Gonzaga Universitygranted me two years’ credit for my experience as Assistant Visiting Professor at Oregon and South Dakota, so I went up early for tenure in academic year 1981-1982. Having been promoted to Associate Professor after the publication of my book, Idealism Debased: From Völkisch Ideology to National Socialism by Kent State University Press the previous year, my prospects looked very good indeed. As John Sisk of the English Department told me—probably the best-known Gonzaga faculty member and the one most respected for his scholarship: “They can’t very well promote you one year and then refuse you tenure the next.” I should perhaps have been forewarned, though, by my colleague Bob Carriker’s unexpectedly hostile reaction when I told him I was applying for promotion in fall 1980: “Isn’t that a bit arrogant of you?” Carriker had also written personally to the president of the university complaining that I had gotten a bigger raise than he after the publication of my book. But Carriker had a college-wide reputation for easily feeling threatened by his colleagues and preferring a steady turn-over of junior faculty, so I wasn’t particularly worried, especially since I had been reappointed every year, including in spring 1981, with glowing recommendations and without any departmental reservations. Every year the dean had personally come to my office to tell me that the administration was very pleased with my teaching evaluations and professional publications and expressed the hope that I would continue my good work at Gonzaga. Moreover, the Academic Vice President, Fr. Peter Ely, had asked me to participate in the founding of a new International Studies Program at Gonzaga that went into operation in the fall of 1981, and he had appointed me its director. I had already represented the university at a number of meetings of the newly-founded Pacific Northwest Consortium for International Education based in Seattle. I had even represented the University President, Fr. Barney Coughlin, at a meeting of the presidents of Jesuit Universities on the subject of international studies.
There was a little hiccup in the faculty’s acceptance of the U.S. Department of Education grant for the establishment of an international studies program. The Academic Council at first voted to reject the grant, but this was based less on opposition to the new International Studies Program than on friction between faculty and administration on decision-making and governance and especially on some faculty members’ fears that international studies was being funded at the expense of faculty salaries (not entirely unfounded, since the grant did call for matching university funding). As I had helped to write the grant proposal, Fr. Ely had asked me to make the case for the grant to the Academic Council, so I could not help but take their initial rejection a bit personally. However, numerous members of the Council came up to me later and apologized for their vote and explained that it had nothing to do with me. On a second vote the following day, the Academic Council reversed itself and the grant was accepted by an overwhelming margin. I knew Carriker (who was not on the partly elected and partly appointed Academic Council) didn’t like my prominent role in the International Studies Program, which gave me a semi-independent base outside the department. But he claimed that his opposition to the International Studies Program was only because he wanted me for the History Department one-hundred percent.
My scholarly credentials could hardly be impugned. My book, Idealism Debased: From Völkisch Ideology to National Socialism, based on my dissertation, was published by the Kent State University Press in 1981. In October 1979 I began presenting papers at the annual meetings of the newly-founded German Studies Association (GSA—then still known as the Western Association for German Studies). I had learned about this organization from the Germanist Karen Achberger while I was still at Oregon. The conference that year was held on the campus of Stanford University, allowing me to visit my Harvard roommate Paul Russell’s sister Arlie Hochschild, whom I had not seen for more than twenty years. Arlie was now a successful sociologist at Berkeley and soon to achieve considerable acclaim for a number of widely-publicized studies on women and work. She and her husband Adam owned a lovely home in the Castro district of San Francisco. I soon found myself in a lively dialogue with Adam in which I defended, to my later embarrassment, the Soviet experiment in socialism despite all its obvious faults. Adam Hochschild, who had recently returned from a visit to the USSR, set me straight on the reality of the repression in that country, but I wasn’t yet prepared to give up on the 1960s dream of a democratic socialism and thought at the time that the best way of supporting this goal was to keep the Soviet experiment going. It seemed to me that Adam Hochschild’s criticism of the Soviet Union presaged the very deliberate revival of the Cold War by President Ronald Reagan the following year (of which Hochschild, the founding editor of the investigative journal Mother Jones, was to be duly critical). My journal entries reflected my point of view:
9 Jan 1980 It is incredible that people don’t recognize that something must be wrong when the killers of SALT II, the apostles of nuclear armament, gloat at the [Soviet] “rape of Afghanistan.” Finally a reason for their intransigence! Things are going their way!
