Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Readers Write re: Harvard’s Seagoing Warriors


Reader 1:

“I had not realized that the Navy could be so much fun. But while Harvard may not have been primed for a land war, evidently they did do their bit at sea.”

I beg to disagree with the light tone of this, unless I misread a bit of facetiousness. A quick search on Ironbottom Sound, Savo Island, or Guadalcanal naval losses would show a disturbing number of cruisers and destroyers sunk in action or scuttled:

Cruisers (heavy and light): 5 sunk, 9 damaged

Destroyers: 9 sunk, 6 damaged

This was in 1942-1943, before mass production made it to the task forces in the Pacific, and represented most of the non-capital ship strength of the Pacific fleet. The Harvard men didn’t want desk service, or being stuck on capital ships. They wanted to come out in small ships and fight the war. I consider this bravery to about the point of insanity; it looked like we lost or suffered severe damage on combat ships about as fast as they could reach the southwest Pacific. Mr. Bradlee survived this? Thanks for your service and courage, sir.

It’s more a shame that today’s Harvard men don’t petition for combat in the same way.

Reader 2:

Bradlee is, of course, full of beans. Thousands of Harvard men served in WW2, and they didn’t get Destroyers guaranteed. You can look on the walls at memorial Church. Also, at the obits in the alumni mag. Every issue now, most of the deaths are classes of 1935-1948, and virtually every one that is listed served — in every branch. Of course, given educational needs, they had a disproportionate number in thing like naval gunnery, air crew bombardier, etc. My own class lost 2 in Vietnam, which is about our proportion of the national numbers.

Finally, the most recent alumni pub showcased some 150 Iraqi/Afghan war vets now in school, mostly in grad schools, but some even in the college.

So — at least modulate the mindless Harvard-hate. At least for the grads — maybe keep some of it for the profs and administration. Although I will say that Summers started going to all of the ROTC commissioning, and, to my surprise, President Faust has continued that.

My comment:

I thank these readers for their informative notes. I think I was not as clear as I could have been. I did not mean to express hatred for Harvard or to minimize Harvard’s contribution in WWII, but to highlight the damage done by Lyndon Johnson’s fecklessness regarding the Vietnam War, and how it changed the way young, privileged Ivy Leaguers look at the military. But the fact that Harvard students continue to join the military, despite that overall change of attitude, is something to respect. (My father was in the Merchant Marine during the war. His ship was sunk, and he was adrift for days on a raft with some of his fellow seamen before being rescued.)

Also, Henry James’s The Bostonians contains a moving scene in which two of the main characters visit Harvard’s memorial hall and see the long list of the men who fought in the Civil War. 


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