A RECENT COMMENT by Henry Kissinger might serve as an apt epitaph for an aborted debate: Should Nixon's policy advisor be permitted to return to Harvard?
Until Kissinger revealed last February that he has no interest in coming back to Cambridge, his detractors stressed two reasons for forbidding his return. The moralists emphasized Kissinger's complicity in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Indochinese people. But to judge a man's morality is clearly to encroach on his academic freedom. So the moral argument had little force.
The other line of reasoning went as follows: A professor must be able to maintain a critical detachment from his subject of inquiry. When a government professor enters government, he loses the distance that is essential for scholarly investigation.
This argument was shot down by precedents rather than by principles. Kissinger's fans were quick to point out the example of MacGeorge Bundy, who in five years never lost his ability to view all policy problems in the strictest intellectual terms. But those with sharp memories recalled that in his final year in office, Bundy appeared to be losing a bit of his famous equanimity. In fact, some thought he had been infected by a drop of emotion. In February 1965, Bundy returned ashen from a trip to Vietnam: While he was there, an NLF platoon had attacked the US troops at Pleiku. For Bundy's anemic mind, which had made all calculations in black and white, the sight of blood was unnerving. He returned to the President with a fervent recommendation: Bomb. Bomb. Bomb.
Kissinger has withstood the bombing and the blood for over four years now, and his admirers were beginning to boast that he was made of sterner stuff than mighty Mac. Faced by limitless suffering, the Harvard man remained impassive. Why shouldn't his alma mater be proud of him? Why shouldn't he be welcomed back to Lowell Lec and the CFIA?
But then, on Monday in New York, Kissinger showed he might not be so strong as we thought. Pleading for the understanding of the American public, Nixon's National Security Advisor reflected on the lot of the Administration officials who planned the bugging of the Watergate. He confessed he found it difficult "to avoid a sense of the awfulness of events and the tragedy that has befallen people alleged to have done these things for whatever reasons."
And so, our illusions, already shattered by the Kissinbundy War, endure another crunch. Who would have thought that this man of steel could be moved by the afflictions of mere mortals. But then, who are we to blame him? Can we force back the tears at the sight of good Republican citizens, some even millionaires, faced with humiliation and perhaps prison, all for a few boyish (if illegal) pranks?