Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

Cambridge 02138

March-April 2010

Art Saviors

I was delighted to read “The Art Army” (January-February, page 36) and look forward to reading Robert Edsel’s book. The subject is truly important and the saving/salvaging of Europe’s art treasures is a real tribute to those dedicated men who worked tirelessly to make it happen. Happily, many were from Harvard.

Anyone interested in this period will also enjoy The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War, by Lynn Nicholas. All those mentioned under “Harvard Art Allies” (page 75) are included in that book except for Langdon Warner, who worked in Japan, and Otto Wittmann, who was with the Office of Strategic Services and not the Monuments Men.

“The Art Army” brings much deserved credit to a group who received virtually none at the time.

Robert L. Wiley ’52, M.B.A. ’57
Mercer Island, Wash.

 

Harvard alumni did indeed do much to locate and restitute the vast numbers of artworks confiscated by the Nazis. Unfortunately, however, the men of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the U.S. Army were only able to complete part of the job. There remain today tens of thousands of artworks stolen from Jews and others that have yet to be identified and restituted to their original owners or their heirs.

The main Jewish organizations active in the restitution of property looted from victims of the Holocaust—the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) and the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO)—focus on urging governments and institutions to improve and create processes to enable more owners and heirs to recover their property.  We issued a report a few years ago on U.S. museums’ progress in reviewing their collections’ provenance, and I am pleased to note that the Harvard Art Museums have done quite a bit in this regard (the report is available at www.claimscon.org). 

This past June, as part of its presidency of the European Union, the Czech Republic organized a major Conference on Holocaust Era Assets that was held in Prague with the participation of 47 governments. The United States delegation was headed by Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, LL.B. ’67. The Claims Conference/WJRO presented worldwide overviews of looted art and looted Judaica prepared by our director of research, Wesley A. Fisher ’66, with the assistance of other staff members, including our senior restitution specialist, Arie Bucheister, J.D. ’78. And there was presentation of a survey we are sponsoring of the records of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), the primary Nazi looting agency, that is being prepared by Patricia Kennedy Grimsted of Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute.

Harvard and Harvard alumni continue to play a major role in restituting the works stolen in the greatest art theft in history.  

Greg Schneider, M.P.P. ’95
Executive vice president, Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany
New York City

 

I am puzzled by your omission of my grandfather S. Lane Faison Jr., A.M. ’30, from the sidebar, “Harvard Art Allies.”

Edward Faison, M.F.S. ’06
New Preston, Conn.

 

Editor’s note: We regret the omission of S. Lane Faison Jr.’s name. He is referred to four times in The Monuments Men, most vividly in the author’s note (pages xv-xvi), where Robert Edsel movingly describes an almost-three-hour visit with him only 10 days before his death on Veterans Day 2006. But the book omits his Harvard connection, and his name wasn’t included in Harvard-affiliated Monuments Men material sent by the foundation. The introduction to that sidebar noted, “Harvard men...included,” and it invited readers to share data about MFAA members with the foundation, in hopes other Harvard affiliates might be recognized and eventually acknowledged in these pages.

 

The article contains one factual error. Neuschwanstein Castle is in the Bavarian (German) Alps, not the Austrian Alps.

Yale Richmond
Washington, D.C.

 

Funny Telephony

As a professional physicist trained at Harvard, I have often been shocked at the scientific illiteracy revealed in newspaper and magazine articles. I was very disappointed by the photograph that illustrates Craig Lambert’s “Radio Wits” (January-February, page 13), since I am an enthusiastic fan of Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! and of Harvard Magazine. The picture shows a tin-can telephone linked by a slack string, but any scientifically knowledgeable child knows that a taut string is required to transmit the sound vibrations from one can to the other. Perhaps the editors can prevail upon a scientist to review each issue of the magazine, from cover to cover, in order to correct egregious scientific errors. It is probably hopeless to try to raise the level of publications in general, but surely all publications associated with Harvard University can aspire to scientific literacy.

Richard Sah, Ph.D. ’70
Moranga, Calif.

 

The tin-can-and-string communications system between Carl Kassel and Peter Sagal won’t work; the string has to be taut!

Harold Greenlee, Ph.D. ’47
Fort Myers, Fla.

 

Editor’s note: The photograph, provided by NPR, is meant to be funny.

 

Harvard News Office

Samuel Hutchison Beer

Professor Beer

I was a student in Social Sciences 2 in my freshman year, 1954-1955 (“Two Masters,” College Pump, January-February, page 64). Following a legal career in private practice and federal and state governments, I began teaching at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy in the mid 1990s. What I learned from Professor Samuel Beer was always close to me as I designed graduate and undergraduate courses in American political institutions and the rule of law; and specifically, the interplay of fact and theory. Abstract theory by itself lacks a grounding in reality; facts by themselves lack structure that convey meaning. Beer showed me, and I hope my students, the rich understanding that comes from using theory to explain facts and using facts to develop theory.

David Falk ’58
Washington, D.C.

Editor’s note: As to matters of fact, Dick Bloom ’76, of West Chester, Pennsylvania, writes, “If you check, I think you’ll find that his middle name was Hutchison.”

