Levit and patriotism
a student of Martin Levit, SB'40, AM'47, PhD'49, I was amused
to see him (a Big Ten best scholar-athlete and veteran with two
Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, and the Navy Cross) used in a
letter from Francis T. Davis, SB'47 ("Letters," August/01) as
a counterpoint in the ongoing discussion resulting from the April/01
story on Karl Meyer. My amusement comes from doing a reading program
with Marty on Marxism as a philosophy of science as an undergraduate
at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. I recall appreciating
the first chapter of his dissertation on the Soviet educational
system for its thoughtful and not unsympathetic analysis of dialectical
materialism. When I called Davis's letter to the attention of
Marty's daughter, Nancy, a law professor at UMKC, she wrote back
so movingly that I prefer to quote her verbatim:
are absolutely right that he would have been appalled at being
held up as an example of proper patriotism in its traditional,
non-radical sense. I absolutely concur that a response might be
instructive: not to preserve his good name (about that he wouldn't
care), but to give one final lecture on the appropriate, aspirational
meaning of patriotism.
"During his time at Chicago Marty was proud to have been politically
active in the workers movement as part of a socialist party. Before
Marty volunteered for the Marines (Raider Division, Tiger Battalion),
he contemplated becoming a conscientious objector. After WWII
(and after teaching at Command Staff School at Quantico for two
years), Marty devoted his life to peace works: Nuclear Weapons
Freeze Coalition, Common Cause, Veterans for Peace, the American
Civil Liberties Union, World Federalists, the Interfaith Peace
Alliance, American Friends Service Committee, Gay & Lesbian Alliance
Against Defamation, and the Human Rights Project. In his last
five years he worked to get ROTC programs out of high schools.
He believed they trained impressionable teenagers in unthinking
conformity and militarism. Indeed on Veterans Day in the year
he died, he went into his grandson's school to talk with the elementary
students about the ways war is unduly glorified and the idea that
we must, individually and collectively, work toward cooperation
and understanding to avoid conflicts and wars.
"From what you have said about Meyer, Marty would have applauded
his activities. Marty's brand of patriotism would have said that
the best ways to work for the good of the country are to embrace
the visions of the original, more radical, patriots (think Boston
Tea Party) who could envision a more egalitarian, peaceful, liberty-and-tolerance
promoting country-not one steeped in military traditions or awards.
Marty's military honors meant very little to him. He used to refer
to his Purple Hearts as 'awards for being in the wrong place at
the right time-twice.'"
I left Chicago to work in factories and on the railroad as a political
activist, I took some heart from Marty's understanding and support.
While he warmly welcomed me back to academia a decade and a half
later, neither of us thought that interlude had been time wasted.
Let this fuller picture of Marty Levit serve as a contribution
not only to the discussion about Karl Meyer, but as Nancy Levit
aptly puts it, "a richer discussion of the ideas and ideals learned
at the University."
Kim Kleinman, AM'79
St. Louis, Missouri