"When Intercollegiate Debate was Subversive"

Robert P. Newman

Address at the 2001 Franklin R. Shirley Dixie Classic Debate Tournament

Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC

November 18, 2001

Introductory comments

Allan Louden: This is the 44th Dixie, in the year of 9/11. I was privileged to walk around during the round seven debates. I couldn’t catch every one – there were too many good ones. But I saw parts of ten debates, and my response was: Wow. Wow. What I was hearing was pretty impressive. We’re going to talk a little more about that later.

Let me welcome you to the tournament and thank the Wake debaters and all kinds of folks who worked hard on this: J.P., Casey, Jason, Rae Lynn, Jarrod, Virginia, and a full raft of folks in the graduate program in our department who worked for weeks to make all this happen.

[Audience applause]

Every year, I always say one thing to begin this, and it’s the truth. I really believe this. I enjoy this weekend so much because this is the weekend when we get together here with a few hundred of our closest friends and that matters a lot. So I give a welcome to all of you.

[Audience applause]

There are a bunch of faculty here from our Department of Communication who came out tonight. They engaged in the discussions and were impressed. Several faculty went to the Hip-hop debate. They thought that was great criticism and were very impressed, and I’ve heard all kinds of good comments.

In the back of your program, I hope you don’t miss this. There was a national committee that worked their tails off, working on press, and other kinds of support for us. There was also our administration who financially made it possible for us to enjoy ourselves under the tent and other things. A lot of people are to be thanked. But the thing really to be thankful for was the fact that we could show off and to engage in, and become aware through, those great skills of this kind of group. I am impressed.

We have a treat tonight. We don’t usually get out this early at the Dixie, so we don’t usually have this opportunity. One of the folks in that round seven program is Gordon Mitchell, from the University of Pittsburgh, who has been very influential in helping make this a success. Gordon is going to introduce our speaker tonight, because he knows him well, and I know there is a great deal of respect there over many years of experience. Also, they share a great tradition of coaching and activism at the University of Pittsburgh. So I am going to turn it over now to Gordon Mitchell, and to thank him on behalf of that entire alumni committee for their work in helping make this happen.

[Audience applause]

Gordon Mitchell: First of all, bracketing the whole question about whether round seven was a success, a mild success, a mild failure, or useless, you can still recognize and appreciate that the Wake Forest debate team took a huge risk here. Not just this time. They have done it before. Some of you may remember debating under the 10-3-5 tournament format. We switched to 9-3-6 in large part because this tournament decided to take a similar risk back in the early 1990s. So let’s really put our hands together and show our appreciation to Allan Louden, Ross Smith and the entire Wake Forest debate program for taking a risk and trying something different at this tournament.

[Audience standing ovation]

1954. The nation was in the deep freeze of the Cold War. The chill of McCarthyism was sweeping across the country. In that year, the intercollegiate debate community picked the following topic for debate: "Resolved: That the United States should extend diplomatic recognition to the communist government of China." Now as you know, intercollegiate debate is a switch-side activity. Sometimes you are negative, sometimes you are affirmative. Since this topic forced students to defend diplomatic recognition of communist China during the height of the Cold War, it caused a firestorm of controversy. Some schools like Annapolis, West Point and the Air Force Academy were actually forced not to debate.

On the other hand, there were some strident and eloquent voices, such as the new Arkansas Senator William Fulbright, who argued passionately that debating this question was exactly what was needed at the height of the Cold War. One of his quotes was: "I think they should be allowed to debate it. There is no great merit in ignorance." I read this quotation from a New York Times clip of November 29, 1954. What is interesting in this clip is that there is a news story here on the left side, and then on the right side, there is a related story, dateline Pittsburgh, November 28, 1954. This other story is about a debate tournament organized at Pitt on December 10-11, focusing on this topic: "Resolved: That the United States should extend diplomatic recognition to the communist government of China." The article goes on to quote Robert P. Newman, Assistant Professor of Speech and Director of Debate at the University of Pittsburgh. The article lists the schools participating and contains some other statements by Newman about the importance of these debates.

This little article is important to me, because when I came to Pittsburgh from Northwestern in 1995, I knew that I wanted to do some different things with debate, but I was not quite sure exactly what those things were. When I got to my office, there were eight six-foot high filing cabinets waiting for me. I was curious about what was inside of them, and it turns out they contained the archives of the William Pitt Debating Union. One of the real treasures of our school, and one of the great gifts that I received in becoming director, is that you can go into this office, open up the filing drawers, and peruse the history of the debating union. After that I purchased a large stock of allergy medicine (I am allergic to dust), and came back to the archives, over and over again, to read about the accomplishments of debate coaches at Pitt such as Robert P. Newman.

