Letters to the Editor

Our readers respond

On Buckley, from the right and the left

Reading your three fine retrospectives on William F. Buckley ("Three Ways of Looking at an Icon," May/June), I found it interesting that in his attack on Yale he sought to challenge the "unacknowledged biases of a liberal orthodoxy" by trying to impose the equally unacknowledged biases of a conservative one, not by encouraging an examination of orthodoxies themselves. It seems that the young Mr. Buckley had not learned that the most dangerous idea in the world is in fact the one you want to believe, since it is this idea that you are least willing to examine critically.

Harold Torger Vedeler '06PhD
New Haven, CT

If someone was ever at the receiving end of what David Frum describes as a new "tradition" and what I describe as bigotry, the Buckley persona goes from charming to scary . . . or worse.

At least, hidden in the Gaddis Smith article is the remark "Buckley admired McCarthy." In the Tanenhaus article, the statement "almost every allegation [about political purges on the Yale campus] in the Crimson articles was true" indicates pretty much what Willmoore Kendall and Buckley were up to, then and for the next 50 years.

There is nothing charming about a bunch of wealthy conservatives going after many unassuming idealists and liberals, and I was at the receiving end of a lot of that attitude as a 16-year-old anticommunist liberal in public high school and elsewhere. For those persons whose careers were wrecked by Kendall, Buckley, et al., it must have been much more serious.

Sidney Sisk '55MArch
West Hartford, CT

It seems to me that William F. Buckley played a harmful role in the history of this country 50 years ago. His activities were part of a largely irrational Red Scare -- comparable to the one after the First World War -- that involved Senator Joseph McCarthy's demagogic charges and the harassment by the House Un-American Activities Committee of people who could not bring themselves to inform on their friends. Yes, there were some communists in the government, but hardly enough to warrant the persecution and terror that went on. Buckley and [classmate L. Brent] Bozell made it all look intellectually respectable.

If Buckley is one of the authors of modern conservatism, then he is partly responsible for what we have today: a president who takes his orders from "God," who declares a "crusade" in the Middle East, and who sets out to destroy Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and all the works of the New and Fair Deals.

All this from a man who inherited his millions, whose hobby was ocean yacht racing, and who feels entitled to tell ordinary people what they need and do not need from the government.

Edward Rossmann '55
Aurora, NY

I write concerning the lower photo on page 67 of the May/June 2008 issue. L. Brent Bozell Jr. is pictured as seated on the far left in the photo, a stance that seems appropriate to his political position at the time. When I knew him, in our freshman year in 1946, we were both members -- and supporters, I must believe -- of the United World Federalists. Given his subsequent radical shift in political position, brought on, I suppose, by his impending marriage to Buckley's sister, he should have been seated on the far right. This is the sole instance of such a radical shift in political position caused by, I believe, an impending wedding.

Stephen Bonta '50
Clinton, NY

Thank you for your excellent retrospective on Bill Buckley. However, I must point out a small piece of what was certainly unintended irony: on page 67, the Yale Political Union's radio program is shown, carried on WAVZ. According to the Connecticut Broadcasters Association's 2005 pamphlet on Connecticut radio history: In 2004, WAVZ began carrying the Air America radio network, and thus became the first liberal talk station in Connecticut.

Buckley's Yale Alumni Magazine encomium forever bears the banner of a radio station that made history as "liberal talk radio."

Irony doesn't get more ironic than that. Or, as a liberal might quote from what must have been one of WFB's favorite publications, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord."

Robert Parker '82, '85MusM
Pasadena, CA

Buckley may have had the last laugh: WAVZ dropped Air America and went to an all-sports format in 2007. -- Eds.

So: David Frum thinks that W. F. Buckley's God and Man at Yale was "a critique written in love." When Buckley wrote in his infamous National Review apologetic for Jim Crow in 1957 that "The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes -- the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race," was that written in love? If so, for whom or what? And with what odious consequences?

He was a stone racist.

Steve Vinson
Associate Professor of History
State University of New York-New Paltz
New Paltz, NY

Bill at his best would have had a great big guffaw over the cover story, which does a bang-up job of confusing hagiography with obituary. Could our professional Bad Boy have actually kept a straight face when that Innocent Economist, President Levin, saw fit to give Bill an honorary degree for his concertedly frivolous, albeit precocious, attempt to destroy all that was best of Mother Eli in writing God and Man at Yale?

Colin Eisler '52
New York, NY

The May/June article about dinosaurs was immediately followed by the writing about Bill Buckley. Coincidence?

Arthur R. Rosenberg '52
Stamford, CT

In the fall of 1968, my first year at Yale, there were two guys whose effect on me was absolutely hypnotic: Bill Buckley and Jimi Hendrix. For psychedelic Toryism it was the best of all possible years.

