Last week, I was asked an interesting question about Amerikan Krazy on my author page at Goodreads.com. I thought I’d post the answer here as well.
Is it true that you were expelled from Johns Hopkins University by university president Milton S. Eisenhower (President Dwight Eisenhower’s brother) for an article you edited/published in the college student newspaper which defamed sitting President Lyndon B. Johnson? Can you tell us more about the incident and how it influenced the plot of your book Amerikan Krazy?
Yes and yes. Ironically, I landed at Johns Hopkins University as a freshman in the fall of 1963 as a result of a successful encounter with Dr. Milton S. Eisenhower at Rockefeller University arranged by my late dad through his bank.
As an impressionable Hopkins student, I continued to admire Ike’s younger brother (who was an international relations expert in his own right) from afar. Nevertheless, in 1967, Dr. Eisenhower informed me via a hand-delivered letter on embossed stationary that I had brought great shame upon the University by calling President Lyndon B. Johnson a murderer in public print because of his role in the JFK assassination cover-up and the Vietnam war.
In Amerikan Krazy, a boy named Herbert Horn fears an imminent atomic attack and, as a result, wears patriotism on the sleeve of his cut-down Eisenhower jacket and takes comfort from Ike’s peculiar but reassuring resemblance to Proctor and Gamble’s “Mr. Clean.” As a teenager, Herb Horn similarly perceives young Senator Kennedy as his nation’s well-scrubbed savior but Herb’s fragile psyche is soon shattered by Kennedy’s brutal public execution. In response to Kennedy’s death, Herb crafts a satire defaming his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson similar to the Hopkins Newsletter essay that enraged Milton S. Eisenhower. This formative, high-profile experience beneath the iron heel of Presidential authority results in Herb’s radicalization manifested in sleepless nights, revenge fantasies, odd longings, substance abuse, patricidal nightmares, war wounds, terror bombings and fantasies about new Presidential assassination plots.
“Don’t ask a stupid question like that because the undergraduate newspaper is subsidized.”
—Milton S. Eisenhower
Incidentally, when I was suspended from school and the story was published round the world, Lou Panos, who wrote the Inside Baltimore column of The Evening Sun interviewed Milton Eisenhower and asked him where freedom of the press fit in? Panos reported that the ordinarily unflappable Eisenhower snapped, “Don’t ask a stupid question like that because the undergraduate newspaper is subsidized.” Panos concluded that Dr. Eisenhower’s answer indicated that the President of one of the America’s leading universities believed there should be two kinds of press–one paid and the other free.
As another interesting aside, my true-life confrontation with the arbitrary power of the ruling elites at an early age had a bit of a happy ending. Several days after my reinstatement as a Hopkins student, I was surprised to receive a letter from Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22 (and a major literary hero of mine then and now) expressing the wish that I was in Washington, D.C. running the country and that the folks in Washington, D.C. were in school learning a few things.
PS: Friends are encouraged to click on a You Tube link that features Milton S. Eisenhower championing the establishment of concentration camps for 120,000 Japanese-American citizens during World War II. Readers are cordially invited to view this ten-minute War Relocation Agency propaganda film and post opinions on the question of who shamed Hopkins.
If you’ve got your own question about me, my books, or my writing, feel free to ask it yourself at Goodreads.