Johns Hopkins Magazine -- February 2001
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A niece remembers Lattimore
Dispiriting and dull
Blinded to the truth
A fateful discovery
No "chit-chat" required
Courage under fire
Give us back our Quads
A textbook mistake
Flame retardants save lives

A niece remembers Lattimore

I read with interest the article in your September issue about Owen Lattimore ["Seeing Red"], which was long overdue. I found it mostly fair, except for the ill-chosen headline beginning "At times arrogant, even downright rude." Owen Lattimore was my uncle, and I lived with him and Eleanor and David in their house in Ruxton for two years, 1940-42, while finishing high school at Baltimore Friends.

Owen and Eleanor were superb examples of what people call, often rather sneeringly, "intellectuals," i.e., they could not be happy unless their minds were engaged as much of the time as possible. There was no small talk, time-wasting, or triviality in their lives. They loved conversation, but only with people who had something interesting to say. I remember that the radio was on all through dinner, tuned to a news station. I think that McCarthy would have been not much more to them than an annoying mosquito if he had not been able to waste so much of their time! This was maddening to Owen, and must have been one of the causes of what has been described as his "rudeness."

However there was another side to Owen that has not been brought out. He was an irrepressibly humorous man, who loved jokes, terrible puns, and old comic songs. In fact, when I remember him in those pre-McCarthy days it is with a smile on his face and a mischievous look in his eyes. The adjective that comes to mind is "jovial." This is the Owen Lattimore that does not come across in any of the many pages I have read about him. He never was "a broken man." McCarthy may have dampened his spirits temporarily, but when I visited him not long before his death I found his basic personality unchanged, though he [did become] more melancholy after Eleanor's death.

Another thing not mentioned was his English accent, which must have done him no good in the U.S.; Americans tend to think of English accents as signifying arrogance, affectation, or even villainy. But he never actually lived in the U.S. until his late 20s, and to have tried to change his accent then would have been, indeed, an affectation. England welcomed him and made him feel appreciated again; no one there took McCarthy seriously.

Your article did not mention [Owen's] best-known work, The Inner Asian Frontiers of China, which is still considered to be a definitive text on that subject. Few foreigners have known Mongolia as he did. The notion of his being a "Russian spy" was particularly ludicrous because it was the Mongols he always championed, against both the Russians and the Chinese. If it had not been for family ties he would have liked to have ended his days in a Mongol yurt.
Marguerite Frost (MA'54)
Halifax, Nova Scotia

Dispiriting and dull

Ms. Simpson has written a dull, desultory, banal, and dispirited article about a man so much the opposite of the above adjectives that it leaves me somewhat disappointed and even angry. Johns Hopkins needs to be much more condemned than it is. Alger Hiss needs to be labeled much more strongly for the traitor he was. The so-called "McCarthy Era," one of the darkest times in this nation's history, needs to be more strongly elucidated for the national disgrace it was.
Leo Marx
Berkeley, CA

Blinded to the truth

In 1944, Owen Lattimore paid a visit to the Kolyma concentration camps in the Soviet Union. The Kolyma camps, where more than 3 million innocent human beings were shot or worked to death, were the worst in the Soviet Union, the "pole of cold and cruelty" as Solzhenitsyn describes them. Lattimore thought they were wonderful places. In an article he wrote for National Geographic, he talked about how strong and well-fed the camp inmates were. He ascribed to one camp commandant, "a trained and sensitive interest in art and music and also a deep sense of civic responsibility."

The best one can say for Lattimore is that he was totally taken in by the elaborate deception mounted to deceive him and other visitors. It would be closer to the truth to say that he was deceived because he wanted to be deceived. What he wrote for National Geographic was consistent with the political line he had followed at least since the late 1930s. However, by 1944 enough accurate information about the Soviet Union had been published in the West to cause a scrupulous scholar at least to question whether what he was shown in Kolyma was the whole truth.

Owen Lattimore failed to meet his obligations, as a scholar and as a human being.
Samuel B. Payne Jr. (SAIS '76)

A fateful discovery

"Seeing Red" refers to Lattimore the Scholar and says of me, "the pamphlet's co-editor": "Harvey Wheeler, a Hopkins assistant professor of political science, left soon after its publication, later saying he was forced out because of his support for Lattimore." This statement is faulty. I did not leave Hopkins; my appointment was canceled because of my role in the editing and publication of Lattimore the Scholar. Here is the background: Before coming to Hopkins I had never met Owen Lattimore; I'd never read anything he'd written. I knew nothing about the research institute he operated at Hopkins. I knew only what was in the papers about "the China lobby."

George Boas, chairman of the philosophy department, had academic interests very close to my own and I sought him out for frequent discussions. A fateful discovery occurred [during] one of these. I'd asked about the prior Lattimore episode, not knowing Lattimore was the crucial figure in the academic freedom posture maintained by Hopkins. To calm the situation, Boas had conducted an investigation into Lattimore's academic standing among the world's leading Sinologists. Boas opened a file and showed me the stack of responses he'd received from all over the world. The replies were absolutely stupendous. I said they should be published; they could absolve Lattimore from the charges of bias and of the exercise of pro-Communist influence. Boas agreed, but he was too busy. I said I'd do the editing and handle the printing. I would distribute them to Congress and the press. It would be expensive but I said I'd pay for it. I classified and edited the letters, got permission to print them, and finished the publishing project.

Some students wanted to help. I said no. [This] was serious and the stakes were big. Besides I could not vouch for Lattimore. I'd only met him once and knew nothing about him. Suppose it turned out he was a Communist? For me, [that didn't matter]. I was defending First Amendment rights. But I could not permit anybody else to take that chance.