27 Jan 1980 The difference between our and the Russian “fathers of the H-bomb”: Again the Russians have us beat. [Edward] Teller is paving the ground for its use, [Andrei] Sakharov tries to prevent it.
17 April 1980 Fears of a Soviet nuclear strike, insofar as they are genuine, and all evidence point to the fact that they are not, but that they are professed for ideological reasons—so obviously a projection of our own aggressive impulses as to be almost obscene. Based on a total Verkennung (misreading) of Soviet socialism. Their confidence is so strong that they would never jeopardize their budding system by waging an aggressive war; for the only thing that can destroy socialism now is a war that destroys everything. We, unfortunately, have none of that confidence—only a propped-up righteousness based on self-interest, the interest of maintaining economic dominance. Hence our obsession with the threat of socialism, which translates into a readiness to destroy it at the first opportunity. Only we have good reason to use force, because we feel in our bones that time is not on our side.
16 Jun 1980 Olaf’s attitude, such a barometer of American values, on our policy toward the Soviet Union proving that he—and indeed America—have learned nothing from Vietnam. “Where would you draw the line on Soviet aggression,” he asked.
18 Jun 1980 To those who propagate the 1914 thesis drawing parallels between the U.S.S.R. and Imperial Germany (encirclement theory, preventive war, etc.), I want to say: Grown men and women, behaving like children in your righteousness and self-delusion! The parallel is there—but it is you who are behaving like the Imperial German leadership. It is you who can’t be trusted. It is you who fear for your wealth and privileges and see enemies all around you.
19 Jun 1980 We should ask ourselves: why do we want the experiment in communism to fail? Even if our criticisms are well-taken, why should we not hope that this experiment in communal living will eventually succeed? The charge that communism leads to the formation of a power elite is true enough. But we certainly can’t argue, given our values, that providing incentives or rewards to those who “make it” by contributing to its success is wrong. If we accepted as our basic premise that a well-functioning communal society is desirable, we would see nothing wrong with an arrangement that rewards efforts to work toward its achievement.
27 Jun 1980 Why isn’t it obvious to all that the re-intensification, the real cause of the revival, of the Cold War is America’s frustrated response to its disastrous failure in Iran?
28 Jun 1980 I have this feeling about America: what if the brakes give out? At the moment they still seem to be adequate. There are enough persons of integrity and sense scattered around to dampen the fervor of chauvinism.
20 Dec 1980 There is a dialectic at work that makes socialists the most individualistic of people and “individualists” the most conformist and colorless.
28 July 1980 The irony is that socialism will gain appeal in the U.S. precisely for its repressive qualities.
6 Sep 1980 It is not, as [Daniel] Moynihan maintained, that we must be afraid of the younger generation of Russians, who no longer remember World War II and pursue the hope of Russian supremacy, but that we must be afraid of the older generation of Americans, who cannot forget World War II and the era of American supremacy.
31 Aug 1981 The Soviet threat to the U.S. is one of ideas and values; the American threat to Russia is one of arms and power.
3 Dec 1981 If religion is the grounds for attacking communism, then communism has grounds for suppressing religion.
4 Jan 1982 We don’t have any agreed-upon standard of measurement of human misery. But who is to say that it is less in this country than in the U.S.S.R.?
16 Jan 1982 Life under communism: when you have set yourself the goal of taking care of everyone, you cannot allow the same leeway for prima donnas as in a liberal society in which everyone is free to go to the dogs.
24 Jan 1982 What we accuse the communists of—superficial, distorted, “censored” reporting—we are guilty of. [The Coeur d’Alene-based silver mining company] Bunker Hill as a case in point: although it is an obvious case of callous exploitation—the workers are simply cast off, having completed their usefulness—the union is made the scapegoat. Every gain the unions have been able to obtain for workers is portrayed as an obstacle to full employment. Workers are encouraged to express their outrage at the union. In a communist country Bunker Hill would have been kept in operation even at very marginal profitability. That is why their economy “stagnates,” but the needs of their citizenry are met. If communism disappeared from the earth, millions would be left to face poverty without anyone to take their side. To understand communist repression one must realize that to them bourgeois traits—acquisitiveness, aggressiveness, self-seeking—are criminal traits, and bourgeois freedoms merely the climate that tolerates criminality. We consider it a world turned upside down; they consider it a world turned right side up.
