Returning to the Vietnam Era

I was touched by Louise Bristol Ransom’s article about coming to terms with Vietnam (Fall 1999). I was lucky not to have someone close to me die in that war. But for me, as for so many others, the Vietnam era had long-term effects.

My older brother did a tour in Vietnam in the late sixties. He went off a bold enlisted man, very quickly decided the situation he was caught in was pointless, and came home to find a country that was already beginning to spit on its soldiers. He reacted by drinking a fifth of scotch and a couple of six-packs of beer a day, and by fighting at the drop of a pin. For years, until he encountered the extraordinary person who is now his wife, we thought we’d lost him.

The Vietnam war was a catalyst for many of us at Vassar. The young men we knew sweated out the lottery in which each day of the year was assigned a number. Some, like my boyfriend at 341, were out of reach of the armed services; some claimed conscientious objector status; some were drafted; some “dodged.” This war, which the government promoted and escalated while claiming to be doing the reverse, pushed even the meek among us into action. In a real way, it broke our trust in the government we were being raised to run.

With the war, I for one lost interest in small common threads that interwove our differences. What mattered were the “isms”—Liberalism, Racism, Radicalism, Feminism, Antiestablishmentarianism—and where I stood in relation to them. I was so serious about the world, and so conflicted about my place in it that my social contacts suffered.

At my 25th reunion, the people who drew instantly together and spent much of the weekend together were my freshman dorm mates. . . . With few exceptions, relationships that developed before the first seismic shock of antiwar activity our sophomore year were those I found intact 25 years later. I am tremendously grateful for that, because I felt at the time, and still feel, that the people I knew well at Vassar are superlative people.

Louise Ransom’s article opened this morass for me again, and encouraged me to try to make sense of it. Surely, if we don’t face our past confusions, we can never really “come clear.” Louise gave me hope. Thank you.

Rachel A. Bedard ’73

Mountville, Pennsylvania

Words That Become Us All

Thank you for publishing Ann Imbrie’s essay “Words Become Us” (Winter 1999), and thank you, Ann Imbrie, for putting forward such work so others can benefit. Although I work on campus, I was unable to attend the convocation at which she spoke. For weeks, I heard students, faculty, and administrators sing her praises. Ms. Imbrie has a wonderful ability to draw readers in, share something intense, and leave us feeling strangely revealed to ourselves. I look forward to reading “Words Become Us” again, for each read thus far has brought something new to think about. Thank you.

Willa Panvini McCarthy ’92
Poughkeepsie, New York

On "What Students Believe"

I was very interested in your article on religion at Vassar in the Winter issue of the Quarterly. There are two corrections that I would call to your attention. The movement in Judaism is known as Reform not reformed, which denotes past tense. The different branches of Judaism—Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform—are branches not denominations. In every other aspect I enjoyed the article very much and enjoy keeping in touch with what is going on on campus.

Babette Dorfman Fortune ’62
Clifton, New Jersey

“What Students Believe” interested me as an alumna of the ’50s at Vassar. Achieving diversity was certainly not the intent of the admissions department in those days; the students interviewed in your article would not have been comfortable talking about their beliefs, especially if they were outside of the Protestant norm. I remember being proud, but somewhat anxious, to learn that I would be one of the “20 percent”—the unspoken quota of Jewish students said to be admitted to Ivy League colleges.

I must call an error to your attention: In the profile of Eli Schneider, the author uses the phrases “reformed Jewish synagogue” and “reformed Jewish.” The correct word is Reform. There is no such thing as Reformed Judaism—the liberal movement is called Reform Judaism and those who adhere to it are Reform Jews. The word “reformed” is not only incorrect but it is misleading because it gives the impression that this branch of Judaism underwent some sort of correction! In the context of Judaism, the word Reform refers to the evolving (re-forming if you will) nature of our practices and philosophy to reflect and adapt to the world in which we live.

Marjorie Barr Spector ’58
East Rockaway, New York