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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

Cambridge 02138

March-April 2011

Suicide

Elizabeth Gudrais's otherwise excellent article on Matthew Nock's research on suicide and self-injury ("A Tragedy and Mystery," January-February, page 32) contains a significant omission: the centrality of the therapist-patient relationship in treating the suicidal patient.

Competent, experienced psychodynamically oriented therapists explore the suicidal patient's inner world with dispassionate, nonjudgmental interest that conveys several therapeutic meta-communications: what you are feeling is not unspeakably bad, it is human; I'm interested in whatever you are thinking or feeling; I appreciate the distinction between self-destructive thoughts, feelings, and fantasies and action; your anguish is not as devastating to me as it is to you; my strength will be here for you to borrow if you need to; your therapy is a place where your destructive urges can be understood rather than judged; I will try not to leave you alone with your despair. And therapists also use the feelings their patients evoke in them for therapeutic purposes.

Nock advocates cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) for the treatment of the suicidal patient. While DBT does address the emotions of the (suicidal) patient, it does so by providing strategies the patient may use to control and contain painful and destructive feelings. Psychotherapies in which the therapist-patient relationship is seen as the primary therapeutic agent should be added to Nock's list of treatments for the suicidal patient.

Jerome S. Gans, M.D. '62
Wellesley, Mass.

Kermit Roosevelt

I was amazed that Harvard Magazine would publish such an unbalanced look at the "achievements" of Kermit Roosevelt (Vita, by Gwen Kinkead, January-February, page 30). Charming as he may have been, he helped engineer a coup in Iran designed to punish a newly formed socialist democracy for its nationalization of Iran's oil industry.

Prior to Kermit's coup, Iran's oil had been controlled (since the 1920s) by British, French, and American oil interests who took from Iran more than they returned. In setting up the violent destruction of Iran's nascent democracy, Roosevelt and the CIA recouped economic and political domination of Middle Eastern oil, violated basic rules of national sovereignty, and provided a model for CIA-driven overthrows of democratically elected governments in Guatemala (1954) and Chile (1973), leading to dictatorships headed by people like Augusto Pinochet and Iran's own Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.

As a piece of journalism, Kinkead sets her brief profile against a complex and violent U.S. foreign-policy precedent. Her once-over seems unprofessional, particularly given her stature as journalist and a historian. Whether Iran's new prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, was "elderly" seems irrelevant compared to Dulles's assertion (quoted by the author) that Mossadegh was "a madman." Demonization is an old trick that is still practiced by American governments in the name of American interests. But Kinkead glosses over it all.

Nor does the author, in her flighty romp through Roosevelt's life and work, back up her claim that Iran's election was "semi-democratic." Consider the source, not only of the comment, but the author's and the magazine's seemingly thoughtless decision to allow simplistic banality.

Charles F. Degelman '66
Los Angeles

The profile of Kermit Roosevelt overlooks the consequences of his campaign to overthrow Mohammed Mossadegh, the secular democrat who might have led Iran into a future of peaceful co-existence.

The author notes that Roosevelt laid the groundwork for the coup, the U.S. government's first regime change. His tactics included bribery, murder, and "yellow journalism" in coordination with the British.

More important, Kinkead caricatures Mohammed Mossadegh as "an elderly lawyer with ulcers who often conducted business in pajamas." He was a skilled attorney with a doctorate of law from Switzerland who spoke several languages. In the heat of the Middle East, many wore loose-fitting garments, the erroneously described "pajamas." As a member of the Majlis, the Iranian parliament, he emphasized democracy and self-reliance.

Did he nationalize Iran's oil industry, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company? Yes, but Kinkead ignores the underlying cause, the rapacity of the British. The 1919 Anglo-Persian Agreement reduced Iran to the status of a British protectorate under a vastly unequal revenue-sharing agreement. The company failed to honor a 1933 agreement to improve conditions for workers. Iranians at the Abadan refinery were paid 50 cents a day. They had no vacation pay, sick leave, or disability compensation, and lived in a shantytown with no running water, electricity, or sanitation. In the winter, the plain flooded; in the summer, torrid heat descended. In the British section, there were air-conditioned offices, lawns, rose beds, swimming pools.

