Zeke Emanuel and the health care debate
Isn’t that amazing! Here I’ve been reading about this guy Ezekiel Emanuel ’79 for weeks and wondering, “Where could he have possibly developed these patrician attitudes?” (Doctors’ offices are too “conveniently located” with too much “parking nearby” and waiting rooms that are too “attractive.”) And here I find it’s my old alma mater, Amherst College (cover story, Summer 2009).
David Kessler ’73, Ezekiel Emanuel—why doesn’t Amherst market itself as the “Home of Famous Bureaucrats”?
I confess I was provoked by the puzzling attack from Mr. Hubert ’60 and Mr. Longsworth ’99 (“Cause for celebration—finally,” Letters, Summer 2009). Fancied institutional hostility to veterans? Fleeing from military obligations? A “shameful” Amherst College culture? Like an unwelcome political harangue at a family Thanksgiving dinner, it is hard not to rise to these insults. Readers from before and after my Vietnam-era class will recognize the odor of a tired, self-righteous rant. But Amherst College is just the foil here, not the issue.
Many Amherst faculty members, students and graduates have courageously protested against recent wars of choice, as some have chosen to courageously serve in those wars: honorable alike in supporting or conscientiously opposing. We should celebrate, not impugn, the integrity and personal courage shown by our Amherst family members on both sides.
After Amherst, I went to Dartmouth to pursue graduate education. At that time Dartmouth had by reputation an even more passionate, dedicated and loyal alumni family than Amherst. But, stirred up by echoes of the political schisms of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, Dartmouth alumni recently attacked each other and their college with the same hateful poison that is now so common on cable news channels. Those attack ads found in your mail in the last week of an election season? Imagine what it is like to receive weekly hate mailings from opposing alumni groups for months, using Dartmouth issues as the foil to ventilate their underlying political differences. Dartmouth’s family has now been shattered, unlikely ever to recover.
Let’s not turn our political differences into reasons to attack each other, or the college.
The sinking of the Grunion
I was riveted by the cover story on the USS Grunion (“Flowers on the Water,” Spring 2009). Few chronicles of search-and-find missions for vessels lost to the dark, silent depths span such a period of time or turn so precisely on what we perceive as serendipitous events over so many continents.
Lt. Cmdr. Abele is one of those special Navy men of the Submarine Service, which, then as today, remains an all-volunteer force. Some 46 submarines were lost during World War II, most with all hands, 39 by known or presumed enemy engagements, others by deadly accidents or friendly fire. The USS Grunion was the third of many sister ships that never returned from patrol.
The nature of the Grunion’s fatal damage may never be known. What brought her to the surface to finish off her prey was most likely the notoriously unreliable MK 14 torpedo’s magnetic detonator. The Grunion’s deck gun was the only alternative. Once on the surface, the submarine (both this World War II boat and the latest Seawolf nuclear-powered vessel) is especially vulnerable. Submarines are simply not designed for surface warfare against armed opponents.
Perhaps that fourth shot, the lethal one, damaged the conning tower hatch, resulting in uncontrollable flooding when she dived to avoid sure annihilation on the surface.
The Navy never knows exactly where or when a submarine is lost at sea—a risk that the submarine community lives with even to this day: intermittent or total radio silence, top secret mission orders, solo patrol operations. As a young ensign, I watched machinist mates from the sub tender weld our emergency buoy hatch to the submarine’s hull to prevent vibration and flow noise which could reveal our position to adversaries. When I asked the engineer how the squadron would ever know if we were lost at sea, he replied, “When we don’t return from patrol on schedule.”
In a sense, it must be a great relief for the surviving relatives to reach closure and honor the service and sacrifice of their loved ones these many decades after that final action in the cold North Pacific. I salute John Abele ’59 for his ability to accomplish what the Department of the Navy was unable to do. But for us alumni of the Submarine Service, our shipmates are never really lost at sea. They are simply “Still on Patrol.”
Submarine Service, USNR (Ret.)
The lyrics are meant as a joke
With all due respect to the letter by Mr. Dupuy ’67 regarding Lord Jeffery Amherst and the College Song (Letters, Spring 2009), I must disagree. I can appreciate that he may have “struggled” with the college’s name and song. However, as every Amherst grad who’s ever performed with the Choral Society knows, the lyrics of the song (“To the Frenchmen and the Indians he didn’t do a thing”) are meant as a joke, in full recognition of the heinous acts committed by the man himself. Rather than being a “bald-faced lie,” the lyrics are comedy and were always intended as such. As for his suggestion that the college may need to adopt a “more honorable name and song,” I think that, if put to a vote, a vast majority of alumni would laugh at such a thought, and rightfully so. Tradition links us to the great Amherst grads who’ve come before, and it helps make the college experience fun. We all need to lighten up a little!
Taking to the oceans
I am pleased to see that, thanks to Henry Parker Hirschel, Amherst is providing practical experience in the application of science, teaching celestial navigation (“Shooting the sun,” College Row, Spring 2009). Nearly 50 years ago, I devised a plan to sail around the world upon graduation from Amherst, recruiting eight of my classmates who would share in the 55-foot schooner I had located as “a real buy.” The astronomy department didn’t have anyone to teach me navigation, but they divulged a room full of cast-off World War II Navy sextants and let me have one for $10. While the original plan fell through (all my buddies dropped out and Harvard Med refused me a deferred entry for such a scheme), I taught myself to use that fine instrument to eventually navigate across the Atlantic, the South China Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. Along with my medical bag and bosun’s kit, the Amherst sextant has landed me numerous opportunities to sail and race seas I never dreamed I’d glimpse. I hope this new course will see Amherst grads taking to the oceans with new fervor and appreciation.
Cape Town, South Africa
The bells of Amherst
I loved your story on the Stearns Steeple (“The First War Memorial,” Winter 2009) and the kudos you’re getting on the new format (Letters, Spring 2009). The letter from William John Davison ’49 says that Tom Wheeler was probably the last to play the bells while the old church was still standing. Probably the first to play the bells after the ensuing church teardown was Dave Underwood ’54. It’s ironic, I think, that the In Memory piece on Dave appeared in the same issue as your article.
Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.
In the last magazine, we asked readers to tell us about alumni working in President Barack Obama’s administration (“Obama’s People,” Summer 2009). Obama has since nominated Amherst Board of Trustees Chairman Jide Zeitlin ’85 to the post of U.S. representative to the United Nations for U.N. management and reform, and Jeffrey Bleich ’83 to serve as U.S. ambassador to Australia. Thanks to the alumnus who told us that Peter Ogden ’96 is chief of staff to the State Department’s special envoy on climate change. Also, Matthew Flavin ’02, originally on our list for his work with the National Security Council legal team, is now director of Veterans and Wounded Warrior Policy for the White House.