He was Director of Debate at the University of Pittsburgh from 1952-1967. Not only did his teams achieve great success on the intercollegiate policy debate circuit (they reached the deep elimination rounds at virtually all of the major national tournaments); but he also had something called an extension program, where Pitt would fly the top intercollegiate debate teams from across the nation to Pittsburgh, then send them out to local area high schools to do public debates, with audiences sometimes reaching into the thousands. In 1955, it was reported that there were 80,000 high school students reached by this extension program. They had a weekly public debate program on the local television station, WQED. They also had an exchange tour that I am looking into the possibility of renewing. It was with Jamaica.

[Audience laughter]

I could talk more about the Jamaica trip. Anyone who is interested, who wants more information on it, I brought the file.

Debating was just part of Robert Newman’s career at Pitt. He also had, and is still having, an illustrious academic career, which started in Hannibal, Missouri, where he graduated from the public school system in 1939. During summers, he served as a guide in the Mark Twain Caves in Hannibal. He earned a BA from the University of Redlands; an MA from Oxford, then a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Connecticut.

For two years in between that educational progression, from 1943-1945, he served in the U.S. Army. He was with the 257th Infantry Division at Camp Adair, Oregon as an 81mm mortar gunner. He was with the 70th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and in Europe as a half-track driver. He served in the Saar, Rhine, and Central European Campaigns and won the Bronze Star medal.

Looking back on what he did at Pittsburgh, it was a powerful mix of debate practice and academic scholarship. He was chair of the Department of Communication at the University of Pittsburgh for ten years; president of the University Senate; president of the American Forensic Association. Lore has it that he authored the university’s anti-war statement during the Vietnam war.

He has authored over seventy articles and several very important books, including Recognition of Communist China: A Study in Argument, published in 1961; The Cold War Romance of Lillian Helman and John Melby, published by University of North Carolina Press in 1989, reviewed by the New York Times and ten journals, named outstanding book on human rights by the Gustavas Maier Center; Owen Lattimore and the "Loss" of China, published by University of California Press in 1992, reviewed by the New York Times and thirty-two other periodicals, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times book award competition. This book was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He also wrote Truman and the Hiroshima Cult, a book published by Michigan State University Press in 1995, reviewed in the Washington Post and eighteen other periodicals. That book won the Diamond Anniversary Book Award given by the National Communication Association in 1997.

The last thing I’ll say, coming back to the 1954 debate topic on recognition of communist China – if you remember, Professor Newman organized some debates on that topic in Pittsburgh on December 10-11, 1954. The Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph published a column in response to these activities by Professor Newman, entitled "Coddling Communism: Campus Propaganda." Several members of the University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees telephoned the acting Chancellor, Charles Nutting, asking: "Who is the subversive professor indoctrinating Pitt debaters?" And the answer, as you already know, is tonight’s keynote speaker, Professor Robert P. Newman, now a Visiting Professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Please welcome him with a warm round of applause.

[Audience applause]

Main address

Robert Newman: It’s good to be back at Wake Forest. It is evidence of my antiquity, of course, that the last time I was here, Wake Forest was in Wake Forest. The redoubtable Franklin Shirley presided over the place. I loved the guy. He was every bit a southerner – charming, intelligent, and he ran a hell of a good debate program. Gordon Mitchell has gotten me back, for which I am grateful. Al Louden and Ross Smith have also given me this opportunity and I thank them for that. I have enjoyed what I’ve seen so far and am all in favor of doing more of it.

There is a current revival of interest in that war I participated in, due of course to Tom Brokaw, who produced endless memories about that catastrophic event. Before that war, this country was in the grips of a very myopic isolationism. We had no significant defense forces. We had great lethargy. But the challenge of the fascist powers was lethal. Since then we’ve had a lot of unnecessary and unproductive wars, and this has derided the memory of World War II. Vietnam, Kuwait, Nicaragua, Panama – these have crowded out the public memories of 1939-1945. Triumph over the fascists was a near thing. However dismal the planet looks today, the prospects do not begin to approach the apocalypse we avoided in 1945. So there is hope.

