Stony Response to Stone Faces
Fascinating that a school that prides itself on being the first white-male school to admit women and blacks would have a cover article featuring the glorification of dead white men without a mention that women and minorities have been excluded from being honored in this fashion ["Carved in Stone," Spring 1996 OAM. Surely there have been "hero-professors" who haven't been white men. How have they been recognized?
--Peggy Dole '81
That all the busts should be male, even though Oberlin was the first coeducational college in the nation, is perhaps not surprising, given the era in which the sculptures in the theology school's colonnade were made.
But why didn't the author of the article at least take note of the fact? And will there ever be room for a woman?
--Susan Quinn '62
Apparently only white men get to be "carved in stone" and put up in Bosworth Quadrangle's colonnade. But why the OAM would assemble 17 photos of these white guys and feature them prominently on its cover without a single word about the absence of women and minorities is beyond me.
Nobody claims that the Graduate School of Theology was a bastion of gender and racial diversity. Far from it. It's no surprise that those honored by the institution would reflect the ethnic and gender hierarchy of the day according to the values then held by the institution.
So why not a critical comment? Some self awareness that what we appreciate today is not limited to that which was valued in the past?
According to the article, the process of honoring is not over, as the likeness of Clyde Holbrook (another white guy) was added in 1990. If the OAM is going to draw attention to the colonnade, and the implied values which it represents, then why not suggest appropriate modifications?
Author John Kearney '93 asks if "the days of hero-professors" are over. Not at all. Some of my heroes were graduates of Oberlin's theology school. Howard Thurman '58 hon., the great American visionary. Vernon Johns '18, who broke ground so that Martin Luther King, Jr.'s leadership in Montgomery, Alabama, could take place. Gardner Taylor '40, possibly the greatest preacher and orator living today. Antoinette Brown Blackwell, Class of 1847, the first woman ever to receive a seminary degree and who went on to be among the first women ordained in the Congregational Church. All associated with the school of theology and heroes to me and many others.
Architecture, sculpture, displays of any kind have a teaching function. They say, "This is what we value." That the old Graduate School of Theology valued the white guys who served on its faculty is to be expected. That the College would imply that it continues to hold these values by adding only the face of another white male and publishing an article about the colonnade without comment, however, is disappointing.
The Oberlin Graduate School of Theology was a remarkable institution for its day, far more inclusive and wider-of-thought than most other seminaries. Let's tell that part of the story, instead of enshrining dead white guys without critique or comment.
--Heidi Hilf Vardeman '76
St. Paul, Minnesota
A Woman for the Stone
I enjoy reading the news and insights included in each issue of the OAM. The spring 1996 issue, featuring "Carved in Stone," was of special interest to me because I have known 10 of the 17 persons immortalized in stone.
However, as a co-ed and one who admires the leadership of women, I was surprised that only men are included in the selection so far. We need a keen woman to be included with those men. I would like to suggest Florence Fitch (1903-1959), who taught freshman and senior Bible courses in the College-required courses in those days--and was a contemporary of at least five of the men carved in stone. Professor Fitch wrote a number of books. My favorite for at least 40 of my 87 years is her One God with a subtitle about "ways we worship God."
Thank you also for the valuable spring-issue article on Jack Service, another friend of mine, and Caroline, his wife. They came through very difficult years. I appreciate the important work you do, sharing Oberlin today and linked to the past.
--Margaret Palmer Taylor Doane '30
Much Ado about Something
I had just finished reading Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh's The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCarthyism (University of North Carolina Press, 1996), when the Spring 1996 OAM arrived. In "Working Close to a Cataclysm: The Vindication of John S. Service," writer Bernard D. Sherman describes the 1945 Amerasia case, in which Service was arrested but released without indictment, as "an ado about nothing." He further cites historian Barbara Tuchman, who called the case the "first step toward the tawdry reign of terror soon to be imposed . . . by Senator Joe McCarthy."
Klehr and Radosh make clear that the Amerasia case was more problematic, and certainly more fascinating, than Sherman claims. Amerasia editor Phillip Jaffe had gathered from numerous government sources a vast volume of secret and classified documents that he was trying to get to the Soviet Union. Of the six people arrested in the case, Service was among the least culpable. His goal was to get the material published in Jaffe's journal so as to undermine Chiang and the Chinese Nationalists, but he was not motivated, as the others were, by financial gain or sympathy for international Communism. Nevertheless, giving secret or classified information to anyone, especially during wartime, was and still is a serious matter.
Why were charges dismissed against all but two defendants, who were found guilty only of illegal possession of government documents? Klehr and Radosh, who have obtained previously unavailable FBI records, contend the case was fixed by the Attorney General's office. The reasons probably had little to do with sympathy for the Communists; they had to do with preventing embarrassment to government agencies, whose very lax procedures would have been exposed by a full-press trial.
