Current Campus

Thank you, Amherst, for showing (in the Summer 2017 issue) the reach, inclusiveness and diversity of today’s College. I would have loved attending the school presented there.

Jim Bender ’61
Klamath Falls, Ore. 

China’s One-Child Policy

Thank you for publishing “Only Time Will Tell,” by Katharine Whittemore, about the research by anthropology professor Vanessa Fong ’96 on the lives of only children born under China’s one-child policy (cover story, Summer 2017). 

At a reunion a decade or so ago, I had the opportunity to address my Amherst class on the topic of industrialization of the People’s Republic of China, with the credentials of having developed an industrial markets strategic plan for my employer. This plan was implemented by the first wholly owned foreign company on the mainland.  

In that presentation, I asserted that the one-child policy, by limiting population growth, was necessary for development, and that it would save China from having hundreds of millions being born into poverty. I pointed out that the policy would tip the gender balance in favor of males, would result in these children having to provide support for parents and grandparents without help from siblings, and would eventually
create a labor shortage. 

I was pleased to learn from your article that “singletons,” as only children are described, are likely to go to college and hold professional jobs. I am pleased that the government has recently chosen to terminate the one-child policy; it has had the intended effect and now can be lifted.

Arthur E. Higinbotham ’58 
St. Paul, Minn.

As a psychoanalyst who has taught and done therapy with Chinese nationals as part of a psychoanalytic program using media like Skype, I am impressed by what Professor Fong’s study of children reared under China’s one-child policy revealed about changes in attitude about gender equality and the importance of high achievement among women. I am equally intrigued by what she did not study about the children but is implied. What are the psychological effects and relational consequences of being the center of parental aspirations (“a world of ‘little suns’”) and not having to share parental attention and an interpersonal world with siblings?

The single reference to this issue, clearly intended as a biographical aside to the important research itself, states that Fong decided not to get married and have children because her impressively successful career was more important, a decision couched as though it were a logical either/or choice. It leads me to speculate about another research project. Might it be, for example, that what began as an onerous legislative restriction on parental freedom might inadvertently be perpetuated as a willful expression of freedom by the children of the very parents who wanted but were not allowed to have more offspring? 

Michael Robbins ’55, M.D. 

Amherst magazine summer 2017 cover

The Gewertz Effect 

What a pleasure it was to read about Vanessa Fong ’96 (“Only Time Will Tell”) and Carolyn
Sufrin ’97 (“When Med School is Not Enough,” Beyond Campus) in the latest issue of the alumni magazine. Each is doing important work—in very different contexts—to challenge assumptions and deepen understanding. I wasn’t surprised to learn that both Fong and Sufrin had taken a class with Deborah Gewertz early on. Their experiences chimed with my own. I had little inkling of what anthropology was, or could be, when I found myself in Professor Gewertz’s course on the anthropology of food. That class, and the path it set me on, gave me tools for thinking I still appreciate many years later.

Kaylin Goldstein ’92 
Boulder, Colo.

Mutually Assured Destruction

The article “Debunking the Bunker” (College Row, Summer 2017) opens with, “There are times, in higher education, when you wish for a lot less relevance” (emphasis in the original).

One day prior to the issue’s arrival, I had mountain-biked past the Bunker, as I have previously done. Then, on the day of the issue’s arrival, our nation’s commander-in-chief threatened nuclear annihilation against North Korea, which I don’t recall has been previously done (whether the threat or the actual annihilation).

Although the relevance of this piece on a long-decommissioned Post-Attack Command and Control System facility was striking, also striking was the flippant inaccuracy of this condescending dismissal:

“That area? It held 175 cots and enough rations for 35 days: a laughable amount of time to expect radiation to disperse.”

That was hardly the expectation, though.

Instead, the expectation was that the top brass of the Eighth Air Force headquarters would be evacuated from nearby Westover Air Force Base to order a nuclear counterattack against whatever nation had attacked our nation with nuclear weapons.