Francis X. McCarthy Jr. '72
El Dorado Hills, CA

The May/June cover article triggered a memory of standing next to William F. Buckley at a hotel's registration desk. Despite being a left-wing liberal since my teens, I loved reading his syndicated editorials and watching his urbane, hypnotically serpentine approach toward "my kind" of politicos on TV's Firing Line. As a closeted gay with a pregnant wife, I was also stunned in 1968 when, with eye-popping fury, he denounced Gore Vidal as "you queer!" during the live telecast of the Democratic national convention. In addition, he was "a true son of Yale College," whereas I was just one of the university's graduate foundlings.

Thus, years later, I said nothing to him when chance gave opportunity. However, I still retain the fondness of observing his gracious kindness with the lispingly gay clerk who was desperately trying to sort out a mistake the hotel had made in his reservation. Buckley had a conservative's noblesse oblige, but without condescension.

D. Michael Quinn '76PhD
Rancho Cucamonga, CA

I was surprised that you did not identify the person in the picture on page 62 with Bill and President Seymour. He is Garry Ellis '51, who succeeded Bill as chairman of the YDN and was Bill's political polar opposite.

Peter C. Sutro '52
Nantucket, MA

Don't blame the victim

I read Charles Barber's article, "A Landscape of Overmedication" (Forum, May/June), with great interest. I agree that, in all likelihood, Americans are currently overmedicated. But I disagree with his conclusion regarding where we should lay the blame. Barber suggests that, ultimately, the blame lies with the consumer: "We see too many TV ads, and we're too enamored of the expedient and the easy to look at other approaches."

And he implies that consumers have a choice when it comes to treatment. But there's no choice when managed care comes into play. Managed care usually allows a patient only six visits for cognitive therapy, Barber's preferred treatment plan. But managed care will often cover much of the cost of prescription medications. So it's easy to obtain drugs at a low cost, and almost impossible to obtain cognitive therapy. In other words, there's no real choice for people who can't pay the full cost of cognitive therapy out of pocket.

Barber does make note of the managed care problem, but he moves past it fairly quickly. I think that he is right to caution American researchers, doctors, corporations, and members of the psychological community about an over-reliance on drugs. But when he accuses the consumer of taking the easy way out, his blame is entirely misplaced.

Tina Forbush '92, '98JD
Baltimore, MD

Hate speech: problem solved?

Fifty to one hundred years ago, it was common and more or less acceptable to attribute unfavorable characteristics to any group, as in "All Blacks, Italians, Irish, Catholics, Jews, females, etc. are this or that," and to use insulting terms while referring to these groups ("Hate Speech and Free Speech," Light & Verity, May/June).

Happily such practices are no longer tolerated. While isolated episodes exist, they are almost universally condemned, and more important, they rarely involve bodily harm and are certainly without force in the workplace or in education.

In our enlightened modern age we have also made the discovery that all of the very bright men and women chosen for Yale can be categorized as obtuse clods requiring sensitivity training before being allowed to enter our community of scholars. Progress, indeed.

And an addendum: In 1949 I was working as a laborer in road construction on the Parkway bridge spanning Whalley Avenue before the West Rock tunnel. At the time most road laborers were Italian. A group of us were on a scaffold next to the roadway when a car full of high-spirited youths drove by. They were shouting, "Hey, you dumb Guineas!" Unlike the sensitive youngsters in the article, I almost fell from my perch with laughter. I had a month or so earlier graduated from Yale, and in a few months I would be starting medical school. I'm a dumb Guinea? OK, guys.

Nicholas E. Roberti, MD, '48
Oceanside, CA

Good cops

I happened to note the letter "Yale's Cop," from Sheriff Paul Pastor '76PhD, in your May/June issue. I myself served as a Special Agent in the FBI for 20 years, and I would like to echo Sheriff Pastor's ideas. This is probably the first time in our nation's history that, in a matter of minutes, large numbers of our population are vulnerable to significant, even cataclysmic, physical harm from wrongdoers throughout the world. Therefore, the law enforcement, intelligence, and diplomatic professions of our country will need much more than their usual share of our brightest college graduates. It is my sincere hope that these graduates, including those from Yale, respond to this need.

Robert E. Spiel Jr. '65
Lake Forest, IL

First White, not first white

I enjoyed reading the appreciation of the drawings of John White (Object Lesson, May/June). But I was surprised to see the old story that John White's granddaughter, Virginia Dare, was "the first white -- or White -- child born anywhere in North America."

Even if we assume that North America ends at the Rio Grande rather than the Isthmus of Panama or the Yucatan Peninsula, I have heard that there was a city in Florida -- St. Augustine -- 20 years before the Roanoke settlement. Were no European children born in that city during the first decades of its existence? Or should we assume that Spaniards are not white?

I suppose we can be fairly sure that Virginia Dare was the first White Anglo-Saxon Protestant born in the territory currently covered by the United States. Doubtless there are still a few living Yale alumni for whom this is a crucial milestone in American history.