 

Ayn Rand’s Visits

I am a bit amused at the implication by Jennifer Burns ’97 (Vita, November-December 2009, page 32) and correspondent Michel Choban ’66 (January-February, page 5) that Ayn Rand’s first speaking gig at Harvard was in October 1962. Rand had spoken at Harvard at least once earlier. The talk that I attended was during the 1961-1962 academic year, at the invitation of the Harvard Business School’s Student Association. Her remarks were before a standing-room-only crowd in Baker Library’s main lecture hall. I do not pretend to have the recollection of what Rand said that Mr. Choban does about her later appearance, but I do recall that she discussed (with alarm) the state of American politics and the threat from international communism. Notwithstanding an audience generally sympathetic to her antipathy for Keynesian economics, not all attendees warmed to Rand’s crusty, unwelcoming persona. Her style was definitely not that of the Mr. Rogers persuasion. 

William P. MacKinnon, M.B.A. ’62 
Santa Barbara, Calif.

 

Heroes

“Above and Beyond” (November-December 2009, page 69) and “Veterans Day Salute” (January-February, page 63) took me back to my own undergraduate years in the early 1950s. Then, often in Dunster House library, instead of pursuing assigned course reading, I turned to browsing through Harvard Alumni Bulletins in the magazine rack, and it was at that time that I first read detailed reports of the losses in Korea of Marine Corps Lieutenants Douglas H.T. Bradlee ’50, George C. Lee ’51, and Medal of Honor recipient Sherrod E. Skinner Jr. ’51 (whom I had met briefly in my freshman year) and of the probable similar fate of Franklin P. Dunbaugh ’51. 

Years later, in the 1970s, when, as a professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, meetings and conferences now and again took me to the Pentagon, I rarely missed including in my day a visit to the Medal of Honor commemorative exhibit, specifically to salute there the name and heroism of Lieutenant Skinner.

Throughout my years in the Marines, I always attempted, however imperfectly, to emulate his selfless concern, dutiful commitment, and dedicated leadership. My memory of this son of Harvard’s shining example and exceptional valor will be everlasting.

Semper Fi!

Arthur David Levin ’54, M.B.A. ’60
Greenfield, Mass.

 

Plainer Language

While I laud Bruce Corsino’s efforts to promote “usable, efficient, and transparent” writing for all Americans (“Plain Speaker,” January-February, page 60), I was taken aback by his comment that “nobody wants to go home after they’ve had a hard day….” My sense is that “nobody” is singular and that, thus, “they” cannot claim it as an antecedent. As James Kilpatrick used to say in his nationally syndicated column, “The Writer’s Art,” “Sometimes you have to recast the sentence.”

Ronald E. Gravatt ’69, Ph.D.
Buena Vista, Va.

 

Editor’s note: We make allowances for spoken English, hoping to receive the same.

 

Israel’s Origins

While I commend Laura Wharton ’83 for her Rosa Parks-inspired efforts to desegregate the Jerusalem bus system (“Insider Activist,” The Classes, January-February, page 64I), I was dismayed to learn that her youthful inspiration to move there after college was founded in her fascination about the “re-formation of a state out of nowhere.” Her fascination was, of course, not based in fact. 

The immigration movement—and the undeniable suffering and courage—which made the re-formation of that state possible took place at first in a “somewhere” called the Ottoman Empire, and later in the “somewhere” of Britain’s Palestine mandate. That Harvard graduates, their favorite magazine and, indeed, most of American society, persist in this “nowhere” story is key to the denial which maintains that part of the world in seemingly perpetual turmoil.

 Do we learn historical revisionism singing at Commencement of our school being the “first flower of their wilderness?” “Our ancestors’ worth” was similarly fostered by a place the Wampanoags called not “wilderness,” but “home.” 

Alan Weaver ’69
Augusta, Maine

 

Football Fandom

The recent pleasantries in the Yale Bowl (“Stinging the Blues,” January-February, page 56) caused me to wonder what living Harvard alum had seen the most Yale games, as participant or spectator. That alum used to be given a large H flag to wave at the Game, but that honor is now awarded on more subjective grounds.

November 21, 2009, was a glorious day at the Bowl, but I missed it, leaving my attendance at 36 games, well out of the running for any attendance record. Will claimants please step forward and, incidentally, inform us whether the Harlow teams were as good as the Murphy juggernauts?

Spencer Ervin ’54
Bass Harbor, Maine

 

Editor’s note: Mr. Ervin refers to the “Little Red Flag,” covered in a sidebar within the article on the Stadium’s centennial (“First and 100,” September-October 2003, page 42). Any claimants? Please come forward.

As for gridiron giants, correspondent “Cleat” weighs in (literally): “I don’t think there’s much question that teams of the Dick Harlow era (1935-1947) would be out of their league against Tim Murphy’s outfits, if only because of the difference in physical size. The five interior linemen on the 1938 team averaged 187 pounds; the offensive line of last fall’s team averaged 282, so the Harlovians would be giving away almost a hundred pounds per man. A 200-pounder was still a rarity in the 1930s. And size is just one parameter. Today’s players benefit from strength and conditioning drills and equipment unheard of in Harlow’s day, and of course the techniques and tactics of the game have advanced greatly. Consider that in the 1941 Game, Harvard attempted just four forward passes. And completed one.” 

 

Other Alumni

In “Intellectual Entrepreneurs” (January-February, page 15), the magazine neglected to mention New York Times film critic A.O. Scott’s Harvard class affiliation: ’88. I greatly enjoyed “Radio Wits,” about National Public Radio’s Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! Another Harvard connection: Elizabeth Novey ’05 is the Web producer of the show. 

David Gura
Associate editor, NPR
Washington, D.C.