longer version essay published in the winter issue of The American
Scholar. I was lazy and distributed only the shorter version published
in Salon.com. The whole essay, which Nick sent me by mail, is 13 pages
and well worth reading in its entirety, especially as we are currently
in the midst of the Libby trial.
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Children @ Eaglebrook. . . then Andover, etc. Transcending
Date: Mon, 29 Jan 2007 12:54:22 -0500
*"Scooter and Me," Bromell's piece published in /The American Scholar/
last week, is a richly detailed version of the /Salon/ article you sent
this morning. If you've already read the longer essay, just delete this
note with its meaty excerpts. *
*The /A.S. /essay probes aspects of Bromell's and Libby's personal lives
when they were, in effect, children. Don't have time to go through and
indicate properly how much space between the quotations. Easily
checked, though. **
The schoolboy incidents Bromell culls are personality markers which are
much harder to identify once we mature and become more self-protectively
opaque. Or so it seems to me.
*"SCOOTER AND ME," excerpts.*
1. *This nugget describes "success" as imparted to adolescents in the
world of the Eaglebrooks. The observations remind me of
Kennan's painfully poignant reminiscences of a Midwestern boy trying to
understand the Ivy League East. *
*/Life is doubtless peculiar for anyone who has a childhood or college
friend go on to become stupendously successful and powerful. How can
you not judge yourself by the standard of his monumental achievement?
How can you not feel small and unworthy in comparison?
*[Later Bromwell notes that he never has earned more than five figures
while Libby was earning $800 an hour,-- a telling little fact.]
*/[T]he reason I went to boarding school is that my father and mother were
living out of the United States, posted to American embassies in Arab
capitals like Baghdad, Amman, Kuwait, and Cairo. This means that for
me, Scooter and his neoconservative colleagues have . . . destroyed my
father's lifelong effort to make U.S. policy in the Middle East more
responsive to the realities on the ground. And there's one last
consideration, which has to do with what my father actually did in
those embassies—something that gives the outing of Valerie Plame a
personal, not just a public significance. . . ./** //*
- - - - -
/*So, for six years I've been obsessed with Scooter. Every time I read a
newspaper, I see Scooter and me hunched over a game of Stratego (which
he usually won), or I see him faking right before hooking left so I
can hit him with a pass in the end zone. */
*/- - - - - - -
//I sit down at my desk to do it: to write the letter telling Scooter
that I can no longer be his friend, not even in the rather distant way
we have been friends for all these years. . . ./*
- - - - - - -
*/Forty years later, Scooter surely remembers our old school song as
well as I do. . . ./*
*- - - - - - - - --
/We met in a dorm of cubicles—cubies—on our first night at Eaglebrook,
in September 1961. Scooter was in the cubie next to mine, and because
the walls stopped a foot short of the ceiling, we could easily talk to
each other after lights out. We probably whispered Where are you from,
what does your father do, what sports do you like?
_/But the heart of our chatter was fear and loneliness. We were 11 years
old. We were away from home. We were going to sleep in this dorm for
the next nine months, and neither of us would ever live with his
parents again. Lying there in the dark, we sent threads of feeling up
over the wall that separated our cubies. We became friends. Entering
what we already sensed would be a cruelly competitive environment, we
became allies. . . . /_*
*/- - - - - - -
//Life at Eaglebrook was as beautiful and intense as an ice storm. On
top of a mountain, a mile from the nearest paved road, we awakened
some winter mornings to find four feet of thick snow blanketing the
paths. Indoors, the steam radiators clanked to life, and the rooms
smelled like wet wool and dusty wood. Scooter and I gave up learning
to ski and stayed warm playing basketball in the gym. Two of the
smallest boys in the school, we swam in our uniforms, our eyes barely
level with the chests of the guys on the other teams. When spring
finally came, pushing skunk cabbage up from the wetlands around the
athletic fields, we lingered in the twilight on the way back to the
dorm, tossing a baseball back and forth as the peepers shrilled in the
woods around Whipple Pond.
But the intensity of Eaglebrook was also social. An idiom of incessant
and often vicious teasing. What we called cutting—a perpetual cutting
down and cutting to shreds. Anderson, Bishop, Bromell, Casey, Coon
[related to your friend?]—all of us were players in an ugly competition
for something we couldn't
even name. We imitated Mr. Canoon's stutter, we mocked Mr. Hepburn's
girth, we made lewd jokes about Mr. Wiechert's daughters. We moved
across the green campus laughing, but also cutting and slashing,
parrying and thrusting. What a fairy. He's so immature. Get bent.
Don't be Jewish. Dork. Brown nose. Jock. Retard.
