International Issues Dominate Student Debate

It is probably a safe bet that today's Harvard students could not name the European countries that will use the Euro if their lives depended on it.

For the class of 1948, however, international current events were more than a topic of conversation to impress an interviewer or a cocktail party companion.

With the global conflict of World War II fresh in their minds, post-war Harvard students and Faculty grappled daily with international issues from communism to world federalism, arms technology to European reconstruction, arguing with the same intensity with which today's students debate identity politics or affirmative action.

The two central issues of the year were the spread of communism and the implementation of the Marshall Plan, and students were as confident then as they are now that the world cared deeply about the events unfolding on the Harvard stage.

Crimson: Just a School Color?

On Jan. 4, 1948, the Chicago Tribune--under the leadership of arch-conservative Colonel Robert McCormick--indicated Harvard as a breeding ground for the Red Menace.

In an alarmist article titled "Red Poison Tinges Ivy of Harvard," the infamously isolationist Tribune wrote that the hallowed halls of our nation's first university were "infested with pedagogic termites of communism, socialism, world federalism and other foreign-born schemes that would weaken the American Republic."

The Tribune also attacked Harvard's nascent international studies programs. "Eastern Universities, always notorious in the higher education circles of this country for their internationalist sympathies, have placed themselves in the forefront of a movement to introduce regional studies to the world," wrote the Tribune reporter.

Although there were few overt signs of communist activity in the Harvard community, and the witch hunts of the McCarthy era had not yet begun in earnest at the time of the Tribune article, open debates concerning communism were common in campus forums and in the pages of The Crimson.

In October, spectators packed Lowell Lecture Hall to hear conservative author William Henry Chamberlin debate the chair of the Massachusetts Communist Party on "American Communism: Does It Threaten Democracy?"

Just two days later, a divide in a student group showed that the growing rift between democracy and communism had come to Harvard. Sixteen students--nearly a quarter of the group's roster--resigned from the Harvard Liberal Union (HLU) because the officers insisted that all members sign a pledge disavowing communism.

"We believe that the Liberal Union is progressive, not reactionary," Geoffrey White '48, a spokesperson for the resigning members, told The Crimson in 1948.

Among the Faculty and Administration, the hunt for the "Communist Monster" was just beginning to infiltrate University politics. In November, Massachusetts Attorney General Clarence A. Barnes filed a bill calling for the exclusion of communists from positions in all universities and secondary schools. Because communists could not be termed members of a political party, he argued, they could not claim the protection of the First Amendment.

Although no one could have known that this initiative would foreshadow McCarthyism, the Barnes Bill was unpopular among students, Faculty and administrators alike.

Harvard President James Bryant Conant '14 testified against the bill before the joint House-Senate Committee on Education in February. Conant said the bill was a sign that "the American people had begun to succumb to a panic."

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