The recently issued quinquennial reunion Report of Harvard ‘s Class of 1967 holds a key to understanding how and why the U.S. government gets a free ride to conduct foreign policy without bothersome questioning from citizen activists. Read on….
Harvard 45th Reunion Class Report and the Conduct of U.S. Foreign Policy
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
In what follows I propose to take the recently issued quinquennial reunion Class Report of Harvard College/Radcliffe alumni this 45th year following the graduation of the Class of 1967 as a stand-in for the ‘Weltanschauung’ of America’s elites in order to examine a conundrum of American governance: why our neo-imperialist foreign policy is on auto-pilot and answerable to no one.
Justifications for choosing precisely this college and precisely this Class Report are ready to hand. Harvard is the icon of American higher education and the College is its acknowledged nucleus. The 45th anniversary Report covers the period when most of the cohort is at the height of its powers, meaning classmates are very often presiding over their professional associations at regional or national level, enjoying the plaudits of their peers and preparing to move on into semi or full retirement. Personal ambitions have been fulfilled. The most common concluding remark to the entries is “Life is good.”
This year’s ‘red book’ of the Class of 1967 provides ample proof that alumni long ago internalized the values of ‘noblesse oblige.’ Although a minority of financial services practitioners, lawyers and businessmen among them speak only of professional and family achievements, of their golf handicap and trout fishing expeditions, a far greater number mention the charitable work they are involved in. Pro bono activities from their career days are being replaced by unpaid executive positions in NGOs as they enter semi-retirement.
The Harvard Class of 1967 is not immune to the waves of social change sweeping the country at large over the past 45 years. Gays came out of the closet a decade or two ago, and the latest entries now have moved on to reporting their same sex marriages, the pairing of homosexual offspring, the arrival of in vitro conceived children among lesbian daughters. The more mundane incidence of divorce among the straight classmates who constitute the overwhelming majority has also ticked up, although many of the Class of 1967 pay tribute to their spouses of 40+ years. And the single common denominator of all is the expression of delight over the arrival of grandchildren or step-grandchildren, for whom they babysit with great indulgence. Post-retirement house moves are being planned not so much with the sun in mind as for proximity to the children and grandchildren.
I mention these personal traits and values merely to establish that the cohort is public minded, generous in spirit and embodies the country’s best moral values whatever the religious orientation of the nearly 600 respondents (from a combined Harvard-Radcliffe population of 1,600 at graduation). The distribution of professions is skewed towards public service, with a particularly large number of the Class of 1967 engaged in the field of education, mainly higher education, though also in secondary schools. With the approach of retirement, this category has in fact risen as practitioners of other professions leave active service and are welcomed into university teaching for their life experience. The second most prominent field of activity has been health care and medical research.
Class reports have a format designed to capture key information such as home and work address, family status and the like, but are otherwise free form and open ended. Given that 2012 has been the year of a hotly contested US presidential election, it is not surprising that several of the Class of 1967 used the print space made available to them to express their wish for the election’s outcome. A considerably greater number, perhaps 10% of all respondents, used their space to decry the toxic partisanship which has taken hold in American politics, the ideological rigidities and stubbornness which supplanted pragmatism and prevent reaching solutions to the nation’s social and economic woes.
So far, so good. The problem posed and indeed the driver of this essay is that not one of the 600 or so respondents mentioned international affairs as a matter of concern, let alone questioned the relationship between US foreign policy and the world’s hot spots about which each of us reads in the daily media.
This is not to say that the Class of 1967 is oblivious to the wider world outside U.S. borders. But that wider world appears in the alumni reports mainly as a venue for entertaining travel and secondarily as a work site for their or their children’s charitable activities in the Peace Corps tradition which was launched during their own College days by the Kennedy administration. In this regard, some classmates have spent semesters in foreign countries teaching at universities, all of which is, of course, very laudable though not in itself any sort of challenge to American conventional wisdom.
Every rule has its exceptions. Two of the respondents from the Class of 1967 list diplomatic service as their present circumstances. One has been rather innocently enjoying the pleasures of a patronage appointment to the embassy in Norway in return for her husband’s electoral assistance to the incumbent President in 2008. The other is a more serious case: the prominent implementer of US economic warfare against Russia in the energy sphere during the Clinton and Obama administrations, Richard Morningstar, who this past summer was confirmed by the Senate as US Ambassador to Azerbaijan. In an essay entitled “Letter to a Wayward Classmate” which I published in this space in May, 2009, I detailed at length how the policy line guiding Morningstar’s work was making the world a much less safe place.
In case my questioning the total silence of the Class of 1967 over American inputs into the highly volatile, conflict-ridden and murderous present course of international relations should seem arbitrary to some readers, allow me to explain the reason why the standards to which this cohort is held accountable must include activism as opposed to silent acquiescence over the direction of US foreign policy.
It is essential to bear in mind that the defining issue which formed the Class of 1967 was the Vietnam War. It was the gullibility of their parents’ generation in accepting the Tonkin Gulf resolution of Congress and the lies of the Lyndon Johnson Administration, mostly in the person of its ‘best and brightest’ cabinet members from Harvard, which made prosecution of that horrendous war possible and forced the decision of each and every member of the Class of 1967 to seek safe havens from the draft in various service niches within the armed forces with or without familial help, to claim conscientious objector status and enter alternative public service, to turn in their draft cards and resist the drumbeats of war or to quit the country altogether. All of these paths were taken and ultimately greatly shaped not merely the consciousness but also the careers and life achievements of Harvard’s Class of 1967, just as they did the rest of the nation’s youth.
Knowing all of this, it is sad, even tragic for those who would like to believe in the improvability of the human condition that the Class Reports of Harvard ’67 close the book on citizen activism with respect to U.S. foreign policy and give the Administration in power a free ride.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2012
G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. His latest book,Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12, is available in paperback from Amazon.com and affiliated websites worldwide. An e-book edition will be issued shortly.