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Martin Levit and patriotism

As 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:

"You 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.'"

When 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

  OCTOBER 2001

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