I called Gerald W. Johnston, the well-known liberal journalist. He did the preface. I started with a 1,000 print run. First the mailings to Congress. Next to journalists. To all the academics I knew. A call came from Carey McWilliams, editor of The Nation. He agreed to publish the entire booklet, leading to an avalanche of mail-in orders. I.F. Stone printed a large excerpt in I.F. Stone's Weekly. A second printing, and then a third. The payment from The Nation and the write-in orders finally paid out-of-pocket costs for Lattimore the Scholar.

One day before the printing was finished, Carl Brent Swisher, my department chair, asked me to lunch. He asked me to stop the Lattimore project. I was stunned. It would bring harm on me, he said. McCarthy might extend his Lattimore investigations to the Political Science Department. Swisher clarified: the project would ruin my career, academically, at Hopkins.

My co-author was George Boas, the highly esteemed chairman of the Philosophy Department. Carl Swisher was an authority on constitutional law, biographer of justices of the Supreme Court. He said he would fire me if I published authoritative proof of the academic integrity of a scholar whose institute was associated with his own department. I said I would give my reply the next day. I did. Soon I received a letter from Swisher stating my appointment would not be renewed. Inadequate publications was the explanation he gave out informally.

The humanities and social science faculty learned about this quickly and were sympathetic. George Boas could not help. He explained times were tough and everything depended on the department chairman. I held many discussions, including with C. Vann Woodward and Fritz Machlup, who was a good friend. If I'd been in Philosophy or Economics I'd have been complimented rather than fired.
Harvey Wheeler

No "chit-chat" required

I am troubled by the implied criticism of Hopkins professor William Foxwell Albright in the [November] letter from Chester Wickwire, chaplain emeritus. Chaplain Wickwire states that "it was difficult not to court controversy at Hopkins over freedom of inquiry and discussion, or civil rights and equal opportunity." He then describes an instance of "faculty polarization" when Dr. Albright, attending a dinner for Arnold Toynbee, did not speak to Dr. Toynbee's host, Owen Lattimore. It is perhaps the case that Dr. Albright refused to speak to Professor Lattimore because he was hosting a world famous scholar who had termed the Jews a "fossil" people. In any case, I rather doubt that Dr. Albright would have denied Dr. Toynbee or Professor Lattimore the "freedom of inquiry." Surely, however, the support of academic freedom does not require making small "chit-chat" with people one disagrees with. There is a distinction between politeness and support for academic freedom. There is a distinction between defense of freedom of inquiry and faculty polarization.
Rashi Fein '48 (PhD '56)

Courage under fire

Thank you for publishing "Seeing Red." In a country that has progressively devalued the word hero by misapplication and excessive use, Owen Lattimore was a truly heroic figure. His life was full of remarkable accomplishments, yet he has been mostly forgotten, even at Hopkins where he spent many years. Perhaps this is appropriate for a man who never sought fame, but was forced to defend himself in a situation right out of a Franz Kafka story.

I met Mr. Lattimore in the spring of 1957 as a freshman when I was sent to his home by a student service, to perform household chores. I was surprised to be met at the Lattimores' front door by a lama in orange robes. He was a striking figure, but he spoke no English, so he fetched Mr. Lattimore, who explained what needed to be done and invited me to stay for lunch. The work was easy, and the meal was simple and quiet, much like the household.

During my senior year, I married the daughter of John Marshall Butler, U.S. Senator from Maryland and one of Joe McCarthy's allies. Rarely was McCarthy's name mentioned, and Lattimore's never came up. Now I live in the Appleton, Wisconsin, area where McCarthy became a judge, a U.S. senator, an alcoholic, and a coarse self-promoter. One of the ongoing mysteries about the McCarthy era was the ease with which the American public was misled by a man who almost never substantiated his wild and crazy accusations.
Robert W. Barrington (MD '60)
Neenah, WI

Give us back our Quads

With barely a whisper of information, alumni learn that commencement will no longer be on the Upper Quad and that Spring Fair is banished to what is left of Garland Field (November, p. 19). Outrageous is the absurdity that because of a few pristine brick pavements and some drainage tubes, no vehicles can traverse the Quads to make either of these time-honored traditions available to future students. Done in the cloak of the summer months, and certainly without an adequate forum for alumni comment, the deed is done. What can be done can be undone. Hopkins has upset many devoted alumni in favor of a few who want to make the campus into a sterile portrait. To the University: give us back our traditions, our Quads.
Adam Lippe Class Agent A&S '95

A textbook mistake

In "History Doesn't Have to Be Boring" [September, p. 41], Joy Hakim's series, A History of Us, is praised for what it is: wonderful. While Oxford University Press appreciates this praise, there is one major oversight. [The article] states: "Oxford Press had provided little in the way of supportive curricular materials to accompany Hakim's books." This simply is not true. Oxford has made available for many years a series of shorter, 64-page teaching guides as well as worksheets to accompany each of the books in the series. The teaching guides and worksheets are filled with thought-provoking ideas, classroom activities, and projects that motivate and inspire students using A History of Us.
Stephen Maikowski
Publisher, Young Adult Reference
Oxford University Press

Flame retardants save lives

In "Home Sick Home" [September], professor Timothy Buckley incorrectly notes that brominated flame retardants are used to treat clothing. To the best of our knowledge, these products have never been used to treat clothing of any type. Brominated flame retardants help save lives and reduce property damage by delaying ignition and slowing flame spread. Escape time can be increased as much as 15 times by their use--[important, considering] that thousands of people die in fires in the U.S. each year, and upholstered furniture fires are the leading cause of fire deaths. Moreover, two flame-retardants, used primarily in upholstery textiles, were reviewed recently by the National Academy of Sciences and found not to pose a hazard to consumers.
Courtney M. Price/HCS
American Chemistry Council