The Daily 750

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Tribute to Harry Rowen

Monday, October 17, 2005

Harry Rowen is a tall man who still moves at the age of 80 with the quickness his lithe body allows. His alert, visionary strategic thinking shows physically in the hint of a stoop in his posture that can quickly adapt to low passageways. His speech isn’t quick but he uses words as the master economist he is: efficiently and illustratively. He has a number of children whom he adores, and his affection for them, and theirs for him, has tempered into a surprisingly gentle and compassionate soul what might otherwise have been a brusque man who spent much of his life moving in a mutually-armed world. He had been the president of the RAND Corporation in the tumultuous American years from 1967 to 1972, resigning after his young, brilliant but writers-blocked protégé, whom Harry had been unable to protect in 1971 from the board of directors’ final demand that the man publish or perish, self-destructed. Angry and panicked, Daniel Ellsberg came into Harry’s office over a weekend, opened a safe full of classified documents, pulled out a batch of government reports on the Vietnam War, and amused his six-year-old son for the rest of the day by setting him on a stool in front of a large Xerox machine and letting him push the COPY button. The Washington Post refused to publish any of the excerpts because the papers confirmed the anti-war arguments but didn’t have any news that hadn’t already been reported, and none of Dan’s congressional friends would touch them either. With typical inefficiency, Dan let a DC policy institute copy some of the papers and showed another batch to NY Times reporter Neil Sheehan, who reneged on his promise to Dan not to copy the papers, got hold of the institute’s batch, put one and one together, and the rest is the history of the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate break-in, and the resignation of two presidents, first Harry Rowen and then Richard Nixon. Ellsberg and Nixon, not such different men after all, engaged in their own game of mutually assured destruction, and succeeded.

Harry was a member of the pre neo-con movement of the 1950s which, among other things, thought the concept of mutually assured destruction was immoral, ineffective, and suicidal. The great number of his own children (five, I think), all clearly Rowens, all tall and smart and quick moving, yet each completely different from the other, led him also to an early concept of “fault lines” within large monoliths like the Soviet Union, and to push for policies that would have governments treat the nations and ethnic groups swallowed up after the war individually, each with their own set of desires and abilities, some more eager and able to join the West than others. To “never forget”, as the promise was made in those days, that these countries, these people, were behind an iron curtain, ruled by an iron fist, and wanted out. Unlike Nixon and Ellsberg and the others who were obsessed with their own history, Harry was obsessed with the history of the world. His career suffered not at all. The Stanford Graduate School of Business offered him a professorship in public management and soon thereafter appointed him senior research fellow at the prestigious Hoover Institution. He joined with his friend and colleague, the theoretical mathematician and strategist Albert Wohlstetter, to form a small but influential think tank in Los Angeles and a connection between European and American senior scholars and government officials who met two or three times a year, in places like the south of France and the Neapolitan coast, to discuss the security problems associated with protecting those lovely spots before governmental positions had hardened. He held senior positions in the government, as they and the president suited him, always returning to Stanford and Hoover and his large, lanky family in Palo Alto, California.

My routine in the morning is to sit on the edge of the bed, put on socks and slippers, walk around the bed and out of the bedroom, cross the small square hallway into the guestroom, pass through the doorless guestroom closet and go into the bathroom. I could get there with many fewer steps simply by reaching out after I’ve put on my socks and slippers and opening the door in front of me, taking one step into the walk-in closet and opening another door directly into the bathroom. Three steps instead of, say, 20, but the noise and clatter of opening and closing all those doors is more bothersome than walking the extra steps; and yes, many times I’ve thought about whether I couldn’t do without one of the doors and, if so, which one. I breathe through my nose as I pass through the guest room, sniffing for a sign that one of our three cats has once again peed in the guest room closet where my own clothing hangs and my shoes are arranged neatly on the floor. This morning the smell was more than residual from the week before, and my first inspection turned up just a small spritz on the floor in front of the three-drawer mahogany dresser the Wohlstetters had given me 20 years ago and now sat in the closet underneath the hanging shirts. I took the bottle of Simple Green and the roll of paper towels that I keep on a shelf in the closet and sat down on the unfortunately lineoleum-covered wood floor to clean properly, and my heart sank. There stood my three pairs of leather boots and my one pair of rain boots in what one could only call a lake of clean, clear cat urine, and I found I was sitting on the edge of one of four rivulets that were heading northward, like the very house itself, eventually to empty into the mouth of the mighty Columbia.

I used the remnants of the bottle of Simple Green, and as the blue wicker bathroom trash basket filled with warm, wet paper towels I tried not to think that my life was in ruins and that there was no use, none at all, to even attempting to create a warm and cozy home environment while there were cats in the house. That all was lost or would be soon, that even being homeless would be preferable to beginning day after gloomy day by wiping up pools and streams of cat urine, that there was soaking up the urine and trying to eliminate its odor, changing my shirt and sweater whose sleeves had dipped into either the puddle or the stream, and then trying to make a story from a poorly taped conversation with a mumbling South African whose first language is Afrikaans, and that if this is the way the world is going to be I might as well go back to bed. And then Harry Rowen came to mind and I thought, I know Harry felt like this when he found out he’d been double-crossed by Dan, but did he wallow in his despair? No. Get up, girl, empty the trash and go to work.