Opinion: Garthwait Saga Presents Teachable Moment

(Photo Stan Perry/Gettysburg College)

(Photo Stan Perry/Gettysburg College)

By Jay Hauser, Columnist

Absolutely, Bob Garthwait should have resigned. As a Trustee, he represents the values of the college. Regardless of the time of his actions, he should not hold such a public position. Moreover, his qualification for his apology, a claim that in 1980, as a college sophomore, he “was not fully aware of the significance of those symbols,” is a highly unbelievable attempt to soften his wrongdoing.

But Mr. Garthwait’s situation is more interesting than the Virginia yearbook scandal. Unlike with Ralph Northam’s medical school photo, we have more information about the situation. His fraternity, Alpha Chi Rho, was throwing a Hogan’s Heroes-themed party. Hogan’s Heroes, a television sitcom on the air from 1965-1971, told the story of American soldiers stationed in a German POW camp, from which they sabotage the Nazis. Notably, many of the show’s cast members were Jews and veterans and the show never let the Nazi characters be seen in a positive light. In fact, Werner Klemperer, the German refugee and veteran who played Colonel Klink, explicitly stated, “If they ever wrote a segment whereby Colonel Klink would come out the hero, I would leave the show.” As to whether Hogan’s Heroes dealt with an appropriate situation for parody, the linked article has this to say:

“Back when the cone of silence still squelched much conversation about the genocide of the Jews, when it took three years to sell the first 3,000 copies of Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night—which has now sold over 10 million copies—no reasonable person believed that Hogan’s Heroes exonerated the Nazis. But laughing made the once unspeakable more discussable.”

With this in mind, we can get to the real teachable moment of this situation. Is the fact that Mr. Garthwait was donning a Nazi uniform (including a Swastika) mitigated by the fact that he was doing so as part of a Hogan’s Heroes-themed party? I would say no.

At best, this party was a celebration of a popular television show that went off the air nine years previous. But, unlike with the cast of Hogan’s Heroes, the party was presumably not made up of many Jewish individuals or veterans of World War II. After all, Gettysburg College stuck significantly more to its Lutheran roots back in 1980. Jewish students were less prominent on campus, but they still existed. A party involving presumably-Christian students dressing up as Nazis a mere 35 years after the Holocaust is incredibly insensitive, regardless of intention. Just as it is to this very day (and even more likely then), it is possible that Jewish students might know or be related to survivors of the atrocities committed by the Nazis. They didn’t need to be on a campus where swastikas are present outside of a purely academic setting. As a Jewish student, I do not need this kind of reminder about the suffering of my people.

But, like with the other recent incidents regarding 1980s yearbooks, Mr. Garthwait did not act alone. There are others in the offending photograph. The party was hosted by a formal organization. Students attended. Dominant society as a whole, not just Mr. Garthwait, holds blame here.

From this incident, we, as a campus, should consider how, without intent to harm, our actions can make othered students feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Moreover, we, like the rest of the country, should learn how to appropriately apologize for and help heal the injuries we have caused. Simply referring to changing times does not cut it as an excuse. Times change because people learn and grow, and such growth warrants good apologies for past actions that one now knows are wrong.

Take Mr. Garthwait. While his resignation is necessary and his apology was subpar, I do not doubt that he regrets his actions. He still can, and still should, take affirmative steps to turn his folly into a teachable moment that reflects on the complicated relationship between institutional decisions and our own individual culpability. Moreover, if he stays connected to the campus in less public ways, he can find ways to support minority students.

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Author: Jay Hauser

Jay Hauser '19 is a political science and theatre arts double major who serves as a contributing op-ed writer for The Gettysburgian. He is a Fellow with Fielding Center for Presidential Leadership Study, and an active member of Owl and Nightingale Players and Student Musical Theatre. He has a lot of opinions and is not hesitant to share them. Follow him on Twitter at @JayCHauser to hear them in 140 characters or less.

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13 Comments

  1. The better question is why this “College Democrat” is searching for shock value in 40 year old yearbooks. Glad you were able to assist in character assassination of someone who will likely contribute more positively to society than you ever will. But in socialist America, feelings matter more than facts, and taxing the rich cures cancer. Good luck out there Bro.

