Apologetic Leftists and Cambridge Slush

Students did take the Cold War and the threat of communist expansion--brought home by the more immediate threat of the draft--seriously. But few, such as Monroe H. Freedman '52, now dean of Hofstra Law School and a member of the national board of the American Civil Liberties Union, did not accept the government's line on Korea. Freedman recalls disapproving of some of the Soviet Union's policies, both domestic and foreign, but he says he felt then and now that "the Cold War was a fraud and the threat of internal communism, which was the more serious aspect of the problem at the time, was frivolous. I found it hard to believe that people as intelligent and well-educated as my classmates could actually believe in the 'red menace.'"

But believe they did. There was widespread, through not unanimous, support on campus for U.S. military involvement in Korea, even among men who considered themselves liberals and who later opposed the U.S. role in Vietnam. Robert S. Harding '52, now a University of Pennsylvania anthropologist, voted for former president Dwight D. Eisenhower while Freedman was snaking through Cambridge on a sound truck campaigning for former Sen. Adlai Stevenson (D-Ill.). Harding, who says he has subsequently "done a complete turnaround," perceived the mood then as "one of threat from the outside. Czechoslovakia had been overthrown a few years earlier and we were all genuinely afraid of being surrounded by communists. Sending troops to Korea made sense at the time, although we were terrified at the idea of actually going over there and shooting people. It wasn't like Vietnam where it became so evident that what we were being told was not what was actually happening."

There was only a limited anti-war movement then, especially in comparison to the outrage expressed in the '60s, and if students were fleeing to Canada or opting for jail sentences instead of fighting in Asia, the rest of the campus was not aware of it, he says. The most well-known Cold War reversal, or perhaps awakening, in the Class is probably that of Daniel Ellsberg '52. As a freshman he campaigned for a Progressive Party candidate for Senate. But revelations about Stalinism influenced Ellsberg and other members of the Class. "Radicals were put on the defensive in those days. Leftists had to be apologetic about Stalin," so they suffered from a credibility gap he says.

Alger Hiss's conviction for perjury--which at the time Ellsberg believed was justified--was another factor making him "more open to the government account of the Cold War, more skeptical of the radicals," he says. Hiss was a "pillar of the establishment who had lied." A few weeks later, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.) had embarked on his campaign to get so called reds and liberals out of office.

By 1954, when Ellsberg enlisted in the Marines, he was an ardent Cold Warrior who fully accepted Korea as a case of collective security. "I was not impressed, as I should have been, when Truman ignored Congress, sending planes and troops there," he says. Today he realizes that it was not "an act of courage but an impeachable offense for which he should have been impeached."


Twenty-five years ago Americans were "unconscious, relatively speaking, of the devastation that went on in Korea. Two million civilians were killed, every city was wasted," he says. Nor did Americans know that during the '50s the Central Intelligence Agency was operating covertly in Guatemala. And after the 1954 battle of Diembienphu, they failed to realize the significance of then vice president Richard M. Nixon's speech warning the country to be prepared to send troops to Indochina, Ellsberg says.

Ellsberg attributes these gaps to "the shortcomings of a Harvard education. We were told what was necessary for us to know. We were killing Indochinese with American money when I was still in college but we didn't think of it as an American involvement. We were ignorant, we were lied to. Nixon is right. He did not start any of this. But that does not mean that he should not have been impeached. That means they all should have been impeached," he says in retrospect.

Students like Ellsberg could support Korea without supporting McCarthyism, a phenomenon that Bruce C. Davidson '52, an editorial writer for the Boston Globe, terms "a paradoxical divergence." But the fear of McCarthy did have a "deadening effect" on any political initiative, Walter A. Carrington '52, one of four blacks in the class and the first black president of the Harvard Liberal Students Association, then the largest political organization on campus, recalls.

Carrington, who also founded the Harvard chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (an event that was followed by the burning of a cross as a "prank" in front of a suite of black students' rooms in the Yard), said that students who were involved in civil liberties issues were a distinct minority on campus. "Some of us were very active in fighting loosely defined 'anti-subversive' state legislation but on the whole ours was indeed the silent generation." Even those who were involved in civil liberties issues "were often hawks on foreign policy."

This attitude contributed to the success the CIA had in recruiting Harvard students, many Class members agree. Although no statistics are available on how many members of the Class of '52 did join the CIA, at least two have died while employed by the CIA.

David Brody '52, an author and labor historian, says many of his leftist friends felt free to express themselves because they viewed Harvard as "some type of bastion" even though there was evidence then (and even more emerged later) that Harvard was not as upright about McCarthyism as its students often believed.

Ellsberg does not accept the theory that McCarthy rose because he was a demagogue who had the support of the Stalin-fearing masses. Instead, he believes that the Republicans, caught off balance by Truman's victory, "went crazy." Former Sen. Robert Taft (R-Ohio) was "willing to do literally anything to get the Democrats out of office," Ellsberg says. In addition, there is evidence that Truman himself supported McCarthy in an effort to "tar Henry Wallace with the communist brush" and thus eliminate the opposition from the left in his own party, he says.

If some members of the Class have swung moderately or radically to the left, the fact that slightly more than 50 per cent of the Class voted for former president Gerald R. Ford indicates that others have grown or remained conservative. Alan R. Trustman '52, author of The Thomas Crown Affair, says that spending years as a lawyer and businessman dealing with "appallingly powerful" government officials and bureaucratic regulatory agencies converted him from "a campus radical" to a member of the 1964 Massachusetts Draft Goldwater committee. George S. Ames '52, now a bank investment officer, enlisted in the armed forces, served in Korea and later returned to active duty in Vietnam--where he reports he did not meet any Harvard graduates. Today, he wonders how Harvard can expect financial support from alumni if the school succumbs to pressure from "campus activists," abolishing programs such as the Reserve Officer Training Corps, or if it rejects the admissions applications from the children of alumni. And Rep. John M. Ashbrook (R-Ohio) says he has spent 25 years "overcoming the image of being the graduate of a liberal college," in part by serving as a ranking member on the House Un-American Activities Committee until its abolition in 1971.

Although the Class is as heterogeneous professionally as it is politically, the occupations and the $40,000 median income are about what one would expect of typical Harvard classes, past or present. There are numerous businessmen, doctors and lawyers, several professors and government officials, a sprinkling of clergymen, architects, city planners and psychoanalysists. There is a president of a turkey hatchery and a candy manufacturer. There is a surgeon, Stephen E. Hedberg, who believes his peers thought their futures were set 25 years ago, and that they had no idea of the changes in values, customs and ideals they would face. He had no idea then either that he would be 40 pounds overweight with soaring cholesterol levels that would motivate him to start jogging, lose the excess weight and successfully complete the 26-mile Boston Marathon last April.

The war did not drag on interminably and the Class finally approached the "normalcy" it had awaited since 1945. Like other classes at other colleges in the '50s, Harvard '52 wanted to marry, settle down in a nice house and have children. And like the other classes, it did all that and more--so far 15 per cent have been divorced and, if the class continues to follow national patterns, many more divorces can be expected in coming years. Although most of the divorced men remarry, fewer members of Harvard '52 try again than other American men in the same age bracket.