Renowned historian and writer Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., told an overflow crowd yesterday that now is "an astonishing time to be alive," because of rapid changes in the world. Schlesinger, speaking before over 400 students and faculty at Logan Hall, said even experts have been surprised by such events as the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. These changes have called into question policies the U.S. once took for granted. "The end of the Cold War requires a reorientation, a rethinking of the premises of our policies," Schlesinger said. "The collapse of the Cold War has created uncertainties." "The future immediately before us has too many variables to predict what may happen," he added. But the two time Pulitzer Prize-winning humanities professor was not unsure of his feelings on the war in the Persian Gulf. Schlesinger, in perhaps his boldest statement, said he "regards this as the most unnecessary war in United States history." "I don't think diplomacy, in the usual sense, was ever tried," the City University of New York professor said. "The commitment of ground forces was unnecessary." At one point, the presidential historian quoted John Kennedy, for whom he was an advisor, as saying, "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate." The self-proclaimed liberal called for a reevaluation of priorities and said that "our vital interests are investment in our children. . . and the drug war." In a warm, jam-packed room, Schlesinger spoke for over an hour moving from topics such as the Gulf war, to the end of the Cold War and also to the turmoil in the Soviet Union. Schlesinger, best known for his cyclical theory of history in which he hypothesizes that every 15 to 20 years the country shifts from a conservative mindset to a liberal stance, told the audience that "the Cold War is over, not with a bang, but with a wimper." Schlesinger chided "the bearded chaps on Nightline . . . who were befuddled," by the surprising events in Eastern Europe and the Persian Gulf. Delivering a short history lesson, Schlesinger harkened back to the days of the League of Nations, and said the world is witnessing the revival of the Wilsonian order, in which collective security is relied upon for world stability. He said the U.S. economy has been hurt by spending too much money on the military and he fears, with the Persian Gulf war, that the Defense Department might take even more of the nation's resources. "Our chief rival is not communism, nor is it Sadaam Hussein with his pathetic country of 17 million people," Schlesinger maintained. "Our chief rival is Germany and Japan." Schlesinger also referred to the events in the Soviet Union, comparing it to past superpowers. He said it is "the de facto equivalent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire," of the 19th century. "It seems unlikely that Gorbachev can hold together a diverse country of warring groups," Schlesinger concluded. Students and faculty crowded into the lecture auditorium in Logan Hall, but because of the size of the crowd, several dozen students were forced to watch the speech on a closed-circuit television in the hall. For nearly half an hour after his speech, Schlesinger took questions from the audience and after the presentation he met with both faculty and students at a reception at the faculty lounge. The room became stiflingly hot during his speech and Schlesinger often sipped from his glass of water. History Professor Bruce Kuklick, who introduced Schlesinger as the premier American historian of the era, called the speech a "terrific performance." "I was reminded of the gentile teach-ins of the 1960's," Kuklick added. Funded by Trustee Saul Steinberg and the School of Arts and Sciences, PEN at Penn will bring three more speakers to the University later this semester.Comments powered by Disqus
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