To me it seemed clear. The New Cold War launched by Ronald Reagan represented the Vietnam hawks getting their belated revenge. Indeed, one of Reagan’s major goals was to overcome the “Vietnam syndrome,” defined as the reluctance to use American military power to defend the world-wide interests of America’s dominant elites.
In the summer of 1981 I participated in an National Endowment for the Humanities faculty seminar offered by the noted scholar Henry A. Turner at Yale. Turner had dedicated his scholarly career to defending the liberal capitalist system from its Marxist critics. At the time of the seminar he was hard at work on his opus magnum, German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler. According to Turner, if the Marxists were right and capitalists were responsible for the rise of fascism, then capitalism stood condemned by history. This was not a conclusion Turner was prepared to accept. He preferred to emphasize the anti-modern and anti-capitalist features of fascism. He did, however, appreciate my book Idealism Debased, perhaps because I stressed ideology rather than economics. We did a lot of good natured sparring in the seminar, where I gained the reputation of resident leftist. I did score one point when I forced Turner and his assistant William Patch, a specialist on the administration of Heinrich Brüning, to concede that the Nazis were anti-union. A surprising number of seminar participants seemed unaware or unwilling to acknowledge that the Nazis were strongly anti-labor.
The publication of Turner’s book was delayed by the appearance of David Abraham’s Marxist analysis of The Collapse of Weimar Republic in 1983. Turner assailed Abraham’s book as well as its author, whom he accused of deliberately falsifying the facts. And indeed, the book was replete with errors of translation and transcription, the result of carelessness and sloppiness rather than any intention to deceive. But Abraham’s inaccuracies gave Turner the chance to evade all discussion of interpretation and methodology, the areas in which the real differences between the two scholars lay. Turner was rigorously positivist in his approach, suspicious of explanatory conceptualizations, especially ones that were critical of existing economic relations. He found in his research that business people had indeed contributed substantial sums to the Nazis, but he attributed their largesse not to sympathy for Nazi goals, but to their understandable wish to be prepared for the contingency of the Nazis’ coming to power. His campaign against Abraham was successful, who lost his teaching position at Princeton and was effectively blacklisted within the historical profession for a time, despite the publication of a corrected version of his book a few years later.
Of course, the political shift to the right in the 1980s could not help but have an effect on my tenure decision as well. It strengthened the conservative political forces in the university, as it strengthened the religious right in the nation as a whole. They could not get me on professional criteria, but they could attack me on ideological grounds. Was I really in tune with Gonzaga’s uniquely Catholic mission? As long as social justice was the Jesuits’ primary goal, as indeed it was during the 1970s, no one could accuse me of failing to represent that mission. But once priority shifted to reaffirming Catholic orthodoxy through the primacy of faith and the institutional authority of the Church—as it did at least to some degree with the more general shift to the right in the 1980s—I became vulnerable to charges of misunderstanding the “unique mission of Gonzaga University.” Two of the three senior (i.e., tenured) members of the department were political and religious conservatives. They identified me, not inaccurately, as a “secular humanist,” who eventually might try through curricular and personnel decisions to recreate the department in my image. Their objective was to counter that danger by denying me tenure. And they almost succeeded.
However, I did have on my side the third tenured member and only woman in the department, Betsy Downey, who had replaced Fr. Via as chair and fiercely and effectively campaigned on my behalf. Fr. Via had been reassigned to direct the Gonzaga-in-Florence program and did not take part in the tenure decision, which probably worked to my disadvantage, as Fr. Via was quite aware of Carriker’s bullying tendencies and helped to keep them in check (as did Carriker’s wife Eleanor). Ultimately the crucial factor in the decision in favor of tenure was that the administration, including the president and academic vice president, had a vested interest in my success and continued service at Gonzaga. And there were many others rooting for me as well. Tony Wadden, my colleague in the English Department, called the opposition to my tenure “embarrassing.” My student Thad Lightfoot was the first person to inform me that the Rank and Tenure Committee had failed to recommend me for tenure. He had heard of this decision through a back-channel source at Jesuit House. All the bad news reached me while I was visiting Olaf on my return flight from an international studies conference in Cincinnati in February or March 1982. Olaf had left Duke in 1976 to become head of the mathematics department at Kent State University for the next twenty years.