At Eaglebrook, the intricate simplicity of the system designed to
strip away selfhood would have made even Thackeray marvel. Everything
revolved around the single principle of status, which was finely
elaborated through grades, sports, shoes, shirts, and even socks. Each
and every blazerclad boy knew his place on the status ladder, strove
to rise a rung, or dreaded sliding down. At the top were the boys who
had everything that counted: family money, athletic ability, and WASPy
good looks. Beneath them stood boys with any one of these gifts. And
then in the middle came the boys like Scooter and me—small and fairly
brainy, but interested in sports and not hopelessly nerdy. Below us
were the untouchables, the social misfits who read all the way through
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, played countless hands of
bridge, and managed the athletic teams.
*/We all heard leadership intoned again and again at chapel, assembly,
commencement, and building dedications. Wearing our school blazers and
ties, sitting on folding metal chairs and listening to the headmaster
("Chief Yellow Finger" we called him, because his hands were stained
from the cigarettes he smoked incessantly), we knew what leadership
really meant. It had nothing to do with leading, much less with taking
risks, and not at all with acting ethically. A leader was just a boy
with an unusual talent for submission. A boy could win the top perch
as a prefect and become an official leader just because he was
preternaturally preppy or could throw a football with a tight spiral.
Not even the most golden among us was capable of actual leadership.
Within this disciplining system, Scooter and I had two things that
were really our own—touch football and friendship, almost one and the
same. Through friendship, we exercised judgment and expressed our
values. Through friendship, we unconsciously clung to the self that
the school insisted we forget. Through friendship, we escaped the
otherwise unceasing competition of classroom and playing field. And
through friendship, we recovered a portion of what we had lost on
leaving home: affection, even love.
Did we know this at the time? Definitely not. We were too busy playing
touch football outside and sock basketball in our dorm. We were too
busy being boys who had to pretend that they were men. (Immature was
one of the unkindest cuts one could give or get.) But 40 years later,
Scooter and I both know that if one of us calls the other and asks for
help, he will get it. Forty years later, we both carry within us the
weight of bonds formed years ago. If today I feel those bonds as a
burden, that's only because I have also felt them as a gift.
*/After our graduation in 1965, Scooter went on to Andover, majored in
political science at Yale, and got his law degree at Columbia. I went
on to schools in Beirut and Cairo. When the June 1967 war forced me to
return to the States for my senior year, I chose to go to Andover
because Scooter was there. I then majored in classics and philosophy
at Amherst and received a doctorate in English from Stanford.
Over the years, Scooter and I have stayed in touch, seeing each other
more often even as our differences have become more obvious and grave.
Twenty years ago, he came up to Massachusetts for an Eaglebrook
reunion and spent the night at our house. That was our first real
contact in a long time, and we made the most of it. Scooter was
intensely present, a good listener, witty, self-deprecating, and
thoughtful. I liked him. I saw him a few years later when I was in
Washington for a conference, and he made a special point of
introducing me to the woman he would later marry. Six years ago, when
he was still unknown to the public, my wife flew him up to be the
surprise guest at my 50th birthday celebration.
*/Soon after our troops were in Baghdad, I offered to fly down to D.C.
to give him the perspective of someone who, while by no means an
Arabist or Middle East expert, had at least lived in the region and
knew something of that world through his senses. Scooter knew that I
strongly disapproved of the invasion, but he courteously welcomed my
offer. We had a long lunch in the White House Mess, and he listened
attentively and took notes as I spoke. More recently, as I've been
dealing with the monster of colon cancer, he has found time in his
incredibly busy schedule to give me an occasional call to see how I am
doing. During one of our conversations, I told him about a Buddhist
parable I'd found very helpful. For reasons that will become clear,
it's worth retelling now.
Nearly a year after I told Scooter this story, he was indicted for
perjury and obstruction of justice. I let a few days go by, and then I
called to say I was thinking of him. The timbre of his voice as well
as his words told me that he was very glad to hear from me. But he had
no time to talk; he was on another line. He would get back to me
Just as I was putting down the receiver, I heard his voice again.
"Are you sure it's bad news?"
That's Scooter in a nutshell. I was moved.
But close as we sometimes are, Scooter and I are also very different.
He was reportedly billing at $800 an hour while in private practice as
a lawyer; my annual income has never exceeded five figures. He has
spent most of the past six years strategizing with the vice president
of the United States in the Old Executive Office Building; I have
spent them teaching classes and grading papers at a public university.
But there's a deeper divide that's more important. It has to do with
beliefs and values, and it's rooted in our different ways of seeing
Taped to the wall above my desk is a photograph of President George W.
Bush's war council torn from the March 23, 2003, New York Times.
Gathered around the conference table at Camp David sit a handful of
the world's most powerful persons: Paul D. Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney,
George Tenet, Donald H. Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice,
Andrew Card, the 43rd president himself—and one other figure, just to
Card's right. I peer into the photo, marveling. That's Scooter Libby.
My old best friend and roommate. That's you—the guy I used to play
Stratego with—sitting in the world's innermost ring of power.