minimizing of the prevalence of violent video games and violent entertainment in our society and the corrosive impact it has on everyone, but most especially on those who are most vulnerable: the children.

In his book, Lost Boys, James Garbarino writes that in order to train military personnel to kill humans with weapons, it is necessary to desensitize them. There is a natural response of hesitating when people begin using weapons in response to fear for the loss of lives. What the military uses are simulations that are, for all intents and purposes, identical to violent video games to desensitize trainees to kill in the battlefields. What sort of society are we creating, then, if we only pay attention to the extensive efforts to minimize loss of life through the use of drones, while ignoring the desensitization of millions to killing through extensive exposure to violence in the media and in electronic games? My conclusion is that it is much more comfortable for people to overvalue the danger of a single execution than to face up to the fact that we are creating a potentially lethal citizenry due to the prevalence of violence in recreational games and in the media.

David H. Herman G’71 Elkins Park, PA

Wharton 30th Street?

Kudos to Penn for the completion of its new park; though I haven’t yet seen it in person, it looks gorgeous on paper [“Penn Connected,” Nov|Dec].

I wonder, though, whether selling the adjacent former post office to a publicly traded real-estate investment trust (REIT) was the best decision for the University’s long-term. Though it would have taken “between $5 million and $10 million” per year to maintain, as the article says, such an incredible historic edifice could have served some interesting purposes in the University’s future. As a former MBA student, for example, I would have welcomed going to classes in a spacious building on the eastern edge of campus instead of the notoriously overcrowded Huntsman Hall that required a bus ride from Center City. But even if that’s a bad idea, another benefit of keeping the building would have been more space for the park (or the like) at what is arguably the University’s most important entrance, instead of what is now a big parking garage built for the building’s IRS employees.

In the parlance of an MBA, selling the building to a REIT to save what is probably the equivalent of the tuition revenue from a single cohort of MBA students seems like a classic decision based on a quarterly income statement instead of a long-term balance sheet.

R. Brandon Sokol WG’11 Indianapolis

Sometimes the Bear Leaves

I enjoy every issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette, but the Nov|Dec issue with the beautiful cover photo of the new playing fields, the Schuylkill River, and, in particular, the Walnut Street Bridge brought back memories of an incident that I must share with you.

It was probably around 1951 or 1952, in my student days at Penn. In those days there were streetcars–trolley cars–on Walnut Street. They headed west on Walnut Street, turned south on 33rd or 34th Street, and then west again on Spruce Street.

My sister was visiting me, and as we drove west across the Walnut Street Bridge where the tracks gradually worked their way toward the left hand side of the street, my sister noted the sign warning motorists: “Trolley Bears Left.”

 “Where did they go?” my sister asked.

 “Where did who go?” I responded.

 “The trolley bears,” she said. “The sign says that they left. Where did they go?”

Ah, yes. The “trolley bears.” What were they? No relation, I suppose, to the polar bears of the Arctic, the grizzly bears of Yellowstone, or even the Golden Bears of California. But certainly they must have been something to be reckoned with in old Philadelphia. Where did they go? Why did they leave?

For years now we have spoken fondly of those long-lost trolley bears. If anyone can shed further light on their present whereabouts, please don’t fail to do so.

John Allan Bier D’54 San Francisco

Politicians, Speak for Yourselves

Reading “Some Words for Nixon” by William Gavin [Nov|Dec] I thought about Winston S. Churchill and his wartime speeches. His grandson Winston S. Churchill, in Never Give In! (Hyperion, New York, 2003), in which he brilliantly edited his famous grandfather’s speeches, states that his grandfather wrote them all himself. He quotes Lady Soames, the last survivor of his grandfather’s children: “My father never, at any stage of his life, employed the services of a speechwriter.”

And what speeches Churchill wrote! No wonder he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.

How refreshing, how honest it would be if our presidents were to write their own speeches!

And to take the time to rehearse to perfection the speech being given, as Sir John Colville, one of Mr. Churchill’s wartime private secretaries reported that then Prime Minister Churchill did, as also quoted in Never Give In!: “In the case of his great wartime speeches, delivered in the House of Commons or broadcast to the nation, your grandfather would invest approximately one hour of preparation for every minute of delivery.”

On his 80th birthday celebration at Westminster Hall in London, Churchill summed it up when he said that his country “has a lion heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.”

