The Mail: Radicalism, the Sixties and the Thirties

To the Editors Of the CRIMSON:

I do not know if you welcome letters from subscribers like myself who are not directly affiliated with Harvard. However, I should like to comment on an article which aroused my interest in the Feb. 26 issue of the CRIMSON. Perhaps my interest was partly due to the fact that the article was written by my son, Steven V. Roberts.

The article contained some "observations about the current state of left politics in America." The writer of the article, whom I will presume to call Steven, points out the vacuity and lack of unifying theme in modern student radicalism. He contrasts this with the student radicals in the '30's who "saw very clearly what they disliked in depression-ridden America."

I was one of those radicals, along with many of the fathers of your readers. We were alarmed about the lack of jobs, the lack of opportunities in the world around us. We were disturbed about the spread of Fascism in Europe. We were most disturbed about the prospects of a war. We were convinced that our government was under the influence of imperialists who would lead us into war.

We picketed our colleges, even the most respectable of us, with signs reading "Scholarships Not Battleships." We organized Anti-War Congresses, and pledged that we would not support our government in any war it might conduct.


How fortunate for our country, and indeed for civilization, that no one listened to us. For we were wrong. The Fascism we thought we understood from our lofty ideological pinnacles proved to be a military threat that had to be countered with force. Indeed, we had no choice.

How fortunate for you, our then unborn children, that the dominant intellectual attitude toward world affairs on the campuses of America was ignored.

But many of us were not through being wrong. In the post-war era we underestimated the threat of World Communism. Many of us supported Henry Wallace, the intellectual, against the small-time politician, Harry Truman. But the politician, a self-educated ex-storekeeper, know better than we. He understood the threat of the Soviet Union, moved decisively to arm and strengthen Western Europe. Again, how fortunate for civilization that no one listened to us, as our ranks grow smaller.

Those of us who can look back sincerely and candidly can accept the fact that we were wrong. We can see that men in power may not be as educated sophisticated, or steeped in political theory. But they may have facts, information, and background that we don't have. They have advisors whose life work it has been to know other countries and their rulers, and to assay and understand their intentions beter then we can.

I think something like this happened in the Cuban situation, although much compressed in time. The students who marched on Washington a year ago went to convince men in government. The Peace Marchers felt they had a clearer vision and understanding of the world conflict than did the men in Congress and the State Department. And they hoped to convince these men with lucid arguments, overwhelming logic, and superior wisdom.

Then came Cuba. An extremely difficult and complex situation was faced by the politicians, demogogues, and dolts in Washington. And they handled it superbly. The Establishment which had infuriated the Peace Marchers with a patronizing hostility had risen to the occasion and perhaps saved all our lives.

I doubt if any member of Tocsin consciously took stock of the situation and asked himself," Is it possible that Sen. Dirksen understands the Cuban situation better than I?" No, he simply didn't go to the next meeting. His fervor and sense of destiny were gone, even if his intellectual convictions remained the same.

Is there a role for the student radical? There certainly is. "But radicalism...has not provided the searching thought on crucial domestic problems the country needs from its dissident intellectuals. Nor has it provided the public support many of the Administration's progressive welfare measures could use very well in Congress," to quote our article. To carry it further, radicalism has not sought to promote good domestic legislation on a national, state, or local level except in the area of civil rights. Here is a vacuum that needs to be filled.

Domestic legislation is profoundly influenced by small groups seeking to promote their own ends. Aid to education, for instance, is sorely needed, but is being blocked by a minority which doesn't oppose the basic concept, but would like to be included. Medicare is being blocked by a doctors' lobby. Where are the forces that speak for the public? Why should it be "safer" for a Congressman to avoid the anger of organized medicine than to flout the wishes of the overwhelming majority? Simply because no one organizes, agitates, and pressures for the majority.

We students radicals of the '30's may have been wrong about battleships, but we were right about scholarships. We supported the basic philosophy of unemployment insurance, aid to housing, etc, but asked that they be broadened. The extent of early welfare legislation is miniscule compared to present budgets, so here we were right. And it is within the power of today's student groups to be right in working for massive programs to combat disease, poverty, illness and insecurity. Our world needs the fervor, enthusiasm, and dedicated effort of which youth seems to be capable to work for good ends, not simply against a bomb which nobody wants but everyone feels they must have. Will Roberts

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