16 May 2006

A Different Yale

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The Millionaires’ Unit makes for ironic reading in an era when elite universities like Yale won’t even allow ROTC units on campus, dining hall offerings include vegan, and pampered students are tutored by a corps of bolshie profs in fashionable poses of anti-American sophistication and smug Pacifist moral superiority.

Publisher’s Weekly describes Marc Wortman’s new book on the history of the Yale Flying Club, an aviation unit formed by Yale undergraduates even before America’s entry into into WWI to train to fight, as harkening

back to a bygone era when campus regattas were the place to be seen, Harvard-Yale football games drew crowds 80,000 strong and, perhaps most jarringly, American isolationism placed the country’s air command not just behind Germany’s fearsome air service, but behind British and French forces as well. Preparing themselves for fire fights and bombing missions that generated harrowing casualty figures, these wealthy, elite Yale students saw it as their responsibility to fight on the front lines, and in the first wave. In a brief but important epilogue, Wortman spells out just how profoundly the times, and in particular the Yale campus, has changed in the past 90 years.

Poor Louis Auchincloss Y ’39, in the Wall Street Journal, makes a gallant attempt to stand up for his own class:

I seemed to sense at the end of Mr. Wortman’s narrative — I may have been wrong — an implication that the heroic spirit of the Millionaires’ Unit has somewhat departed from our land. But that spirit, which existed in World War II as well, was inspired in both conflicts by the barbarous attacks on our nation by dangerous and mighty foes. The sons of the rich have not seemed tempted to leave Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley to enlist in wars in Korea, Vietnam or Iraq, where a good half of our youth, if not more, saw no real threat to the country. But if attacked, I believe, we would find the same spirit that the old unit so splendidly showed. I know some of the descendants of those men, and I am sure we could count on them.

But, unless you count the British-flagged Lusitania, whose sinking cost the lives of 128 Americans, Germany did not, in fact, attack the US prior to US entry into WWI. And if we substituted today’s American elites for the WWI-era’s, Ivy League undergraduates would have obviously been found demonstrating against the Wilson Administration and the War, not training to fly combat missions. Pace Mr. Auchincloss and his WSJ editor, some of us do actually think America was attacked this time.

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