The old Crimson tie

April 07, 1996|By Peter A. Jay

HAVRE de GRACE -- So Theodore John Kaczynski, the suspected Unabomber, turns out to be one of my very own college classmates. I didn't know him then, and didn't even recognize his name the other day when the FBI released it. Why is it then that I'm only mildly surprised?

Maybe, because the class has produced just about everything else, having its own bloody-minded Luddite monomaniac seems almost inevitable. Or maybe it's because of the legacy of the '60s, and the way that strange decade's incredible political poisons linger on.

The extraordinary hostilities of the '60s to democratic government, to open-minded intellectual inquiry, to technology, and to commerce have proved to be as enduring as they were corrosive. Thirty years afterward, like radioactive fallout lying invisibly in the soil, they're still claiming innocent victims, of which the murdered and maimed casualties of the Unabomber probably won't be the last.

We who graduated from college in 1962 were only on the cusp of the '60s. We were freshmen in the time of Eisenhower, seniors in the time of John Kennedy. Eventually many of us would go on to become real Sixties People, as self-indulgent in our behavior and self-congratulatory in our attitudes as anyone, but we would be different from those who followed us six or seven years later.

We carried a lot of the '50s into college with us, and some of it stuck. We had our radicals, as all classes do, but ours tended not to be marchers, demonstrators and believers in flamboyant confrontation. Like those of an earlier generation, the more revolutionary their beliefs, the lower the profile they maintained.

The members of the Class of 1962 weren't undergraduates during the worst of those insufferably arrogant 10 years. We passed through college in what in retrospect seems a conventional time, and were duly graduated into a conventional world we had no way of knowing was about to change radically. There were about 1,100 of us, not counting what were then called the Radcliffe girls.

During our four years at Harvard, many members of the Class of '62 worked for popular political causes, especially opposition to nuclear testing and racial discrimination. But there was only one major demonstration requiring police intervention. That occurred when President Nathan Pusey, citing cost considerations and changing times, eliminated Latin from our diplomas.

I doubt Ted Kaczynski participated in the happy lunacy of the Latin riot; he doesn't seem to have participated in many collective endeavors while in college, or afterward. He was, then as later on, a loner.

But being a loner in those days, before communes and Woodstock made mass togetherness doctrinally correct, was perfectly acceptable. Our class had quite a few of them, and they seemed neither more nor less significant than the certified mathematical geniuses, budding members of Congress, jocks, drunks, unpublished poets and other stereotypes it also included.

Class report

Every five years after graduation, the 1,100 or so members of the Harvard Class of 1962 are invited to contribute to a class report, saying where they are, what they're doing, and -- an option some seize with more exuberance than others -- what they have on their minds.

Ted Kaczynski, responding to these questionnaires, provided only an address. In 1967 it was Lisbon, Iowa. In 1972 it was Lombard, Illinois. In 1977, an apartment in Great Falls, Montana, about 60 miles from the cabin near Lincoln where he was taken into custody this week. In 1982, he gave an address in Khadar Khel, Afghanistan. That was the last Harvard, and his classmates, heard from him.

He was a mathematician, it seems, and mathematics is an intellectual discipline which can lead in many directions. Many mathematicians have become writers, though it remains to be legally established whether the author of the Unabomber's 35,000-word publish-or-perish screed and Mr. Kaczynski are one and the same.

The champion Harvard mathematician-writer was of course the immortal Tom Lehrer. Professor Lehrer gave us lyrics for the nuclear age, including ''If the rockets go up, who cares where they come down? It's not my department, says Werner von Braun,'' or ''So long, Mom! I'm off to drop the Bomb! Don't wait up for me!'' But he could also be sweetly sentimental, as in his Vienna Waltz -- ''I drank some champagne from your shoe, la-la-la! I was drunk by the time I got through, la-la-la! For I didn't know, as I raised that cup, it had taken two gallons to fill the thing up!''

My classmate Mr. Kaczynski is no Tom Lehrer. But if he does turn out to have been the Unabomber, he's going to have some time on his hands, and then perhaps he'll tell us in his 35th-anniversary class report what else he's been up to all these years.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

Pub Date: 4/07/96

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