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The Power of Words
The article “The Books That Made the Writers” (Sum.) admirably demonstrated the powerful effect just one book can have on a person.
In my case, one book changed my life, shaped my life, and almost cost me my life: I read Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon as a freshman and immediately set off to Mexico City to try to become a bullfighter. I was injured and came to Yale on crutches. Later, after graduation, I was sent to Spain as the American vice consul in Seville, began bullfighting again, and ended up appearing on the same program with the great Juan Belmonte (who appears not only in Death in the Afternoon but also in The Sun Also Rises). As an amateur torero, I fought for 16 years, quitting after a near-fatal goring in 1958.
I was also pleased to see your tribute to Professor Richard Sewall in the Summer issue (“Faces”). He encouraged me to become a writer, as he did my son, Barnaby Conrad III ’75. My son Last Boat to Cadiz, comes out in October).
The summer issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine was a breath of fresh journalism. The cover story was fascinating. So many great writers influenced by such diverse literary exposures. I always wanted to be a writer, but I guess I never read the right book. I turned into a banker, but I still read hours a day. “The Golden Hours of the Romanovs” was also beautifully done.
I am treasurer of the Class of 1945, and Yale has been the most important influence in my life. I look forward to the Yale Alumni Magazine reformation.
The White House Reunion
In his report on George W. Bush’s party at the White House for his 1968 classmates (“The Night Dubya Joined the Whiffs,” Sum.), Steven R. Weisman dismisses as “self-important” the soul-searching by those who did not attend for political reasons. I disagree with Weisman. Many classmates who stayed away sincerely believe that the president is leading the nation in the wrong direction. To act on one’s principles is not self-important. It is good citizenship.
I read with disgust Steven R. Weisman’s fawning piece on the Class of ’68’s visit to George Bush’s White House to celebrate its 35th reunion.
In his short time in that same White House, George Bush has proven to be a dangerously radical political figure who seems hell-bent on ruining the US economy, destroying the country’s moral authority in world affairs, mocking environmental concerns, botching the hard work necessary to follow up his cowboy-style military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq and—through his attorney general John Ashcroft—mounting a frontal attack on the civil rights of all Americans.
As a member of the 25th reunion class, the only positive thing I saw in President Bush’s invitation to his class to visit the White House for their reunion was that it kept him out of New Haven so that those of us who didn’t vote for him and repudiate his actions could enjoy our reunion weekend without the specter of his presence.
I had always held the Class of 1968 in high esteem for their role in the civil rights movement. No longer.
I am writing to express what I am sure you will have heard from many others of the 500 alumni of the Class of 1968 who were privileged to start their reunion gathering at the White House as guests of President and Mrs. Bush.
The entire experience was a remarkable one. Not only did the Bushes open the White House to us but also, in over three hours of unlimited availability to all of those present, they opened their hearts to us as as well.
Those of us who attended consider ourselves very fortunate to have been able to share in this experience.
The Many Faces of Lytton
It was a real pleasure to see Bernard Lytton’s picture on the cover of the May issue, along with other distinguished emeritus faculty.
Dr. Lytton’s kind face brought back many memories of his generosity and thoughtfulness as master of Jonathan Edwards during my years in residence there (1986-89). He knew many of us by name and often welcomed us into his master’s residence, and sometimes even to his beach house.
He also had a wry sense of humor. For example, in his first semester as master of JE, at our fall formal dinner, he appeared on the balcony dressed in black robes and boomed out a few lines from old Edwards’s infamous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon. It was spine-chilling, and very endearing.
I’m glad to see that Master Lytton is still active in the medical profession and doing so well.
Mona Lisa’s Secret
Sherwin Nuland is not the first to suggest that the smile on Leonardo’s Mona Lisa had to do with pregnancy (“Light & Verity,” Sum.).
When the famous painting first came to the Metropolitan Museum in New York back in the 1950s or 1960s, it was recorded in the national press that the head of the Society for Obstetrics and Gynecology suggested to his fellow doctors that Mona Lisa’s smile followed a visit to her obstetrician who told her she was pregnant.
Some months later, when the family practitioners held their national meeting, Dr. Allen Johnson ’22, their chair, suggested another reason for the smile—as reported in Time: She had just seen her family practitioner, and he told her she wasn’t pregnant.
Take your pick!
Uneasy with Pomp
Re “Pomp? Circumstance? Yes, It All Started at Yale,” (“Old Yale,” Sum.): Ms. Schiff’s account of the early history of this widely known march is very interesting, especially from a Yale point of view. However, it is my recollection that Elgar’s relation to this piece became steadily more unpleasant and unsatisfactory. The piece oozes confidence and certainly portrayed the zeitgeist of empire in the Edwardian era. It became the theme song for empire and was always played whenever Elgar was in attendance at some function.
This distressed Elgar, who was less committed to Edwardian empire than many fellow citizens. If memory serves me, he came to actually dislike this piece and what it had come to stand for. He anguished over its popularity and its icon status, but it had achieved a life independent of its author and quite contrary to his feelings.
