Letter to Reed College
October 9, 1994

Editor, Reed Magazine:

Just when I thought it was safe to pick up Reed Magazine - and lately it has published some useful critiques of Reed education - I was confronted over the breakfast table by Professor Edward Segel's fawning reflections on the latest writings of his old mentor, Henry Kissinger.

The historian Segel evaluates Kissinger's work with only the merest reference to the defining actions of his subject's career.  I mean, of course, the devastation of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, and the destruction of democracy in Chile.

Segel writes: The "balance of power" has been classically defined as a policy or situation where no Great Power so towers over the rest as to threaten their political independence or integrity - to its supporters a sure device protecting Europe against the rise of an aggressor like Louis XIV, Napoleon, Hitler, or Stalin.  In a proper balance, all states are generally satisfied with the major lines of the international system, and all recognize the legitimacy of each other's existence and their mutual right to pursue their own interests, within the limits of the system.

What's wrong with this picture?  For a start, Eurocentrism.  The balance of power of Segel's imagination recognizes France's right to pursue its own interests, namely the colonization of Indo-China; and when France fails, it recognizes the right of the U.S. to take France's place.  Does it somewhere recognize the right to sovereignty of Europe's erstwhile colonies in Asia and Africa?  And how did the balance of power protect the world against the rise of the aggressor Nixon, and his operative, Kissinger?

The "balance of power" is the European-North American collaborative to divide up the rest of the world.  It received a setback when the U.S. foundered in the jungles of Southeast Asia.  The import of the event that shaped my generation appears to have been lost on a historian teaching a new generation of Reed students.   

A subsequent reference to "traditional American values" is particularly disingenuous.  With regard to U.S. foreign policy, the traditional values could best be described as "grab what you can and run."  George Kennan noted shortly after World War II that this country, with 6% of the world's population, controlled over half its resources.  He correctly expected that situation to be challenged by those on the short end of the deal, and he argued that the object of foreign policy should be the preservation of the status quo.  As my brother says, "People all over the world want what we have.  After all, it's theirs."

Here we have the unfortunate spectacle of Kissinger - who by any objective, distanced historical appraisal will be ranked as a war criminal - being reviewed by a follower who apparently has fashioned a career out of pretending that such pseudo-scholarship as Kissinger's has nothing to do with Christmas bombings and the overthrow of democratic governments.

Professor Segel's viewpoint represents the attitudes that caused me to leave Reed 26 years ago to seek an education in the "'real' world" that he mocks with quotation marks.

It is the responsibility of my generation, if not others, to continue to raise the lessons of the Kissinger-Nixon era.  Professor Segel calls for his students to "take over the world," to put their liberal education to work in managing the affairs of their society.  Producing disciples of the disciple of Kissinger to take over U.S. foreign policy would be Reed College's great failure.

  Roger Lippman

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