Go to Page 1 go to page two go to page three go to page 4 go to page 6 go to page 7 Link to Reed Mag  Home next page

What's Next title  

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

Giving up on irony
By Carter Wood ’82

On my first day as a speechwriter for the Department of Health and Human Services, I took an oath of office.

The event lacked any ceremonial trappings, and I considered it just part of the routine of orientation. Fill out paperwork, have an I.D. photo made, get fingerprinted, and take an oath.

In thinking about the terrorist attacks that took the lives of some 3,000 of my fellow countrymen, I looked up the text of that oath again:

“I, Carter Wood, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. . . .”

You often hear that the orchestrated evil of September 11 and the war that followed have led many people in and out of government service to return to first principles. I know it’s true in my case—and I find my first principles in the oath above.

Sure, I came to Washington to serve President Bush, a man whose principles, politics, and person I admire. I hoped for professional advancement. I had a hunger for Ethiopian food. I wanted to go see a rock ‘n roll show without having to drive 200 miles to Fargo.

All those desires remain, but now, above all, I see my reason for being in Washington as supporting and defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. It’s my fundamental duty.

You think about first principles more once you have:

  • Watched from your office as smoke billowed from the Pentagon.
  • Walked by the Battalion 9 firehouse on West 47th Street in Manhattan, looking at the photos of 15 men who died at the World Trade Center.
  • Worked with the dedicated members of the department’s disaster management teams, who manned the FEMA emergency head- quarters at Pier 90 in New York.
  • Talked to taxi drivers and hotel workers whose livelihoods are threatened by the loss of business.
  • Debated America haters to whom a terrorist attack on our country ranks on the same moral plain as Radio Pacifica’s personnel
    problems, the imprisonment of cop killer Mumia, or some WTO summit.
  • And considered, every single day since September 11, the people who were murdered just because they were Americans.

As a speechwriter, I have given up irony. I relish finding a new bit of wisdom from Winston Churchill, stirring words from President Bush, or a patriotic quote that I would normally groan over.

Like this one, from James Cagney’s portrayal of George M. Cohan: “It seems it always happens. Whenever we get too high-hat and too sophisticated for flag-waving, some thug nation decides we’re a push-over all ready to be blackjacked. And it isn’t long before we’re looking up, mighty anxiously, to be sure the flag’s still waving over us.”

I’m not groaning one bit. small bullet

Carter Wood ’82, former speechwriter for Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, is special assistant to the chairman of the Federal Housing Board. A native of Hillsboro, Oregon, he has been a newspaper reporter and policy adviser to the governor of North Dakota.

Focusing on damage control
By Carl Stevens ’42

At this writing, the future configuration of the war is far from clear. President Bush’s “State of the Union” address dramatically expanded the scope and focus of the war with his comments about targeting of “the axis of evil.” It will be some time before we learn what this will mean in operational terms. Nevertheless, I believe it safe to expect that a much larger part of the Bush domestic agenda will become law than would otherwise have been the case.

In my view, this will be a strongly negative outcome from the point of view of the welfare of we the people. There are many important, substantive differences between the Bush agenda and that of the Democrats on matters such as tax policy, disposition of funds recruited for social security, funding for social programs, and military spending.

It is important now to focus on damage control, but several features of the contemporary political milieu complicate this task. There is a sentiment in the land that a time of war calls for a “bipartisan” approach to policy making. I am unsure just what the proponents of this view have in mind with this term. It should not, however, as now frequently seems to be the case, be interpreted to preclude serious debate of important policy issues. Indeed, it must be made clear to our legislators that our system of repre-sentative democracy owes us just such debate. A failure to pursue such discussion, far from being a laudatory exercise of bipartisanship, would be a breach of fiduciary duty owed the people by their representatives.

There are additional features of the contem-porary political milieu that may impede vigorous attempts at damage control. The war provides a formidable fig leaf to cover the untoward consequences of some Bush policies. Attempts to achieve more progressive financing of government are met by the administration with charges of “class warfare.” And there is the problem of not wanting to be charged with a lack of “patriotism.”

These obstacles to serious debate of the issue have promoted an unseemly timidity among Democratic legislators. However, these obstacles should be brushed aside in favor of serious engagement with the issues, in favor of plain talk about the issues, in favor of vigorous pursuit of those outcomes we regard as right. This will take some courage. But without it, we won’t achieve the damage control we so sorely need at this point in our history. small bullet

Carl Stevens ’42 is emeritus professor of economics at Reed, where his research focused on labor economics and public health. He has served on technical advisory groups for the U.S. Agency for International Development, and he and his wife, Janice Stevens ’44, have been co-directors of family welfare programs in India.

Creating a population of leaders
By Hugh Tilson ’63

The events of the past year have sounded a wake-up call for America. We must be better prepared on many fronts, including public health. Preparedness in an era in which we now have a very real demonstration of a major and imminent danger from weaponized infectious agents will require us to review our personal responsibility in the nation’s public health infrastructure. Every citizen plays a critical role in public health. What we do and don’t do for ourselves, what we are willing to take the time to learn and practice, can make all the difference in our nation’s epidemics of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, accidental and intentional injury, and yes, even preventable injury and illness from bioterrorism. Learning how to listen to science and medicine, and differentiate the evidence from the quackery (and the growing group of anti-science demagogues on the internet and talk shows) is key to this. And having credible, reliable, accessible sources of good and timely information and tools for self-protection, as well as all the population level interventions we need, will require a substantial investment of time and money into our nation’s languishing network of professional public health agencies.

Today I am working with an exciting emerging set of initiatives to strengthen that public health infrastructure. From developing testimony for Congress, to working on educational and technical assistance, I find myself constantly inspired by the energy and dedication of those working in public health. But I also find myself discouraged by those who seem not to want to know. And so, among the most rewarding of my current activities at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health are leadership training efforts. Maybe leaders are born, not made. But the skills of a leader need building, shaping, and sharpening. And in the face of our urgent need to re-commit our nation to public health and re-build and strengthen and support the official agencies that assure it, leadership is needed as never before. small bullet

Hugh Tilson ’63 is doctor of epidemiology and senior adviser to the dean of the school of public health at the University of North Carolina. His career in preventive medicine spans more than 25 years and includes posts as state public health director for North Carolina and public health officer for the city of Portland, Oregon.

Steady progress, mostly
By Joseph F. Bunnett ’42

What effect have the terrorism of September 11, 2001 and war in Afghanistan had on national and international programs to destroy chemical weapons?

Not much. Some nations (Britain, Canada, Poland) have already completed destruction of relatively small stocks of chemical weapons in their possession, several European countries continue destruction of munitions lingering from World War I that occasionally show up, and the United States and Germany are progressing methodically in weapons destruction programs of a rather different sort. Russia is making little progress in destruction of its huge stockpiles; it can't pay the cost. Routine inspections of chemical production facilities by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are being carried out, as called for by the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty.

I doubt that the evil group responsible for the September 11 terrorism will try to strike again via airplane hijacking, but I think they will attempt another strike, and conceivably it might involve the release of chemical warfare agents. I can visualize a scenario whereby they might attempt a terrorist attack using chemical warfare agents, but I don't want to publish it for fear of putting ideas in their heads.

I recommend that all Americans think about how the terrorist gang might try to strike again and take precautions to thwart an attack. small bullet

Joe Bunnett ’42 is an emeritus professor of chemistry at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
next page

Go to Page 1 go to page two go to page three go to page 4 go to page 6 go to page 7 Link to Reed Mag  Home