David McCullough, at Boston College, Sees No Evil

“It is the responsibility of the intellectual to speak the truth and to expose lies.”

— Noam Chomsky

On May 19, 2008, David McCullough, acclaimed author and gifted historian, gave the commencement address at Boston College, a Jesuit institution. His message to the graduating class centered on the “Love of Learning.” [1] He sharply criticized the misuse of the English language and urged the students to “cure the verbal virus that seems increasingly rampant among your generation.” Mr. McCullough was referring to the “wearisome use of the words, ‘like,’ and ‘you know,’ and ‘awesome,’ and ‘actually.” His comments seemed to please the graduating students, school honchos, newspaper editors and many of the pundits. It also had to please President George W. Bush and V.P. Dick Cheney, who rightfully belong in the dock facing impeachment proceedings. [2]

In his nine pages of remarks, Mr. McCullough failed to say one single critical word about the Iraq War and how the Neocon-inspired Bush-Cheney Gang lied us into that horrific conflict. [3] How could a writer, with a keen intellect, such as Mr. McCullough, a man steeped in the history of our Republic, give a talk at this time, and completely ignore the ongoing Iraq War and the blood thirsty War Hawks who got us into it? The lethal conflict is now in its fifth year. It has taken the lives of 4,086 brave U.S. troops, with 30,000 more sustaining serious injuries. The Iraq death toll is estimated at 1.2 million, with many millions more becoming desperate refugees. [4] The cost of the conflict is now at $3.5 trillion–and rising. Yet, the immoral and illegal Iraq War wasn’t a subject worthy of the historian McCullough’s discourse, on May 19th. Why?

There was nothing, too, in the comments from the esteemed Pulitzer Prize winner about how the economy is fast going down the tubes and how “The Fed,” under Alan Greenspan’s bungling tenure, had miserably let the people down. [5] Nor were the notorious U.S. detention/torture facilities at Gitmo Bay and Abu Ghraib, which have disgraced America’s once good name, in Mr. McCullough’s remarks. [6] Nothing was mentioned also about the passage of the draconian USA Patriot Act, or the gutting of the ancient Writ of Habeas Corpus, or how this country is slipping into a Police State. [7] Why were they left out?

What is the responsibility of the intellectual in the Age of Bush and Cheney? Is it asking too much, in the year 2008, to expect someone of Mr. McCullough’s stature, experience, knowledge and wisdom, to use an opportunity, such as a commencement address, at a prestigious Roman Catholic college, to speak out against the Iraq War? The Bush-Cheney Gang? Torture? A failing economy? And, the loss of Civil Liberties? I don’t think it is! In fact, I go a step further. Mr. McCullough had a duty, as a citizen, to say something about the state of this country and the frightful path it is now on. If not Mr. McCullough, who knows well the lessons arising from America’s struggle for freedom during our Revolutionary War, then who? A fat cat who has donated mega millions to Boston College? William “Slots” Bennett? Ms. Paris Hilton? Sen. Joe “I like Waterboarding” Lieberman? Much has been given to Mr. McCullough and much is expected in return.

I remember when the Iraq War started, on March 20, 2003, and how a few of the local TV news-readers, here in Baltimore, Maryland, reacted. They were in a tizzy chattering away about how the bombs were falling on Baghdad. I thought one of them was so hyped up that she was going to start foaming at the mouth. They were also totally oblivious to the massive harm the weapons of mass destruction were inflicting on the innocent peoples of that venerable city, which is over 1,200 years old. Nor, did these news-readers, for even a mini-second, think to question the decision of President George W. Bush to launch that war. They simply acted as a propaganda tool of the Pentagon. [8] Since the conflict began, 81 Marylanders have died in the Iraq War.

Getting back to Mr. McCullough. There were, however, a number of items in his talk to admire. He recalled the courage of Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, in the 1850s, in his battles to abolish slavery; he extolled the many virtues of education; and he exhorted the graduating students “to make love of learning central to your life.” I can’t argue with any of that. It is what he left out that bothers me.

I want to make it clear that I am a huge fan of Mr. McCullough’s books, particularly: “John Adams, “1776,” and “Truman.” His work that shines out above all the rest, in my mind, is “The Great Bridge.” It is, indeed, an epic tale about the valiant efforts to build the fabled Brooklyn Bridge. I don’t know of any modern historian, who could have brought the central character in that drama, the tenacious engineer and Civil War hero, Col. Washington Roebling, to life as well as he did. Mr. McCullough also did justice to Col. Roebling’s daring and brilliant father; a man, whose idea conceived the plan to construct the bridge, John A. Roebling, a native of Muhlhausen, Germany. By any fair standard of book reviewing, “The Great Bridge” is a tour de force.

The other day, the quintessential Counterpuncher, Alexander Cockburn, said: “The antiwar movement is effectively dead.” He’s mistaken. The antiwar movement is very much alive. What is effectively near dead, however, is the “spirit” of the majority of the people! But, thankfully, it can be revived, as it has many times in the past. The American people need to be reminded of who they are. Their ancestors fired those shots at Lexington and Concord, which were “heard around the world.” They defeated the finest troops the British imperialists could send against them and they eventually won their freedom and created a grand Republic.

Mr. McCullough’s highest obligation was to remind the students that they are the “spiritual” heirs of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. And, that they have the power to stop the Iraq conflict; punish the Warmongers; bring our troops home, safely; clean out the Wall Street wrongdoers; abolish “The Fed”; end government spying on our citizens; crack down on “Big Oil”; forbid waterboarding and torture of any kind by our government; trim back the size of the Military-Industrial Complex and restore the U.S. Constitution to its place of primacy. [9]

Finally: What difference could Mr. McCullough have made, on May 19, 2008, at Boston College, if only he had chosen not to see evil? [10]


[1]. http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/rvp/pubaf/08/

[2]. http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/

[3]. http://www.publicintegrity.org/WarCard/Default.

[4]. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoPcBYBvKAU

[5]. http://www.economyincrisis.org/

[6]. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/

[7]. “The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot” by Noami Wolf and

[8]. http://www.thepeoplesvoice.org/cgi-bin/blogs/

[9]. http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19670223.htm

[10]. “America, Awake!: We Must Take our Country Back” by Norman D. Livergood.