My memories of that war, and of the Cold War, are as episodic as most people’s. Gordon refreshed them for me when he started talking about the activities at Pitt and invited me to renew my encounter with the Cold War as a college debate coach. He’s already told you all of that. I don’t have to repeat it. The trustees did phone the chancellor to say find out who this guy is and fire him. The chancellor said no, he’s upholding the American tradition, and I was, and so are you. There were a lot of colleges who did not debate that year. Gordon named a few of them. There were some others. Fortunately, most colleges stuck with it. We wound up moving ahead with the idea that the topic was debatable and that this was a democracy, which it was and is.

Then there was Newman who ran afoul of the Hearst newspapers. But so far as I can tell, it had no impact on my employability. The Pitt trustees were satisfied by the chancellor’s explanation. The only thing that developed from that was a big question in my mind: What makes a topic debatable? Well, of course, I read up on the law of recognition. I knew that recognition was for convenience. It did not imply approval. After all, we did recognize the evil empire. The Right-wing didn’t like it. They constantly advocated derecognizing the Soviet Union. They did not prevail on that, but they did prevail on China until Nixon made his historic trip in 1971. It is not clear that debating that topic did anything to change Nixon’s mind eventually. But it might have.

My opinions on the Soviet menace become pertinent here, because during the occupation of Germany, I became acquainted with some deserters from Stalin’s army. They convinced me that life in the USSR was inimical to any kind of life that I wanted to live. After the occupation, as a student touring Europe during vacations, I saw the pre-communist openness of Czechoslovakia and the contrasting terror of the Polish regime. The most telling experience, which I had almost forgotten until Gordon started me thinking about it again, was a visit to Norway in 1948.

Here was a small liberty-loving country that had experienced Nazi occupation and had a several-hundred mile common border with the Soviet Union. Norway was totally free of the fearfulness of Soviet attack that was building up in these United States. My Norwegian friends explained it this way: "Yes, we know they could overrun us if they determined to. Yes, we have a fair number of communists openly preaching their dogmas in Norway. But we know who and where the communists are, and at the first Soviet salvo fired in our direction, every one of those guys will be in jail. We will fight to the last citizen. Russians are effective soldiers only when defending their homeland. Look at what the Finns did to them. Our terrain for defense is better than that of Finland. The Soviets knew we would decimate their army were they to attack us and we are not afraid of them."

All this was on my mind when the American panic about the Soviet Union taking over the world exploded in 1950. How could I regard the McCarthy frenzy as anything other than pathological? And as for recognizing Peking, for heaven’s sake, if we had had a good ambassador in China, and did not have to depend on the Brits or the dyspeptic Pakikkar of India to pass on Chou En-lai’s warning not to let MacArthur approach the Yalu River during the Korean War, we might have been spared the ambush and destruction of the U.S. Eighth Army (which was the worst defeat of an American army in history).

We successfully completed the 1954-55 debate season. I had forgotten until two days ago that as a silly gesture of defiance I announced as a topic for one of our series of high school assembly debates: "Resolved: That Joseph R. McCarthy should be replaced as chairman of the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee."

[Audience laughter]

There were a few high school principals who gagged at this, but we had a full series anyway with no serious repercussions.

The lasting outcome of my brush with attempted censorship was my devotion of the next six years to study the problem of the People’s Republic of China. This resulted in the 1961 book, Recognition of Communist China: A Study in Argument got good reviews and sold about 20,000 copies. That was enough to pile up a little nest egg for me to use on more expensive research for less sexy books. There were even rumors in the Beltway, among news correspondents, that when Nixon went to Peking a couple of years later, my book was on his desk. The circumstances of Nixon’s final disgrace were such that I never really tried to find out if he had read the thing, not being sure whether that was good or bad.

[Audience laughter]

The recognition book taught me one important lesson about academic politics – some disciplines are more reactionary than others. Bert Carroll, chairman of the Political Science Department at Pitt, told me somewhat enviously, "It’s a good thing you are not in poli sci. You could never get a job if you published a book like that." After subsequent exposure to poli sci types, I’m sorry, but I am going to say it anyway – I saw that Bert was right. My snotty acronym for the American Political Science Association was the KKK – the Kirkpatrick-Kampelmann club, after those who led that organization for about twenty years and kept it Right-wing.

Now we are in a new century. I welcome the embrace of the vital topic of the time by Wake Forest at this tournament. And I have some opinions about the mood of the country, and the spasm of blind rage to bomb somebody because terrorism has finally lodged on our soil. This topic is also debatable, but like recognition of China, Right-wing opinion has coalesced around a hawkish response without serious analysis of consequences.

