Tell Us What You Think

We welcome letter submissions that respond to our magazine articles. Letters should be 300 words or fewer. Please send them to or Box 5000, Amherst, MA, 01002.

Fall 2017 cover of Amherst magazine
One Veteran’s Days

Thank you for “Veterans’ Days” (cover story, Fall 2017). During my first two years at Amherst, from 1962 to 1964, my classmates and I focused on the country’s civil rights struggle. The next year, we turned our attention to the fighting in Vietnam. During the spring of 1965, we organized a teach-in on the war with Henry Steele Commager as one of the speakers.

At the start of our senior year, I volunteered to serve in the military and to go to Vietnam as a foot soldier. During my 13-month tour in Vietnam, Amherst classmates were my best correspondents, and none was better than one of the leaders of the anti-war movement, Marshall Bloom ’66, who sent me Student articles about the 1966 commencement demonstration.

Many of my classmates served in the military during Vietnam. After I returned from the war, several Amherst faculty members invited me to speak to their classes. At the start of the Iraq War, students invited me back to campus to speak. The chance to reflect on my military experience led me to write War Lessons. For these opportunities, I am very grateful.

John Merson ’66
New York City

Two Mammoths, Far From Home

Reading “Loomis Illuminated” (Fall 2017), I was stunned to see that the very mammoth that has served as the backdrop for countless family photographs (as recent as this fall’s Family Weekend) was found just a few miles from our home in Brevard County, Fla. It made me think of the unlikelihood that something buried for thousands of years in coastal muck would have as much chance of turning up on Amherst’s campus as my own deeply rooted Florida son—but they’re both there, two dudes a long way from home. Amherst College is uniquely amazing that way, and your magazine brings me a little bit closer to understanding its magic and the world my son temporarily calls home. Thank you for your wonderful articles and insight. I look forward to every single issue.

Robin Silvea P’20
Merritt Island, Fla.

An Olympian Weighs In

I am the only Amherst graduate who can personally answer your question, “Why do Olympic bronze medalists show higher levels of happiness than Olympic silver medalists?” (Contest, Summer 2017). I am an Olympic bronze medal winner—1972, Germany, sailing.

The silver medalist could have a better chance to win the gold and dwells on what might have been. The bronze medal winner appreciates their achievement and what it symbolizes and is satisfied—despite the “what ifs.”

In sailing, often it was clear that the gold medal winner was going to win the gold, and the bronze medal winner was scrambling to win a medal. Often it’s not decided until the last of seven races, and the bronze medal winner is so appreciative of the results.

On a personal note, I well remember standing on the medal stand being very appreciative and thankful, yet wistful, for what I was able to achieve.

Donald S. Cohan ’51
Blue Bell, Pa.

Wilbur in Wartime

In her review of Let Us Watch Richard Wilbur: A Biographical Study (Amherst Creates, Fall 2017), Tess Taylor ’00 mistakenly refers to Wilbur, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in June 1942, not long after graduating from Amherst, as a “conscientious objector.” In fact, as we carefully explain in our book, Wilbur’s prewar isolationist stance (in private and as chairman of the Student) changed immediately after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor; in an editorial on Dec. 8, he announced his support of our country’s declaration of war. As we state in chapter 2, “Wilbur didn’t disown his prior doubts about the wisdom of intervention; rather, he recognized their irrelevance” and then “turned his attention to the distant but inescapable problem of reordering the postwar world so it would be ‘less combustive.’”

More importantly, when talking about those years, Wilbur never applied the phrase “conscientious objector” to himself. Instead, as he told Christopher Bogan and Carl Kaplan in a March 1975 interview for the Amherst Student Review:

“Regardless of those isolationist articles I wrote, with which there may have been some student agreement, I suspect that we all felt we were going to get into it, and that it would probably prove on reflection to be a just war. Our consciences were easy about it [our emphasis]. We were certainly not inclined to set ourselves up against the state, once war was declared, though as I recall we were all respectful of the few people who decided to be conscientious objectors. They were not, of course, initially objecting to any peculiar injustice of World War II, but to war itself. I think we respected that, even as we trotted off to enlist.”

