Letters to the Editor

Our readers respond

Meaning and Memory

I read with interest Ali Frick’s excellent article on Memorial Hall (“The Mingled Dust of Both Armies,” September/October). Much of the Yale population walks through it nearly every day, but many do not seem to recognize its significance. It would appear that Maya Lin [’81, ’86MArch] did, since her Vietnam Veterans Memorial echoes it so clearly.

As Ms. Frick’s article makes clear, Yale recognized its Confederate veterans along with those who fought for the Union. But Yale has never allowed the names of its Loyalist veterans from the American Revolution to be inscribed on the walls of Memorial Hall. Most unfortunate.

Brooks Mather Kelley ’53
Guilford, CT

The writer, a former university archivist at Yale, is author of the book Yale: A History.—Eds.


While your article on Yale’s Civil War memorial was helpful in understanding the origins of the memorial, I cannot agree with the author’s view that inclusion of the names of the Confederate war dead and the failure to mention slavery or emancipation at that site “shrouds the causes of the great war in darkness, giving way to the national determination to forget.”

The memorial does not commemorate the Civil War. It memorializes only the loss of 114 Union dead and 54 Confederate dead who attended Yale College. By listing them together, the memorial notes the service of these men and their deaths, not the righteousness of the cause for which they fought. There thus seems little evidence that the memorial, as the author claims, promotes “the tendency to forgetfulness that makes today’s political battles more contentious, that insists that both sides were righteous, that overlooks the central role played by the question of human bondage.” If anything, the memorial keeps us from forgetting the human cost of war.

Yale’s memorial now includes the names of those who died in many conflicts besides the Civil War, including the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, and the Vietnam War, in which I participated. These conflicts have often been viewed as unjustly pursued by our nation. It would be unfortunate if none of those who died in those wars, and only those who fought and died while pursuing unquestionably righteous causes, were to be remembered by their university.

William G. Cole ’65
Vienna, VA


Why did my great-great-grandfather Daniel Smith leave his family and fight in the Alabama cavalry from Fort Pickens to Johnston’s surrender? He was a slaveholder who left his brother Malcolm (Yale Class of 1844) in charge of his Alabama plantation. No doubt he supported slavery and white supremacy. But letters between him and Amelia, his wife, make plain that he joined his local cavalry for honor, a now nearly incomprehensible virtue. He believed his society had the right of self-determination, and when they went to war to defend that right he thought he was obligated to go with them. Afterward, like all soldiers at all times, he fought not for ideology, but for his comrades. He came home in 1865, shattered in health, a widower with five children. Two years later he died, and Uncle Malcolm raised his family for him.

What shall I say of him? He fought nobly in an ignoble cause. And what of his Yale comrades-in-arms? The same. Yale was right a century ago to honor the common sacrifice of her sons North and South, to seek to anneal the bitter division of region and war. Perhaps indeed “romance triumphed over reality,” but the unity it engendered enabled us to lead the Western democracies safely through the perils of the twentieth century.

But I think your article is quite wrong about the contemporary understanding of the Civil War and its Yale memorial. Few thinking people fail to understand that the defense of slavery was at the war’s core. One cannot stand in the rotunda of Woolsey Hall without absorbing its great lesson that such fundamental human virtues as honor, courage, devotion, and self-sacrifice can be tragically misapplied by otherwise good men in the service of the darkest of ideologies.

Malcolm Pearson ’78
Medina, TN


I appreciate your informative and illuminating article about Yale’s Civil War memorial, with its careful, expert photography by Christopher Gardner. It is helpful to know that some of our nation’s persistent amnesia about the central cause of the Civil War is partly the result of later Northern sentiments, as enshrined there in the roll of Yale’s Civil War dead.

One small addition may be of interest. The now virtually illegible verse on the memorial’s floor, ending with “Love and tears for the Blue;/ Tears and love for the Gray” is the final stanza of a once well-known poem called “The Blue and the Gray,” written by Francis Miles Finch, Yale Class of 1849. It can be read in its entirety at civilwarhome.com/blueandgray.htm.

Don Chatfield ’56
Claremont, CA


Yale’s Civil War memorial is unique not only because it lists those Yale men who died in service to either side, but because it provides such a wealth of information and can cause one to go searching for more. By taking a few minutes to read those names, the reader learns that five Yale men died on the battlefield at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, and that two of them were classmates in the class of 1858. Three were fighting for the Confederacy and two for the Union. Because the practice at the time was to have white officers lead “colored” Union troops, numerous Yale men served in that capacity. The memorial gives the names of six Yale men who died with “colored” units, and I have been able to identify a total of 40 Yale men who so served.