In 1946, violent workers' protests erupted. The British rejected all attempts at financial compromise, and the Iranian public pressed for nationalization. On March 15, 1951, the parliament voted unanimously for nationalization. Mossadegh became prime minister, the hero of self-determination and resistance to foreign power.

Forgetting that Britain was, at the same time, nationalizing major industries, the West reacted with shock and attempts to undo the inevitable. Roosevelt then led the U.S.-British Operation Ajax that unseated Mossadegh; the shah returned. Iranian fury at the U.S. interference in domestic matters still rages. It led first to the hostage crisis of 1979 when militants seized the U.S. embassy in Teheran. It strengthened the prestige of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the political power of those who supported theocracy. It continues today with the opposition to normalization of relations with the West.

All of this Kermit Roosevelt helped to engineer. His claim of being "appropriately proud" of his career seems questionable.

Cassandra Chrones Moore '56, A.M. '58
Palo Alto

Gwen Kinkead responds: In a short profile of Kermit Roosevelt, the fascinating Mr. Mossadegh, unfortunately, could not be covered in equal depth. As Cassandra Moore notes, he championed Iran's democracy, self-determination, and pluralism; sought to weaken its monarchy; and wrested its vast mineral wealth from the rapacious British. Would he have led an increasingly democratic Iran had the coup failed? It's tantalizing to speculate.

Charles Degelman mistakes a factual account of how and why Roosevelt overthrew Iran's constitutional democracy for condoning the coup. The story notes that the consequences included Iran's Islamic Revolution. There were more consequences, too, many disastrous; Degelman is correct that the coup set a pattern for others--at least 10 by the CIA in the following decades.

Obama's Democracy, Redux

Recently I have to believe that the letters in Harvard Magazine prove that a Harvard degree should not be considered an automatic indication of character or critical thinking skills. The letters in the January-February 2011 issue written in response to James Kloppenberg's article on President Obama ("A Nation Arguing with Its Conscience," November-December 2010, page 34) seem to confirm my conclusion.

Charles Block accuses Kloppenberg of "selecting favorable evidence and ignoring other sources" and writing "biased…propaganda." Accusing a tenured professor of ethical lapses and scholarly laziness should be accompanied by something besides vague attacks. George Burditt made the astonishing claim that "'Obama's Democracy' is a red flag to most Americans. His 'democracy' is not ours." While Obama's approval rating is hovering around 50 percent in most polls, you'd be hard pressed to find any poll or study that showed that the "majority of Americans," whom Burditt claims to represent, believe that Obama's vision of pragmatic governing is antithetical to their values. And then there's David McKenna, who argues that Obama's off-the-cuff response to Joe the Plumber in a town hall meeting in 2008 is better evidence of Obama's intellect than the thousands of pages of political writings and speeches he has penned in the last 20 years--that Obama simply "pretends to be" a "deep thinker." This sort of baseless, ad hominem insult is what I expect in subpar political websites, and it saddens me to see such discourse in Harvard Magazine.

Yes, I disagree with the politics of these letter writers. But that is beside the point. One of the hallmarks of an excellent education, which Harvard is supposed to provide, is the ability to argue with skill. These letters are insults and invective masquerading as argument, and as someone who shares an alma mater with the writers, I am embarrassed.

Ted Gideonse '96
San Diego

Letter-writer George Burditt apparently neglected math while studying law at Harvard. He claims that "Obama's America" was objectionable to "most" Americans and objects to it "on behalf of a majority of Americans." Leaving aside the arrogance of claiming to speak for 155 million people you don't know, I call Burditt's attention to the fact that he and those like him constituted only 45.7 percent of those who voted in the last presidential election, which hardly constitutes "most" or "a majority." Even I, as one of the 1.5 percent who voted for someone other than Obama or John McCain, can acknowledge that it was Obama, with 52.9 percent of the vote, who was supported by the majority of voters.