An alternative and more interesting theory--but for which there is only indirect evidence--is that Thomas Corcoran, a well-known back-room figure in Washington, and others had business ventures with one of Chiang's cronies, T.V. Soong. If Service had come to trial, then General Joseph Stilwell, who despised Chiang but was not allowed to denounce him openly, would have testified on Service's behalf about the perceived iniquities of the Chinese Nationalists, thus damaging those commercial interests.
Then Attorney General Thomas Clark appears to have been a key figure in the cover-up. While he happily prosecuted Communists and their allies, he was also happy to do favors for cronies. The FBI's wiretap evidence of his telephone conversations with Corcoran indicates that Clark's office was trying to fix the case. According to the transcripts, justice officials, including subsequent Attorney General James McGranery, perjured themselves during the Congressional investigation of the affair.
Many believed something suspicious was happening, and after China fell to the Communists the suspicion deepened into the understandable belief that high officials in the State Department had betrayed Chiang and hobbled the prosecution of the Amerasia case. McCarthy's accusations about a cover-up appeared credible to many, even those who were uncomfortable with his tactics. Although the cover-up was engineered at high levels of the Attorney General's office, not the State Department as McCarthy charged, and done probably for venial and parochial political reasons rather than as part of a Communist conspiracy, McCarthy was nevertheless right that some in the State Department had pushed the tilt toward the Communists, including Lauchlin Currie, who encouraged and facilitated Service's campaign of leaking documents. There is now a great deal of circumstantial evidence indicating Currie was a Soviet agent.
Sherman thinks the outcome vindicates John Service. Whatever the truth of that claim, others have come to believe that the evidence about this and similar episodes vindicates McCarthy, for all his bellicose and inaccurate bellowing.
Who would have believed such an outcome? The irony is that had Service come to trial, and had Stilwell testified, the course of history in Asia and U.S.-Chinese relations might indeed have been quite different, taking the course Service was trying to achieve. But, given Mao's personality, we might still have had the mass executions after the Communist takeover, the horrific Cultural Revolution, the rape of Tibet, and many other dismal episodes.
Conjectures like these are what makes history so interesting, albeit tragic, and the history of this particular episode fascinating, but still grim. For the most sordid and depressing part of the case is the complicity of the Attorney General's office. Had the facts available now come to light in the early 1950s, the Amerasia case cover-up could have been another Watergate scandal. Although the then-President was not involved, a lot of administration figures, including Clark, who later became a Supreme Court justice, should have gone to jail for their role in it.
"An ado about nothing" indeed!
--Ernest B. Hook '56
San Rafael, California
Bernard D. Sherman responds: I agree with Mr. Hook that Klehr and Radosh, whose book had not yet appeared when I wrote the article, show the Amerasia case to be more complex and significant than most historians had believed. I also agree that postwar anticommunism has had some vindication in recent years. On the other hand, I can't agree with those who consider McCarthy to have been vindicated. His witch-hunting was an illegitimate response to the problem. And one of its victims, I still maintain, was Service.
Klehr and Radosh, for their part, say that compared to right-wingers, Tuchman and others who "[single] out Service as the first victim of the cold war [come] closer to the truth." I support the latter (and quite large) group's view of Service for several reasons. For one thing, what Service did was not as out of the ordinary as one might think. At the time, most government agencies routinely practiced selective leaking to favored journalists. If Service went a bit further than many, it's relevant that higher government officials like John Carter Vincent and Lauchlin Currie encouraged him--and of course, Service had no idea of Currie's disloyalty. Klehr and Radosh state that Service's attempts to influence policy, "though theoretically improper for civil servants, are hardly unusual, and few have ever paid more dearly for them."
As for what Service leaked, to what degree were they "serious matters?" Service denies having had access to military secrets; the documents he leaked do not contain any. Nor do we know that anything he told Jaffe compromised national security. Finally, in judging Service's culpability, how much weight should we give to the "fix" that Mr. Hook so ably summarizes? Perhaps not too much. Klehr and Radosh state that, due to problems with the evidence, Service "probably would not have been indicted even if Corcoran had never picked up the phone in his behalf."
For all the new material revealed in the book, Service remains vindicated from the McCarthyite charges against him, such as disloyalty, spying, communist sympathies, and--an example of blaming the messenger--conspiring to help Mao take over China. Service's intention was, of course, to promote what he considered a more effective U.S. policy regarding China. Have his views on China been vindicated? On this point, most historians believe that his front-line reports were correct in predicting the inevitability of Mao's victory over Chiang, and in observing that Red China and the Soviet Union were not the monolith conceived of by U.S. policy makers.
As Mr. Hook points out, following Service's suggestion of rapprochement with Mao would not have made postwar Chinese history bloodless. But it is hardly implausible that it would have made it a good deal less bloody, and that U.S. strategic interests would have been far better served than they were by the hard-line policy we took instead. That these assertions do seem so plausible may be Service's most important vindication.
