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25th Reunion Panel Raises Spectres of Vietnam

By Sewell Chan

Hisses, tears and vehement debate set the tone at an emotional discussion of the Vietnam War yesterday by members of the class of 1970.

While the class did not lose a single life in direct military combat, alumni took strong sides in analyzing the defining event of their adolescence. The takeover of University Hall in April 1969--in the spring of their junior year--also drew both praise and criticism from those who participated and those who abstained.

The discussion, which was followed by a memorial service at Memorial Church, packed more than 350 alumni and their spouses into Science Center B.

In Retrospect, the book recently published by Former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, drew fire from a key speaker on the six-person panel.

"As a rule I believe it's never too late to say you're sorry...but I'm having problems with that rule," said James M. Fallows '70, a Rhodes scholar and former president of The Crimson. "The crucial difference between McNamara and all those other Vietnam casualties is that he could have done something about it."

"The desire to square accounts is natural but Robert McNamara has forfeited his right to do so in public," said Fallows, now the Washington editor of the Atlantic Monthly.

Steven J. Kelman '70, Weatherhead professor of public management at the Kennedy School of Government, said the rise of neo-conservatism today can be traced to the shaken confidence in government that is the war's legacy.

"That libertarian impulse...finds its most obvious home in Newt Gingrich rather than in the values of the left," Kelman said.

Mark F. Gerzon '70 said the war created "a wound in the national psyche that's never healed."

"We said 'Love it or leave it," said Gerzon, author of The Whole World Is Watching, a book that is pro-Vietnam. "We're dealing with a legacy that we [now] don't know how to deal with our differences."

Delia O'Connor '70, now a hospitaladministrator, said she regretted the "comicallyill-informed positions" she and other anti-wardemonstrators adopted during their years atHarvard.

"We are somehow [now] more willing to do theright things and let the chips fall where theymay," she told the audience, saying her moralconviction had been strengthened by the war.

Also striking a regretful tone was Dr. John B.Levine '70, a clinical instructor in psychiatry atHarvard Medical School.

"I learned to cloak self-interest in moralargument and utilize rigidity to keep ambivalenceat bay," said Levine, who served as a navymidshipman in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1969.

The question and answer session that followedthe panelists' remarks sparked an emotion-filledgive-and-take by the alumni, who alternatelyresponded to their classmates' statements withapplause and hisses.

"I'm sick of politicians who safely relinquishthe reins of power and then get brave," said onealumnus, citing Ronald Reagan's recent withdrawalfrom the National Rifle Association. "What you'vegot to do is stand up for your principles when youhave a chance to do something about it."

Nina Bernstein '70, a former Crimson editor,criticized an article Fallows had writtenregretting lack of bravery during the war.

"I felt that you had adopted a kind of machohindsight," Bernstein told Fallows. "What goodwould it have done to fight in this war?"

"What I wish I had had the courage to do was toformally refuse," Fallows replied, saying hisrealization of the war's class biases arrived toolate.

Judith E. Smith '70 defended the aims of theanti-war protesters.

"There sort of a tone that blames the anti-warmovement for polarizing the war and for distrustin the government," Smith said. "Our way ofthinking about the war was a whole new way ofthinking about citizenship and participatorydemocracy. It's important for us to claim our ownhistory and our own experience of this."

The theme of disillusionment with government,the military and institutions appeared again andagain through the 80-minute discussion.

"Some of us didn't have the stomach to go fightand kill people and that should be forgiven. Whatshould not be forgiven is not fighting for what webelieve in," said Judith Kauffman Baker '70-'71,who cited the struggle for University divestmentfrom South Africa. "We were congratulated byPresident Rudenstine for our backbone...but thoseof us fighting apartheid were met with stonyresistance for 20 years."

An alumnus who opposed the war said the pain ofVietnam has been exacerbated by unfair attacks onthe soldiers who chose to fight. "Anyone who wentthere, whatever motives they had, was a hero," hesaid. "It's not just cornball Americanism. Itmeans something and we damn well betteracknowledge that."

A former member of the radical group Studentsfor a Democratic Society (SDS) sounded defiant.

"The fact that I didn't like the draft atHarvard didn't mean I liked it for people inRoxbury," said Michael L. Mavroidis '70-'71.

But Mavroidis said he still disagrees with thewar's stated purpose. "I would rejoice to see theVietnamese throw out the communists there as well,but I still don't think it would be our businessto do that for them," he said, referring to thedemocracy movements in Eastern Europe.

John H. Schaetzl III '70 urged his classmatesto stop engaging in what he called "expressivenostalgia" over their years at the College.

"If we want to be self-serving about [the war],we can spend our time then," Schaetzl said. "If wewant to be other-serving about it, we can spendour time now."

Another alumus, a vociferous opponent of theVietnam conflict, said the war "is kind ofAmerica's penalty for the three or four millionVietnamese dead that the liars in the Americangovernment killed."