Timothy Riggs '71PhD
Durham, NC

Timothy Riggs is absolutely correct. Martin de Arguelles, born in Saint Augustine ca. 1566, was the first documented child of European parents delivered in what is now the United States. Of note: Norse sagas say that a baby named Snorri Thorfinnsson was born between 1005 and 1013 in "Vinland" to Icelandic explorers, who had established a colony in an area some historians believe to be Cape Cod. -- Eds.

A Palestine question

In Matthew Kaminsky's review of Ben Kiernan's Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur ("All Too Human," Arts & Culture, May/June), there was no mention of the Palestinian dispossession. The nakba and its consequences should have been included in the review either because Kiernan included them in his book on ethnic cleansing and genocide or because he didn't. The omission, whether Kaminsky's or Kiernan's, is glaring.

George Waterston '60
Wakefield, RI

Professor Kiernan's book on genocide does not address the Palestinian situation. -- Eds.

Whither Machu Picchu artifacts?

I read your article about Machu Picchu ("Peru Backs Away from Machu Picchu Pact," Light & Verity, May/June) with considerable interest after having visited there this past December. Our guide was a native Peruvian who said that he had participated in some of the more recent archeological digs. I commented that the agreement between Yale and Peru over Yale's collection sounded like a good compromise, but he disagreed strongly. He said that he hoped that all of it would remain at Yale.

This surprised me and I asked him why. He replied that whereas he thought that Yale would take good care of it, Peru would display some of it for about a year and a half, and then the pieces would start to disappear. He did not say where they would disappear.

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of his forecast, but it does give one pause.

Robert Terhune '53
Austin, TX

To Professor Scully: thanks

The March/April cover story on Vincent Scully ("The Patriarch") brought back many kind thoughts. I was a Class of 1951 Marine Corps veteran, a high school graduate from Chicago with a new double-breasted suit that never came close to Brooks Brothers. I got called back for the Korean War, after enjoying Yale and Scully's excellent course on architecture. I worked somewhat in this field, being a builder in the West and other places in the United States, where I produced many homes Scully would never claim for their design. Even though they were not up to his standards, I always held him in memory after compromising on their tract market design.

I'm nine years Scully's junior and will attempt to match his years with interest and enthusiasm.

Ted Steele '51
Telluride, CO

A better capitalism

I applaud Gus Speth, dean of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, for his March/April Forum article ("The Problem with Capitalism"). In a time when the health of our nation is too often measured only in terms of GDP, it requires courage to criticize the dominant model. Importantly, Dean Speth does not dismiss capitalism, but calls for an improved version, one that incorporates a set of values beyond simply making and spending money. A responsible modern capitalist system must include a greater concern for our natural environment, more investment in alternative technologies, the end of externalized costs and misguided corporate subsidies, and a voluntary examination of our society's addiction to unfettered growth and consumption. In daring to challenge the sanctity of our current system, Dean Speth advances the discussion and creates a foundation from which we can seek solutions. I am proud that my alma mater supports this kind of forward-thinking, candid work.

Amy Kahn Mann '95
Bellingham, WA

Ant vs. grasshopper

In "Spending More, Charging Less," the March/April interview with President Levin, he explains why Yale will start spending a higher proportion of the endowment. Levin cites political pressure and a "concern that we may be short-changing the present generation in favor of the future." Every other sector of the economy is doing the opposite: spending furiously now and amassing debts that future generations will have to pay. We are building up vast amounts of federal, foreign, and personal indebtedness; we are looking at huge unfunded future expenses for our Social Security, Medicare, and retirement commitments; our current abuse of the environment will require horrendous sums to remediate.

The university's policy of saving for the future is a breath of fresh air. Education is probably the wellspring of all our wealth. The time to spend more on the current generation is when all these other bills come due and not enough will be left for education.

Even though the percentage spending from the endowment has remained more or less steady, the absolute amount spent has been rising rapidly ($230 million in 1997 vs. $850 million in 2007). The time to spend a greater percentage might be during hard economic times when the endowment is not growing and the amount spent has stagnated. Don't let deficit-spending politicians -- Republicans now are even worse than Democrats -- force us out of our wise husbanding of the endowment.

Robert Wyman
Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology
Yale University
New Haven, CT

De-light and truth

I would like to suggest names for the two new undergraduate colleges: Lux and Veritas.

Human namesakes always fall short, leading to controversy and confusion. By contrast, Light and Truth are the ideal aims of the university. These two principles could also be chosen as the basis for the architecture of the colleges, with timeless aesthetics of illumination and openness. And the colleges would be immediately desirable dwellings for undergraduates; by definition, they would be de-Lux.

Mark Choate '94, '02PhD
Provo, UT

For more suggestions from alumni and campus readers, see Name Those Colleges! -- Eds.

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