Harvard Politics: The Careless Young Men
Peace and Civil Rights Movements Need More Definite Objectives
The once "careful generation" has progressed to carelessness during the past few years. While "the careful young men" (as the Nation entitled a symposium on undergraduate political apathy in the fifties) have presumably gone on to cautious careers in law or business, their place has been taken by as politically active a group of students as American campuses have ever seen. But though their energetic activism is admirable, the new radicals are distinctly disappointing--and disturbing--in the paucity and opacity of their thought on the problems they wish to solve.
It is largely coincidental that this change has taken place at Harvard during the tenure of Nathan M. Pusey. Except for his refusal four years ago to accept student grants under the National Defense Education Act until its obnoxious affidavit had been eliminated and his courageous defiance of Senator McCarthy, Pusey has followed the practice of every president of Harvard since Cotton Mather, and kept out of politics. Faculty radicalism has scarcely existed during these ten years; despite the full-page ads to which readers of the New York Times are accustomed, most politically-minded Faculty members now seek a snug berth in the new Liberal Establishment. Consider the behavior of two who are still at Harvard: Samuel H. Beer, who once founded the Americans for Democratic Action, found a reason for supporting Edward M. Kennedy '54 in last fall's Senate campaign; and Seymour Harris has taken to playing Horatius at the bridge, criticizing even the mildest of President Kennedy's critics. Only David Riesman--who continues questioning our assumptions about American society (though more and more quietly)--and Barrington Moore, Jr.--who shrilly calls down the wrath of God upon bourgeois society upon the slightest provocation--could be called radicals. Harvard's physical scientists have been mute: increasingly dependent on government money for their research, their loyalties are perhaps bought along with their talents. Hence, excepting the abortive campaign for Senator of H. Stuart Hughes last fall and the activities of the (quiescent) Committees of Correspondence organized two years ago, student radicalism has grown at Harvard without the participation or encouragement of a politically active Faculty.
Kennedy and Rising Expectations
The formation of disarmament and civil right groups is very largely a response to the stirring rhetoric with which President Kennedy heralded the "passing of the torch," and to the dismal race he and the new generation have run since they took over in Washington. The candidate raised expectations which the President has not satisfied, and the result has been the growth of organizations which aim at doing for themselves what Kennedy is unwilling or unable to do for them. But perceiving only vaguely that at least some of Kennedy's difficulties stem from a stubborn, powerful opposition rather than from his cowardice and ill-will, the activists have been disproportionately discouraged or embittered by setbacks. And the past academic year was rich in difficulties for them.
The organizers of Tocsin, who saw the dangers lurking in this vague discontent, offered specific suggestions for what they called "unilateral initiatives" towards nuclear disarmament, which they modestly hoped would stimulate intelligent discussion of alternatives to the present arms policy. The group's early leaders, especially Peter Goldmark '62, were careful to delimit the Tocsin's objectives: educate the Harvard and Cambridge communities on the dangers of the arms race, in an effort to fill the information gap the Kennedy Administration had created (or, at least, widened). In addition to its meetings and forums, Tocsin published an occasional News-Letter, featuring articles on testing and detection written with a technical sophistication occasionally bordering on incomprehensibility.
Goldmark was careful to dissociate Tocsin from the more emotional Boston University and Brandeis factions of the 'Peace Movement' (you could recognize the latter by their use of the 'mutation' and milk-related arguments). He rejected the techniques of picketing and demonstrating which they had taken over from England's Aldermaston Marchers, since college students could perform a different and probably more valuable_ role in the fight by using their minds rather than their feet. But this approach was decided upon only after profound disagreements among the members, many of whom had helped form Tocsin because they thought the Harvard chapter of SANE was insufficiently militant. Goldmark's emphasis on technically precise arguments designed to impress the policy-makers conflicted sharply with the Peaceniks' desire to "demonstrate" their concern. One early member recalls that only the membership's respect for Goldmark convinced them to accept his arguments.