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    • Let’s continue the witch hunt of teenage boys acting dumb in order to character assassinate men that have given more to their communities than any college Sophomore looking at old year books can fathom.

      Between this and the Dickinson student’s blatant racist article on how “white boys” should shut-up, we need stand-up to the subjective nature of news reporting and decision making.

      Bad week for the Centennial Conference, Gettysburg won’t get another check from me.

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    • Wait. Is it “code of silence” or “cone of silence”? I think cone is from Get Smart. Ha ha ha

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  2. This is an exceedingly ungenerous view. The author of this piece is now on record that no matter what he accomplishes or how his views may change over the next 38 years that he should be judged by his actions as an 18-22 year old. I hope that Mr. Hauser is prepared to live by the standards that he is setting for others.

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  3. Jay Houser is so out of touch and is uniquely unqualified to reflect back to a fraternity party in 1980 and try and compare this to anti-semetism that was inflicted on “your people”. Don’t you have anything better to do then sift through old yearbooks trying to stir up a controversy that is not there on campus, with the exception of your own narrow mind. Who are you to call Bob “highly unbelievable “ – do you know him well enough to make these ridiculous comments – talk about unbelievable. I went to Gettysburg, graduated 2 years after Bob, was is Alpha Chi Rho, and got to know him well. I never, ever, heard him disparage any ethnic or religious group – this party and theme was all about fun and inviting “all” students of the college to laugh, party a bit, and meet new friends, and Bob was at the center of this. Like most of his classmates, Bob chose to stay involved after graduation contributing in so many ways to the college and student body. What will your legacy be, Jay, besides just looking back in time trying to find an almost 40 year old story to make a name for yourself, while staining the legacy of a good man and alumnus of Gettysburg. It’s shameful reporting and, unlike Bob, you have no credibility and should try looking forward instead of sifting through old history to make a name for yourself. Let’s see if your legacy 30 years in the future is a fraction of Bob’s contributions!

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  4. Dear Jay,
    Your article was very well written, and I commend you for taking a personal position and voicing your reasoning. Too many individuals go through the “journey of life” without taking a stance on any subject. As you have probably read on other media sites, words matter, thus this fact should also be a teachable moment.

    I disagree with your conclusion but appreciate your courage to speak up. Your words, referring to Mr. Garthwait’s compromising photo and subsequent response as “highly unbelievable attempt,” “warrant’s good apologies” and “wrongdoing,” in my opinion, calls for further examination. I would be remiss, if I did not compliment you on some well-chosen verbiage such as, “presumably,” “from this incident,” “teachable moment,” etc. I truly appreciate and align with your personal and historical perspective as a teachable moment.

    Jay and our college community please except these comments and questions in the spirit that the are given.

    Just a perspective, don’t throw the baby out with the “soiled” bathwater!
    Perhaps, you can provide examples of a suitable apology.
    I totally understand how students and members of the G-Burg community may feel “uncomfortable.” However, I don’t understand why you have chosen the word unsafe. Please expand upon what you mean by unsafe.
    In fact, I think the student body should research our 13th President, Katherine H. Will. Why she felt the need to travel with a bodyguard to conduct her college responsibilities? Please ask President Riggs and the Board of Trustee’s to respond to this fact. This was only 10 years ago!

    Again, I commend Jay for his outreach and hope he has inspired other students to provide their teachable opinions.

    Words Matter and our reputation is one of our most important assets.
    Peter Wahlers

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  5. Pretty judgmental words about an immature college kid from 40 years ago, who has given a TON back to the college and elsewhere. Give the guy a break, it was about a funny TV show that everyone in that era grew up with. This is not the Nuremberg Trials.
    Best of luck to you when your time comes on the “Kangaroo Court of the Internet”, where people are guilty until proven innocent.

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  6. This opinion is completely unsound, as well as blatantly bias. Hauser’s claims are beyond insufficient, due to the fact that he is claiming misleading assumptions as factual information to support his agenda. An agenda to gain recognition by resurrecting a 40 year old yearbook, morphing a photo from a 1980 sophomore “Hogan’s Hero’s” college party, and arguing that a well respected alumni, and Board of Trustee’s member exonerated the Nazi party to intentionally inflict hate, as well as to remind people of the suffering and atrocities committed by the Nazi Party.