Unfortunately, Ms. Taylor’s focus on Wilbur as “a conscientious objector turned poet” not only presents an inaccurate and misleading view of the man and his conscience, but also disregards our book’s discussion of Wilbur’s views on war—beginning with his student days, throughout the war and postwar years, and into the Vietnam era, when he did oppose the war yet still believed it was our duty, if called upon, to serve our country.

Robert Bagg ’57
Mary Bagg
Worthington, Mass.

The People in the Photo

Professor Carl Schmalz teaching a watercolor painting class outside

Imagine my surprise when I saw myself in the photo on page 83 of the Fall 2017 Amherst magazine!

Professor Carl Schmalz is indeed teaching our “Watercolor Painting” class outside during fall semester of my senior year. I am seated immediately to his right, concentrating hard, as I did not (and still don’t) consider myself an artist.

It was one of those perfect New England fall days. I still have the painting I did for my final exam, when I used my roommate Mary Locke Snow ’86’s sewing kit for a still life.

Thanks for bringing back the memories!

Joanie Brewster ’86
Fort Collins, Colo.

It was astonishing to see my husband’s photograph in the fall Amherst. Carl N. Schmalz Jr., professor of fine arts, emeritus, taught both history and practice courses. Here he was doing a demonstration, explaining as he painted. Watercolor dries fast enough to allow him this kind of instruction. I might add he was very good at it and it was amazing to watch.

Dolores T. Schmalz
Springfield, Va.

Another Amherst Nobel

My classmates and I read with satisfaction that Jeffrey Hall ’67 won a Nobel (online story, September 2017). We shine in his reflected glow, though we also indulge our slight envies by noting that if he’d been just a bit cleverer, he’d have arranged to be born a year earlier, so he would have been a member of the Great Class of 1966.

Amherst had an article (College Row, Winter 2017) touting how its then four laureates had qualified the College, in a Nature article titled “Where Nobel Winners Get Their Start,” as the ninth-ranked college or university in the world when measured by the rate the school produced Nobel winners from 1901 to 2015. I strained my mathematics ability to calculate that our four winners, equaling the published rate of .00019, meant the authors reckoned our alumni of those years numbered 21,053. The pressing question, then, is the effect of Hall’s prize on this ranking.

Nature lists the top 10 schools, led by the École Normale Supérieure with .00135 (and with spunky Swarthmore at fourth). Amherst sits just behind Columbia, with its .00021. But if none of the new batch of laureates attended Columbia, we take over eighth place.

In yet another Nobel season that brought disappointment and frustration to me and Dave Morine ’66 as we lay awake next to our telephones in the wee hours, waiting for the call in which a husky voice with a Swedish accent informs us of our triumph, our hurt is nicely assuaged by the fine showing of the Fairest College.

Steve Murray ’66
Goleta, Calif.

Two Statues

There are statues of Thurgood Marshall and Donald Gaines Murray ’34 outside the Maryland State House in Annapolis. Marshall was the mentee of Charles Hamilton Houston, class of 1915, “the finest that we have produced,” as Rev. Philip A. Jackson ’85 told the class of ’21 (College Row, Fall 2017).

Murray was the plaintiff when Marshall successfully sued to integrate the University of Maryland School of Law, which had denied him admission. Marshall went to Howard University School of Law instead, where Houston was the dean. I pass both statues on my way to work in the State House. They remind me, as Rev. Jackson said, “to take ... [their] legacy and treat it like the gift that it is.”

Sandy Rosenberg ’72
Rosenberg is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates.

