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In light of recent national and international events, REED magazine invited alumni, faculty members, and students to share their thoughts about the future.

Preserving national security or secrecy?
By Mark Katkov ’78

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to one of those not-for-attribution get-acquainted lunches with a “senior Justice Department official.” We met in his private conference room beneath chandeliers and 20-foot ceilings ostensibly to reach a better understanding of how he and his colleagues do their jobs post–September 11.

What we found, however, was an almost complete reluctance to tell us journalists much of anything about anything. The luncheon turned particularly absurd when the senior Justice Department official flatly refused to tell us the hour at which he and his staff hold their morning meeting. And he went on to criticize the news media for reporting on civil libertarians’ objections to the Department of Justice anti-terrorism effort, because the objections, in his view, were without merit.

My intention here is not to imply anything one way or the other about how the government is pursuing the war on terrorism. But as a reporter working in Washington, it is impossible not to be concerned about what may be a by-product of that war, an increasingly opaque government.

On my beat, the Department of Justice, the FBI is less and less willing to share information of any kind with the press. Recently a special agent assigned to the bureau’s press office refused to take a question from one of my colleagues. He said he would have to explain to his superior the reason the question was being asked, and as it would almost certainly be met with a refusal to answer, there was no point to pursuing the matter.

Last fall, as the anthrax crisis began to unfold, the Department of Health and Human Services — which includes the Centers for Disease Control — ordered the CDC to refer all reporter queries to the HHS press office in Washington. But HHS wasn’t answering questions either, and when it did, we got a string of incoherent statements by HHS officials who lacked expertise and were some distance removed from the investigation.

And finally, despite the appearance of candor in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s almost daily Pentagon briefings, the fact remains that journalists have been kept away from the battlefield and must rely on the military’s version of events, which are sometimes at odds with eyewitness reports on the ground.

I don’t know whether this penchant for secrecy is peculiar to this administration, or the inevitable result of a nation at war, or some sort of combination. I do know that the information often denied to reporters does not threaten national security and that the habit of secrecy, once embraced, is a difficult one for bureaucracies to shake. And that should be of concern to us all. small bullet

Mark Katkov ’78 is a producer for CBS Evening News in Washington, D.C. Previously he worked for CBS in its Moscow bureau.

Respecting the role of artists
By Elizabeth Lauter Thompson ’61

Is this the moment in the history of our country for artists to become respected and valued citizens? The time seems right. The nation’s heart is broken. The need to recover on many levels — to process the events and the aftermath of September 11 — is obvious. And there have been a surprising number of voices declaring how significant a role the arts can play in this process.

While the New York press recognizes the role of the arts, it paradoxically offers homogenized representations of what has and is happening. However, artists will continue to make work that helps us to experience and comprehend viscerally and intellectually this complex and formidable event. Works of art will be contentious, will challenge, and will offend. Yet they will also soothe and transcend the sorrow, anger, pain, and loss. We need the artist’s voice now more than ever as an essential element in a self-conscious and questioning society.

Many ordinary citizens became artists in the days immediately following September 11. Public art took on a new meaning as Union Square filled with spontaneous memorials — demonstrating the power of a poem, a drawing, or an arrangement of objects.

At the Flea Theater, one of the many small theaters in the Liberty Zone (the area declared a recovery zone in lower Manhattan), artistic director Jim Simpson commissioned The Guys. This play about a firehouse captain remembering the men he lost is profoundly affecting all who see it. Despite grief counseling, I had not been able to deal with my miraculous escape from Tower One. At the play, I cried and started to heal.

The Flea, like all of the arts and cultural organizations in the Liberty Zone, is finding it difficult to continue its work. September 11, compounded by a faltering economy, does not bode well for cultural and art organizations and individual artists. But this time people are looking at the crisis in the arts from a new perspective. I have asked, loudly and persistently, “Can we change this paradigm?” Although the precise way in which that can be done is still unclear, it is clear that this might be the time for it to happen. Artists and cultural workers have reclaimed faltering areas of many cities, only to be priced out when reclamation is complete. I have proposed a number of ways that artists can be the catalyst for change. This time they must be recognized and compensated for their contributions that heal the damaged psyches and energize lower Manhattan.

I am working with a number of groups on the rebuilding of lower Manhattan. Important discussions are taking place between individual artists and leaders of organizations who have not historically found time or had an inclination to meet. This dialogue could be the beginning of a sea change. The recognition of the reasons for our marginal and often expendable position in society is encouraging us to rethink the words we use and the tone of our arguments about our relationship to and place in society. small bullet

Liz Thompson ’61 is executive director of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC). Thompson was on what was to be the last elevator down from the 107th floor in the north tower of the World Trade Center; LMCC artist in residence Michael Richards did not survive the attack. Since September 11, LMCC is collaborating with other organizations to find new offices, artist studios, and performing spaces.

Finding a silver lining in the war cloud
By Richard Crandall ’69

The next time you listen to a CD, transfix yourself with television, or microwave a tasty morsel, you should also be thinking of war. That’s W-A-R, and make no mistake about it. Indeed, a great deal of common technology is undeniably a product of modern world war.

The minuscule laser device that irradiates a CD music disk is a not-so-distant cousin of the gargantuan lasers that now guide pinpoint bombing. Yes, CD music lasers merely entertain us, but laser research is liberally funded by government (read military) grants. Leisure appliances — like it or not — have coevolved with military gear.

Both AM and FM radio were invented by the same person — a Major Edwin H. Armstrong, who was in the Army Signal Corps in WW I. Armstrong later got into an ill-fated patent litigation with RCA, ultimately in 1954 taking a suicidal dive out of the 13th floor of a New York highrise.

The public—military coevolution also holds true for cell phones. Doesn’t every WW II movie feature a tense walkie-talkie scene? And what about moon landings? The great pioneers of missile propulsion had an obvious agenda. And photography? It is one thing for the great Hubble telescope to look outward, charting the cosmic galaxies; it is quite another for similar machinery to be pointed downward, for surveillance. And don’t think for one second that life-saving radiation therapy has nothing to do with nuclear weaponry.

It is a matter of record that the first computers, such as the 1940s ENIAC, were focused on tasks such as weapon ballistics. For better or worse, your desktop PC is a product of war. Another brand of computational war technology is cryptography. The Nazi’s ENIGMA code machine, and the Japanese Imperial Code, both eventually cracked by the Allies, did set the scene for modern cryptography. The point is that your Visa card with its secret PIN code is, yes, a war product. Study abstract mathematics in college — perhaps prime numbers and such — and if serious war looms, there is a job for you!

But now to this tome’s title. We can still enjoy good technology, regardless of violent underpinnings. Disparate fields such as psychology, economics, and literature have gained from world war. Even biowarfare development has some accidentally positive implications for pharmacology, immunology, even health care. Technology as product of the current war on terrorism may well provide your progeny with a healthy spectrum of lucrative career choices.

But where the silver lining fairly gleams is in this: nonviolent people everywhere will, we hope, finally learn how to bend technology more directly to humane purposes. By understanding how all this has coevolved, perhaps we can ladle the cream off the top of war, and once and for all discard the frightful remainder.

We know what we have to do. small bullet

Richard E. Crandall ’69 is director of the Center for Advanced Computation and Vollum Adjunct Professor of Science at Reed. For his contributions to industry he was appointed Distinguished Scientist at Apple Computer.

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