To the Editor:
In a recent piece I had in the New York Review, I described, as I had seen them, some of the aggressively nationalistic construction workers who have been intimidating many peaceful people in New York, and wrote of “crane operators and other lordly specialists who from the heights of their well-packed pay envelopes look down on blacks who can’t even become plumbers’ apprentices.” In his column, “Like Fathers, Like Sons” [August], Norman Podhoretz uses these words to suggest that crane operators also are “kids” entitled to the sympathetic consideration that, in Mr. Podhoretz’s view, only student protesters among the young seem to get. The crane operators I observed and listened to all last spring, week after week as they worked on an unnecessary new armory near my office, were not kids, not in their early twenties. But they were certainly lordly, to put it mildly, about Negroes, anti-war protesters, and all the “kids” who dared to pass in beards, long hair, and irreverent looks at the American flags tattooed on a crane operator’s arms. Mr. Podhoretz also knows perfectly well that “young people” who are black find it extremely difficult to become apprentices in the building trades.
I realize that Mr. Podhoretz does not permit himself enough space every month to do more than Take A Position. So I will not comment on his illusion that he is able each month, in less than a page, to do justice to such formidable topics as Death, War, and Fathers and Sons. But I do protest his irritable misuse of my words.
New York City
Norman Podhoretz writes:
I am at a loss to understand in what sense I was guilty of a “misuse” of Mr. Kazin’s words. I quoted those words, as he acknowledges, correctly. I even took scrupulous care to specify that he had applied them not to young workers in particular but to “construction workers in general.” No “misuse” there, surely. What then is he complaining about? Is he taking issue with the point I was mainly intent on making in my piece—namely, that when young workers express hatred of their contemporaries on the campus or declare their determination to vote for George Wallace, they are rarely accorded the kind of sympathetic understanding that student protesters invariably receive from literary intellectuals like Mr. Kazin (who once wrote an article calling the students of today “the party of hope” and “the conscience of our time”)? Since his letter is an excellent illustration of the very double standard in the distribution of sympathetic understanding I had in mind, it would seem unlikely that he has any quarrel to pick with me on that score either. Can it be that my “misuse” of his words consists simply in the fact that I directed attention to the snobbery and self-righteousness they reveal and whose embarrassing nakedness his letter so desperately attempts to dress up in the usual moral finery?
So far as my column in general is concerned, I could wish that, having congratulated himself on his fair-minded restraint in not commenting on it, Mr. Kazin had then actually refrained from commenting on it. Still, I can assure him that I am under no such megalomaniacal “illusion” as he projects onto me. My aim is merely to make a point or two every month, and to do so if possible without falling into the unctuousness or the peevishness that brevity of expression seems—to judge both from his letter and from the piece which contained those words of his I quoted—capable of producing in Mr. Kazin’s normally harmonious cadences.
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s remark [Letters from Readers, August] about the “implications of an alliance between the patriciate and the underclass against the Center” reminded me of Orwell’s similar statement: “An army of unemployed led by millionaires preaching the Sermon on the Mount—that is our danger.”
These days COMMENTARY is a sane voice in what seems to be the fantasy world of the intelligentsia. . . .
W. R. Steinhoff
Ann Arbor, Michigan
To the Editor:
The August issue of COMMENTARY is all star: Goodman, Lipset and Raab, Himmelfarb, Podhoretz, Hartley, and Decter. Cheers to all of you!