Thirty-five days was, if anything, a laughably excessive amount of time. Even just three and a half days, or 35 hours, or three and a half hours would probably have been sufficient.

The Bunker’s purpose cannot be called laughable, as the Bunker was perfectly well-suited for its intended purpose.

You can instead choose to call it madness.

But, more accurately, it was “MAD” in all capital letters:  an essential component of the “Mutually Assured Destruction” doctrine, which, despite the acronym, was predicated on the rational behavior of each adversary’s leaders.

We can only hope now the leaders of the United States and North Korea are—despite their various public pronouncements—at some level sufficiently rational to avoid the nuclear annihilation that the Bunker was expected to order.

Jonathan S. Shefftz ’89 

What’s American? 

Katherine Duke ’05’s article on new courses in American studies (“What’s American?” College Row, Summer 2017), discusses a class trip to Washington, D.C., to learn about the 1942 executive order allowing the internment of Japanese Americans. As a political science major under Professor Earl Latham, I wrote an honors thesis on Gordon Hirabayashi, who dared defy the executive order and was imprisoned. It took Hirabayashi four decades to overturn his convictions. 

For my Amherst thesis, my roommate John Lyon ’61 helped me with the English. I was given a prize of $50 for this thesis, and spent all of it to make a call to Japan to my fiancée, whom I had not seen or talked to in more than two years.

Koichiro “Fuji” Fujikura ’61 
Kyoto, Japan

Eclipses and Aliens

I read with great interest Julie Dobrow’s account of David Peck Todd’s eclipse expeditions (“The Star-Crossed Astronomer,” Summer 2017). It is indeed a sad story, as she demonstrates. Todd’s undisciplined imagination and bad luck clearly undermined his efforts to learn more about the sun. 

In the course of tracking down eclipses, Todd became a believer in the existence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. That issue, as Dobrow indicates, was very much under investigation around 1900. However, Todd might not have been drawn to it had he not fallen under the spell of Percival Lowell, an amateur astronomer and Boston Brahmin. 

By 1895, Lowell had already built an observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., where he produced evidence that Mars was covered with a network of canals built and managed by technocrats to supply water for a dry planet. In so doing, Lowell launched a bitter debate on the subject among astronomers.

Under Lowell’s tutelage, Todd became an early supporter of the idea of intelligent life on Mars. Lowell, in turn, financed Todd’s 1900 eclipse expedition to Tripoli, but not before recuperating from depression at the Todd house in Amherst. And, at the onset of the 1907 opposition of Mars in the southern hemisphere, Lowell chose Todd to head an expedition to view and photograph the planet from a high desert site in Chile. As a reward for his friend’s support, Todd arranged to have Amherst confer an honorary degree on Lowell. 

So, as it turns out, there is an Amherst twist to the search for extraterrestrial life.

David Strauss ’59 
Kalamazoo, Mich. 
The writer is a professor emeritus of history at Kalamazoo College and author of Percival Lowell: The Science and Culture of a Boston Brahmin (Harvard University Press, 2001). 

Mammoth Opinions

Perhaps we could name the new mammoth mascot “Trumpie,” or, more formally, George W. Trump, as he was duly elected while losing the popular vote.

Kevin Clark ’78 
Franklin, Tenn. 

Really? You quote a survey of alumni who answered a December 2015 “poll” as if it were scientific and the data valid? Someone must have missed a few science, sociology and statistics classes.

William S. Shaw ’67
Centennial, Colo.

The Poetry Contest

I loved Alessandra Bianchi Herman ’86’s poem (Contest, Summer 2017)—the sort of poem The New Yorker used to publish when it still had pretensions to being a serious literary magazine. The poem makes a worthy companion piece to James Merrill ’47’s poem about the RCA Victor album cover dog.

Jon Peirce ’67
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia 


Because of editing errors, the Summer 2017 class notes included an incorrect class year for Anne Ha ’93, and the Summer 2017 article “Lucky Soprano” omitted the first name of composer Aaron Jay Kernis.