January 28, 2008

The D.C. Days of Professor ‘Doc’ Long

In the 1950s, freshman students who gathered, sleepily, for an 8 a.m. Elements of Economics class in room 101 of Homewood’s Mergenthaler Hall would never have guessed that their professor would become a well-known U.S. congressman. They would have been astonished to know that he would be portrayed by actor Ned Beatty in the 2008 hit movie Charlie Wilson’s War.

The professor was Clarence D. Long, a member of the Political Economy Department from 1946 to 1963, and a specialist in labor economics. Long held his students’ attention with his direct, blunt style, a characteristic that followed him to Washington after his election in 1962 to the House of Representatives from Maryland’s Second Congressional District.

Long remained in Congress for 11 terms, mainly as a reward for his legendary outreach and constant availability to his constituents.

But it was his chairmanship of the House’s powerful Subcommittee on Foreign Operations that gave him enormous influence. He supervised the nation’s foreign aid budget. And it was from that position in the early 1980s that he helped a Texas congressman, Charlie Wilson, provide funds (estimated by some at $600,000 a year) to the Afghan rebels, the Mujahideen, who were engaged in a desperate war with the occupying Soviet army. It was a war the Afghans seemed close to losing until Long and Wilson made it possible for them to receive modern military equipment.

Professor Long, known as “Doc Long” in Congress and in the movie, received some advice about the situation in Afghanistan from an experienced military officer, his son, Clarence D. Long III, a 1965 Johns Hopkins ROTC graduate.

The younger Long, a decorated infantryman in Vietnam, a war his father opposed, recalled recently that he discussed with his father the Afghans’ need for an inexpensive, mobile, accurate missile to destroy Soviet aircraft that were decimating their ranks. “When we handed them [American-made] Stingers, the Russian air force began to fall out of the sky,” he said.

Congressman Long was defeated for re-election in 1984 by Helen Delich Bentley. He returned to the university, and then President Steven Muller provided him an office at Evergreen House.

In a Dec. 27, 1984, Baltimore Sun interview with Robert A. Erlandson (a 1953 graduate of Johns Hopkins), now on file in the Hamburger Archives of the Eisenhower Library, Long called politics “a messy business.” He said, “You have the problem of truth. There are many shades of truth and you have to ask yourself constantly: Am I an honest man? I thought I was. You can’t tell the absolute truth and stay in politics, but the honest guy is the one who tells the truth by his own light and survives.”

Professor Long died in September 1994 at age 85. After returning from Vietnam, his son was treated for severe wounds at Walter Reed Army Hospital, graduated from law school and became a judge advocate general officer. After retirement, he became an assistant general counsel to the Air Force. One of his five children, Andrew, is a medical doctor and will pursue a fellowship at Johns Hopkins next year.