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How Do We Decide Who's Smart?


Back in 1990 or 1991, I happened to be at the New York Hilton Hotel for the annual charity dinner that raises funds for the Chaim Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, founded by the Jewish State’s first President in 1934. The dinner is a ‘must go’ for everyone who is a person of influence or importance in New York’s Jewish community – in my case I was there to accompany a friend who was much more of a fixture in this group than I.

After the meal and the bestowing on various awards to the biggest donors, things quieted down for the after-dinner speech, which was delivered by none other than Henry Kissinger, who first announced that his mother had come down from her Washington Heights apartment to hear her son speak.

Like most Jews, who happen to be political liberals, I wasn’t a fan of Kissinger. In fact, I thought he was something of an embarrassment to the Jewish community because he had ‘sold out’ by working for Nixon and worse, promoting a military ‘solution’ to Viet Nam.

That being said, Kissinger delivered a speech that evening which may have been the best, the most intelligent and insightful public lecture I ever heard anyone give on international politics and the challenges involved in keeping the peace.

Kissinger had been at Harvard from 1947 as an undergraduate until he went to D.C. as Nixon’s foreign policy adviser in 1969. He left government in 1977 when Carter replaced Ford. During his years in D.C., he was often publicly rebuked for his stance on Viet Nam, and there was talk that several unofficial overtures to regain his faculty status in Cambridge were turned down.

When LBJ took over following Kennedy’s death, the first, substantive meeting he held was to decide the strategy for Viet Nam. One of his advisers who was most adamant in wanting him to widen the war (which he did) was Kennedy’s foreign-policy adviser, McGeorge Bundy, who was recruited to Washington by JFK from his position as Harvard’s Dean. Bundy left D.C. in 1966 and headed up the Ford Foundation, but from that date until he died thirty years later in Boston, he never made a single, public statement about his culpability regarding Viet Nam.

So, it turns out that the two individuals who are as much, or even more to blame for a conflict which killed more than 60,000 American troops, immolated huge swaths of two countries – Viet Nam and Cambodia – along with God knows how many human beings, and remains the worst foreign policy strategy ever implemented in the entire history of the United States, were both considered leading intellectual voices on a university campus which prides itself as being the fount of academic excellence since the institution was founded in 1636.

Let me tell you something about academic excellence, okay? More than anything else, it’s what we call a self-fulfilling prophecy because it represents a judgement handed down from one academic generation to the next, based simply on the fact that individuals from the so-called academically excellent institutions keep getting placed in positions where their influence over the public dialog can be heard and felt.

Know who’s a graduate of the Harvard Law School? Ted Cruz. And a former Law School faculty member, Alan Dershowitz, said that Cruz was “off-the-charts brilliant.”

That’s how you turn gefilte fish into smoked salmon – a Harvard faculty member describes a former student to be a genius even though the student has an IQ lower than Leonard Mermelstein, who happens to be my cat.

Given the disaster which we call Viet Nam, there should be some kind of unwritten or maybe written rule that no member of the Harvard faculty or an alumnus of Harvard be allowed to serve in a government policy-making position for the next fifty years.

Oh shit. Joe Biden's Secretary of State graduated from Harvard in 1984. And we trust him to go over to Israel and settle the current Israel-Hamas war?

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