Democracy and Leadership
I read your March article, “Grand Strategy: Helping Tomorrow’s Leaders See the Big Picture,” with some alarm.
There is a passage in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, which runs: [Thomas Cromwell, to Richard Rich] “…in the present instance the man who wants to change his woman is our Sovereign Lord, Harry, by the Grace of God, the Eighth of that name. Which is a quaint way of saying that if he wants to change his woman he will . So that becomes the constant factor. And our job as administrators is to make it as convenient as we can. I say ‘our’ job, on the assumption that you’ll take this post at York I’ve offered you?”
Isn’t this what Professors Gaddis and Kennedy and Hill are training “the next generation of top diplomats, executives, military officers, and maybe even a US president” to do, with their course on “Grand Strategy"? It all sounds so self-congratulatory, all this stuff about training “Tomorrow’s Leaders.” As I learned it myself—at Yale, from Robert Dahl and several others—US “leaders” are (or ought to be) democratically elected, not trained. Training is for administrators.
US leaders have included Yalies, but also some alcoholics, quite a few people who never really went to any school, a few Harvard men, and even a number of people whose sole merit was that they fit into the crowd instead of standing out. My personal favorite, among all of them, was a failed haberdasher from Missouri who had no college degree at all. The idea that you can train or “shape” a leader flies in the face of a long US tradition that our leaders have been servants not of their own personal educational background, brilliance, political acumen, or ability to do long-term thinking. Rather, they have been servants of the people.
So the sheer pretentiousness of acquiring training in grand strategy, as outlined in your article, leads me to feel that the products of such a Yale course may become the very able administrators of our future, or perhaps the Thomas Cromwells and the Richard Riches, but not our leaders. For the latter, I’d rather continue taking the chance, as the US has in the past, on the more motley assortment of varied talents coughed up by our democratic system.
In the next generation, we need fewer diplomats, executives, military officers, and US presidents who are “trained” in carrying out grand strategy for the execution of policy, as you put it, and we need more normal citizens and leaders who question things and are capable of convincing the rest of us that policies are right or wrong.
Remembering Master Winks
My first encounter with Robin Winks (“Faces,” Sum.) came 24 years ago, in September 1979, when he welcomed me and 100 other freshmen to Yale at dinner in Berkeley College’s dining hall. Master Winks beckoned us to sample Yale’s bounty. The “lush variety of joys” of the university, as he put it in his sometimes exuberant vernacular, included not only a great academic training but also “an education in the pleasures of food, wine, travel, drama, and song.”
And so began a wonderful four-year journey with this thoughtful, elegant man. Like any Yale student, we in Berkeley had the right to hear Winks the Historian in class as he lectured on triumphs and travails of the British empire. But we also enjoyed the special privilege of evenings in his home where, reserved for us alone, Winks the Master would conduct tastings of, variously, wines, whiskies, and beers. Who among us can forget those first sweet golden drops of Barsac and Sauternes dessert wines, or the rich velvety Pomerols that he served? For a kid from Maryland whose experience with wine was, to that point, limited primarily to four cups of Manischewitz Concord Grape annually at Passover, the ability to appreciate the beauties and subtleties of Château d’Yquem and Château Lafleur has remained for me an indispensible part of the Yale experience to this day.
He was undoubtedly an Anglophile—he favored English collars, gins, and tea. Yet while Master Winks sometime exhibited an almost British reserve, he was never distant or aloof. Master Winks frequently ate in the dining hall, maintained an open office, and regularly opened the door to his home as well.
I remember going to him as a sophomore, seeking advice in my choice of major. He was a partisan of the history department but let me find my own way there. When he asked me what I was looking for in a major, I told him that I wanted to learn to think critically, partly in preparation for law school. “History teaches you how to ask good questions and then teaches you if you have found an answer,” he said. And so the die was cast for me to become a history major.
As a junior, I pondered what to do with my summer, and again sought Winks’s guidance. A travel buff and enthusiast of national parks and historical monuments, he encouraged me to combine learning and travel. Knowing that I was preparing my senior essay on the foreign policy of the Truman administration, Winks suggested that I consider a research stint at the Truman Presidential Library and visit the late president’s nearby homestead in Independence, Missouri. That summer, I held President Truman’s personal letters and papers in my hands as I worked on my senior essay.
I returned to Master Winks for my final counseling session late in my senior year. I had unexpectedly been blessed with the choice of both Harvard and Yale law schools, but could not decide whether to remain in New Haven or to soldier on to Cambridge. “A person works best in an environment where one feels just a little bit annoyed,” he said. “You’ve grown very comfortable at Yale; you may benefit from a more adversarial relationship with a new school.” I followed his guidance, again, and it could not have been more accurate; I confronted Harvard with a certain unease that kept me on my toes.
Another great, late scholar—former Yale president A. Bartlett Giamatti— wrote in the year of our graduation: “The Master is the person upon whom the success of the whole enterprise most delicately, persistently, and enduringly depends. The Master is the point of reconciliation for all the academic energies, personal values, and administrative wisdom that has made and makes the college system successful. Far more than Yale has always recognized, we depend upon extraordinary individuals to make an institution as educationally ambitious as ours work.” Robin Winks was all these things, and much more.
