One more word on Jonathan Mirsky

Former Dartmouth College Professor Jonathan Mirsky died earlier this week. The fantastic Guardian obituary on Jonathan recalls that at Dartmouth “he became co-director of the East Asia Language and Area Studies Center. However, he was refused tenure, in part because of his anti-Vietnam protest activity[.]” My comments on Jonathan elicited the message below from one of his former students. With his permission I am publishing the message verbatim because it adds so much to the story and because of the way it illuminates the descent of higher education. Not a long time ago or in a galaxy far away, but it seems like it:

Like you, I’m a Dartmouth grad…class of 1970, so I started the fall of 1966. During freshman year, I got the idea I wanted to study Chinese. As a junior midshipman in the Naval ROTC unit, I was well aware of Mirsky’s views and activities, so it was with some foreboding that I called on him in his office in little old Bartlett Hall. He could not have been more welcoming and we hit it off.

I began studying Chinese in the fall of sophomore year and toward the end of the year worked with Jonathan to develop a proposed major for me in “Asian Studies.” This was a full helping of Chinese language but also a collection of history and government courses that gave me a good grounding beyond language. I had “lost” a year of Chinese already, so Jonathan encouraged me to apply to a summer program at Stanford, which crammed second-year Chinese into ten grueling weeks. The Navy thought it was a fine idea, so released me from that summer’s duty at sea. By junior year, I had taken all the established courses in history and so on, so Jonathan taught me one-on-one in his office every term through graduation, an intensive directed personal seminar in Chinese and other Asian history and politics. Of course, we developed a close working relationship.

As my years at Dartmouth went on, I decided that I would try to get into Naval Intelligence upon graduation and commissioning. I shared this intention with Jonathan, and he encouraged me. More than once when he and I were in discussion with another prof or student, Jonathan would jocularly tell them that despite our profound political differences, he was “training me for the CIA.” He joked about it, but he seriously did dedicate himself unstintingly to my education and career preparation. (I did in fact spend my entire career in US Intelligence, including three stints at CIA, so he knew what he was talking about.) Not once was he ever snide or nasty to me as leftists are so commonly nowadays. He was a thoroughly honorable man, in my experience of him.

We corresponded in the years after Dartmouth, and I was treated to his personal account of the events at Tiananmen Square. I thanked him for all his help in the acknowledgments in my first book, China as a Maritime Power (Westview, 1983). Through the years, he always addressed me by the Chinese surname he assigned me the first week of my first Chinese class: “Mu.” I wondered if he was ill or failing in the past few years. The last two or three letters I wrote to him went unanswered. So the news of his death was not a shock.

Scott, allow me to use this opportunity to tell you how much I enjoy Power Line. I read it avidly every day, and have done for years. I often send links to especially good articles to my friends and colleagues across the US and overseas.

As for me, I’m happily retired with two grown daughters (both adopted in China), living with my wife in Lexington, Virginia in the central Shenandoah Valley. Both Washington & Lee and VMI are in our small town, so I enjoy access to a good library. I publish occasionally in biblical studies, but also did a memoir of my intelligence career.

I wish you well, and please convey my best regards to the Power Line team.

Dave Muller

David G. Muller, Jr.
Dartmouth ’70
Commander, US Navy (ret.)

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