Body images, wartime reading, the ultimate gated community
Thank you for Professor Jorge Domínguez's ironic and interesting look at the U.S.'s relationship with Cuba since the revolution came to power in 1959 ("Your Friend, Fidel," July-August, page 35). We have fallen all over ourselves to bring down Castro and have looked ridiculous in the eyes of the world while doing so.
However, Domínguez apparently believes that rather than being morally wrong in its torture of Cuba during this period, the U.S. has simply been self-defeating. The cynical voice given to Castro in his hypothetical letter makes it clear that Domínguez would have preferred the U.S. to have been more levelheaded and sensible in its efforts to overturn the revolution. He seems to be saying that if we had avoided the pitfalls of direct confrontation and bombast, we would have been successful long ago in toppling the nasty Castro regime.
Even so, the facts of American policy come through loud and clear. The Helms-Burton Act is not, in fact, a silly aberration that foolishly played into the hands of the evil dictator it was meant to overthrow. It is actually a clear expression of U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere (and elsewhere) as it has existed for many years. We do not really care what form of government a country has. This has been demonstrated for years by our comfortable relationships with right-wing autocracies and dictatorships. What we care about is whether the property of American corporations is safe.
Send death squads against your own people and we will look the other way. In fact, we might even help train them. But expropriate the property of our corporations and we will never forgive you. No matter that for the half century leading up to the Cuban revolution, American corporations were consistent agents of oppression and were themselves the thieves. No matter that the damage done to Cuba, and so many other Latin American countries, by these corporations far exceeded the harm suffered when they got their comeuppance.
It is good that there is some slight movement in the direction of releasing the strangulation that we have exerted on Cuba all this time. What I fear is that the demonization of the Cuban revolution, as expressed in subtle terms by Domínguez, will continue and that any thaw will just be a different strategy toward the same immoral ends. Perhaps what we ought to do with Cuba is apologize.
Jonathan Press '72
The most interesting part of Domínguez's article is on the Helms-Burton Act, which seeks restitution and compensation to Americans whose property was expropriated by Castro. Of course, that was simply property stolen by the state and handed over to people who were thereby bribed to be loyal Castro supporters. This was done also to all the members of Cuba's entrepreneurial class, who fled en masse to Spain and the U.S.
How curious and ironic it is that theft on a national scale from private individuals appears to have Domínguez's hearty support, yet one cannot imagine that he would pick the pocket of his neighbor. What is grossly immoral, criminal conduct on a small, personal scale becomes--mirabile dictu--deserving of wholehearted support on a national scale.
"Expropriate the expropriators" has been the self-justifying slogan of Marxist reformers for more than a century. Not only is it profoundly immoral, but it is profoundly counterproductive. A thief enjoys a benefit from his loot. But looting on a national scale means permanent impoverishment because the country loses its most valuable resource--its most energetic, creative, and productive people. It is that loss--a loss both moral and material--which is at the root of Cuban poverty.
Elián Gonzalez's mother opted for freedom for herself and her son. That her six-year-old has been forcibly repatriated to an island of Communist serfdom and an outpost of a defunct evil empire is a pathetic, last-gasp attempt by losers in our midst to snatch a tiny, token victory to console themselves for having been decisively defeated on a global, historic scale.
Lawrence Cranberg, Ph.D. '40
While appreciating the author's humor, some readers may still resent his article as too heavy-handed, unfairly blaming every error on the U.S. governments and presidents, presumably due to their naiveté and complete lack of political sophistication. In our present exiledom, most Cuban-Americans like myself tend to share a fairly lucid understanding and acceptance of Domínguez's list of U.S. failings combined with a bitterly sad recognition both of Fidel's clever evilness as well as of the ingenuousness of most of the pre-1959 Cuban people vis-à-vis his unreal and rosy promises.
Domínguez's mischievous "letter" is particularly relevant now when the Clinton administration's intent--evidently and outrageously--is trying to please Castro and his tyrannical regime. If it stimulates the Cuban exile body toward a more active opposition to that shameful capitulation, it will have very constructive effects.
