Most everyone at Harvard slaves and sweats over the social cause of their choice: “Ten dollars an hour!” “Color-blind love!” “Rape happens at Harvard!” Of course, arms flailing and spit flying, students often find themselves preaching to the choir. And this is as good as it will ever get for them; nowhere else will they enjoy as tolerant, as sensitive and as dogmatically liberal a community as the university.
We flock to the ACLU in the face of controversy, and look to the Rev. Jesse Jackson to help us answer life’s difficult questions. Our publications lean to the left and our student groups embrace the magnanimity of bleeding hearts. I can probably tick off the names of each self-proclaimed Republican at the school—it wouldn’t take long.
You don’t have to be a tenured Faculty member to notice that Harvard’s political bearings are not in sync with those of our nation at large. But it’s not that we understand issues better than most, or that we have access to more information than anyone else. Often it seems we just blindly follow the university tradition—and that forever directs us toward the left.
On its own, an insipid university community cannot do much harm. But problems ensue when students—armed with Marx in one hand and their class notes in the other—transpose their sheltered academic experience onto the real world. And the difficulties compound when Harvard egos enter the fray. This university’s self-important, ignorant bravado has never been more obvious than in our reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on America.
It is telling that the first and only significant student-organized rally on this campus in the aftermath of that horrible tragedy was organized by The Harvard Initiative for Peace and Justice (HIPJ). To be sure, the HIPJ had the best of intentions. According to their rhetoric, there’s no harm in spreading the erudite gospel of the university to the public at large. As HIPJ members point out, we might be just 21 years old, but we are 21-year-old students. And we aren’t just students, we are Harvard students. Impressive, huh?
At a planning meeting for the rally, HIPJ members admitted they were the lucky ones—not because their loved ones had been spared from the attack, but because they had been sheltered from the difficult, cynical real world. The student perspective was unclouded; everyone else’s was just bitter. How else could a rational America wish to seek vengeance with a military response? It is the university’s duty to preach the mantra of peace, and to drag the misled masses away from war. Stroked by the warm glow of warped social justice and perverted tolerance, Harvard students eagerly rose to the occasion.
Obvious to most, these students couldn’t fathom the disconnect between the university community and the real world.
Harvard encourages us to study philosophy, history and religion. But no “unpacking” of texts can prepare us for brutal, real experience. HIPJ claims to stand for and defend justice. Unfortunately, their understanding of the concept comes from a textbook or, more specifically, from the sourcebook of Professor Michael Sandel’s core class. Their attempt to apply their intangible version of justice to real, perilous threats warrants mockery. And their presumption of omniscience reflects the most criminal consequences of a university community as sheltered as ours.
Not only do we strut through the Yard knowing a Harvard diploma is coming our direction, but we receive padded grades that further inflate our confidence and sense of self-importance. Though we receive a stellar education at Harvard, it is an education with little relevance to our national crises and with little practical use to the country. We are a group of 6,500 equipped with nothing but an impractical grasp of the humanities, a methodical understanding of the sciences and, worst of all, an ego that has us convinced we really do know best.
But there is nothing we learn at school that makes our understanding of the real world more accurate than anyone else’s. And the reason such a rift exists between America and the liberal university community is because the former lives scared but with both eyes open, while the latter lives with an eye so blinded by pomposity that not even the massacre of 6,000 Americans can seem to open it.
More than two weeks have elapsed since HIPJ responded to the terrorist attack armed with flowers and olive branches. These weapons, representing a reckless dismissal of any military action and a knee-jerk preference for peace and amity, are just as dangerous as the ones our nation will use to defend itself. In the real world, peace is secured by righteous armies.
I hope that in the aftermath of the attack, and in the wake of their imprudent rally for peace, HIPJ and its supporters learn the destructive power of their insolence, and the perilous consequence of mistaking our privileged lives at school as relevant to problems on the outside.
Truth be told, Harvard students can do little more than what is the proud responsibility of our entire nation at this historic threshold: to offer a shoulder to anyone who has lost a loved one in the terrorist attack, to participate productively and open-mindedly in the national debate, and to salute the American flag with thoughts of patriotism and honor.
Jordana R. Lewis ’02 is a history and literature concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.