Obsessive readers of this blog will have noted David Palmeter’s comment, four days ago, about disparities between Whites and Blacks in wealth, far greater than the disparities in income, and my approving reply. The next day, I came across a link to an extremely interesting research paper on that topic published by the Institute for Policy Studies, or IPS. I shall write something about that paper, at which point I shall provide a link, but first, I want to reminisce for a while about my connections with the two founders of IPS, Marcus Raskin and the late Richard Barnet, both whom were my friends.
I got to know Dick Barnet during the later ‘50s, during my Instructorship at Harvard, through our shared commitment to the cause of nuclear disarmament. Dick was a fellow at Harvard’s Russian Research Institute [the academic home of Barrington Moore, Jr., with whom I co-taught a Social Studies tutorial seminar during the ’60-’61 academic year.] Dick published a very useful little book, Who Wants Disarmament? In 1961. It was through Dick that I was introduced to a fundamental and important truth of the world of public affairs, a truth that can be summarized by Gertrude Stein’s famous observation about Oakland, CA, “there is no there there.” It happened like this.
In those days, there was an annual meeting called the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, named after the town in Nova Scotia where it was first held in 1957. In ’60, I think it was, Walt Rostow, later LBJ’s National Security Advisor, returned from a Pugwash Conference and gave several TV interviews on the nuclear disarmament discussions there, which I watched. Rostow was invited to give a closed door briefing on the proceedings for a select group of distinguished Harvard experts at the Russian Research Institute, and Dick managed to get me in. I was very excited, believing that at last I would find out how the experts talked about nuclear weapons and Soviet-American relations in private when they were among the cognoscenti. It was an impressive gathering. All of Harvard’s big names in Soviet Studies were there, including Alex Inkeles, Adam Ulam, and Zbigniev Bzrezinski. As I listened to the discussion, I was dismayed to discover that when these big wigs were talking privately to one another, they uttered exactly the same ridiculous ideological hogwash that they put out to the press and public. There was no esoteric doctrine, no there there. They really thought that way! Admittedly, I was young [twenty-six], but it was an eye-opener that I have never forgotten.
The next Spring, after Jack Kennedy’s election, Dick went to the Disarmament Agency in Washington. In August of ’61, after my Instructorship ended, I made a first visit to D.C., to see Dick and several other people I knew who had left Harvard for the new Administration. Dick introduced me to Marcus Raskin, a young man my age from Chicago whom McGeorge Bundy, Kennedy’s National Security Advisor, had hired as his assistant. Marc, who was located in the Old Executive Office Building, was supposed to be Bundy’s in-house critic from the left, raising doubts about the policies he was pushing to Kennedy [such as the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion.] Marc’s secretary was a rich, well-connected young woman named Diane DeVegh, rumored to be Kennedy’s mistress, who had been placed there to be nearby should the President have need of her services. Fourteen months later, I was teaching at the University of Chicago, where, among other things, I offered a course in the Political Science Department on Military Strategy and Foreign Policy. I was at that point very deep into the whole business of the threat of nuclear war, and I was terrified. When the crisis hit, I loaded up my VW bug with a Geiger Counter and dried food, and made plane reservations for my wife and myself on flights to Canada and Mexico so that we could make an immediate escape north or south, depending on which way the prevailing winds were blowing. Marc called me from his office to ask what I was doing to help avert a war. I told him about my escape plans, and he was sternly disapproving, saying that I had an obligation to do whatever I could to work for peace. I responded by asking him what he was doing, keeping in mind that he sat at the elbow of the chief national security advisor of the President. He said in a soft voice, as though he were leaning into the phone and shielding his voice so as not to be overheard, “We are trying to reach the Pope.” At that point, I got really, really scared.
The next year, Marc and Dick started IPS, and it exists to this day.