M.Arch. '40, M.C.P. '60
Readers are left with one impression: only U.S. idiocy, or--more politely--a series of counterproductive U.S. policy decisions, has permitted Castro to remain in power. Special sarcasm is reserved for more recent decisions to tighten the embargo on Cuba just as the economy was deteriorating in the early and mid 1990s. Thanks to Senators Helms and Burton, the embargo on fax machines, and vetoes on IMF membership, Fidel reigns supreme. Elián's dilemma and the Harvard Alumni Association's nonvisits to Havana are mentioned to underline the irrational animosity behind these policies.
The implication of the article, of course, is that by ending the embargo, encouraging trade, tourism, and other elements of "engagement," the U.S. would have encouraged an environment conducive to political and economic reforms. But this seems illogical. Castro has proven to be extremely astute; astute enough to forgo the Chinese economic liberalizations, the Soviet political relaxations, and the Sandinista free vote. Then why would he, as he seems to do, encourage closer economic relations with the U.S. if it would lead to his downfall?
Yet why continue an embargo with little effect after 40 years? Well, embargoes do work in some cases. South Africa's change of policies was influenced by an increasing isolation. Given the effect the demise of the Soviet Union, and its ending of subsidies, had on Cuba, it is clear a broader embargo might have had a similar effect on Cuba. The present U.S. embargo has long been far from total. Remittances from Cuban exiles--"worms," according to Fidel--provide Cuba with greater foreign exchange than anything else: more than rum, more than tobacco, more than sugar, and more than Swedish tourists. If we eliminated the flow of dollars from the United States, Cuba could well be as destitute as it was in 1991.
The recent disillusionment of Canada, of Spain, and other European countries at Fidel's continued human-rights violations could have been a signal for the U.S. to propose a broader embargo. Why was this not done? The reason is simple: Fidel remains one of the most determined dictators in the world; any embargo strong enough to induce change while he is alive would be unacceptable to most democratic countries because of its severity. The "engagement" advocates know Fidel will not change because of trade policies. But they want us to believe he will.
Let us remember that Fidel used trade policy first; and he used it for a political purpose--to isolate Cuba from the U.S. It was his government that objected to the lucrative U.S. sugar quota; his government that claimed the U.S. had too much control over the Cuban economy (and so expropriated its assets and reduced unilaterally its trade); and his government that insisted on Soviet, not U.S. or Venezuelan, oil. This made sense at the time; how else could he conduct a totalitarian, Communist revolution in the U.S.'s backyard without linking up with another 600-pound gorilla? Like the Ortega brothers, he bet on the Soviet Union. And he lost.
There is one reason he remains in power. He has been absolutely ruthless in eliminating all opposition, even potential opposition. He trusts few, has eliminated and executed friendly rivals, and through his neighborhood committees retains an Orwellian watch over Cubans that would be the envy of Pinochet in his prime. Moreover, Fidel has hesitated to make even the most modest economic reforms, and when he does he almost always reverses them as they generate political space for Cubans. Do we, does Domínguez, really believe switching U.S. for Argentine wheat, adding New Jersey doctors to Swedish teachers as tourists, will change Fidel?
It is pretty clear Fidel will remain in power until he dies. But what happens then? If we establish full and normal relations with a dictatorial and adversarial regime in Cuba today, what incentives can a future U.S. administration offer as Cuba determines its course post-Fidel? If things go wrong, at least from our view, do we act more sternly than we did to Fidel? How do we express our support, when it might be vital to a new, but weak, government? And what credibility will any U.S. government have, when it speaks to a new Cuban administration, if it has brushed aside mortal missile threats, incredibly massive human-rights violations, vicious attacks on its policies, and continued hostility in order to establish economic (and political?) relations similar to those it has with Uruguay?
The endgame, based on actuarial tables, is fast approaching. Domínguez's implied policies, probably emanating from 40 years of frustration, would reduce the U.S. position in this endgame to nothing. Fidel, and we, made our beds long ago; it is time to allow Fidel to die in his. If he does, the year 2022, when Domínguez found his letter, could then well be a year of democracy in Cuba and warm and close relations with the U.S.
Paul M. Meo '61
Grant W. Schaumburg Jr. discovered this letter one day in 2023, as he continued his re-education under the tutelage of the United Communist States Revolutionary Tribunal.
