ONTARIO ALUMNI DINNER - October 20, 2006
The fourth annual dinner saw the group move back down to the large dining room on the ground floor of The Albany Club. Here a well attended gathering of 62 people, about ten per cent of whom were friends of Trinity, spent a relaxed and enjoyable evening with our guest speaker, Dr. Margaret MacMillan.
The evening began in the customary way with John Payne providing a brief summary of the year's activities, introducing the historical theme of the dinner this year, and proposing the toast to Canada. This year we again asked some long time supporters to deliver the toasts. Jim Lyle began before the meal by giving the toast to Ireland, and Bill Lauriston proposed the toast to Trinity reflecting that it was some 40 years since he graduated. Both graces were said by Peter Hearn between which the company sat down to baked guinea fowl breast followed by pavlova.
The guest speaker this year was Dr. Margaret MacMillan, Provost of Trinity College, University of Toronto. In 2007, she will become Warden of St.Anton's College, Oxford. Dr. MacMillan gained her Honours B.A. in History at the University of Toronto and her doctorate at Oxford University (B.Phil in Politics and D.Phil). She taught at Ryerson University for 25 years, where she also served a term as Chair of the History Department. She has come very much into the public spotlight with the great success of her book Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World: a book that has won numerous prestigious literary awards and made even more interesting by the fact that she is the great-granddaughter of British Prime Minister, Lloyd George. Her most recent book is about President Nixon's 1972 trip to China and she is working on another about the Yalta Conference.
Dr. MacMillan's address provided much interesting background to three of her books. To summarize, she said she was fascinated about what it was like in certain periods of history, for which she said she had a "disgraceful taste for unedifying details". She began with her book Women of the Raj about women's history in India and their day-to-day life. The fact was that the men to women ratio was very high in India and the women who travelled there and failed to get married came back "returned empties". Paris 1919 was a six month conference that engaged the principal leaders of the day full time, which will never happen again for that length of time. It gathered an extraordinary collection of people trying to make peace and develop a system to prevent wars happening again.
In speaking about her latest release, Nixon in China: The Week that Changed the World, Dr. MacMillan noted the great significance in the moment, in the relationship between China and the west, particularly the USA. There were changes taking place and two individuals, Nixon and Mao Tse-Tung, who were prepared to make decisions. Whereas, it is commonplace to visit China now, it had been unthinkable in the 1960s. She noted the great struggles in China between nationalism and communism and that the USA did not recognize Red China. There were serious events like the infamous John Foster Dulles non-handshake in 1954 to debates on whether communist chickens imported into Hong Kong laid non-communist eggs there. Then the USA's involvement in Vietnam started to change things, and despite Nixon's anti-communist stance, global politics moved towards ending the deep freeze with China as a play against the USSR. China had alienated all its neighbours and only had Albania as an ally and the Soviets were moving troops along the Chinese border and musing on a possible nuclear attack. In the 1960's there was a rethinking of the US position leading to the ping-pong diplomacy and eventually Kissinger's secret trip to China. A journalist apparently spotted this and his story was so unlikely that it was disregarded on the grounds that he was drunk. All in all, it was as much the fact of the trip as what happened during it, that marked the end of a period and the beginning of a new era.
Dr. MacMillan kindly offered to answer questions from the floor and there was a large response. One question concerned Trudeau's visit to China from the complications it caused with the USA to the pair of beavers sent as gift. Another resulted in a comparison of the absolutist attitude of the Maoist 1960's and the right wing fundamentalism of today. The question of what could be gleaned from all these events regarding future diplomacy was discussed. Dr. MacMillan reflected that coalitions were important in dealing with nuclear nations, rogue states and sub-state actors, such as terrorist groups. She felt that old style police work was better at rooting out such problems than military force. The modern USA/China relationship was discussed. Wal-Mart is a huge trader and as China holds ¾ of US debt, they have an interest in keeping the US economy running. It's still a complicated, tense and prickly relationship. Does the future belong to China?
The evening concluded with Hilary Whyte thanking Dr.MacMillan, commenting on the value of the past and concluding with some pithy modern advice. As last year, special thanks are due to John Cary for taking care of the detailed arrangements with the Club and for his excellent choice of menu and wines, and also to Bill McConnell for assisting with the organization and communicating with alumni.
We are planning to schedule next year's dinner for the end of October at The Albany Club. We ask members to keep this period available and to encourage as many alumni and Trinity friends as they can to attend.