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BCM welcomes letters from readers. Letters may be edited for length and clarity, and must be signed to be published. Our fax number is (617) 552-2441; our e-mail address is bcm@bc.edu.



Having been stationed in Da Nang as a U.S. Air Force doctor in 1964-65, I was especially interested in the article by Professor Seth Jacobs on Dr. Tom Dooley ("Fighting Words," Summer 2002).

Dooley's work was an inspiration to many, and although he was not a saint, his story deserves to be remembered with respect. He was one of a number of medical missionaries operating in Southeast Asia at the time, and the heroic story of the others remains unknown to most of the world. I had the pleasure of working and visiting with some of these missionaries, and, in my opinion, they represented the best in mankind and Christianity.

Alamo, California


"Fighting Words" was a surprising addition to what has been for me, up until now, a superb publication. Seth Jacobs does a pretty fair job of character assassination on Dr. Dooley—not the kind of thing a publication like BCM should do. After all, we have those grimy magazines at the supermarket checkouts that do that sort of thing quite nicely. Why does Jacobs tear into a man dead now these many years?

St. Louis, Missouri


Does Seth Jacobs think the North Vietnamese incapable of the atrocities ascribed to them by Dooley? Does he discount the memories of Americans incarcerated in the "Hanoi Hilton"? He suggests that analysis of the war has "another, hitherto unexplored dimension: religion." Does he think that all the refugees fleeing North Vietnam were Catholic? Everyone he quotes shares his prejudices. What is the point of slandering a man like Thomas Dooley?

Buffalo, New York


Professor Jacobs neglects to mention anywhere in his article James T. Fisher's critically acclaimed book, Dr. America: The Lives of Thomas A. Dooley 1927-61—a surprising omission in an article on the Navy doctor.

Moreover, Jacobs's assertion that religion is a "vital, hitherto unexplored dimension" of the Vietnam War is, to put it charitably, untrue. Studies of the religious antiwar movement abound, including Mitchell Hall's book on Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam (CALCAV), Charles Meconis's investigation into the antiwar Catholic Left, and my own Lift Up Your Voice Like a Trumpet: White Clergy and the Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements, 1954-73, which was originally written as a doctoral dissertation in the very department in which Professor Jacobs now teaches.


Kent, Washington


It was a corollary in the 1960s that the closer nations were to North Vietnam geographically, the more the latter was feared and detested. The reverse was also true: The more removed from the scene, the more heroic North Vietnam seemed to the Left.

SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) does not appear anywhere in Seth Jacobs's article. That agreement stated that if one signatory were attacked, all would defend.

Extensively quoting Nicholas von Hoffman, of all people, reveals more about Jacobs's agenda than anything else in his article. Avoiding the obvious, the Left will grasp at anything as the main causes of the war, even race or gender. So what else is new?

High Falls, New York


Professor Jacobs replies: I never intended my comments about Dooley to apply to all medical missionaries. As for the charge of character assassination: Leaving facts out because they don't fit a heroic image is writing fiction, not history. Yes, many of the "refugees fleeing North Vietnam" were not Catholic, but over 90 percent of the "Passage to Freedom" refugees were. When I called religion an "unexplored dimension" of the war, I was referring to religion's role in drawing the United States into Vietnam, not the subsequent efforts of religious figures to get the United States out; I'd like to think that a Boston College Ph.D. could grasp the distinction. I do agree with Dr. Friedland about James Fisher's book, which is why I regularly assign it for my classes. Finally, South Vietnam was not a signatory to SEATO; it was, in fact, prohibited from joining by the Geneva Accords.



Regarding the excellent tributes by Brian Doyle and Fr. Joseph Appleyard, SJ, to the late Francis Sweeney, SJ, in Summer 2002 ("Writer's Guide" and "Voice Lessons," respectively): I was Fr. Sweeney's assistant for the Humanities Series during my senior year and found the man to be one of the kindest, most charitable people I have ever had the pleasure to encounter. He was not only a benevolent supervisor, but also a truly remarkable individual, one who led a storied life, yet who always conducted himself with humility and grace. In the seven months I worked for him—and I use the word "work" loosely as I never viewed it as a chore—I learned not only about the amazing history of the Humanities Series but, more importantly, from Fr. Sweeney I learned, by example, what it means to treat others with respect and dignity.

Canton, Massachusetts


One of the things you learned in Francis Sweeney's class "Writing the Essay and the Article," was that plumbers made more money than writers. I always appreciated the fact that he did not romanticize the difficulties of trying to make a living as a writer.

Through Francis, you learned that writing was rewriting and that to become a good writer you had to be a reader. And you'd better have a sense of humor, as demonstrated by the following story he told in class: When [the novelist] George Higgins's daughter was asked at school what her father did for a living, she replied, "My daddy types."

New York, New York


Several months ago, Fr. Sweeney telephoned me. Among other conversation we shared, he remarked, "I am not long of this world."

Fr. Sweeney was and continues to be a great gift. Never having been a student of his, I serendipitously became his friend because he had a great talent for reaching out beyond his immediate and ready-made circles. We shared a friendship of humor and deep spirituality. One way he encouraged my faith was by considering some of the most ordinary points of life. And when the first of my three children was born, Fr. Sweeney sent a letter of congratulations. In the letter he said, "I'd like to extend a warm welcome to the new manager of your household." At the time, I thought, "What a weird thing to say . . . but I'm sure I'll learn over the years just what he means." Truly I have.

Princeton, New Jersey

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