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The Poet President

I read Jacqueline Vaught Brogan’s article on Father Charles L. O’Donnell (“Time and Again,” Autumn) with great interest. Although I am a relative of Father O’Donnell’s (my great-grandmother’s sister was his mother), I didn’t learn very much about him until many years after I graduated in 1968.

I began collecting and reading his poetry (the collecting made much easier in the age of the Internet), and at my Notre Dame reunion 10 years ago, Rev. John Conley, rector of Siegfried Hall, kindly gave me a tour of the CSC cemetery where Father O’Donnell is buried. There I learned that, as an Army chaplain in World War I, Father O’Donnell’s grave is also marked with an in-ground granite headstone, a tribute evidently reserved for CSC military chaplains. Father Conley also told me to visit the World War I memorial side entrance to the Basilica (“God, Country, Notre Dame”) and look up. Hanging from the ceiling upside down is Father O’Donnell’s old Army helmet with insignias of the Army battalions he was chaplain of painted on the ceiling.

When I attended my reunion five years ago, I looked to see if there were any republished books of Father O’Donnell’s poetry in the ND section of the bookstore. Finding none, I asked the clerk about any University plans to do so, only to find out he was a poet and a great admirer of Father O’Donnell’s poetry. Later that day, I visited Father O’Donnell’s grave and noticed that someone had taken a small piece of earth from in front of his headstone.

Evidently, Father O’Donnell lives in the hearts and minds of many people, and it was wonderful to enjoy Jacqueline Vaught Brogan’s rediscovery of his poetry. Will the University ever republish Father O’Donnell’s poetry so more people can become acquainted with him?

Brian J. Kenny ’68
Ellington, Connecticut


Forgiving

With respect to “As We Forgive Those,” published in the Autumn 2003 Notre Dame Magazine,the parent of an abused or murdered child can and has found it nicely and comfortably available to them to forgive the perpetrator. And, in fact, forgiveness was not an issue for these parents as they understood the behavior and the actions of the perpetrators. The concentration camp victims can forgive the perpetrators. The word forgiveness has been in all the dictionaries I’ve ever looked in, under “F.” I’m 69 years old.

Phil Kramer ’56
Villa Park, Illinois


Israeli Myth

Just a few comments in response to the letter by Mandel S. Ziegler. Characterizing Israel as “a tiny nation . . . greatly outnumbered militarily” perpetuates the myth of Israel being a small helpless country surrounded by teeming hordes of warlike Arabs. In fact, Israel has the third most powerful army in the the world. This is courtesy of the largesse of the U.S. government, which is also responsible for 20 percent if the GNP of this country devoid of natural resources. A true peace in the Middle East will only be achieved by an impartial U.S. Providing Israel with the Apache helicopters that are destroying Palestinian homes and automatically vetoing any U.N. resolution critical of Israeli policies will only prolong the violence and increase hatred and mistrust of the U.S. government throughout the world.

Regina Pakalnis ’77

Foreign Policy

In “Going Our Way,” Robert Schmuhl quotes Max Boot: “[W]ho today thinks it was wise of Britain and France to stay their hands in the 1930’s when they could have thwarted Hitler’s ambitions early on.” To me, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait so closely parallels Hitler’s annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia that it was a direct threat to the future security of the United States. Had we not removed him from power in Iraq, this threat would still exist.

The cat and mouse game he played with weapons inspectors, eventually ejecting them, and his flagrant disregard of United Nations resolutions further convince me that his aggressive ambitions continued. If we had not fought him in Iraq, we might later have had to fight him in Saudi Arabia, where some are not friendly to us, nor are many in some neighboring countries. If he ever obtains control of Saudi Arabia’s oil production, he will have the ability to wreak havoc on the world’s economy, even without using weapons of mass destruction which we know he has the ability to produce and the will to use.

