Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Academy

In the late 1960s I was a Grad student and Instructor at MIT and my office was adjacent to the ROTC offices in the old WW II Rad Lab wooden building, Building 20. Many nights as I worked there were threats of bombs from the students opposing the Vietnam War. For a variety of reasons I also saw it as a nightmare, having lost a few class mates in the process.

Today we have a Presidential election as an event which may or may not change our society, for the better or the worse. And today the current MIT President sends out a letter saying:

As I saw this afternoon, students have wrapped the six great columns in Lobby 7 with huge sheets of paper. Three ask that you "Share Your Hopes," three to "Share Your Fears." They are covered with handwritten responses. People are lingering to read and add their own. Many say they fear for the future of the country, some for their personal safety, for their civil rights or that "my values no longer matter." Others fear that their peers will never take the time to understand why they voted for the winner. One hope struck me in particular: "I hope to understand the 48 percent of Americans who disagree with me." Nearly all the writers express some kind of pain. Yet together they have created a wonderful example of mutual respect and civil dialogue.

Pain? Pain in 1968 was being blown apart by a War that had no reason. Over 50,000 people died, in a bloody conflict. Those whom we fought are now "allies". Not that it is different. But in 1969 Jerry Wiesner was President, and he let the students express concern but at the same time we had a semblance of order, at least until Kent State, when US Troops executed unarmed students. You want pain, then there was pain as we saw students in pools of blood on a college campus.

Today there is the question of a change. That is the election process we have in our Constitution. Usually almost half like the result and half do not. But saying:

Nearly all the writers express some kind of pain

Begs the question; both the winners and losers had "pain". One must ask; how is their existence to change? Are they to be drafted and sent off to a war? We have a Constitution and a legal system which for better or worse seems to function. Perhaps leaders should lead and not whine with the crowd. Wiesner was a leader, I wonder what we may have at this time?

Now on the MIT Admission site there is some student blog that list the fears: 

I'm afraid for the ENVIRONMENT
I'm afraid for all the people I love
Honestly my fears do not really grow. It is just a new day, and we should be able to go through. The only fear that has been there for a while may be that this country seems separating. But this is not caused by Trump. The US is just as separating as it has been. but Trump may have made it more explicit.
That this will turn people against each other instead of educate them as to WHY we need progress. It's not the time to block or delete people - that won't help us win 2020
I fear that fear will continue to hinder progress.
That persuasion and loving, rational discourse doesn't work in America anymore.
That inequality will grow/deepen, and that we will be a more polarized nation.
I'm afraid of war with Russia.
that we still be stuck playing the blame game
that I don't really have a home, because America clearly doesn't want or love me
I fear because misogyny, sexism, racism and xenophobia are no longer closet feelings.
What do I tell my daughter? 

Now I look back a generation or two. Seventy-two years ago my father was in Leyte Gulf, one third of his crew blown to bits by a combination of Japanese and American friendly fire. They fought to  keep the destroyer afloat and then in a few months back into battle until August 1945 and then months in Japan on Occupation. Then 100 years ago my Grandmother, who was a leader in Socialist Party in New York, ran for Congress, and petitioned Wilson for the Women's Vote. Talk of fear. Wilson had her and six other women, The Lorton 7, sent to Lorten prison, force fed with hoses, and drenched with cold water every day. Yes, that was the Democrat Wilson.

What is the role of an Academy President?  Besides raising money. It is leadership. Wiesner was a leader. I wonder about the current incumbent. Leadership does not play to the crowd. It looks forward, reaches upward, sets positive goals and visions. It appears that many of the current "leaders" seem to respond the the crowd. One must then look at the Governments from whence they came perhaps and ask how well they have done. Leaders set visions, they must look above the chaff of the young voices and understand what American stands for, opportunity equal for each individual. Whether Locke, Montisque or Ockham, it was centuries of understanding equality, the individual, and opportunity. If they can keep that vision then they are doing their job. Fear and pain from privileged youth when there is none palpable based on some physical phenomenon just plays into a theme that we have seen has sent those South American countries into centuries of upheaval.

So pain, fear? Bombs, Vietnam, Leyte, Okinawa, Lorton, Iraq, Syria. So what do I tell my granddaughters? The same as grandsons; that they are individuals, they have the same rights, the same risks, and make sure they accept that and not be intimidated. Don't whine; work, achieve, produce, contribute, respect, help.

Now, let's all get back to work!