Friday, June 15, 2007
Educated Advice Columnist
Gerald M. Bradshaw
I had the privilege of taking a class on Fascism from Eugene Weber when I was an undergrad at the University of California-Berkeley in the early 1970s.
I was reminded of it recently when I read about his death in the New York Times. All students should have the opportunity to seek out such an outstanding professor when they are undergraduates. The experience will remain with them all their life.
Weber was a visiting professor of history from UCLA. I had heard about him from several students in the history department and proceeded to sign up for an interview to see if he would accept me into his class. He was curious about my background in the military before I came to Berkeley. He was curious about everything, as I was to find out later--not just a regurgitator of facts but an analytical cross-referencer of facts and a master of comparative history.
He later told me that he admitted me because I was a military veteran and wanted a military perspective in his the class. It was a tall order and one that I have never forgotten.
The first question he asked of us was why we were interested in Fascism, especially since Mao and Ho Chi Minh were the hero's of my generation of student radicals.
My answer was easy. I wanted to write an honors thesis on the German youth movement between the great wars, so my interests were directly on point. I saw strong parallels between the "back to nature" worshipers of my generation of hippies and the "blood and soil" pioneer youth movement in Germany under Hitler.
Weber thought this was an excellent idea and agreed to be my thesis advisor. My co-partner on the thesis was the son of a Waffen SS tank commander who served on the Russian front. He was at Berkeley on a Bank of America scholarship. I was a veteran of the 101st Airborne Division and served under General Westmoreland at West Point.
That combination of German and American collaboration fascinated Weber. We had many exciting conversation in his class and at his home, where his wife served refreshments in the old European style, napkins for our laps and tea cups to balance on our shaky legs.
My German partner said later that he was the only American he had ever met who really understood the nature of Fascism. To this day I have saved the book we used in class, "Varieties of Fascism," which he wrote six years before coming to Berkeley. Unfortunately, he returned to UCLA before I was able to get approval to start my thesis.
Yet we maintained our correspondence over the years. I often tell students the importance of searching out for a favorite professor they can work with. And when I do it is always Weber I have in mind. An important part of life on a campus is that special intellectual relationship that is created when someone inspires you to reach for greater heights than you thought possible. Start your search early and you will find them.
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