Clarence Quinlan ’48
Roseville California


Thank you for Robert Schmuhl’s scholarly look at President Bush’s new foreign policy. The war in Iraq brings to mind the Tompkin Gulf pretext as well as the groupthink that ensnared us in two intractable situations—Vietnam and Cuba. Our current government is a poor student of its own predecessors. The new “Bush Doctrine” (BD rhymes with VD) is an ill-conceived idea that was waiting for a weak-minded leader to fall for it. On its surface, it is an appealing and proactive stance to deter terrorists. On its inside, it contains a Pandora’s box of problems that Mr. Schmuhl brings out. Why is the USA the only country authorized to act on its own to preemptively defeat a threat? This same logic would appear to give either the Israelis or the Palestinians the right to engage in mutual destruction at a more rapid pace than they are now doing (your own Letters to the Editor, “Both Sides Now”). How about Pakistan and India, Russia and China?

It is simply too obvious to ignore — you cannot invade a dictatorship and reconstitute it as a democracy in a short period of time (e.g., Yugoslavia). We have suffered a terrible failure of intelligence both in the clandestine sense and in an intellectual sense during this current administration. The juxtaposition of your article about college admissions (students of alumni get preference) with the evidence of what it can lead to (G.W. Bush) is ironic. We have been given an illustration of what happens when you cannot achieve what you are measuring (apprehend bin Laden), you substitute achieving what you can measure (topple Saddam) and hope that no one notices the difference. It doesn’t work in business and it is no better suited to world affairs.

Hope is not lost, however. The greatness of America may be evidenced by its considerable armed forces, but it is the right-thinking of its democratic people that makes it truly powerful. In one year, we will have the ability to topple an inept government and turn back this anachronistic approach to world affairs without firing a single shot. We can turn out of office the man who claimed to be “a uniter not a divider” and then proceeded to make America the independent, ill-regarded instigator of Pax Americana for the 21st century. While popularity is not the goal of statecraft, mutual support and respect are and we are not on a path toward them. I applaud President Bush’s strength of his convictions (regretfully, I voted for him). However, strong convictions coupled to faulty thinking are a dangerous combination as Barry Goldwater clearly illustrated when he gave us “Extremism in the pursuit of virtue is no vice.”

Let us hope the next crop of presidential candidates has someone with the insight to recognize that we are indeed in a new era, albeit one different than Mr. Bush sees. That is an era necessitating greater international collaboration where we listen better to our neighbors when they tell us we are about to make a mistake. We can never afford the costs of war except for those rare occasions when danger is imminent, not suspected. Surgical preemption may need to remain an option to reach individual terrorist elements, but wholesale preemptive invasion is not the American way. It makes for uncomfortable and guarded neighbors, suspicion, and increased defensiveness—in short, it can exacerbate rather than remedy the problem. Eighty-seven million dollars (for starters) could buy a lot of peace instead of war.

I enjoy Notre Dame Magazine for its diversity, readable prose, and thoughtful articles. Keep on writin’

Don Barkman ’69

“Going Our Way” by scholar Robert Schmuhl ‘70is an absolutely brilliant analysis of how the ill-conceived and ill-fated Bush doctrine of preemptive strikes has universally brought ridicule, condemnation and loathing to our country’s foreign policy and reputation. Schmuhl’s article is abundant with history, insight, candor and intelligence—those qualities in rare display in the current administration.

But what can one really expect from a president whose only experience was posturing as governor of Texas, who admittedly has practically never read a book or a daily newspaper, and who has almost zero knowledge of world affairs or other cultures.

Bush is relegated, therefore, to accept whatever slanted and self-serving spin that is given to him by a small group of neo-conservative elites who surround and shield him from any intelligent input.

The Bush doctrine has already done incalculable harm, and, worst of all, as Mr. Schmuhl rightly concludes, "countries that consider themselves possible targets of the United States could be inclined to seek advanced weaponry, triggering a new arms race of frightening dimension."

John J. Kane
Levittown, Pennsylvania

Nader problem

Your Autumn 2003 issue’s “Seen and Heard” column quotes Ralph Nader calling lack of civic motivation the biggest problem in America. He says to imagine a grandchild sitting on your lap asking what you did to solve the world s problems. I find this rather ironic, given Mr. Nader s refusal to throw his support to Gore in the 2000 Election. In the pivotal state of Florida alone, Bush ended up ahead by 537 votes when the Supreme Court halted the recount and Mr. Nader received over 97,000 votes in that state. So now we have the assault on our environmental standards and the push to mine our public lands for their natural resources. Don t Green party members see some irony there? Oh yes, and then there are the hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqis civilians dead, and the postwar Iraq stabilization tar baby resulting in record deficits that (guess who?) the hypothetical grandchild sitting on your lap will still be paying for as an adult. These seem to me like larger problems in America than a lack of civic motivation.

