A colleague of mine sent me a very interesting document: Serge Lang’s article/memoir “Rats in a Box,” written in 1970 and explaining his views on the Vietnam War and his decision to leave Columbia in the aftermath of the unrest of 1968. The ambivalent and introspective tone of this early work is quite striking, especially if you’re used to Lang’s later, more strident “files” on the mathematical inadequacy of Samuel Huntington, the cause of AIDS, or the proper attribution of conjectures about modularity of elliptic curves.
But what each one of us individually does, I don’t know. If I have to worry about writing papers like this one, getting information, get articles xeroxed, read the press thoroughly, keep up with proceedings in the Senate, read what Admiral Rickover has to say, send out letters, fight against effort reports, get involved in affairs at my own university, find out what projects are there, what’s going astray, I can’t do mathematics. I can’t do what I like to do and what I’m really best qualified to do, because of lack of time and lack of energy — and I have more than most. But all this involvement requires a lot of concentration, and if I have to concentrate on this type of things, I can’t concentrate on mathematical theorems and on educating students. It’s a genuine choice — I cannot do both.