Service: Good & Beautiful
Great thanks for Bernard D. Sherman's article, "The Vindication of John Service." Whenever John Service's name came up during the McCarthy era, I knew his vindication would come some day--for a reason not mentioned in the article.
Service graduated from Oberlin in 1931, when I was finishing my first year at Oberlin High School. As a town boy, I enjoyed seeing College athletes perform. There is none except John Service whose name I can recall. He was a magnificent distance runner whose speed and grace deeply impressed my teenage mind.
I knew then that this man could only do things good and beautiful.
--James A. Richards, Jr. '38
Treadwell, New York
Tolerance vs. Support
Editor's note: Discussion and debate preceded and followed Kwame Ture's March visit to campus. (See "Kwame Ture's Talks on Politics and Zionism Engender Discourse and Disagreement"). When members of Third World House (TWH) began planning a series of lectures about Pan Africanism and politics, they approached campus offices for funding assistance, a practice commonly employed by most student organizations to finance special projects or events. One of the several departments TWH approached, and that agreed to contribute to the then-developing series, was the Office of the President.
The morning of Ture's visit, President Nancy S. Dye sent a memo to the College community addressing the rumor that her office had brought Ture to campus. She also urged members of the community to use Ture's visit as an opportunity to reconcile seemingly competing values ". . . by upholding the central academic value of freedom of speech and at the same time by responding vigorously, in civil fashion, to speech that is hurtful to members of our community."
In the spirit of free and open debate invoked by President Dye, I think it worth pondering whether respect (even if, at times, for speech we hate) and tolerance (even if through clenched teeth) necessarily entail financial support. If students from Third World House or, for that matter, any other student organization, wish to use funds allotted to them through normal budgetary procedures to invite an inflammatory and controversial speaker, so be it. But I see no need for the institution as a whole to supply its imprimatur by providing the prestige that comes with presidential funding. Such support can only serve to amplify a message that, if anything, deserves to find as little resonance as possible.
Why is it that sensitivity at Oberlin so often turns out to be a one-way street? Let's imagine the (very) hypothetical case of some students, perhaps only by way of provocation (it's happened before) inviting, say, a white supremacist, such as David Duke or Randy Weaver, to speak here on Black America Today. Outlandish, to be sure. But no more so than Kwame Ture on Zionism! I have great difficulty imagining that the Office of the President or any group on campus would provide a dime of funding for such a speech by way of indicating its support for the values of academic freedom, respect, and tolerance. And if an all too prominent figure, such as Pat Buchanan--who unfortunately has substantial support within the electorate, and who has with good reason been suspected of harboring views that easily could be construed as anti-Semitic--were to speak here, I imagine his appearance would spark universal condemnation. Rest assured, I would write the same letter were any such hypothetical case to become reality.
If some student organizations wish to squander their own funds on the likes of Kwame Ture, who am I to stop them? Beyond that, however, there are certain things--racism and anti-Semitism among them--that one cannot equivocate about. One might argue, in the spirit of the Latin tag non olet ("it [money] doesn't smell"), that the provision of funding does not imply support, let alone approbation. To which I respond, tolerance, yes. But support, most certainly not! While there is always room for improvement, Oberlin's record on racial justice is too noble to be frittered away through such dubious compromises in the name of principle. If we were always to act on such principles, we might end up not having any principles at all.
Irving E. Houck Associate Professor in the Humanities
Class Note Confusion
In 1993 we were alarmed and dismayed to find that an unknown person had submitted information about one of us to the "Year by Year" section of the alumni magazine. We assumed that was an isolated incident, but in the Spring 1996 OAM we again discovered a lengthy class note, this time about both of us, that had been submitted anonymously.
We do not appreciate this unexpected (and inaccurate) publicity; the purpose of the class-notes section is to enable alums to tell the Oberlin community about events they deem newsworthy. We do not need or want anonymous help with this task, and we are sure many other Obies feel the same. In fact, we respectfully suggest that the magazine reject submissions that do not include a name and phone number for verification.
And just to set the record straight, we have never directed a show at the Bushnell Theatre in Hartford, let alone on Broadway, and Jessica does not teach in public or private schools.
--Jessica Tam Offir '86
--Corydon J. Carlson '88
Editor's note: The source of the information about Ms. Offir and Mr. Carlson published in the spring issue was a newspaper clipping supplied by Burrell's, a clipping service to which the College's Office of Communication subscribes. Effective with this issue, the OAM will no longer use such previously published material as a source for class notes, unless we are able to secure the alum's approval.
We agree that friends or family members should not submit class notes for others, and we are always on the lookout for items sent by a second party. Such items aren't always easy to catch, and unfortunately we can't check each of the several hundred notes we receive for each issue. But if we have the slightest doubt about the source of a note, we ask the subject's permission before we print.
Return to the OAM Summer 1996 Table of Contents