For anyone interested in the Civil War, I heartily recommend Professor David Blight’s wonderful course, The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845–1877, which is available free online at: oyc.yale.edu/history. I will forever be grateful to him for igniting my interest in Yale men in the Civil War.

Myles H. Alderman ’58
North Haven, CT


Ali Frick acknowledges that Yale’s Civil War memorial aided the spirit of reconciliation between the North and South at the time of its dedication in 1915, but criticizes the memorial for forgetting what the war was about and for wrongly suggesting that “devotion alone made everyone right, and no one truly wrong in the remembered Civil War.”

These concerns are misplaced.

The list of names in Yale’s memorial does prompt the viewer to ponder anew the causes and consequences of our greatest national tragedy. Moreover, reconciliation presupposes forgiveness, and true forgiveness does not include dwelling on old grievances. So the committee that created the memorial placed it on sound ethical and moral grounds.

But what of today? In many states, Civil War sesquicentennial commissions are hearing, once again, the familiar stories of the North and the South. Commission meetings also discuss civilly new interpretations of the causes and consequences of the war.

And now, for the first time, we are hearing the stories of the third great group of Civil War stakeholders, the African American community. In the process, we are more concerned with understanding what people thought than praise or blame. We are reminded that the Constitution, binding on North and South alike, perpetuated the curse of slavery by protecting it as property. Prewar, both Northern states and constitutional law experts flirted with secession as a constitutional right. The Holy Bible itself condoned slavery. Robert E. Lee could be excused for regarding John Brown as a pathological murderer, bent on joining 5,000 like-minded volunteers to ravage Virginia. For their part, African Americans have reminded us of Lincoln’s view in 1864 that but for the service of tens of thousands of African American volunteers, the Union could “no longer maintain the contest.” We are further reminded that not only was the Union not truly right, but truly wrong, in treating African Americans as second class citizens or worse throughout the Civil War, and for another 100 years until the Civil Rights era.

What Yale needs to do is to repair the inscriptions on its Civil War Memorial, keep them visible, and teach its students not only to respect the reconciliation the memorial espouses, but to try to understand why their imperfect forebears thought as they did.

Stuart Symington Jr. ’50
St. Louis, MO


George Wallace at Yale

While Gaddis Smith rightly notes that Kingman Brewster’s refusal to allow George Wallace to speak on campus in 1963 was an important moment in the history of free speech at Yale (“What Can We Say?” July/August), the fact is that hundreds of Yale students heard Wallace speak anyway.

After the brouhaha at Yale, the Harvard Young Democrats, perhaps to prove a point, invited Wallace to speak a few weeks later, on November 4. The speech, to a packed hall in Cambridge, was broadcast live to the Yale and New Haven communities by WYBC, along with an exclusive interview in which Wallace spoke of his disappointment that a great university had failed to honor the concept of free speech in America. (I was chairman of the Yale Broadcasting Company at the time.)

The next morning, the New Haven Journal-Courier gave both the speech and the WYBC broadcast front-page treatment. Editors at the Yale Daily News also heard the speech via the YBC airwaves, but failed to mention the exclusive interview in their story the next afternoon. It seems that free speech wasn’t the only concept given short shrift in this incident.

Joel Levitch ’64
New York, NY


Students and fear

As an alumnus, father of an alumna, and retired Yale administrator, I still can’t for the life of me understand why the chanters of “No means yes; yes means anal” weren’t summarily expelled along with the fraternity leaders who put them up to it (“Confusion and Silence,” July/August). In the same issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine in which Julie Wong ’86 and other alumni of various eras agree that Yale too often is paralyzed by “the knotty problem of free speech” (Letters, September/October), the topic for the issue’s regular Q&A with Rick Levin is “Corporate Funding for Medical Science.” Something is out of kilter here. No one can dispute that President Levin is a masterful administrator who has built a monster of an institution, but perhaps he needs to pay more attention to the people part of this institution and less to the latest awe-inspiring project.

A few years ago, I listened to a speech by the president of one of New England’s top liberal arts institutions, who was talking to a group of alumni about his “priorities.” Late on a Sunday night, he said, after returning from a hectic week of fund-raising and meetings in Washington, his doorbell rang. His wife answered the door and returned to tell him that there was a student at the door crying. The president said his first reaction was annoyance. He was tired and, after all, “dealing with distraught students was the job of the counseling office.” But, at his wife’s urging, he got up and went to the door. It turned out that the roommate of the crying student had just taken her own life, and the hysterical student didn’t know where else to turn. “That woke me up,” the president said. “Students are young and vulnerable, and they are the reason I got into this business.”

No young undergraduate should be put in fear by drunk upperclassmen telling her she can’t say “no” to a sexual advance. President Levin should have no greater priority than ensuring a campus environment free of fear. And the way to achieve that is to react with outrage to outrageous student behavior. Finding corporate funding for medical science comes second.

