>Veritas and Vietnam > >Gore president of Harvard? What will the antiwar protesters do? > >BY SETH LIPSKY, Wall Street Journal >Thursday, December 21, 2000 > >A rare uncomfortable moment in my long love affair with Harvard >occurred at the 25th reunion of my class. > >A "teach-in" had been assembled to talk about Vietnam from the >perspective of a generation. A veteran of the war, I'd been >invited to speak but had demurred. > >Five classmates spoke of their experiences during the war and the >struggle against it. One, Peter Francis Hagerty, told how he >found himself on a destroyer headed for the Gulf of Tonkin and >refused an order to declare his vessel combat-ready. He was >threatened with court-martial, but the Navy "backed down," as he >also put it in a written entry in the class report, "when faced >with the prospect of an Ivy League Officer rotting in their >jail." > >Less than a year later, he told us, the ship blew up her forward >gun mount, killing or blinding many of the crew. > >After the Navy, he went to Vietnam to help a left-wing legal >defense team for GIs. While visiting a pagoda in the Mekong >Delta, he encountered a Viet Cong patrol. He said he spent hours >talking to them about baseball and girlfriends. Later, he >founded a company called Soviet American Woollens, to trade with >the Russians. Now, he told the reunion with what I took to be a >tone of irony, he was forming a company to trade with that other >enemy of America, the Palestinian Arabs. > >When this was greeted with an ovation, I walked out. I left the >building and stepped into the sunshine. My wife and son were >frolicking there. I said I'd decided to go home, though the >reunion had just begun. We held hands as we walked through >Harvard Yard to the Freshman Union, where we got a refund. And >then we drove back to New York. > > > >My reminiscence is prompted by reports that Al Gore has been >nominated to be Harvard's next president. It's a long shot, to >be sure. There are already 500 nominees. Mr. Gore is a >distinguished graduate and a former Harvard Overseer. But the >Boston Globe quotes a senior fellow of the Harvard Corp., which >makes the decision, who says that while Mr. Gore will get serious >consideration, he lacks academic credentials. > >Mr. Gore's friend Martin Peretz, a member of the faculty and >editor-in-chief of The New Republic, tells me that there's >nothing serious to the news reports. "The president of Harvard >is the emperor of Japan," he said, meaning that it is an >honorific post. "The only thing you can do," he added, "is >mischief." To which I found myself thinking that one could say >that about the U.S. vice presidency too--witness the Kyoto >Treaty. > >Despite the temptation to crack wise, however, I find myself >thinking that there would be a certain logic to bringing Mr. >Gore in to even a ceremonial position at Harvard. And it gets >back to my sentiments at that reunion. I've found myself >thinking during this campaign that there is a fact about Mr. Gore >that I admire--his decision to throw off the perks of privilege >and enlist for Vietnam. > >He and I were two of but a handful of Harvard guys from that >generation who made it a point to serve in Vietnam. I've never >met Mr. Gore. He was class of '69, I of '68. But we both went, >and were both Army journalists there, he for an Army engineering >command newspaper and I for the Pacific Stars and Stripes. > >On election eve, he told the New York Times how Vietnam was much >more complicated than the antiwar movement made it out to be. I >had hoped that he'd explain this in the campaign. He could have >helped unravel the knot that has since bedeviled our foreign >policy. It was but one of the opportunities he missed in the >election, but I can't help thinking how nice it would be if >someone in high office at Harvard could explain it to the >students there. > >How fitting it would be if one of the handful who did go from >Harvard to Vietnam ended up as head there. If, in the course of >things, Mr. Gore were able to get it together for another run >for the White House, more power to him. And if not, he'd still >be able to enter a room and have people call him president. >---- >Mr. Lipsky is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal. >His column appears Wednesdays.
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