Mr. Nader has done much to make us aware of pressing problems. He has also done much to cause serious problems in this country with his stubborn, shortsighted principles.

Ken Howard ’68


Tickets

I am writing to express my disappointment with the article written by Ed Cohen concerning the ticket office’s attempts to discourage alumni and others from submitting lottery applications for football games that they do not wish to attend. A good reporter would do more than merely regurgitate the ticket office’s statements. Shouldn’t he at least ask why so many alumni and others win tickets that they don’t want to use?

While I applaud the school’s efforts to discourage scalping and preserve ND’s home field advantage; the announced steps are cosmetic and fail to address the underlying cause of the problem. If the University were really serious it would take the following steps:

1) Disclose the win percentages for every game going back at least 3 years. Because this isn’t done, it took several years for alumni to realize that they should reduce the number of applications to reflect the changes caused by the stadium expansion and the Bob Davie effect. As a result, alums won tickets to games that they didn’t expect to win and couldn’t use.

2) Change the algorithm that determines lottery winners. Now, with only the most minor exceptions, every game is an independent event. This means one’s chances of winning the 3rd or 4th most demanded game are not altered by the applicant’s having won tickets to more heavily demanded games. Therefore, if an alum on the West Coast wishes to take his family to see a game that is likely to be the 3rd most demanded, he should apply for all the games. This strategy gives one the best chance of getting tickets to some game. One may then use tickets won to trade for the desired game. If ND used a system that moved winners of tickets to the most popular game to the bottom of the list for subsequent games, everyone would tend to be much more judicious in their application strategy. This would very quickly reduce the number of applications submitted.

Cohen fails to point out that the big winners from the present system are not just the scalpers, but also the University that profits from the artificially increased float. Aren’t we owed an explanation from the ticket office why such steps have not been taken? Certainly the great demand for football tickets is not about to disappear and these proposed changes are not a panacea; however, until ND makes such changes to the lottery system, all admonitions to limit lottery applications seem very insincere.

Robert Metz ’68
Chatham, New Jersey

 

Freedom

I was disappointed in the lack of response in your present issue to your absorbing summer 2003 issue feature on the idea of freedom. I may yield to temptation to write again, but I feel that this will be my last correspondence to you. Before I depart, like Hamlet’s ghost, I have a few portending remarks to make.

I see no indication that the church takes seriously what the modern world has taken seriously since Spinoza and Goethe: that there is a new organ critical to the discussion of moral and political philosophy. This organ is the psyche. In more recent years it has come under the closest scrutiny from the perspectives of thinkers very different in character and intent. The most central, I think, are William James, Santayana, Freud, and Thomas Mann.

The church is heir to a very powerful and culturally formative tradition of moral philosophy. But this civilizing tradition has failed to deal honestly and convincingly with this new entity. A major but possible adaptation is necessary. In Santayana’s Idea of Christ in the Gospels, the ancient traditions meet the modern discovery in a most interesting way. No one reads this book. What a shame. It is a classic. Santayana makes me think that the key change the church might undergo is to snap the trance of philosophical idealism and to recover her roots in Mediterranean naturalism before it was bewitched to regard entelechies as powers. There would be no offense over the way in which the psyche grows and is formed; no hubris of the intellectual soul. Man is the intelligence of his soil. His potential immorality is that of the whole man.

Let me conclude with a Jeremiad. If no effective attempt at change and adaptation is made by the present authorities in our leading Catholic universities, there will be increasing abandonment of the church by thoughtful people, by no means all of them “intellectuals.” They will regard the church’s great tradition of moral philosophy as a liability. And in part they will be right.

Joseph F. Ryan ’59
Yarmouthport, MA


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