Who Are We?

Who Are We?


Leonard Zwelling


I am writing this on June 6, the 80th anniversary of D-Day when Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, not to conquer territory for their own gain, but to liberate Europe from Hitler.

My father used to tell the story of D-Day from his perspective. He was asleep in London where he ran an American Army motor pool as a first lieutenant. He was awakened by the thunder of thousands of planes over head heading to France. He knew something big was up.

In the attached piece from The New York Times today by Garrett M. Graff, a journalist and historian, the story of the men who fought and won on D-Day is told, mostly from the perspective of the few remaining survivors of that day. The whole article is worth reading but a line at the end caught my eye.

Graff goes out of his way to note that this massive invasion was not in conquest of anything. The Allies were not invading to expand their domains. They were there to fight for freedom and against autocracy. He goes on to say: “across the next few months we will be hearing a lot of argument about what America is or isn’t. There’s a simpler answer to that question than many would like to admit: What we will fight for is who we are.”

This has given me a great deal of pause. Clearly the Trump people showed that they will fight for what they believe in on January 6. I am not sure that they would agree when articulating what they were fighting for other than for Donald Trump, but they obviously believed in something.

Likewise, the violence on college campuses suggests that some students will fight for whatever they believe Palestinian rights mean, even as they are foggy on the history of the Middle East.

Which brings me to the faculty of MD Anderson. What is it willing to fight for? Apparently, nothing. They see their colleagues fired for a “lack of professionalism” without being given due process. Tyrannical clinical leaders are kept in place despite clear evidence of incompetence and bullying. And the Division Heads do nothing. And the faculty does nothing.

This is why the steps being taken by the Faculty Senate are both critical and tiny. The Senate recognizes who they are and are willing to fight for academic freedom, but can only do so when the rank-and-file faculty realizes this is who they are. Until then, baby steps are all that can be taken despite the executive leadership team showing no signs of actually leading.

As Graff indicates, D-Day was fighting for who we were in June 1944.

What America is in 2024 has yet to be determined even as neither candidate for the presidency exhibits leadership characteristics worthy of being called American.

I believe that the MD Anderson faculty can be a lot more than it is right now. First, it has to believe that. Then it has to fight for it. Is that who they are? It is certainly who they were when I got here in 1984. I am less sure what the faculty believes in 2024.

But to start the faculty ought to believe in themselves and know that fighting for academic freedom is fighting for themselves and their patients.

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