A Bad Attitude

Brass Tacks

TWO MEN WERE scheduled to come to the Kennedy School last Wednesday.

One was well-received, spoke to 200 people at an Institute of Politics Forum and after his speech attended a calm press conference.

The other was so shunned by the Harvard community that he was forced to change his schedule completely and enter a side door. He never spoke to an open audience or accomplished what he came to do. The uproar over the whole affair reached a crescendo seldom seen here.

Who was the first man? A revered local politician, perhaps the soon-to-retire "Tip" O'Neill? Or maybe a distinguished visiting scholar? Wrong. It was Georgi Arbatov, a Soviet government specialist on North America.

Well, then, who was the second invited speaker? A South African government leader, perhaps? Or a "contra?" No. It was Ed Meese, attorney general of the United States.


The merits of the proposed Meese medal have been exhaustively debated on this page and do not bear repeating here. What does beg a closer look is the contrasting reactions of the Harvard community to these two men. No juxtaposition of public events in my four years here has been so shocking or so close, in both space and time. And no two recent events could serve better as a quick illustration of the political biases of Harvard students.

I HAVE NO doubt that the "outrage" chronicled by The Crimson over the proposed Meese medal is genuine. Meese is no sterling example of American dedication to public service, and K-School students know this. The concern of more than 230 students at the school who signed a petition to reconsider the medal is merited and deserves to be aired.

Unfortunately, the scale and character of protest deterred Meese from any kind of public appearance and will be construed by Reagan Administration officials and others as a direct insult to Meese. Right or wrong, the whole affair has put the K-School in the role of administration-basher with no graceful "out" available for Dean Graham T. Allison '62 or anyone else.

Now contrast this protracted "Meese affair" with Arbatov's appearance--on the exact same day that Meese was scheduled to receive his award. No student "outrage" was expressed beforehand. No one complained that a Harvard podium, complete with a veritas shield, gave the Soviet official undue legitimacy. And no demonstration occurred either outside the building or within the Forum.

Arbatov chose his subject well. He lectured the audience on the evils of Reagan et al. He accused the United States of accelerating the arms race. And he blamed the Reagan Administration for "waging a relentless battle against us."

No doubt Arbatov was confident that he had a receptive audience for this diatribe, given the anti-Meese hoopla of the preceding days. And with the exception of a few tough questions--which he brushed off as "irrelevant"--nothing he saw or heard could have signified anything different. The audience was well-behaved and attentive, for the most part, and the majority of questions centered on the agenda of U.S.-bashing Arbatov had already set for himself.

BUT TOUGH QUESTIONS are exactly what Arbatov and and other high-ranking officials of the Soviet government must be forced to answer when they come to places like Harvard. The list of ongoing wrongs for which the Soviet regime must be held accountable goes on and on; Afghanistan's million-plus dead only top the list. And Arbatov was allowed to brush it all aside last week in the name of "relevance."

Now, I know that there's a difference between giving a medal and inviting a speaker, but it's only a difference in degree, not kind. In this case they were both positive steps taken by the K-School which conferred--or may yet confer next month, in Meese's case--Harvard's "stamp," if not of approval then at least of acceptance.

It's simply naive to argue that Arbatov and his superiors do not treasure these opportunities to stand in front of Western audiences, complete with pinstripes and solemn faces, and lecture on the evils of the U.S. One might even say they value these a medal.

Certainly Ed Meese, like most people, has done things he shouldn't, and that distinct possibility must not be ignored. In Meese's case, it hasn't been: he faced possibly the most exhaustive investigation and confirmation process since the Nixon era when the President nominated him to be Attorney General. This latest episode of the Meese saga at Harvard is only part of the American tradition of public accountability.

Why shouldn't Arbatov and his like, when they come to our country, be forced to answer the "tough ones?" Why should the incredible gall shown by their pious intonations of peace go virtually unchallenged? Why should their dismissal of direct questions be perceived as "statesman-like" when a similar action by an American would be called "stonewalling?" Soviet officials routinely dodge accountability for their actions by invoking an alleged "need" for harmonious East-West relations which nasty questions would presumably harm. It's time for us to call their bluff.

Harvard's blindness toward the destruction of Afghanistan and other Soviet crimes becomes more puzzling and saddening to me every year. We hold an extremely high standard to ourselves and those connected with us, and in almost all cases that is as it should be. Is it so much to ask that everyone, when they come here, be held to the same high standard?

Recommended Articles