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Off the beaten (job) track

Although I’m not a University of Chicago grad, I picked up a copy of your June–August/99 issue and was enchanted by the cover story, “Nice Work.”

What struck me most about people in these “uncommon callings” is the excitement—whether prompted by radioactive containment or chicken wings—that each has for his or her job. It’s certainly a refreshing contrast to my daily meetings with consultants, lawyers, and government workers who take jobs only to enable them to retire after years of working at something that doesn’t interest them.

It’s nice to know that there are more job opportunities than those listed in the Washington Post classifieds.

Sylvia Shaz
Washington, D.C.

A simple lesson

With regard to Professor Peter Novick’s article, “Atrocity’s Yardstick” (June–August/99): After presenting a number of “lessons”—reflections on the import to humanity in modernity of the Holocaust by such notables as Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, President Bush, and commentator George Will—the professor states, “The problem with most of these lessons is not that they’re wrong but that they are empty, and not very useful.” He further opines that the average American need only look about her community to see that modern man is capable of atrocities, as she witnesses both rape and murder, in news footage if not in person. What, then, is the usefulness of the Holocaust as a yardstick of atrocity to modern inquirers?

The “usefulness” is in recognizing that the Holocaust defines not only what individual man is capable of, but also of what collected men are capable; both those who commit, and those who sit idly and only observe. From the Nigerian civil war to the Balkan conflict, and certainly including the Holocaust, man’s cruelty is beget by his number in relation to those he persecutes, squared by a factor of general ambivalence. Cruelty becomes atrocity when it is prevalent, systemic, and fostered by power and majoritarian indifference.

So to the average American, and to Professor Novick, I would advise one simple lesson be learned: observe the timid, the weak, the downtrodden minority, for following after those few will be the great many to replay for you the lesson of the Holocaust.

R. Warren Pinkerton, MPP’98

Missing the point?

The person on your staff who wrote the “summary” immediately beneath the title of Peter Novick’s piece obviously did not read the article first.

Novick clearly documents America’s continuing inability “ mobilize public opinion and stir the government to action” on post-WWII genocides utilizing a Holocaust imagery.

As Novick sadly concluded, “...a ritualized reminder of expectations and aspirations [regarding the Holocaust are] now tacitly abandoned.”

Morrie Blumberg, AM’68
Albuquerque, New Mexico

One lesson: remember

Peter Novick’s article made several good points. Yes, we do use the Jewish Holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s and Hitler’s name as bywords for atrocities, for inhumanity, for evil incarnate. Since then, we have said “never again” and done nothing so many times that I agree with the commentator he quoted as saying, “Never again would Germans kill Jews in Europe in the 1940s.”

The first genocide, i.e., organized attempted extermination of a people by modern means, was the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire in 1915–1923. Preoccupied with the Great War and its aftermath, the Great Powers wrung their hands and sent some aid to “the starving Armenians.” Yet, nobody thought of taking action against a sovereign country, even one allied with the Central Powers with which the Allies were at war.

Hitler noticed that. He said, “Who remembers the Armenians today?”—a quotation on the wall of the Holocaust memorial. These days, when I have even heard a Holocaust survivor say it was wrong to bomb Milosevic’s Serbia because “it’s a sovereign country, no matter what it has done,” I am tempted to ask if we truly remember the Holocaust either.

Ann Lousin, JD’68

Moral dilemmas abound

First, I want to thank you for printing the very enlightening article by Peter Novick. There has been so much loose and uninformed talk about our post-war “holocausts” that needs a clear and objective response.

Second, the author has been scrupulous about not overstating what outside nations might have done about the atrocities he discussed. There is a great moral dilemma concerning our obligation (let alone ability) to intervene in these instances of great human carnage, viz. Somalia. However, there is little doubt that the United States can do more in relief of human suffering without becoming embroiled in foreign or tribal wars.

In addition to more humanitarian aid, we should support greater efforts in population planning and birth control. The pressure of too many people on limited resources is one source of the strains that erupt in these civil conflagrations. Further, our immigration policies are guided by political rather than humanitarian (or even national interest) considerations. What is the sense of allowing immigration for family reunification, which can be continued ad infinitum, when more needy and worthy candidates are prevented from entry?

As a sidebar, this scandalous immigration policy was amply demonstrated just before WWII when a boatload of Jews from Germany was refused entry to the US and wound up back in German concentration camps!

Bill Kamin, PhB’47
Menlo Park, California

From the Editor
A number of people objected to our decision to publish one particular letter in the October/99 issue. Written by two alumni, the letter--which we entitled "Holocaust as Poltical Industry"--prompted many responses, including phone calls, e-mails, and faxes from a dozen alumni. Four of these letters were published in the December/99 issue (

Choosing to publish the letter was a difficult decision. Generally, it is our policy, when the opinions expressed are controversial, to err on the side of free speech. In adhering to that policy, however, we in no way desire to print letters that promote, either overtly or in coded language, negative and hurtful stereotypes. Clearly, this letter failed that test. We erred and we apologize.