Reflecting the idealism of student activism inthe late 1960s, other graduates urged for morewidespread social change. Jonathan Shay '63, apsychiatrist, said "we can end the socialinstitution of war...just like we have ended thesocial institution of slavery."

And Elizabeth A. Beverly-Whittemore '70-'73,who postponed her matriculation from Harvard towork in the Peace Corps in West Africa, said "wehave highly competitive education in the U.S. butnot highly compassionate education."

Fallows concluded the discussion, urging theclass of 1970 to work to make Americaninstitutions, especially the government, "moreworthy of trust." He also said his classmates mustconfront social issues which he called "simpletruths we recognize but rationalize our way outof," such as the growing gap between the rich andthe poor in the U.S.

Fallows also said Americans must stop viewingVietnam veterans as "victims" or "suckers."

"People who were there made a sacrifice fortheir country," he said

Delia O'Connor '70, now a hospitaladministrator, said she regretted the "comicallyill-informed positions" she and other anti-wardemonstrators adopted during their years atHarvard.

"We are somehow [now] more willing to do theright things and let the chips fall where theymay," she told the audience, saying her moralconviction had been strengthened by the war.

Also striking a regretful tone was Dr. John B.Levine '70, a clinical instructor in psychiatry atHarvard Medical School.

"I learned to cloak self-interest in moralargument and utilize rigidity to keep ambivalenceat bay," said Levine, who served as a navymidshipman in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1969.

The question and answer session that followedthe panelists' remarks sparked an emotion-filledgive-and-take by the alumni, who alternatelyresponded to their classmates' statements withapplause and hisses.

"I'm sick of politicians who safely relinquishthe reins of power and then get brave," said onealumnus, citing Ronald Reagan's recent withdrawalfrom the National Rifle Association. "What you'vegot to do is stand up for your principles when youhave a chance to do something about it."

Nina Bernstein '70, a former Crimson editor,criticized an article Fallows had writtenregretting lack of bravery during the war.

"I felt that you had adopted a kind of machohindsight," Bernstein told Fallows. "What goodwould it have done to fight in this war?"

"What I wish I had had the courage to do was toformally refuse," Fallows replied, saying hisrealization of the war's class biases arrived toolate.

Judith E. Smith '70 defended the aims of theanti-war protesters.

"There sort of a tone that blames the anti-warmovement for polarizing the war and for distrustin the government," Smith said. "Our way ofthinking about the war was a whole new way ofthinking about citizenship and participatorydemocracy. It's important for us to claim our ownhistory and our own experience of this."

The theme of disillusionment with government,the military and institutions appeared again andagain through the 80-minute discussion.

"Some of us didn't have the stomach to go fightand kill people and that should be forgiven. Whatshould not be forgiven is not fighting for what webelieve in," said Judith Kauffman Baker '70-'71,who cited the struggle for University divestmentfrom South Africa. "We were congratulated byPresident Rudenstine for our backbone...but thoseof us fighting apartheid were met with stonyresistance for 20 years."

An alumnus who opposed the war said the pain ofVietnam has been exacerbated by unfair attacks onthe soldiers who chose to fight. "Anyone who wentthere, whatever motives they had, was a hero," hesaid. "It's not just cornball Americanism. Itmeans something and we damn well betteracknowledge that."

A former member of the radical group Studentsfor a Democratic Society (SDS) sounded defiant.

"The fact that I didn't like the draft atHarvard didn't mean I liked it for people inRoxbury," said Michael L. Mavroidis '70-'71.

But Mavroidis said he still disagrees with thewar's stated purpose. "I would rejoice to see theVietnamese throw out the communists there as well,but I still don't think it would be our businessto do that for them," he said, referring to thedemocracy movements in Eastern Europe.

John H. Schaetzl III '70 urged his classmatesto stop engaging in what he called "expressivenostalgia" over their years at the College.

"If we want to be self-serving about [the war],we can spend our time then," Schaetzl said. "If wewant to be other-serving about it, we can spendour time now."

Another alumus, a vociferous opponent of theVietnam conflict, said the war "is kind ofAmerica's penalty for the three or four millionVietnamese dead that the liars in the Americangovernment killed."

Reflecting the idealism of student activism inthe late 1960s, other graduates urged for morewidespread social change. Jonathan Shay '63, apsychiatrist, said "we can end the socialinstitution of war...just like we have ended thesocial institution of slavery."

And Elizabeth A. Beverly-Whittemore '70-'73,who postponed her matriculation from Harvard towork in the Peace Corps in West Africa, said "wehave highly competitive education in the U.S. butnot highly compassionate education."

Fallows concluded the discussion, urging theclass of 1970 to work to make Americaninstitutions, especially the government, "moreworthy of trust." He also said his classmates mustconfront social issues which he called "simpletruths we recognize but rationalize our way outof," such as the growing gap between the rich andthe poor in the U.S.

Fallows also said Americans must stop viewingVietnam veterans as "victims" or "suckers."

"People who were there made a sacrifice fortheir country," he said

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