Reading through the alumni letters on Woodrow Wilson’s rediscovered legacy of racism, I’m reminded of my junior year when I ate at Wilson College, which then, ironically, was the most diverse place in town. All the African students were there with a few professors, including my then political mentor H.H. Wilson, with whom we dined with such heavyweights as Leonard Boudin. It would be most appropriate now to rename Wilson College and the Wilson School for Paul Robeson, who could have been one of our most distinguished graduates but for Wilson’s institutionalized racist admissions: Princeton’s loss was Rutgers’ gain.

What’s missing from almost all of the commentary on Woodrow Wilson is that his racism and his postwar legacy are seen as opposed, rather than as a tragic continuum. Wilson pretextually pushed us into the European war, inciting extreme xenophobic and chauvinist actions at home — we got the Espionage Act and Palmer Raids (along with J. Edgar Hoover). His postwar goal of “making the world safe for democracy” brought catastrophes still haunting us today — endless war, secret government, invasions, coups, and extrajudicial assassinations — accurately exposed early on, from Charles Beard’s “perpetual war for perpetual peace” through Chalmers Johnson’s The Sorrows of Empire to Peter Dale Scott’s devastating, definitive The Road to 9/11. A sad legacy, indeed.

Almost all these ongoing horrors have been wreaked upon people of color who failed to do our bidding, again ironically, in the grand imperial European manner. Noam Chomsky, in an interview last year with Tavis Smiley, deftly skewered our utterly misbegotten “American exceptionalism” by dryly observing, “It’s kind of ironic” that every empire in history thought it was the greatest of all. Plus ça change

Ken Scudder ’63
San Francisco, Calif.