What Good Did It Do?
ON APRIL 10, 1969, I ran into Law School Dean Derek Bok just outside University Hall and asked him how he felt about the previous day's occupation, the morning's bloody bust, and the hangover of distrust and hatred throughout Harvard.
"This is the saddest day in my life," he said. "It's terrible to see the community you've been involved in all your life turned on its ears."
The last time I saw Derek Bok was a couple of months ago, just outside Massachusetts Hall, and he asked me what I was going to do next year. I think he expected better of me, but I told him I am going to try my hand at entertainment law with a large New York firm.
"Oh, I thought about that when I was in law school," he said jovially, clapping me on the back. "But then I found out that all you do is look over a lot of contracts. It's not really so glamorous."
Nor is it so progressive, as many friends have been quick to point out. Five years after my conversion to the Left, five years after Nate Pusey's very own Watergate made Derek Bok the Gerry Ford of the academic world, what is there to show for it all?
Of course I will never forget that morning at dawn, when hundreds of policemen and their clubs, overseen by that cold man watching from his mansion with binoculars, taught us what power the University commanded behind its shabby-genteel facade of sherry-sipping rationality--and on which side that cruel power would be exercised.
But five years have passed, and Nathan Pusey's name, instead of being expunged from the University's records, is plastered around a corner of the Yard to tell us that big hole will be plugged with a library dedicated to him.
Archibald Cox is known not as the man who counseled the quick bust (a technique he learned, in the best academic tradition, by studying the disaster at Columbia), but for more recent, more noble efforts.
Derek Bok is known not as the man who won the admiration of the community (and, two years later, his present job) for arguing against use of the police, but as the man who wouldn't mind seeing ROTC return. There's the next war to think about, and all those rich, reactionary alumni.
And Harvard is hardly the fearful, turbulent Latin American university the Faculty ominously predicted. It's a community where grade-grubbing has reached new heights, where the undergraduates make good use of the libraries as well as the new bars that have popped up around the Square, where the big issues apparently include whether or not some students have been given tips on exams.
Nathan Pusey's name, instead of being expunged from the University's records, is plastered around a corner of the Yard to tell us that big hole will be plugged with a library dedicated to him.
So what happened? Was anything won--or lost?
It is difficult now, with Nixon reeling, to recall the terror he inspired five years ago. The "secret" bombing of Cambodia had just been reported in The Times, and though no more was to be heard of it for a long time, the knowledge that unreported horrors were being perpetrated could be denied only by the willfully deaf and blind. And the reported horrors were quite bad enough.
At home we faced eight years of an administration vociferously dedicated to the repression of dissent. If the Houston plan came as a shock to most Americans in 1973, we knew years before that something like it, or worse, had to be in the minds of the thugs in the White House.
And the country was cowed, when it was not actually collaborating. The networks refused to cover huge antiwar demonstrations. The ghost of Joe McCarthy, though officially vilified, haunted the land.
But, gradually, the game began to turn around, in subtle ways and before we recognized that a transformation had begun.
Writing in the current Ramparts, Andrew Kopkind notes I.F. Stone's perception that the outrageous performance of Jerry Rubin, decked out in "Paul Revere drag," before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1966 was a turning point.
"Stone saw that theatrical caper break the 'choreographed' confrontations of Committeemen and Communists that punctuated his own haunted Fifties," Kopkind writes. "By refusing to dance the part of fearful, trembling witness, Rubin and his troupe helped destroy an all-too-hallowed set piece."
The Harvard Strike was another such theatrical caper. And it helped, in its small way, to liberate American institutions from their choreographed roles as pawns of a military order run amok.
To The New York Times editorial writers, the Harvard occupiers were "lawless students" who sought "not to reform but to destroy." The rifling of administrators' files was especially condemned.
But two years later, The Times, breaking with its policy of selfcensorship that had served the nation so badly at the Bay of Pigs and in the early years of Vietnam escalation, tore a page from the style books of the Old Mole and the Crimson and published its own set of stolen documents. The Pentagon Papers set off a chain of overreaction in the White House that eventually destroyed Richard Nixon and his clique, as surely as Pusey's overreaction destroyed him.
Not that the fallout of Watergate, or the American military's defeat at the hands of the Vietnamese and world opinion, has erased the problems of racism, sexism, imperialism and poverty. The problems have only grown. We always knew that not one small clique, but a tremendously powerful and intricate network of favoritism and corruption, feeding upon the failure of the people's ideology to condemn all forms of human domination, lies at the heart of the problem; and that network is unshaken.
But the possibility of challenging its hegemony is greater than ever. The media, though still pathetically timid, are more aggressive than in the past. One gang of law-and-order fascists has been thoroughly discredited. Alternative institutions are flourishing. The right of individuals to their own life styles is increasingly unquestioned.
Remember: When I came to Harvard in 1967 there were no coed dorms; there was a coat-and-tie requirement at all meals; there was no black studies program, in any form; there was no University commitment to relocate tenants it uprooted; there was no organization for gay students; marijuana was still kept hidden; and ROTC was ensconced in Shannon Hall.
All that's changed now--in most cases, not as a direct result of the radicals' actions, but because a University and a society under siege were compelled to give a little ground here and there.
In 1969 such an equilibrium would have been hard to foresee. My friends and I are in traditional job tracks, for the most part, though a surprising number are quietly organizing here and there. The harder edges of our radicalism have softened, but what remains has gained respectability (not what we wanted at the time). Harvard is a more pleasant place for the children of the upper-middle-class to pass a few years in, but the Corporation's rule remains unchallenged.
Couldn't that have been accomplished without such chaos and discord? Probably. But Harvard is an educational institution, after all, and for many of us the disorder and brutality of that month in April taught us more than any number of lectures. Seeing Harvard "turned on its ears" was quite a remarkable lesson in power, and democracy, and terror.
So when the fundraisers start after my class in earnest in a few years, for the sake of my Alma Mater I hope they have the good sense to stress that part of the Harvard experience, and not some idiotic pieties about Junior Common Room fellowship or lectures I skipped in some supposedly hallowed course.
If they mention the goddamned Pusey Library they won't get a red cent, but if the pitch relies on memories of eleven thousand people in Harvard Stadium roaring their approval of the resolution, "This body repudiates the right of the Corporation to close down our University," then they'll have me. Tears will well up in my eyes, I'll reach for my checkbook, and "Fair Harvard" will echo in my mind