Some roar!

Stephen Schoeman L’67 Westfield, NJ

Courageous Lament

I have been married for 41 years. I was strongly moved by Don Trachtenberg’s account of his journey with his wife, Judy, during her neurologic decline [“Alumni Voices,” Nov|Dec]. His lament of loss, and fear of finding his way when the journey is over, starkly reminded me of how important it is every day to value our life partners. It’s so easy to take for granted the person with whom we’ve spent the better part of our lives experiencing the joys and dealing with the challenges of life. And it’s also pretty easy to neglect to let our partner know every once in a while how much he or she means to us.

Thanks to Don for his courage to write this essay and his skill in doing so.

And if you read this Don, God be with you and Judy as you end this journey and begin another one.

Jim Waters WG’71 Orangeburg, NY

“Giant” Neglected: Albert Sack

The Nov|Dec obituaries devoted not quite two sentences to Albert Sack C’37, who was a giant in the business and study of early American furniture and decorative arts. You mentioned that he wrote a book on the subject that “became the bible for professional collectors.” More than that, it became the bible for an entire industry in this country inclusive of museum curators, dealers, auction houses and, yes, collectors.

Albert was one of three sons of Israel Sack, who arrived in the US in the early 1900s from Lithuania as a carpenter and cabinetmaker. He discovered early American furniture and with help from his three sons, Albert, Harold, and Robert, built a business that forged an entire profession in this country. In his later years Albert stood out as the “dean” of American decorative arts. When he bought pieces at auction it made headlines in the trade publications. He helped build many of the greatest collections in this country.

A substantial portion of the American furniture and decorative arts in the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was discovered, and in many cases donated, by Albert and his family. His life and accomplishments are legendary in the field of American decorative arts and deserve recognition.

Robert L. Stein W’71 West Orange, NJ

Complaint Over Name? Really?

As the parent of a recent Penn alumna (Lauren Mendelson C’11), I look forward to each issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette, which engagingly covers the ongoing accomplishments and news emanating from Penn students, faculty, and alumni. The July|Aug issue had some particularly noteworthy news: a record-setting $225 million gift to the School of Medicine from Raymond and Ruth Perelman [“Gazetteer”]. President Amy Guttmann was quoted as saying the gift was “both transformational and inspiring.” Who would disagree?! No one, or so I thought.

But in the Sept|Oct issue a letter appeared from Richard P. Gotchel in which he actually chastised the Perelmans for allowing the School of Medicine to be renamed in their honor. I’m confident that I speak for the vast majority of the Penn community (which indirectly includes me, owing to four years of tuition payments!), in thanking the Perelmans for their generous benevolence and apologizing for Gotchel’s comments.

Robert Mendelson, parent Pittsburgh, Pa.

Yes, Really

I was delighted to learn that I am not alone among alumni to deplore and decry the renaming of the Medical School for a donor. I was recently at Penn, and although I was happy to see former teachers and to have memories brought back, I was appalled that Logan Hall, for instance, had become Claudia Cohen Hall.

I agree with Richard P. Gotchel that “true philanthropists do not have their name applied to the school.” Where will this end? Is the College of Arts and Sciences next?

May my alma mater thrive and flourish, but may it find a way to do so through true philanthropy, not megalomania.

Shawkat M. Toorawa C’85 G’89 Gr’98 Ithaca, NY

Go Long, Gazette!

In response to a letter to the editor in the Sept|Oct issue in which George M. Fern C’51 suggested the articles in the Gazette be significantly shorter or put online, I beg to differ. My husband, George Louis Mayo M’95 GM’06, and I have stopped subscribing to Time and Newsweek because the articles are so short they provide no depth into the subjects. The Internet has ruined good journalism and the Gazette is one of the last bastions of excellent reporting on very interesting subjects that, I feel, round out my knowledge of the world. Please do not give the incredible work done at Penn the short end of the stick by cutting the magazine down to a quarter of what it is now. Sometimes it is worth using the paper to write these stories. Don’t let the Gazette turn into a fluff magazine like so many others.

Kathy Mayo, spouse Huntington Beach, CA


Our Nov|Dec feature, “Spirit of Caring,” incorrectly described adjunct chaplain Linda Joy Goldner as a “rabbinic student.” In fact, she is pursuing a Master of Arts in Jewish Studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.


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