To Fidel Castro, Hero of Cambridge and the Western World
From: Uncle Sam, humble servant of the masses, 4 July 2020
After all these years, I have been ordered by the United Communist States Reparations Tribunal to respond to your letter regarding the trials and tribulations of communist Cuba and its triumph over the imperialism of the United States. In all honesty, I found the letter a teensy bit sarcastic, perhaps because I used to believe in the (losing) cause of freedom and democracy. Nevertheless, as you made clear, communism is the beacon of hope that managed to shine through the darkness of capitalism and individualism.
In the opening years of the twenty-first century, few besides you and a group of tenured Harvard radicals believed that communism would bring food and prosperity to Cuba. After all, it had brought only misery and death to the rest of the world. Although there are those who still claim you are a despot, you have "turned the corner," bringing prosperity and happiness to your sunny isle. And I must admit, we are all better off now that we live in the United Communist States under the benevolent but firm reins of the People's Council of the Harvard Center for International Affairs.
Your reminiscences about Elián brought back some painful memories. I was aghast when in 2015 Elián revealed that a group of Cuban-Americans had illegally entered Cuba in 1999 and snatched him from his mother. If only the former United States had possessed greater numbers of assertive leaders like Comrade Reno, we could have dealt with Elián's kidnapping with the dispatch characteristic of your tenure in Cuba. Reno had the guns and was not afraid to use them.
In any event, I regret the past antagonistic behavior of our country. As you know, since the revolution we have tried to make amends. Jesse Helms and Bob Torrecelli have spent long hours in re-education cells as part of our perpetual Cultural Revolution. Communist Harvard continues to guarantee that all oppressed applicants receive a Harvard degree cum laude with a direct shot at tenure. And the United Communist States has achieved the goal of becoming a workers' paradise where "we pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us."
Grant W. Schaumburg Jr. '67, Ph.D. '73
I was delighted to see the piece on male body image in the July-August issue ("The Curse of Adonis," page 18). However, I was disappointed by the depiction of the two women in the accompanying illustration by Jeff Moores. In a missed opportunity, he chose to draw the female figures with the "Barbie" body that real women must resist every day. Were she drawn to scale, the blonde woman on the left would have the improbable proportions of 36" bust, 16" waist, and 39" hips. While attempting to educate readers in one sex's struggles with body image, Harvard Magazine unfortunately joined other media in perpetuating an unrealistic ideal for the other sex.
Lydia A. Shrier, M.D., M.P.H. '97
LOOKING FOR HOPE IN WARTIME
"What I read at war" (July-August, page 58), by Chris Hedges, is one of the most moving and profound essays possible. And I say this not only as a fellow Divinity School graduate--long before Hedges--who studied with Tillich and James Luther Adams and others who tried to describe Germany in the 1930s and why there was no alternative but to be on the "left." Thank you, as always, for such a great publication!
John M. Cooney, B.D. '59
My husband, Rick Grier-Reynolds, M.Ed. '76, and I have together or separately traveled to several of the war-torn countries Hedges describes. I, too, had followed the news accounts of the destruction, genocide, and humiliation and was stuck in despair. But when I went to the Balkans, I discovered hope as I witnessed what the women's groups and peace groups are doing in response to the violence they experienced and that still threatens them. Every day they gather together and work for change that heals, strengthens, and inspires.
I wonder whether, if Hedges had read works by philosophers like Gandhi, Lao Tzu, Nelson Mandela, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Colman McCarthy, and other defenders of the nonviolent path to resolving conflicts, he would feel more hopeful. I wonder also whether, if he had chosen to report on the courageous and often simple nonviolent work of the people I met in small villages and large cities and given visibility and credibility to their ideas and successes, he would not feel as hopeful as I do.
I commend Hedges for his brevity and punch. His article is one of the strongest, meatiest pieces of literature I have ever read about the sheer idiocy of war.
Barbara Wheatland '52
TO THE PRESIDENT'S SUCCESSOR
The committee for the Equality of Women at Harvard, founded in 1988 by a group of concerned Radcliffe alumnae, aims to encourage the University to increase the number of full professors who are women. The time has come for Harvard to meet the challenge. With President Neil L. Rudenstine's retirement next spring (see page 74), his successor has the opportunity to tackle issues of equity for women at Harvard. Certainly, a commitment to equality for women at Harvard should be a criterion in the selection of the new president.
