Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 30, 2022

Telling truth to power in the '60s

By HENRY KORN | May 17, 2021

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COURTESY OF CALEB DESCHANEL

“Henry James Korn and a plastered friend on a recent visit to the Milton S. Eisenhower Library.”

As a precocious kid growing up in the ‘50s, I was a daily New York Times reader and avidly followed the ups and downs of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In the early ‘60s, I chaired a student World Affairs Council in high school and dreamed about becoming secretary of state. 

To advance my prospective foreign service career, a business associate of my parents arranged a brief encounter with Ike’s younger brother, Milton S. Eisenhower, who was the president of Hopkins and author of The Wine is Bitter: The United States and Latin America (1963). I told Eisenhower that my interest in Latin American policy had been stimulated by the Cuban Missile Crisis. He advised me that Hopkins was an excellent place to study international relations.

John F. Kennedy succeeded Ike as my hero, and I was profoundly unsettled when he was assassinated during my first semester in Baltimore. When the Warren Commission investigation concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, I became a cynic and resolved to become a writer instead of a diplomat.

I changed my major to Writing Seminars, joined The News-Letter staff and began contributing a weekly opinion column called The Homewood Scene, covering subjects like the civil rights debate, the future of communism, the sociology of professional sports and the rise of rock and roll. One particularly acerbic column mocked the insular lifestyle of Goucher girls. It roiled the Hopkins campus and rendered me persona non grata in Towson. Nevertheless, I was promoted to Features Editor and eventually to Co-Editor-in-Chief.

In the tumultuous spring of 1967 that featured massive protests organized by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War, Milton Eisenhower informed me that I had shamed Hopkins by publishing a satire by a staff member that criticized President Lyndon B. Johnson for his role in the Vietnam debacle as well as the Kennedy assassination cover-up. Reading Eisenhower’s hand-delivered letter was like drinking a cask of very bitter wine, and my co-editor and I were suspended from school pending further investigation.

Our exile was covered by prominent newspapers and wire services including The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and the Associated Press. At the height of the controversy, Lou Panos, a columnist for The Baltimore Evening Sun, got Eisenhower on the phone and asked where he stood on the issue of freedom of the press. Panos reported that the ordinarily unflappable Eisenhower snapped, "Don't ask a stupid question like that because the paper is subsidized.”

A hearing took place in the boardroom of Shriver Hall. Eisenhower took the role of prosecutor and judge with an assist from Dean William Kelso Morrill, a Hopkins lacrosse icon. After a lengthy disquisition, Eisenhower declared reinstatement would be conditioned on a public apology. To mollify my parents and save what was left of my college career, I did as Eisenhower asked at a press gaggle on the Shriver Hall steps that included television news crews.

My acquiescence to his authority felt humiliating, and I excoriated myself for not having the guts to make a stand. When Eisenhower’s issue regarding The News-Letter budget was referred to the student council for action, University funding and editorial independence were affirmed. Several days later, I gratefully received a letter from Joseph Heller, author of the wildly popular anti-war novel Catch-22. This world-famous literary authority confided that he wished I was in Washington running the government and that folks in Washington were back in college learning a few things.

Henry James Korn is the author of numerous books, including Amerikan Krazy (2016), a comic novel informed by his experiences as a Hopkins student in the 60s.

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