David Hilyard ’63
Suffield, CT


Anti-Semitism here and now

It is amusing that the recent issue devoted so much attention to the charge that Yale, the home of political correctness, is a hostile environment for women, while it buried in a brief article (“Anti-Semitism Research Center Is Closed,” July/August) the serious scandal of the abolition of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA).

As a retired faculty member at a nearby university, I attended many of the YIISA programs and found them current, stimulating, and for the most part scholarly. That some Yale faculty and outsiders objected to their focus on contemporary anti-Semitic developments in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States speaks more to the underlying hostility to considering the discrimination, persecution, and double standards used against Israel and the Jewish people than it does to the alleged lack of academic quality of the YIISA effort.

Covering up its submission to the anti-Semites, the university has announced a “new scholarly enterprise” that will study anti-Semitism at a safe, historical distance. Yale and its students will no longer have a place where they can learn about new movements in Poland or Austria or recent pronouncements in Iran, but they will presumably be exposed to deep scholarship on what happened to Jews in medieval France.

YIISA was accused of being too ideological, but it is difficult to forget that a certain racist ideology managed to destroy the Yiddish culture and civilization of Central Europe and kill millions of its members. There are those who are promoting a renewal of this hideous program. Is there a non-ideological approach to these matters?

Incidentally, my daughter is an alumna, and I am concerned about the welfare of women at Yale.

Morton Tenzer ’54
New Haven, CT


A class called Spies and Lies

Your article on Yale spy novelists (“Spymasters,” September/October) discussed Yale’s real-life ties to espionage but neglected the prominent role of political science professor H. Bradford Westerfield ’47. Starting in 1957, he took pride in being the first professor in higher education to emphasize the role of intelligence in world affairs. His courses (Conduct and Control of American Foreign Relations, Introduction to International Relations) were so popular that they were often moved to the Law School auditorium. In the mid-’70s he added a special course on intelligence that drew over 400 students each year. It was nicknamed “Spies and Lies.”

Professor Westerfield had a special relationship with the CIA, spending several weeks each June at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The CIA selected Westerfield to prepare a 512-page book entitled Inside CIA’s Private World (Yale University Press, 1995) in which he drew on materials that had been classified “secret” for four decades.

He also counseled students who were considering a career in international relations. I need hardly add that hundreds of his students gravitated to Washington, including a president, vice president, two CIA directors, senators, congressmen, ambassadors—and generations of unnamed CIA operatives.

Putney Westerfield ’51
Hillsborough, CA

The writer is a brother to Professor Westerfield, who died in 2008.—Eds.


The “headwinds” black men face

In “Before their Time” (May/June), Ron Howell ’70 candidly reveals the unfortunate and early mortality of our African American male brethren matriculating between 1964 and 1970.

Despite the noted election of an African American male president, black males, particularly those in positions of actual or apparent authority, all too often report formidable headwinds within the institutions they serve—even with the armor of a Yale degree. Many significant achievements prevail over these headwinds, which with time most certainly impact physical, psychological, and family well-being.

I fervently wish this were not the case, but for now it continues to be a recurring theme in numerous conversations amongst professional black men. Whatever the solution may be, when any identifiable segment of our population—with or without a Yale degree—is not tapped to its full potential, or only at a debilitating cost, we all lose. From wherever we sit, this is worthy of a continuing dialogue.

David M. Fields ’79
Birmingham, AL


Value vs. values

I was disappointed by the US Trust ad inside the front cover of your September/October issue. Can it possibly be true that Yale is a university most of whose graduates feel “anxiety” that their children will not “be able to handle an inheritance,” and who believe that our children need help so they can “grow the assets they stand to inherit” and are able to “carry on the values” that helped “earn that wealth in the first place?” Even among Yale graduates who have earned enough to make the question relevant, one would hope most have considerably larger and more inclusive goals for their children than expanding an inherited asset base and further developing acquisitive values.

I believe in success, in sharing some of the fruits of that success with our children, and in the importance of stewardship. But this ad seems wholly innocent of (or insensitive to) the broader values that those educated in the tradition of light and truth celebrate. No doubt there are magazines that could comfortably live with ads aimed so single-mindedly at the self-regarding. Somehow, I don’t think the Yale Alumni Magazine should be one of them.

Bill Andersen ’58LLM
Seattle, WA


“Twain” disses Wagner

Fred Shapiro discusses quotes misattributed to Mark Twain (“You Can Quote Them,” September/October). My favorite is “Wagner’s operas aren’t really as bad as they sound.” Did Twain write or say this one?

John F. Battick ’54
Dover-Foxcroft, ME

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