In response to:
The Trial of Captain Levy: II from the April 11, 1968 issue
To the Editors:
In describing his feelings on revisiting Captain Levy (April 11, 1968), Mr. Kopkind notes his fear that he was to be judged by Levy’s standards, and that if he were found wanting, that if he did not display moral rigidity, inflexibility, and the inability to work within conventional frameworks to seek a goal, he would be an “existential failure” guilty of “Mauer-ism.” Mr. Kopkind never tells us what the final judgment was. We can only assume that, since Mr. Kopkind is neither in Leavenworth himself nor under federal indictment, he follows a course of action similar to that of Dr. Mauer. Since Mr. Kopkind’s name is so much more famous that Dr. Mauer’s, we would hope that in the future he would use the term “Kopkind-ism,” rather than “Mauerism,” as a synonym for “existential failure.” It may be, however, that in matters of principle Mr. Kopkind feels he even lacks the moral courage Dr. Mauer displayed in befriending Captain Levy and testifying on his behalf while subject to the same military authority as Captain Levy. In this case, rather than use the term “Kopkind-ism,” he might prefer the term “coward-ism.”
Actually, it seems that even Captain Levy himself has lately modified his former total inflexibility to some extent. The man who refused to cut his hair for the army is advising university students that “they would have to modify their hippy apearance” if they were to have any effect on the general populace. The man who followed a course of radical resistance suggests that the students “begin with moderate programs.”
But, of course, this apparent change in Captain Levy may be due to his lack of active sex life in prison. If he feels that “sex deprivation in prison is the most blatant tactic” used “to rob soldiers and prisoners of their manhood, their identity, [and] their pride,” and that “if they can take away [your manhood] they can do anything with you that they want,” then Captain Levy certainly does not have the perseverance and strength of character of a George Fox, a Gandhi, or a Martin Luther King.
Levy’s mental collapse seems more apparent when Mr. Kopkind describes the incident with the Leavenworth psychiatrist. It is unclear to us why Dr Levy is unable to acknowledge that the maintenance of authority can be completely harmonious with a liberal philosophy. Since Levy is fortunate enough to have “the radical perception…to see [Mauerism] in all its incarnations,” let us hope that the impact of seeing everywhere that one can work towards the goals of liberalism within the framework of society will one day lead Captain Levy to elect “Mauer-ism” as a more effective means of achieving his goals.
It is certainly true that among the physicians at Fort Jackson “Mauer-ism” was far more influential than “Levy-ism.” Many of the physicians with whom he worked sometimes found it difficult to tell where Captain Levy’s doctrine of contrariness, as revealed in his defiance of such innocuous army customs as saluting, getting a haircut, or joining the Officer’s Club, ended and where his fundamental moral beliefs began. Because of this, many distrusted his motives for refusing to train Special Forces corpsmen. Dr. Mauer, on the other hand, by coupling integrity with social conformity, was a spiritual and intellectual inspiration to those who had once been indifferent to the evils of the United States position in Vietnam.
We cannot fail to acknowledge that Captain Levy was a voluntary and willing martyr, and that in future years his acts may have a far more profound influence on the course of history than did those of Dr. Mauer. For this reason, we have great respect for Captain Levy. Our respect, however, is far greater for Dr. Mauer for, although it is the “Levys” who may effect great changes in civilization, it is the “Mauers” who keep civilization alive.
Captain and Mrs. Joel Schiffman
United States Army Hospital
Fort Jackson, South Carolina
Andrew Kopkind replies:
Through accidents of history or faults of their own, people get put into situations that offer no exit except by acts of political morality. A negative response—even an ambiguously positive one—is still a complete act, and a man has to bear responsibility for it. Personal history and motivation are more or less irrelevant, except to the psychiatrist (or the journalist). Whether Howard Levy is in a state of mental collapse is a matter for Dr. Schiffman to decide in the privacy of his consulting room, but it hardly touches the validity of what Dr. Levy did. My own non-professional opinion is that Dr. Levy was one of the few mentally fit people who appeared in or around the trial at Fort Jackson last year: at least he had the wit and good sense to see the problems of “coupling integrity with social conformity,” and the functional ability to act. In any case, Dr. Levy seems to have the perseverance (at this early stage of his life) of any of the models Capt. and Mrs. Schiffman present, and as far as I can see from history, a good deal more of the “strength of character” of some (do you know about Gandhi’s personal history? or King’s?).
Those not so luckily trapped by history have fewer actual responsibilities. Dr. Mauer had a more important role in the Levy case than Captain Schiffman or myself, and although we may all be marginally complicit, Dr. Mauer had an opportunity to change the political situation then and there. His motives for not identifying his own position fully with Dr. Levy’s may have been the best, but at the end that is of no effective importance. Dr. Levy was alone at the barricades.
Howard Levy was not inflexible on principle; he refused to abide by rules of social conformity in the Army because he thought the Army system (and its wholly owned subsidiary, the Vietnam war) were politically immoral. His advice to hippies on how to organize in suburbia is in every way consistent with his own resistance in the Army: both were appropriate tactics. I’m not sure that Dr. Levy thought all that out coolly; I am sure that it doesn’t matter how he arrived at his decision.
From everything he did at Fort Jackson and at Leavenworth, it is perfectly clear why Dr. Levy “is unable to acknowledge that maintenance of authority can be completely harmonious with a liberal philosophy.” His “liberalism” (if it is such) is grounded on that radical perception which suggests that authority used for immoral ends cannot be accepted, even on the advice of physicians or friends.
I confess to a certain fatigue in arguing the case against radicals working “within the framework of society” at this late stage of the game. There is, as the Schiffmans assert, a prevalent notion that social conformists are the true heroes of the world. One hears that theory a lot these days as the Humphrey campaign progresses. My own preference for the perfect statement of the argument, however, is found at the end of The Caine Mutiny. After the climactic trial, the mutineers’ lawyer, Barney Greenwald, reverses his public position and in a sense, eulogizes that classic meta-conformist Captain Queeg:
” ‘Course I’m warped,’ said Greenwald, ‘and I’m drunk, but it suddenly seems to me that if I wrote a war novel I’d try to make a hero out of Old Yellowstone [Queeg]…See, while I was studying law ‘n’ old Keefer here was writing his play…and Willie here was on the playing fields of Prinshton, all that time these birds we call regulars—these stuffy, stupid Prussians…were manning guns…Old Yellowstone, for dough, was standing guard on this fat dumb and happy country of ours…Of course, we figured in those days, only fools go into the armed service. Bad pay, no millionaire future, and you can’t call your mind or body your own…So when all hell broke loose and the Germans started running out of soap…who’s gonna stop them? Not …Barney. Can’t stop a Nazi with a lawbook… Meantime…who was keeping mama out of the soap dish? Captain Queeg. ” ‘Yes, even Queeg, poor sad guy, yes, and most of them not sad at all, fellows, a lot of them sharper boys than any of us, don’t kid yourself, best men I’ve ever seen. You can’t be good in the Army or Navy unless you’re goddam good. Though maybe not up on Proust ‘n’ Finnegans Wake and all.’ ”
August 1, 1968