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Mon Apr 15, 2024, 09:51 AM Apr 15

The Man Who Died for the Liberal Arts: The Atlantic, May 2024 [View all]

'The Man Who Died for the Liberal Arts,' The Atlantic, May 2024. - In 1942, aboard ship and heading for war, a young sailor—my uncle—wrote a letter home, describing and defining the principles he was fighting for. By David M. Shribman. 🇺🇲- Philip Shribman, in a college photo from around 1940; behind it, an excerpt from a wartime letter he sent to the sociology professor George F. Theriault.

Chugging through Pacific waters in February 1942, the USS Crescent City was ferrying construction equipment and Navy personnel to Pearl Harbor, dispatched there to assist in repairing the severely damaged naval base after the Japanese attack. A young ensign—“real eager to get off that ship and get into action,” in the recollection of an enlisted Navy man who encountered him—sat down and wrote a letter to his younger brother, who one day would be my father.

Philip Alvan Shribman, a recent graduate of Dartmouth and just a month away from his 22nd birthday, was not worldly but understood that he had been thrust into a world conflict that was more than a contest of arms. At stake were the life, customs, and values that he knew. He was a quiet young man, taciturn in the old New England way, but he had much to say in this letter, written from the precipice of battle to a brother on the precipice of adulthood. His scrawl consumed five pages of Navy stationery.

It’s growing on me with increasing rapidity that you’re about set to go to college,” he wrote to his brother, Dick, then living with my grandparents in Salem, Massachusetts, “and tho I’m one hell of a guy to talk—and tho I hate preaching—let me just write this & we’ll call it quits.” He acknowledged from the start that “this letter won’t do much good”—a letter that, in the eight decades since it was written, has been read by three generations of my family. In it, Phil Shribman set out the virtues and values of the liberal arts at a time when universities from coast to coast were transitioning into training grounds for America’s armed forces...

- David Shribman was for many years the executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for his writing on American political culture

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