Burditt makes the strange claim that "[Obama's] 'democracy' is not ours." Has Obama been ruling by decree, and somehow we missed it? Or have new laws been enacted by senators and representatives elected by people like Burditt and myself? Given the role of money in the elections and in the political process in general, not to mention legal and regulatory restrictions on third parties and the undemocratic practice of the filibuster, with its resulting tyranny of the minority, I would personally argue that American "democracy" is a mockery of actual democracy. But those things have nothing to do with President Obama, and somehow I doubt they're the things Burditt is objecting to, anyway.

Steven L. Patt, Ph.D. '75
Cupertino, Calif.

Those letter writers who complained about the partisan nature of the excerpt from Kloppenberg's article on President Obama's political philosophy could not have missed its point more. The excerpt (and the book) trace the intellectual sources of Obama's thinking, and indeed of America's unique contribution to that particular philosophy. One can disagree with that philosophy or contest whether Obama manifests it, but one searches in vain for either comment in the critical letters. What they seem to complain about, rather, is that the article casts the President in an intellectually alive light.

To call that partisan says more about the critics (and their candidates, perhaps), than about the editors of this magazine.

Bruce A. McAllister, LL.B. '64
Palm Beach, Fla.

Football and Race

Before myth permanently replaces history, let me offer some corrections of the College Pump's account of the 1947 Harvard football team's trip to Virginia (January-February, page 64). Yes, Chester Pierce, the only African American on our team, broke the color barrier; almost everything else in the story is untrue based on my personal experience. I had the privilege of being Chester's substitute, my locker was next to his in Dillon Field House, and I was at his side during much of that trip. I can be seen standing behind Chester in the photograph that appeared in Time magazine back then.

First, our captain was Vincent Moravec, not Kenneth O'Donnell as reported. Moravec, a bruising fullback, tore up his knee that day and was on crutches the rest of the season. But he limped out for the coin toss in our subsequent games. O'Donnell, an uncanny pass defender, was elected captain the next year. That correction is easily verified; as to the rest I can only offer my personal memory. I cannot swear that Kenny O'Donnell did not write to the Virginia football team insisting on Chester playing, but I can say that was definitely not his style. Furthermore, no one I knew on the team was aware of such a letter at the time. Nor were any of us told that the Virginia team had in response voted to let Chester play. I am more certain that the team never changed to a "black hotel" and we were never required to enter the back door of a restaurant in solidarity with Chester. In short, the citizens of Charlottesville, a university town, did not behave like Jim Crow bigots, nor did our Harvard team behave like civil rights activists. Perhaps the College Pump might better serve "veritas" by focusing on the institutional racism at Harvard in 1947 that made Chester the only African American on our team. The mythical self-congratulatory version retailed in Harvard Magazine was, I believe, created out of whole cloth by members of the press many years after the actual events.

Alan A. Stone
Touroff-Glueck professor of law and psychiatry
Cambridge

The editors note: Professor Stone is correct that Mark F. Bernstein's Football (quoted in the College Pump) wrongly identifies Kenneth O'Donnell as captain of Harvard's 1947 football team. Other sources, in particular an article by George Sullivan in the October 5, 1997, New York Times, provide details of the other incidents resembling those in the Bernstein excerpt.

Crimson in Congress

In reference to "Crimson in Congress"  (January-February, page 60; and see page 55), I observe that there will be some 32 members with Harvard degrees in Congress, and that 29 are Democrats. If the reader counts only the members with College degrees, there will be 13 members of Congress, 12 Democrats. The development of independent and critical thinking in undergraduates should be a major goal of an education, otherwise the process is indoctrination. The statistics on the political affiliations of the incoming Congress suggest that this is not happening at Harvard College. Could this be a reflection of the ideological imbalance of the faculty?