You know the outpouring of jingoism that fills our media. Some of our normally-critical sources of public intelligence seem to have been intimidated and have modified their stances. Even the Sierra Club, that eminent organization of thoughtful people who look beyond the decadence of our current materialism to a distant future, whose most prominent adviser and several times president is my office-mate at Chapel Hill, Robbie Cox, even the Sierra Club felt the burn of xenophobic excess generated by 9/11. It has backed off on some of its attacks on the federal government.

I do not join them. I am here to tell you that the current bout of super-patriotism will run its course, that destroying the Taliban will only increase the incidence of terrorism, that leveling Afghanistan solves nothing.

[Audience applause]

Of course we should seek to neutralize Islamic terrorists, which can be done only be securing the wholehearted support of the intelligence operations which understand the territory, namely those of the moderate Islamic states. We are not doing this yet, and in addition we are flirting with a new inquisition.

Here I need to set forth a basic premise. While I had long deplored America’s panicky reaction to Soviet power, as witnessed by my comparison to the Norwegians, it was not until 2000 that I was able to understand that the "blueprint" for the Cold War, National Security Council Document 68, NSC-68, was an incitement to use terrorist methods in opposing the Soviet. This document was part and parcel of a campaign of atrocities stretching from 1953 to the present, impacting every area of the globe, especially the Islamic world. Islamic terrorism was stimulated by American Cold War operations? Am I saying that? Yes I am. Am I saying we bear a substantial blame for Islamic hatred of the U.S.? I am indeed. I am saying that Barbara Lee is a heroine, to go down in history with Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening, the two dissenters from the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

NSC-68 was written in 1950 by a team from State and Defense headed by Paul Nitze, the arch hawk of all time. Nitze proclaimed that Stalin’s election-eve speech of 1946, which was clearly designed to procure a 99.9% vote for the party, was a thinly-veiled declaration of war on the United States. When Nitze reported to Eisenhower some years later on a scenario for fighting and winning a nuclear war, Ike said, "We can’t have that war. There aren’t enough bulldozers to scrape the bodies off the streets." And in 1950, Nitze conjured up a Soviet plan for world conquest that had the Soviets capable of a first strike against the United States in 1954. Nitze wrote this doomsday scenario into NSC-68 despite the protests of all the Kremlinologists in the State Department (Kennan, Bohlen, Llewellyn Thompson) who knew that Stalin was interested foremost in preserving his dictatorial power and securing Soviet borders. At least a half-dozen State Department officials, in addition to the Kremlin specialists, objected to NSC-68 as alarmist. Nitze ignored them and told Acheson the bald lie that comments on the document did not call for any modification. This could not be known until finally the documents were unsealed and declassified in 2000.

The bottom line of NSC-68, however, was its warrant for terrorism. The exact wording Nitze used describing the extent to which we could use force against Soviet probes was: "The integrity of our system will not be jeopardized by any measures, covert or overt, violent or non-violent, which serves the purposes of frustrating the Kremlin design . . ." Those of you who know about the Schools of the Americas, which trained so many people down south, this was in the document authorizing their operation. Torture and terrorism. That was what came from NSC-68. Four examples.

(1) Iran. It was the incredible terror of the Shah’s SAVAK that first came to my attention, via the personal witness of a colleague at Pitt, Richard Cottam, who had been one of the CIA operatives when we ousted Mossadeq and installed the Shah. Cottam made the study of Iran his life’s work. How many thousands of Iranians were killed by the Shah? Enough to justify hatred of the U.S. by that country into the 22nd century.

(2) Indonesia. Today this is the most populous nation with a Muslim majority. When we engineered the replacement of the insufficiently anti-communist Sukarno with the Right-wing Suharto, estimates of the slaughter ran from 500,000 to 1,000,000. Have you read accounts of Indonesian opinion in the papers lately? Can you wonder why the Indonesian street supports bin Laden?

(3) The Gulf War and Iraq. I know of no one who doubts that Saddam is an evil tyrant. But the damage we have done to his country and people is perceived throughout the Islamic world as excessive and immoral. You will not understand how this Bush-engineered war is perceived in the Great Crescent until you have read Fatima Mernissi’s Islam and Democracy. Mernissi is a professor at University Mohammed V in Rabat; there is no escape from her narrative of how the Gulf War is perceived by her co-religionists.

