Last week The Political Union sponsored two exciting speakers who share their expertise with the Columbia community: civil rights activist Ruby Bridges and Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis. In case you missed these events here are some highlights.
The most emotional moment of Veritas Forum’s interview with Ruby Bridges happened near the end of the evening. Bridges discussed the moment when she realized that she was being treated differently because of her race. As the first black student to attend an all white school, Bridges experienced a great deal of adversity, but she didn’t know what had caused it until one moment. She approached a white boy to play ball but the boy refused, saying “My parents say I can’t play with you because you are a n*****.” Bridges describes the experience as actually comforting because it meant the children avoided her not because she was mean or unlikable, but because of their parent’s prejudices. Kids don’t understand racism, Bridges explained, and naturally see all people as equal. When she works with children Bridges often role plays as a racist, saying white dogs are better than black dogs, to which one student replied “but they’re all just dogs.”
The evening ended with Bridges encouraging everyone in the Diana Center Oval to “save our own world.” Tearing up as she spoke, Bridges said “I believe in you so much, I believe you can change your world.”
Read about John Lewis Gaddis’s talk on his latest book on Geogre F. Kennen, after the jump.
John Lewis Gaddis came to talk to a small crowd of Columbia students and professors hot from the release of his latest book: “George F. Kennen, An American Life.” Gaddis spent decades working with Kennen in the process of writing his official biography and likely knows more about the political advisor and diplomat than anyone else. While the talk focused on the life and accomplishments of George F. Kennen, it also served a secondary purpose: to explore a concept for Gaddis’s next book.
The idea Gaddis is playing with draws inspiration from philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s essay “The Hedgehog and The Fox.” The difference between the two animals was described by ancient Greek poet Archilochus: “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Gaddis argues that the concept extends to political thinkers and he challenged the history professors in the audience to tell him if Kennen was a hedgehog or fox. “Fox,” one professor answered. “Nooooo,” replied Gaddis, excited that someone had fallen into his trap, “Kennen is a hedgehog!” Gaddis went on to explain that Kennen was singularly focused on foreign relations and that focus both propelled his career and complicated it. Despite his overwhelming hedgehog-like nature, Gaddis made it clear that he had some important fox-like moments, the most important example of this being Kennen’s famous long telegram. By breaking Washington regulations with the length of the telegram Kennen ensured that it would be read, and thus his policies were finally taken into consideration.
Gaddis is still considering if there is enough material to write a book about political foxes and hedgehogs. He affirmed that if he were to write the book that he would revisit Kennen as an example of a hedgehog. When asked from the audience “who is the quintessential fox of the political world?” Gaddis answered, without missing a beat, “Bill Clinton.”
Photo of Ruby Bridges from Bwog.com