In 1948, M.I.T. was celebrating its 75th Aniversary with a 3-day program. On one night, Winston Churchill was the main speaker and I heard his talk on the radio. The next night, President Harry Truman was to be the main speaker and my college roommate and I got some hand-me-down tickets for the event. (Tickets were not for sale, they were by invitation only, so we were lucky to inherit tickets from the Boston elite father of one of our friends.)
To our disappointment, the President cancelled out at the last minute and was replaced by former Governor Harold Stassen. The good news was that several dignitaries were sitting on the stage behind the speaker, including Winston Churchill who was to speak briefly later.
Stassen had been the young Governor of my state of Minnesotain the late 30’s and early 40’s. He was considered a “boy wonder” and “presidential material” at that time. He left the State House to assume a high level Navy commission at the outbreak of World War II. After the war he became President of the University of Pennsylvania. Still later – after his MIT speech – he ran for :President. And ran. And ran. Maybe 4-5 times He became a political joke. But in 1948 he was still well respected.
He embarked on a long serious speech citing many philosopher greats. The gist of his talk was that all the great philosophical concepts of all time jelled into what made American great. The problem, as I saw it, was that some of the people he cited could better be described as fathers of Nazism rather than that of a free society. I whispered many criticisms to my roommate throughout the talk.
Following his lengthy discourse, he received a long standing ovation from the audience – the elite of Boston society. Apparently their collective grasp of philosophical history was less current than mine – albeit I received my only college D in the course I had just completed..
Then Churchill was brought up to the front of the stage and presented with a gold medal – one of several MIT had had coined for the occasion. Churchill thanked his host for the medal and then said words to the effect that “although I disagreed with much of what the speaker had to say, I certainly applaud his enthusiasm.”
A hush come over he audience, followed by some low groans. They had just given Stassen a long, standing ovation and then Churchill dubbed him a “damn fool”.
My roommate whispered to me, “Wow, you and Churchill were apparently the only ones wise to that guy!”