Tocsin's participation in 'Project Washington' last year was an extension of Goldmark's tactics, not a turn towards those of his early opponents. Prior to the march (which took place in February, 1962) Tocsin published a four-page brochure outlining its purposes; member had been instructed in these principles, and spent many evenings discussing them. For the whole point of the march lay in Tocsin's elaborately worked-out plans to meet and converse with legislators and members of the State Department. Whatever the intentions of other participants in the march, Tocsin meant to convince official Washington, not to convert it by a show of strength. Tocsin risked being identified with its partners in the march simply as ' another activist group'; and in fact the press accounts largely ignored Tocsin's distinctive intentions. But the leaders--Goldmark included--were more discouraged by the reception given them at the State Department; they had been greeted with arguments based only on crude, off-hand anti-Communism, and they were appalled at the apparent unwillingness of Department officials to discuss Tocsin's critique thoughtfully.
Loss of Confidence
Unhappily, when Washington failed to take Tocsin seriously, its members lost much of their confidence in the organization too. When Goldmark graduated three months after Project Washington, Tocsin seemed to have foundered. Having discovered that crucial connections exist between an unimaginative disarmament policy and a generally unimaginative foreign policy, Tocsin lost its early purposefulness. At a discussion this winter between Harvard leaders of the peace and civil rights movements, Goldmark's successor, Todd Gitlin '63, wistfully expressed admiration for the concrete goals of the integration movement. Tocsin has neither thrown in its lot with the pacifist left nor succeeded in revamping Goldmark's educational policy to include the complexities it has discovered. A recent attempt at such a reinvigorated teaching program--called "Alperovitzing'--awakened very little interest among the members.
Conceivably Tocsin could develop a third peace program, designed neither to appeal to the policy-making nor to help undergraduates to walk off their indignation. The arms race and the war economy could contain the seeds of a far-reaching radical critique of American society and politics. But since few of Tocsin's members were ever interested in an intellectually rigorous organization, it is not likely that they will undertake the job of constructing such a critique.
Hughes for Senator
Discouragement and consequent loss of intellectual momentum also afflicted members of Tocsin who worked in H. Stuart Hughes's campaign for Senator last fall. he campaign, in fact, followed very much the same road that Tocsin travelled.
In the early months of the campaign, Hughes's shrewdest advisors had urged him to do precisely what Tocsin had failed to do--to draw the connections between the arms race and other domestic and diplomatic issues; the campaign was to be distinguished by the intellectual cogency of Hughes's arguments, rather than by the glamour and vacuity which characterize American campaigns--not least of all Teddy's. Hughes had taken their advice and did not change his tack during the Cuban crisis; as he pointed out in an article in Commentary several months after the elections to do anything but criticize the haste and melodrama of President Kennedy's response to the missile buildup would have been to abandon the very premises of his campaign.
But if Hughes remained relatively cool under fire, the mass of his supporters--many of them Tocsin members--broke. In the Commentary article he tells of the disastrous loss of morale among his workers after October 22; the result, he says, was that the campaign fell completely apart during its last two weeks. The campaign, despite the poor returns (less than two per cent of the vote), was in some ways a success; still, the compelling implication of the campaign --and Tocsin's performance in it--is that peace politics is not up to making substantial criticisms of foreign or defense policy.
Tocsin will not fulfill its initial promise until the leaders impose on the membership the realization that Tocsin's job is to remain a voice of intelligent radicalism even when no one is listening. If the membership continues to waver between exaltation and despair, Tocsin will move dispiritedly into the demonstrators' camp--where it would be on a small, second-rate picketing organization.
Tocsin's Red Challenge
But Tocsin's leaders face a nearly impossible job in toughening its intellectual fibre. For underlying the decision of many people to join the organization is anger not at vapidity and ineptitude in Washington, but at the fact that the government has the power to decide the fate of the human race. The peace movement really challenge institutions rather than policies. A past officer of the group has suggested that its goal is to "return" control of foreign policy to the people--although he was not clear as to when in the past such a system had existed. Hence the movement's energy almost necessarily flows into protest activity--which in a vague way symbolizes the "return" of a voice to the people in foreign affairs--rather than into thinking up persuasive alternative policies. It would seem that if Tocsin "went intellectual," it would lose its appeal to potential members. But if it goes in any other direction, it won't matter at all.
The Civil Rights Movement
But if Tocsin began conscious of the dangers of vagueness, Harvard's civil rights radicals seem actually to have based their movement on vagueness. And as their strength and influence have grown--especially during this past year--their attachment to a very dubious set of semi-ideas has hardened.
The "Civil rights radicals" are a difficult group to define; though many are members of such organizations as the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee, (SNCC, dit "snick"), the Boston Action Group (BAG),