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For over half a century Henry Steele Commager has been an historian and educator of rare insight and clarity, bringing to the study of U.S. policy and international affairs both a practical eye and strong moral concerns. His thinking has often contrasted sharply with the Establishment's; today that contrast appears more distinct than ever.
With George Santayana, Dr. Commager believes that “To be an American is of itself almost a moral condition, an education, and a career.” Few embody this definition as well as he. Dr. Commager has taught at Columbia, New York University, Cambridge, Oxford, and Amherst. Today he is Bullitt Professor of American History at the University of Washington in Seattle, where this interview was conducted.
March 30—The president of the Associated Church Press calls to invite me on a Church World Service/Cuban Ecumenical Council-sponsored religion journalists' tour of Cuba. “I've always wanted to go to Cuba,” I tell M. “You've always wanted to go everywhere,” he retorts
Late last year the British Government emerged with its principles intact from a contest of wills with a Provisional IRA hunger-striker who sought changes in the prison treatment of those claiming political motivations for their acts of violence. When the hunger-striker broke his fast, it appeared that the British policy was vindicated. But as usual in Northern Ireland, the ascendency of British law and order did not go untested for long. In the spring of 1981 the Ulster situation erupted again when another IRA hunger-striker induced his own death after failing to produce any modification of prison rules. Although the Thatcher government had held firm once again, the tradition of Irish self-sacrifice was reborn. Bobby Sands, M.P., became the thirteenth Republican prisoner since 1920 to die on a hunger strike in jail, the first in the Republic itself.
Both of us remember from our schooldays in Russia how the teacher's proud pointer would roam here and there across the political map as we learned by rote that the Soviet Union covered one-sixth of the earth's surface and that its territory was vast enough to accommodate 2.3 Americas, 40 Frances, or 92 Great Britains. That by itself was supposed to inspire us with patriotic fervor. It was not official propaganda but nationalist feeling.