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Brass Tacks

By Nancy Hodes

THE COMMITTEE of Concerned Asian Scholars (CCAS) has come a long way since its inception as a "radical caucus" within the Association of Asian Scholars (AAS) annual convention a year ago in Philadelphia. At that time the caucus of 500 scholars in Asian Studies "came together in opposition to the brutal aggression of the United States in Vietnam and to the complicity nor silence of our profession with regard to that policy." Since, then, CCAS has grown into an organization of several hundred members with chapters at all major centers of Asian studies in the country. CCAS also now has a national newsletter, and a much broader focus on the Asian scholar's relationship to U.S. Asia policy as a whole.

Among the projects of local CCAS chapters, the Harvard CCAS chapter sent four representatives to the Chinese embassy in Paris to present a position paper "criticizing U.S. China policy and the scholarship which supports it"; Berkeley CCAS is preparing an Asian Studies curriculum for an autonomous Third World College; and the Yale chapter held a conference on teaching Asian Studies in high schools.

This year CCAS held its own national conference at the time of the AAS meeting (March 28 to March 30), in a nearby Boston hotel. Its purpose was two-fold: to re-evaluate America's role in Asia and the scholarship which has justified it, and to consolidate CCAS as an organization to further these goals.

One of the original concerns of the CCAS organizers was the "irrelevance" of AAS panel topics--the Vietnam War and Communist China, for example, were conspicuously absent on the AAS program. In contrast, the two or three hundred people who attended the CCAS conference discussed such topics as "People's War and the Transformation of Peasant Societies," "The Limits of Liberal Asian Scholarship," and "Social Sciences and the Third World." Boston University professor Howard Zinn told the audience at an AAS discussion, "When I compare the CCAS program with the AAS program, I applaud."

Not only the panel topics but the whole spirit of the CCAS conference was in marked contrast to that of the AAS meetings. The CCAS members sought to identify themselves with the people they were studying, and to join forces with the other movements in their society working for social change. The CCAS statement of purpose, adopted at a business meeting the night before the conference, says, "We realized that to be students of other peoples, we must first understand our relations to them." Kathleen Gough Aberle, an anthropologist at Simon Fraser University, urged scholars in the field to "choose between identification with our informants and our employers. If we don't do this," she said, "the counterrevolutionary side will choose us, whether we are aware of it or not." William Hinton, author of Fanshen, a book about agricultural reform in revolutionary China, told a receptive audience, "We will not survive unless we have a strong revolutionary movement." Orville Schell, a newly elected co-ordinator of CCAS from Berkeley, told the press that the group came together in an "attempt to wed scholarship with politics and action."

SCHELL'S statement was borne out when a group of CCAS people, acting as individuals rather than CCAS representatives, attempted to join a Southeast Asian Development Advisory Group (SEADAG) panel in discussing a paper by Harvard Government professor Samuel Huntington. The SEADAG meeting, on "Political Succession in Southeast Asia," was sponsored by the AID, and many CCAS members saw it as "a pernicious attempt to further the U.S. aggression against the Vietnamese people through political as well as military means."

About 30 people from the CCAS conference sat down at the side of the room in which the SEADAG panel met. Professor I. Milton Sachs, of the Political Science department at Brandeis, immediately moved that they be ejected from this "private, though not secret meeting," because he "refused to argue with barbarians." A spokesman for the CCAS visitors told the SEADAG panel they were present merely "to discuss as equals" Huntington's paper, and that they were all affiliated with educational institutions and had legitimate interests in discussing the paper on a matter of public concern. After half an hour of discussion and finally at Sachs's insistence, the panel voted on his motion--they tabled it. At this point, Sachs made an impassioned statement about the "gangsterism" of the "interlopers," announced his resignation from SEADAG, and walked out of the room (he stormed out of last year's Vietnam Caucus in Philadelphia in the same fashion).

At the major CCAS meeting on Saturday night, MIT Linguistics professor Noam Chomsky called the conference a reflection of the "much-too-long-delayed questioning of American society" within the professions. Linking it to the March M.I.T. work stoppage (whose slogan was "March 4 is a movement, not a day"), he urged other professional groups to follow the example of the CCAS. Harvard graduate student Jim Peck, one of the prime movers of the CCAS conference, says, "CCAS is a movement, not a committee."

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