Professor Bruce B. Benson and three ’64 physics majors check out a powder camera mounted on an x-ray generator
Mystery Solved: Professor Bruce B. Benson and three ’64 physics majors check out a powder camera mounted on an X-ray generator

Not a Mystery

Your “Mystery Machine” (Classes, Fall 2017, page 51) is a Debye-Scherrer powder camera mounted on an X-ray generator. The generator is in the cabinet at the bottom of the picture, and the X-ray tube is in the square column sticking up just to the right of the student pictured second from left. The circular plate at the top (facing the viewer) covers a port where an X-ray beam can come out if another camera (film type) is mounted on the rectangular slide mount projecting towards the elbow of the student at far left. The camera in use is the large circular unit just above the instructor’s hands. The cylindrical tube in front of the student on the right is a scintillation counter, which is used to record the X-ray diffraction maxima from the powdered sample mounted inside the camera.

Joel Mague ’61
New Orleans
Mague is a Tulane chemistry professor and director of its X-ray Crystallography Lab.

This apparatus produces “hard” X-rays that are used for diffraction experiments. It is quite different from the “soft” X-rays used to image teeth and bone. The wavelengths of X-rays are on the same order as the distances between atoms in crystals, so these machines have been used extensively to study atomic structure of crystals, including minerals. An X-ray powder pattern is a fingerprint for identifying crystalline substances.

An X-ray diffractometer is an electronic device that improves on the strictly mechanical X-ray camera. The film is replaced by a Geiger counter as a recording device. This is the cylindrical component below the chin of the second man from the right. It is gear-driven through a vertical arc so the Geiger counter can measure the intensity of the various diffracted beams. The data is output on a chart recorder, which is not shown.

Carl Francis ’71
Braintree, Mass.
Francis is curator of the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum.

That picture brings back memories. I made many hundreds of X-ray diffraction patterns on just such a Norelco X-ray machine—not at Amherst, but after enrolling in the Graduate Geology Program at Columbia. In fact, a fellow grad student and I designed a hot sample stage for the diffractometer, like the one shown set up in the picture, so we could study the effect of temperature on the density and crystal structure of quartz. When I took a position at the University of Rochester, the first thing I did was to buy two Norelco X-ray machines so my students and I could run eight diffraction cameras simultaneously with samples squeezed between diamond anvils, so we could determine the effects of pressure on the densities and structures of minerals considered to be constituents of the Earth’s interior. Those old machines were great workhorses that provided us with exciting research opportunities for understanding planetary interiors.

Bill Bassett ’54
Ithaca, N.Y.
Bassett is a professor emeritus of geology at Cornell.

The man on the right, instructing three students, is Professor of Physics Bruce B. Benson ’43. I first met Professor Benson (who commonly initialized his comments/corrections to assignments as B3) in 1972. I was a freshman, intending to major in physics, and taking the second half of the famous Introductory Physics curriculum, which concentrated on topics in electricity and magnetism. Professor Benson was a superb teacher. He sat on my senior honors examination, where he had a great capacity to ask the profound question—not necessarily the difficult question, but rather the profound one!

David F. Aldridge ’75
Aldridge is a geophysicist.

My recollection, I hope not clouded by too many years away from Fayerweather, is that of beloved Professor Benson sharing his excitement over the latest equipment with physics majors and ’64ers Peter Wintersteiner, George Burnett and Gerald Patrick. I’m guessing the true origin of the photo is 1963, not 1943. Affectionately known as “B-Cubed” or “Old Whalebones,” Professor Benson graduated from Amherst in 1943, which may be the source of the mistaken dating.

Dick Leavitt ’64
Intervale, N.H.

I remember Professor Benson well. He built his own high-resolution mass spectrometer and did first-rate research with it. He was a demanding but caring teacher. I felt that I had let him down when I did poorly in one of his courses. I went on to have a career as a physics professor, which led me to appreciate the dedication he and other Amherst physics teachers showed to us students. They had the ability to instill in us some of their own intellectual aspirations.

Joseph L. Snider ’56
Southwest Harbor, Maine

Mystery solved: Professor Bruce B. Benson and three ’64 physics majors check out a powder camera mounted on an X-ray generator.