Holocaust as political industry

Peter Novick asserts that the Holocaust has desensitized us to other genocides, but stops short of asking who invented the Holocaust in the first place. Who decided to capitalize the noun “holocaust” and transform genocide into a political weapon and fund-raising tool?

In America, which had little to do with the event itself, there is an ever-growing Holocaust industry in academia. There is a Holocaust publishing industry and a Holocaust Hollywood. There are Holocaust museums and memorials trying to make concrete what might otherwise become dated and ephemeral. And there is the Holocaust-promoting chorus of wealthy and influential American Jews who make sure we never forget.

“Never forgetting” is the best way to intensify the collective guilt on the part of America’s Christian majority and boost the Holocaust industry’s favorite political cause—the state of Israel. Guilt, laced with liberally dispensed charges of anti-Semitism for opponents and sweetened with a heavy sprinkling of PAC money, has made the Israel-firsters masters of the executive and legislative branches. Easy and often exclusive access to the media shapes public opinion. And at the end there is a pot of gold: unlimited political and military support plus $6 billion in U.S. taxpayer–provided annual aid to a country that is one of the richest on earth.

Nazis killing Jews has become the paradigm for modern-day genocide, but the Holocaust is hardly unique in the 20th century, which affords numerous examples of mass killing. The politics of mass murder nowadays, as practiced by dictators and democrats alike, is all about killing people with words before you actually shoot them. Perversely, the Holocaust is used to justify killing yet more people; i.e., to “prevent another Holocaust.”

As Novick notes, George Bush didn’t really cite the Holocaust to “disabuse us of Enlightenment illusions about man.” He wanted to suggest that men can be evil to justify the bloodshed in the war against Iraq. Nor was George Will debunking the Renaissance illusion that “ becomes better as he becomes more clever.”

George is a realist who appreciates the use of force majeure, as long as it is not used against him or his friends. And then there’s Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate high priest of the Holocaust. Never once has Wiesel spoken out against Israel’s deplorable treatment of the Palestinians. It’s okay to kick an Arab, but never a Jew, and if we keep on reminding the world that the Nazis killed a lot of Jews, we can continue to kick Arabs and no one will say anything.
Rwandans, Biafrans, and Somalis are even lower on the scale than Arabs, and there are fewer journalists standing around watching how you treat them. Why intervene to save them? The Third World is descending into chaos, and they’ll only be fighting again before the week is out.

In short, can anyone deny that most invocations of the Holocaust are cynical and bogus? The Holocaust promoters understand that if you keep saying the same thing over and over again everyone will eventually believe it; i.e., that the Holocaust is the greatest evil in history and justifies special breaks not only for its survivors, but also for their descendants and co-religionists.

Perhaps what is truly unique about the Holocaust is the ability of its exploiters to preemptively silence their critics. Surely within the University of Chicago community there must be many who recognize that the Holocaust industry has gone too far, that the Holocaust is far from being the central event of the century, and that its message of an exclusivity in suffering—serving to promote a Zionist agenda—is dubious at best. But the open expression of such views might be unwise. It is safer to remain silent.

Philip M. Giraldi, AB’68
Purcellville, Virginia
John K. Taylor, AB’69
Fort Worth, Texas

Presidential qualities

I suggest the following criteria for choosing the next president (“Chicago Journal,” June–August/99):

(1) The new president must have a well- articulated understanding of the aims of liberal education and the civilizing mission of the University of Chicago. He or she must not be a captive of the fashionable skepticisms and relativisms of our time. He or she must instead have the optimistic vision and fervor of a Robert Maynard Hutchins.

(2) The new president must be an effective fund-raiser. He or she must be someone people want to hear and who can persuade an audience to support his or her vision.

(3) The new president must both understand the necessity for economies and also recognize the primacy of the aims of education over economics. Economics assumes that one can recognize a good when one sees it, and then shows one how to produce or obtain that good most efficiently. Economics cannot tell us what is a good. In our case, economics cannot tell us what is civilization, what is liberal education, and why the U of C has a civilizing mission.

In the words of Robert Maynard Hutchins, “It is sad but true that when an institution determines to do something in order to get money, it [may] lose its soul, and frequently does not get the money...I do not mean, of course, that universities do not need money and that they should not try to get it. I mean only that they should have an educational policy and then try to finance it, instead of letting financial accidents determine their educational policy.”

Robert L. Stone, JD’82, PhD’86

Judged by one’s company

Your June–August/99 issue (“Chicago Journal”) reminded me of how chagrined and embarrassed I was to learn this spring that Bill Clinton had chosen the University of Chicago as one of the institutions whose commencement ceremony he would spoil. Thankfully, I am a graduate of the Law School, not the College, but I felt violated nonetheless. Couldn’t the University at least have informed the White House that it had already made other plans?

