Tattletales for an Open Society
NOTICE: This appeared as an advertisement in the January 21, 2002, issue of The Nation.
An Open Letter to Dr. Lynne Cheney and Senator Joseph Lieberman
Dear Dr. Cheney and Senator Lieberman:
On November 11, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an organization you co-founded in 1995, issued a report that listed the names of academics along with 117 statements they made, in public forums or in classes, that questioned aspects of the Administration's war on terrorism. Concluding that "College and university faculty have been the weak link in America's response to the attack," the report asked alumni to bring their (presumed) displeasure about these views to the attention of university administrations. While ACTA's report does not have the cachet of President Nixon's "Enemies List," nor the intimidating force (yet?) of Senator Joseph McCarthy's too-numerous-to-list lists, as an American historian I am naturally interested in this project, and I have decided to offer your organization my full cooperation.
Therefore, as an example to my colleagues, I am stepping forward to name a name, my own--Martin J. Sherwin, the Walter S. Dickson Professor of English and American History at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts--and to tattle on myself. On December 3, 2001, I remarked to a class at Tufts University studying World War II that there was an ominous resemblance between the sense of panic in 1942 that produced Executive Order 9066, permitting the internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry, and the post-9/11 atmosphere that supported the Justice Department's arrest of hundreds of Muslims.
Later, on December 6, after hearing Attorney General John Ashcroft assert before the Senate Judiciary Committee that civil-liberties critics "aid terrorists...erode our national unity and diminish our resolve," I told my class that Mr. Ashcroft had bolstered my resolve to diminish his effort to remake our public discourse in the image of Pinochet's Chile--even if senators who were equally shocked, were too cowed at that moment to challenge such an un-American attitude. Surrendering the liberties that define the unique character of our nation will not help us to win the war on terrorism, I noted; on the contrary, it will only erode the constitutional foundation upon which the political strength of our nation rests. The AG's defense of military commissions (secret trials) in the United States in 2002--even to try suspected terrorists--is an affront to those who fought and died to protect our freedoms in World War II. I recommended that students read Robert Sherrill's book, Military Justice Is to Justice As Military Music Is to Music.
Finally, Dr. Cheney and Senator Lieberman, I implore you as the Founding Mother and Father of ACTA to exert your influence to assure that in the next report Martin J. Sherwin is correctly spelled. Having been too young to be of interest to Senator Joseph McCarthy, and having been embarrassed by my absence from President Nixon's "Enemies List," ACTA's list may be my last opportunity to publicly document my deep love for my country. When my grandchild asks, "What did you do during the 'War on Terrorism,' grandpa?" I will say, "Harry, I spoke out in order to preserve for you and your friends the best things about America. You can read what I said in the ACTA report of..." (date as yet unspecified).
In closing, I call on my colleagues to put political bias aside and assist the organization that Dr. Cheney and Senator Lieberman created; after all, they are one of us: She is a PhD and he claims to be a liberal. You can now tattle on yourself in great company. The Nation will post appropriate critical remarks on a new section of its website: "Tattletales for an Open Society" (TAOS). If you are genuinely uncertain whether a specific remark actually crossed the threshold of acceptable criticism, err on the side of caution: Submit the remark to The Nation's tattletale page and give ACTA a chance to determine whether you should be published. Send your submissions to
MARTIN J. SHERWIN
P.S. Kai Bird and I are writing a biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, whose secret security hearing in 1954 is instructive in these matters.