Barbara Nesbet '90 (for the committee)
Monte Sereno, Calif.
THE NATURE OF DEANS
You refer to "an exaltation of deans" in your coverage of Kathleen Sullivan's address at the Radcliffe Institute ("The Adaptive Law of the Land," July-August, page 77). The correct collective noun for deans is a "delay."
Burton Benedict '45
SHOWING THE COLORS
The sport of bicycle racing was explained beautifully by Craig Lambert ("Freewheeling at 50 M.P.H.," July-August, page 89). The Harvard cycling uniforms are eye-catching and visible, and they are good passive safety equipment. Are they available to Harvard alumni?
Louise Hinrichsen Jones '52
Editor's note: Yes and no. The current batch of uniforms is gone, says Jeffrey Barneson, M.P.A. '95, adviser to the Harvard University Cycling Association, but the club is seeking its next set of sponsors and will order new uniforms, which will look much the same as the old ones, in the fall. Barneson welcomes orders from alumni to reduce unit cost. Contact him at [email protected] or at the team's website, http://hcs.harvard.edu/~huca.
THE ULTIMATE IN SECURITY?
Law professor Gerald Frug is quoted in "The Gated Menace of 'Private Cities'" (July-August, page 20) speaking of those who go from "a gated community to an office park...to the mall...without ever having to enter a public space." Where can such scared souls go on vacation? Disney-esque artifice still contains the danger of seeing humans different from oneself (shudder, shudder). Hence the boom in "moated communities"--cruise ships that churn the sea up in circles until returning the timid to land-based security.
My brother, Patrick McGowan '66, had a day job teaching in a gated community that was at the end of this spectrum with regard to 24/7 security and codes of behavior. That place was Folsom Prison.
Owen Lea McGowan '66
A CAUTIONARY NOTE
Your July-August coverage of the University in 2000 was fascinating, celebratory, and--in a certain way--disturbing. The talk by President Neil L. Ruden-stine, "A Hazard of Good Fortune" (page 44), had real content. So often such talk is reminiscent of Christopher Fry's line in The Lady's Not for Burning, "where shall I find a latitude without a platitude?" His citation of the passage from the 1941 Harvard Alumni Bulletin was especially apposite. Certainly the University has been and must continue to be a light to dissipate the darkness.
Why then do I say that it was also disturbing? I say this because I wish that in all the celebration of the success of the campaign someone had struck the note of Kipling's "Recessional." He wrote it for Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, the apogee of the British empire. When nearly all saw the empire as eternal, he said:
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet
Lest we forget--lest we forget!
Ronald Newburgh '46
POLISH RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE
In his commendable letter to the editor printed in the January-February issue (page 11), the Reverend W. Scott Axford, M.Div. '88, wrote to rebut a statement quoted in an earlier article that Harvard Divinity School was founded to combat Catholicism. Unfortunately, his letter also passed along a couple of widely held-- but erroneous--views that continue to complicate both friendly ecumenical relations and the American public's understanding of central and eastern Europe.
Axford states that the Roman Catholic Church accepted the validity of Protestant baptism only in 1965. In fact, the Catholic Church had never concluded otherwise, and Protestants received into the Catholic faith were traditionally understood to be fellow Christians already, provided that they had at some point received even the simplest baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Also needing a response is his assertion that early Unitarians were persecuted mercilessly in Poland and elsewhere by the Jesuits. The reality is that for most of its history, Poland has been a country of considerable religious tolerance, which is why so many Jews and other religious dissenters settled there. Early Unitarian communities found Poland a relatively hospitable territory, while the Jesuits found intellectual achievement, spiritual depth, and architectural brilliance more effective than any compulsion could be. Religious conflict, while present, was light by the standards of the day, and Poland's once-numerous Protestant congregations shrank over time for reasons largely unrelated to persecution, leaving a small but well-integrated minority that lives on to this day. Poland's current prime minister, Jerzy Buzek, is a Protestant, a fact considered unexceptional in that still strongly Catholic country.
Stephen Klimczuk, M.B.A. '87
Great Falls, Va.