Please don’t tell me that it’s a matter of respecting the office, not its inhabitant, for Bill Clinton has disrespected the office more than any of the rest of us ever could. Wholly apart from his so-called “personal” misbehavior, he has shamed himself and embarrassed the nation by continually and flagrantly lying to the American people about matters both large and small. At the same time, he has disrespected the judiciary and violated his oath of office by lying under oath in the presence of a judge, to the officers of the court, and to a federal grand jury.

I do not condemn those recent graduates who shook his hand—at their age I might well have done the same—but I do salute the principled young men and women who had the temerity, the courage, and the self-respect to show their disdain for this most arrogant, hypocritical, and deviant occupant of the Oval Office.

I hope that the next time a President of the United States invites himself to commencement, the University gives some thoughts to that person’s qualifications as an individual and a scholar, and not just to the office that the President temporarily holds in trust for the American people.

David L. Applegate, JD’78

Light(er) reading

As a Law School graduate, I’d like to draw your attention to the oeuvre of James Stewart Thayer, JD’74, who lives in Seattle, Washington. Jim has written a number of novels, starting with The Hess Cross, which he began while in law school, and which features the U of C campus. No alumni should be without one of Jim’s novels for his or her personal collection.

I generally read the Magazine but don’t recall seeing any mention of Jim’s works. I think readers should be informed that they can combine loyalty to their school with the opportunity for a good read that may be a little bit lighter than, some of the (no doubt worthy but) more scholarly works that regularly appear in “Books by Alumni.”

Lane Wharton, JD’74
Raleigh, North Carolina

The Magazine relies upon the kindness of alumni to let us know about books written, changes made, etc. Thanks for writing.—Ed.

The case of the missing emeriti

As an alumna and member of the Emeritus Class of the 1999 reunion, I am writing to express my disappointment after reading the last issue of the Magazine. There were pictures of many of the classes but not one of any of the emeritus classes (1929–1944). The photographer did a beautiful job on the picture they sent me, but not a mention of it. After all, those of us who were present had to put forth a lot of effort to get there as age does take its toll.

I must say say I was treated well while there, but it would have been nice to have been mentioned in the Magazine.

Muriel Winters, SB’34, MAT’38
Phoenix, Arizona

Some constants, some changes

Thank you for the feature “A Day in the Life of the College” (June–August/99). The photos of Burton Court and the lecture hall in Kent brought back many pleasant memories. My freshman dorm room, 781 Burton, looked out at precisely that view, and in subsequent years I occupied various rooms in the 500 and 600 entries, until the dormitories were taken over by the military in 1942. And the Kent lecture hall, though not furnished with the colorful floor covering, looks much the same as when Professor Herman Irving Schlesinger lectured to my freshman chemistry class.

A startling difference is reflected in the article “Tuition and Other Changes” on the preceding page: in 1938, quarterly tuition was $100, and the luxurious life in Burton-Judson cost $150 per quarter.

Thomas J. Madden, SB’42, MD’44
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

One change for the worse

A “concentrator”? When I first came across this term in the June–August/99 issue (“A Day in the Life of the College”), I realized very quickly that it was a strange term for “major”—longer and awkward—but still understandable. But, to my horror, I found the term being used repeatedly with “major” being totally rejected. Pardon me if I still insist that I was a major in mathematics and not a concentrator.

Roy Dubisch, SB’38, SM’40, PhD’43
Mount Vernon, Washington

The College’s official term for “major” is indeed “concentrator.”—Ed.

Getting our priorities straight

Regarding “Hair Tomorrow?” (“Investigations,” February/99): You write that “Elaine Fuchs heads a research team whose work may lead to a cure for baldness.” Since when has baldness been considered a disease that needs a cure? One hopes that the 30 million balding men in the U.S. don’t consider themselves sick. Men here in Zimbabwe are dying of AIDS, not worrying about balding. Let’s get our terms and priorities straight, and recognize that normal aging processes do not need “cures,” and any research for a “cure” for baldness has nothing to do with health but everything to do with wealth.

Ana K. Gobledale, AM’77
Plumtree, Zimbabwe

Now, can we lowercase the “U”?

Lowercasing the “the” in the University of Chicago’s name (“Letters,” June–August/99)—along with the names of many other universities, newspapers, magazines, etc.—in general copy was a change introduced in the 12th edition (1969) of the Manual of Style. One of the broad policies of that edition was to recommend (note that the Chicago Manual has never in its 93-year history dictated anything) the simplest, most natural styles then in use.

It may be noted, however, that every University of Chicago Press book bears on its copyright page the notice “© [date] by The University of Chicago,” because that is indeed the University’s corporate name.

Bruce Young
Highland Park, Illinois

The Magazine invites letters on its contents or on topics related to the University. Letters must be signed and may be edited. Write: Editor, University of Chicago Magazine, 1313 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637. E-mail:

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