Peter McKinney '56
Chicago

Squash

To see the statement "For years, college squash's juggernaut has been Trinity College, where recruiting and admissions policies, and other guidelines, differ drastically from the Ivy League's" in the article on Mike Way, the new Harvard squash coach (Harvard Portrait, January-February, page 45), surprises me for its harshness. I would not have thought that such a critical opinion would be expressed without any support. A little restraint in the wording could have helped.

Albert F. Gordon '59
New York City

The Harvard Portrait on squash coach Mike Way had a predictably disparaging and condescending reference to an athletic competitor: the Trinity College squash team that has dominated for over a decade a sport that Harvard had long claimed and thought it owned. Over the years, I have known a number of these Trinity players--an extraordinarily talented group of student-athletes on the courts and in the classrooms at a rigorous institution of higher learning. Yes, I have read similar negative comments in the past by the Crimson when the opposition outperforms John Harvard. But how unfortunate it is that Harvard Magazine descends to the same level of hypocrisy, suggesting that "drastically" differing recruitment and admissions policies are the sole reason for differing performance.

 Anyone familiar with Ivy League athletics knows to raise an eyebrow when Harvard plays the "admissions card"...as the undersigned did in reading those unfortunate and ill-advised comments.

Thomas D. Lips, J.D. '69
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Craig Lambert responds: There's more to Trinity's success than differing policies, of course. However, Harvard's athletic programs must operate within the Ivy League's quite stringent guidelines, including a prohibition of athletic scholarships; clear beginning and end dates for seasons; highly defined and limited off-season activities; an "academic index" that benchmarks the academic qualifications of incoming athletes to the institution's freshman class; and others. None of these Ivy rules need impinge on Trinity's modus operandi. Trinity matriculates some students in January, including squash stars who may play varsity matches within days; Harvard, with rare exceptions, enrolls students only in the fall. Trinity began pursuing a strategy of achieving dominance in squash in the mid 1990s, using all the tools at its disposal, and has clearly achieved its aims in this sport.

Amplification and Erratum

"The Power of Touch" (Right Now, November-December 2010, page 15) seems incorrect to suggest "smooth sailing" is a "metaphor of touch." As any sailor knows, this refers to the sea state--the surface of the water is smooth and the boat sails smoothly, unlike when the surface is rough. The sea state is something experienced primarily visually and with the vestibular system (hence seasickness), and to a lesser extent with hearing, touch, smell, and taste (if you have ever been in a storm on a sailboat, you will know what I mean). But even if touch plays a small role, in my view this cannot properly be called a "metaphor of touch." The primary touch experience of both smooth and rough water is that it is wet, and warm or cold as the case may be.

Maury Shenk '88
London

The photograph of four researchers indoors at Ducke on page 41 of our January-February issue ("Models--and Mud--in Amazonia," page 36) misidentified the individual standing at the right. He is Henrique Sawakuchi. We regret the error.

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At Harvard African Students Association’s Africa Night (from left): Tom Osborn ’20 of Kenya; Joshua Benjamin ’21, of Phoenix, Arizona (whose ancestors are Angolan but were first brought to Charleston, South Carolina, in the late seventeenth century); Tawanda Mulalu ’20 of Botswana; and Mfundo Radebe ’20 of South Africa

Photograph by Christabel Narh

Harvard through an African filter

You Might Also Like:

At Harvard African Students Association’s Africa Night (from left): Tom Osborn ’20 of Kenya; Joshua Benjamin ’21, of Phoenix, Arizona (whose ancestors are Angolan but were first brought to Charleston, South Carolina, in the late seventeenth century); Tawanda Mulalu ’20 of Botswana; and Mfundo Radebe ’20 of South Africa

Photograph by Christabel Narh

Harvard through an African filter