(4) Finally, and most important, Israel. I was a Zionist, enraptured by the brilliant case made for a Jewish homeland by Theodor Herzl and Chaim Weizmann. Unfortunately, the Zion conceived by those two humane and secular Jews never came into being. That Zion would have accommodated the interests of the Palestinians, compensating anyone who lost property to Jewish colonization, investing in infrastructure and education for the Palestinians, sharing water resources, and in the terms of the Balfour Declaration, doing nothing to "prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities." But by the time the U.N. acted on Palestine in 1947, the Zionist movement had been hijacked by a group of thugs: Jabotinsky, Stern, Begin, Shamir, and yes, Ariel Sharon. You think I’m exaggerating? Without the excessive Jewish terrorism narrated in the 859 pages of Benny Morris’ Righteous Victims there would have been no intifada, no Six-Day war, no farcical Oslo agreements.

Israel was founded in terror, the Israel Defense Forces are steeped in terror, Mossad is the world expert in terror, a terror which impelled Weizmann to plead with the 1946 Zionist Congress in Basel to reject terror and to follow the path of righteousness. But it was too late. Jewish terrorists had already left a trail of blood. Lord Moyne was assassinated on 6 November 1944, drawing from Churchill, a firm Zionist, the charge that Britain was now dealing with "a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany." Weizmann immediately wrote an abject letter of apology, promising Churchill that Palestinian Jewry would "cut out, root and branch, this evil from its midst." Bad prediction. Three of the terrorists named above were welcomed into the new muscular Israel, and became prime ministers.

"Roots of evil" were in fact nourished. They remain in Israel’s overkill retaliation policy, which kills three or four Palestinians for every Jew killed. They remain in the use of American armor and helicopters to take out juvenile Palestinian rock-throwers. They remain in the refusal to implement U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338. They remain in the rejection of an international observer team, which would report to the world that Israel is an Apartheid state tyrannizing a series of Arab Bantustans.

But no observer team would be able to assess the key facilitator of Israeli hypocrisy and arrogance – the power and munificence of the American Jewish lobby. Yesterday’s New York Times carried the news that 89 U.S. senators had signed a letter to the President urging him not to restrain Israel from retaliating fully against Palestinian violence. Every other country in the world regards Israeli state violence as the root cause, Palestinian suicide bombers as an effect. Only when the unthinking U.S. endorsement of Israel’s rogue actions ceases (the only time the U.S. forced Israel to give up an illegitimate enterprise was when Eisenhower forced Israel out of the Sinai Peninsula in 1956) – only then will the intifada cease and the gaping wounds of the Holy Land begin to heal.

Does all this mean that the U.S. bears sole responsibility for Islamic terror? Of course not. The terror comes also from a fundamentalist strain of Islam, capable as we have seen of indefinite destructiveness, but still not as awful as the terror of the first Christian crusade, or of Cromwell’s Christian righteousness, or of the wars of the Reformation. We can however mitigate Islamic terror by reining in Israel, apologizing to Iran, lifting the economic embargo on Iraq while demanding international inspection of her armament. We must also track down and immobilize the planners and activators of the recent attacks in New York and Washington. Since our own bureaucratic, monolinguistic, gadget-obsessed intelligence services are not likely to pull this off, we must mend our ways to secure the full cooperation from those Islamic lands that still are not totally alienated from us. I see no solution to the expanding Wahabism coming from Saudi Arabia. Let us hope we repair our relations with Islamic moderates sufficiently to support them in policing their own deviants.

I am here making a case for one program in dealing with our predicament. In the next two years, I will be making that case more substantially in a book with the co-authorship of a brilliant young Egyptian scholar, Dina Ibrahim, currently at the University of Texas. It will be my task to show how force and violence were integral to the American Cold War operational code. It will be Dina’s task to demonstrate how this code played out in Islamic lands, exacerbating normally hostile reactions to America as the new, domineering imerpium. We will never question the evil of terrorism. We will aim to establish the unforgivable hypocrisy of the U.S. and its number one client state in denying to suppressed peoples an arena of protest that we ourselves embraced. Look for this in 2003.

Does all this mean that I think there is one clear answer for Americans? No, no. The matter is still debatable. Cori Dauber, who favors the bombings, debates this with me all the time, to the delight of our students. When David Horowitz comes to Chapel Hill on November 28, as he has promised to do, to chastise us for inheriting the anti-American, irresponsible mantle of the student radicals that once inhabited Berkeley, telling us that we are woolly-minded innocents, we will listen to him, and, perhaps, retain our composure.

[Audience laughter]

To you, who have ventured into this maelstrom already, I say: Go to it. The Right-wing may go after you, but their Joe McCarthy has not yet appeared on the horizon. This is still America; you still have freedom of speech. You are creating what in the current neologism is called a public sphere. Keep it going. I wish you luck.