The vote on my application for tenure had been tied three to three in the Rank and Tenure Committee, leaving the final decision to the ex-officio chair of the committee, the Academic Vice President. On my return to Spokane Fr. Ely called me into his office and began by explaining to me that the university was legally entitled to make personnel decisions purely on religious grounds. He said that there was some concern that I was not only non-religious, but perhaps even anti-religious. He said he didn’t think this was the case, but he needed some corroboration from me. I told him I considered myself religious in the sense of being extremely interested in and concerned about the “Big Questions”–questions about the meaning of life and the nature of the universe. He graciously accepted my rather forced explanation. My tenure application was approved.
What I really thought about religion I confided only to my journal:
Feb 27 1979 The Church in an atmosphere of tolerance is so much more attractive than in a climate of orthodoxy, because in the former instance you know people become priests and nuns because they really believe, rather than for career or power.
Nov 28 1982 Perhaps in religion the question really is, do we take time out to ingratiate ourselves with God or do we go about His work quietly, steadily, using all our faculties, guided by the inborn compass that presumably He has given us. In that sense dogma is an obstacle to true religion. True religion defined: awareness of the mystery of the universe without brown-nosing. Can we live more religiously than we do when we constantly overcome self—and that includes overcoming the selfishness of…religion.
That spring of 1982 was one of the happiest and most exhilarating periods of my life. I finally had a secure position doing what I did best and enjoyed most, namely, writing and teaching. Trina spent her spring vacation from Kent School in Spokane, keeping Nick company and seeing all her old friends while I traveled to Vancouver to give guest lectures on Nietzsche and Nazism at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University at the invitation of Ted Hill and Martin Kitchen, respectively.
Trina had enjoyed a marvelous send-off from Spokane after her graduation from Argonne Junior High School jn June 1981. About a dozen of her classmates had come to our house before 7 in the morning to bid her goodbye. It was a dramatic demonstration of how well she was liked by her classmates.
In August 1981 I set out with Nick and our dog Bursche on our return trip to Spokane via the Black Hills of South Dakota and Mount Rushmore.
Nick had wanted to continue his schooling in Spokane, and I welcomed the challenge of sjngle-parenting, a challenge faced much more often by women than by men.
However, despite my best efforts to arrange a convenient schedule, Nick was a latchkey kid, arriving home from school about an hour before me. He had difficulty controlling Bursche, who loved to bark and chase our neighbor’s horses. Eventually I was forced to have Bursche put down, to the consternation of my colleague in philosophy Mike Matthis, and especially his wife Rose, who found my action unbelievably callous. But I really had no choice under the circumstances.
To top off the splendid academic year 1981-1982, I received a Fulbright grant to attend a five-week seminar for faculty in Germany in summer 1982, while Nick spent the summer with his mother in Irasburg. The first three weeks of the seminar were spent in Bonn, at that time still the capital of West Germany, and the last two weeks in the still divided city of Berlin. We were the first American group, we were later told, who spoke only German with each other, never lapsing into English. Later seminar groups followed our example. My colleague from the University of Arkansas, Todd Hanlin, and I set the tone to such a degree that some people referred to our seminar as the “Rod and Todd show.”
Our colleague Peter Nutting, at that time still at Cornell, was a peace activist who got us to participate in several anti-nuclear demonstrations.
Later that summer, in August 1982, we celebrated Mama’s seventieth and Olaf’s fiftieth birthdays. Mama demonstrated her youthfulness by standing on her head!
Seffi and I made one last, half-hearted effort at reconciliation in the summer of 1982, but it was no good. Tenure and the prospect of an extended stay in Spokane made me want to start a new life without the burden of an unhappy wife. Final separation and divorce (finalized in April 1983) was very painful for both of us. In fact, Steffi threatened to fight the divorce all the way, but fortunately for me, she fell in love with a fellow patient in an alcohol-addiction treatment program in which she enrolled in late 1982. I missed her very much for quite a while, but derived strength from Oscar Wilde’s paradoxical aesthetic dictum, “One must always seek the most tragic.”