I took Robin Winks’s “Writing of History” seminar during the spring semester of my sophomore year. It would turn out to be one of the most significant educational experiences of my life.
On the first day of class, Winks told us that he was going to prepare us for writing history books. In order to eliminate “assignment mentality” (the feeling that a project must be done because “you have to”), we students were going to determine our own subjects for the writing projects in his class. He believed that our own interests, esoteric as they might be, would lead us to the highest-quality work we could accomplish. We spend so much time trying to figure out how to please our teachers and authorities, and Winks shook the ladder. It was refreshing and exciting.
Our first assignment was to write our autobiographies as historians. Before we could do any writing, we had to tell our own stories and identify our own biases and interests. “You can’t write history without knowing how you feel about history, or what role history plays in your life,” he said.
Professor Winks did not separate between the personal and the academic, and he did not judge. At midsemester, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I came to Winks to ask for an extension. I was surprised when Winks asked, “Would you like to write your next paper about the history of depression diagnosis?” He did not see a weakness or drawback, but a motivating factor.
I majored in literature and decided to write my senior essay on O. Henry. I asked Winks to be my advisor. Though he was at Oxford during my junior year, and though he was a history professor, he agreed. I chose him because I knew he would be supportive. I also knew of his interest in detective fiction and popular literature. He took it on as a full-time job. He borrowed an O. Henry anthology from me to catch up, did supplementary reading, consulted with English professors to make sure he was advising me well, and carefully read all my drafts. He was incredibly generous with his time and advice. He wrote recommendations at the drop of a hat, from abroad and even after my graduation.
I have gone through my first year of teaching middle school knowing that much of what I do has been influenced by Winks. Remembering his high standards and constant support, I strive to be the kind of teacher he was.
The Robin Winks Fund at Berkeley College has been established to encourage the activities promoted by Professor Winks during his tenure at Berkeley. Contributions may be sent to: Robin Winks Fund, Berkeley College, P.O. Box 209128, New Haven, CT 06520-9128.—Eds.
Less is Not More
I was sure that the Yale Alumni Magazine must have made a mistake in reporting some proposed changes in the Yale College curriculum (“Light & Verity,” May). I could not believe that Yale would seriously propose reducing the foreign language requirements from four semesters to three, given the university’s recent efforts to become more global.
The recent correction in the Summer edition of the magazine, however, shows that the proposed changes are perhaps even more misguided. The committee recommends that students who come to Yale unable to place out of a first-semester language course will only have to take three semesters of language requirements, rather than four. Students with some language skills will still have to reach a level of proficiency equivalent to four semesters of work.
There are two reasons this does not make sense.
First, students who matriculate without any language skills have even more need to learn, not less. People who are fluent don’t necessarily need more (although it wouldn’t hurt). If you follow the committee’s logic, then people with no science background should study less science. No social sciences background? Then let them study less social sciences. Etc. This eats away at the very core ideals of a liberal education and a distribution requirement.
Second, this policy goes against Yale’s recent efforts to reach out beyond the USA. For the past few years, Yale has taken serious steps (or so it seemed) to improve its reputation and place in an increasingly globalized world.
If Yale is truly committed to becoming a university with global reach, then the reform of the college curriculum needs to be in sync with its stated commitments. Promoting the study of foreign languages and cultures is key to achieving these goals.
I surely hope that that part of the curriculum reform will be thrown in the trash can.
Congratulations to the Yale Alumni Magazine for the fine article on the Yale Club of Bristol Scholarship Fund in the May issue (“News from Alumni House”). I was delighted to see the richly deserved credit given to this organization and, by extension, to its many counterparts in smaller communities elsewhere.
In the late 1940s, when I was finishing my studies at Bristol High School, I never expected to have the opportunity to attend such a prestigious institution as Yale. But the members of the Bristol Yale Club “came through.” With the continued help of the club, I completed my four undergraduate years at Yale, went on to four years of graduate work, also at Yale, and then, after a two-year stay in Rome as a Prize Fellow of the American Academy, I returned to New Haven in 1959 and spent the next seven years as a faculty member in the classics department, as a resident fellow of Calhoun College, and as an assistant dean of Yale College.
On many occasions, both I and my family have returned to Bristol for meetings with Yale Club members. We have always been received with generous and warm hospitality as well as with continued interest and encouragement in our subsequent careers.
And so, to Bart Barnes ’29, Bert Nelson ’33, J. Harwood Norton ’44, and to many other members who have so generously continued to help bring together the best educational talent of Bristol and one of the world’s most eminent universities, I can only say “Kudos and keep up the great work!”
The Missing Years
On page 12 of the Summer issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine (“Bacon and Eggs Won’t Make You Thin”), you refer to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association claiming that low-carbohydrate diets have no bearing on weight loss. What you fail to mention is that the study’s first and last authors, Dawn and Dena Bravata, are members of the Class of 1989. Dawn Bravata is an assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine, and Dena Bravata is a physician at Stanford University Hospital.