    It is quite obvious what Hauser has done here, by trying to imitate the Virginia yearbook scandal, in which he referenced. I find it a little unsettling for the student to make such an outcry over this situation, while claiming that it is more “interesting” than one which involved the Governor of Virginia participating in the dressing up of a Klan member, posing next to a delineated African American. Unlike the party Mr. Garthwait attended, the Governor’s party did not state that it was a specifically themed party. Mr. Garthwait’s Hogan’s Hero’s party was specifically themed after the comical TV show which portrayed American troops and Nazi Germany in World War II. Hauser even quotes professor and writer Gill Troy in his article explaining the TV show, by saying “But laughing made the once unspeakable more discussable” Mr. Garthwait’s motive simply mirrored that of the TV show.

    It was not uncommon, but practically standard for a Swastika to appear in an episode of Hogan’s Hero’s. Therefore it is insufficient to claim that Mr. Garthwait exceeded what was common in regards to the TV show, by wearing the Swastika. Censorship has drastically progressed over the years, in which an effort to erase historical symbols, speech, and events are called upon by people like Hauser. The reasonable person in 1980, viewing the photo or even witnessing a friend or classmate participating in a World War II themed party, in which he was dressed up as a Nazi soldier would not view it as an intentional infliction of hate or as said, to remind someone of the suffering of their people.

    Lastly, I find it a bit contradicting and discriminatory to identify the 1980 World War II themed college party by religion. Hauser brings the fallacies a bit further by claiming that the College “stuck significantly more to Lutheran roots back in 1980.” By saying “stuck” he is insinuating that the college simply favored Lutheran, and predominately Christian students simply because it is assumed that they were of majority. Nonetheless a pathetic way for the young student to mislead the reader in his favor. He goes further by labeling the party as “presumably-Christian” insinuating that it had some sort of discrimination towards possible Jewish students or any other students of different religion.

    As sad as it may sound, the perfect person does not exist. Everyone goofs up, makes a mistake, or doesn’t think things through, it is all part of growing up. I challenge anyone to have their past evaluated and put under a microscope, let alone 40 years from now. Mr. Garthwait’s impact and service to Gettysburg College is without a doubt remarkable and sincere. If we continue down this road of erasing history through censorship, and simply searching for something or anything to be offended by, we will have darker days ahead of us. This whole situation is truly unfortunate, shameful, and simply full of hot air.
    The only thing that was accomplished here, is the loss of a well valued man and leader. Maybe next time the person who so desperately seeks attention and recognition can dig a little deeper and find something that wont have to rely on fallacies and bias opinions.

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  7. Jeez. Make your photo a little bit smaller. This looks insane. You’re not the subject of the article.

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    • His photo is revealing about his grandiose and inflated opinion of himself.

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  8. One of the most interesting aspects of the comments and articles is the complete lack of accountability by the administration for not admonishing the yearbook staff that allowed the photo to be included in the yearbook to begin with! Where is the apology by our President Janet Riggs, on behalf of the college? Where is the defense of a board member who has given so much of himself to the college both professionally and financially? The only lesson here from a “teachable” moment, is that the institution really only cares about its reputation and the money you can feed it to maintain or further it. There is no honor, there is no altruism there is no context that can defend the colleges turning of its back on Mr Garthwait. That is the lesson.

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  9. .The author writes, “After all, Gettysburg College stuck significantly more to its Lutheran roots back in 1980.” What in the world does this mean? Is the author suggesting that 1980s Lutheranism countenanced marching around wearing Nazi attire? Or perhaps that we Lutherans would all show up at events bearing a covered dish supper and jellied salad like characters from Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church in a Garrison Keillor monologue? Perhaps we all emulated that famous Lutheran abolitionist instrumental in founding our school, Samuel Schmucker?

    Not satisfied with the above unclear and vague insult, the author continues: “Jewish students were less prominent on campus, but they still existed.” How does he measure the “prominence” of Jewish students on campus? Maybe after he answers that question, he can share with us the research supporting this claim.

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