In the title of a much-cited article, James Thomson has asked, "How Could Vietnam Happen?" He gives several answers: by how many other men have given many more. Was Vietnam only the ghastly blunder of one man, Lyndon Johnson, an accidental war by an accidental President, and, if John Kennedy had lived, would 40,000 Americans and 400,000 Vietnamese have lived also? Or is Vietnam something more?
Charles DeGaulle once said of the sudden German invasion and conquest of France in the terrible days of May, 1940, "It was a bolt of lightning that lit up the darkened sky and revealed the Third Republic in all its ghastly infirmity." Perhaps bursting bombs and burning huts have done the same for the American Republic.
Today men worry and rage against each other over such questions, but no many men like myself, one answer is clear. The American economic system of corporate capitalism, reinforced by governmental bureaucracies, has a systematic tendency toward intervention, both military and political, in other countries. More generally, it has a systematic tendency toward economic exploitation, political corruption, social dislocation, environmental destruction, and individual alienation, both at home and abroad.
The Vietnamese war has indeed revealed corporate America in all its ghastly infirmity and, I would add, its systemic cruelty. The American economic system is gradually destroying us; in the end our salvation may lie in our destroying it.
But lightning bolts and burning huts alone will not long illuminate nor eliminate the systemic flaws in American society. The radical reconstruction of a socio-economic order requires both what Marcuse calls "the critical theory of society" and an enduring and expanding radical movement within society to carry theory into practice. Only this assumption will have the skill and the strength to outlast the repressions and resources of corporate America. Otherwise, all the good works performed by radicals on the surface of American society will be like those desert flowers, so brilliant and short-lived, that whither with the first long hot day and leave the cruel surfaces of the desert hills as they were before.
For the great task of creating and sustaining a critical theory of society, the university is a necessity. In the technological and organizational society that is contemporary America, there is no other place where radical analyses can be pursued with the length and the depth necessary to make them more than mere ephemeral desert flowers in the realm of the mind. Among the great purposes of the university is to be the refuge and the strength of a critical theory of society. Of course, in the existing socio-economic system, radical scholars will form only a part of any university and probably a small part at that.
The reasons are many; they include not only the interests of socio-economic elites but the individual ideas and temperaments of young men about to embark on a scholarly life. But the proposition of radicals to conventionals will be far smaller in any other durable institution.
For the second task of expanding and sustaining a radical movement within society, the university is again a necessity. From it must come the students and the graduates who will be essential in the formation of a radical coalition and, yes, of a worker-student alliance. What William Blake said of England and its "dark Satanic mills" a century and a half ago could be said by radical students of contemporary America:
I will not cease from mental fight, Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand Till we have built Jerusalem In England's green and pleasant land.
In short, the university is a necessary condition for sustained radical analysis of American society and for strong radical movements to undertake its reconstruction; to diminish the university with reckless and witless attacks, with violence for the hell of it, is to diminish our radical future.
What is true of the university and a critical theory of society is true of the Center for International Affairs and a critical theory of American foreign policy. A conventional scholar need only cross the T of a pre-existing theory; a radical scholar usually must create his own theory. Radical scholarship takes more thought, more time, and more sweat than conventional scholarship, and this makes research support necessary for radical analyses.
One of the glories of Harvard is its generosity with research support, including support for the junior faculty. In the Government Department, for example, nearly every junior faculty member devotes half his time to research with the support of one of the many Centers which have divided up the realm of the mind into spheres of intellectual interest- The Joint Center for Urban Studies, The Institute of Politics, The Center for International Affairs, and the East Asian, Russian, and Middle Eastern Research Centers. If a member of the Government Department wishes to convert his radical thoughts of U.S. foreign policy into a radical book, it will be the Center for International Affairs which will support him. If another member wishes to convert his radical thoughts on Spanish politics or on Cuban politicsinto a radical book, it will again be the CFIA which will support him. So the CFIA can support these men in their research.
Ah, but does it? The above projects on U.S. foreign policy, on Spanish politics, and on Cuban politics have in fact been supported by the Center for the past year, as have been many others, including radical analyses of peasant movements and of armament reduction.
From my own experience and from that of many colleagues, I say categorically that the CFIA supports radical and critical scholarship and will continue to do so in the future.
But the CFIA does not merely support critical and radical scholars insofar as they exist on the Harvard faculty. The CFIA has a flexibility which the Harvard Departments lack; it can bring to the Center, for a year or two of full-time research, a scholar whose own university gives him insufficient research support and to whom the Harvard Department cannot give a position.