Andover Commencement, Moral Melodrama

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The reason I was at the Wyndham, I was attending the Andover commencement (my wife’s niece). There was something thrilling about it, something else crushing.

The thrilling thing is that diversity is today a bold insurmountable fact of elite culture. The graduating class was filled with Africans, blacks, Asians, you name it. Oh yes and Jews too. I remember when I got to college, in 1972, how weird I was about preppies. But back then, preppies were a much more homogeneous group. Now these places celebrate diversity every other second. (Yes it gets a little P.C. and suffocating in the selfcongratulation. But still.) And though blacks and Asians appear to self-segregate socially, my Jewish tribe and the Protestant kids mingle freely.

To hop back on my hobbyhorse for a second, this is one of the reasons the Israel lobby is so vexing. Why am I supposed to abandon my political education, which involved struggling with and coming to embrace multiculturalism in American society, when we turn to Israel, yes a democracy, but also a Jewish state that, I’m told, treats Arabs as second-class citizens. (Who told me that? My mother-in-law, a liberal Protestant who has brought hospital supplies to the west bank and who I sat next to as the rabbi did the benediction in Andover’s chapel…)

The crushing thing about the Andover commencement was that the leadership culture is utterly and completely severed from any connection to the Iraq War. Iraq was not mentioned once in the long Candlelight Baccalaureate ceremony I attended. Nor in the graduation speeches the next day. Not once.

The war casts no shadow over the lives of the privileged. Compare this generation’s experience to the boys of the 1942 Phillips Exeter Academy in A Separate Peace, the John Knowles classic I’m reading. That book involves the fact that all the boys at “Devon” were about to go to war. The headmaster saw it as his job to prepare boys for “Waterloo,” as he put it.

None of these Andover kids is thinking about Iraq. They don’t have to. That’s sickening. It means that the class that makes the decisions about going to war has nothing much to lose by doing so (what political scientists call “a moral hazard”). And privileged kids and their parents have no personal reason to rise up against this war. The heaviest duty of citizenship, going to war, is something that we’ve outsourced.