How did I become the American international and naval historian that I am?
I suppose it all began with stories. Bible stories on Friday afternoons at the Catholic elementary school I attended. Stories from the Book of Mormon that my grandmother told me. Stories depicted in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) artists’ murals at the Santa Monica Public Library where my parents parked me and my sister while they went grocery shopping. Stories discussed in my high school American history classes taught by women who held doctoral degrees in history and education. And stories that unfolded in a much more sophisticated way in lectures by my Stanford history professors in the late 1950s.
Category: Formation Essay
n the beginning was a name: John “Jack” Lamberton, the twin of Hugh, and one of my mother’s four brothers. They grew up in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia in the 20s and 30s. Their father, Robert E. Lamberton, was the Republican mayor of Philadelphia at the time of his death in 1941. After Pearl Harbor, the twins took different paths. Hugh became an American Field Service ambulance driver, attached to the British Eighth Army as it slogged its way up the Italian peninsula from Salerno to Udine. Jack became a tanker with the Ninth Armored Division. In early November 1944, only days after the division had been deployed in Luxembourg, he was killed by artillery fire. My curiosity from an early age about the Second World War, and the world in which my parents’ generation had come of age, began, I suspect, when I fathomed that I’d been named for Uncle Jack. I had a name to live up to. Studying, and eventually writing, history was partly a tribute to him.
I came to diplomatic history when the methods and knowledge base of my home discipline, musicology, were not quite sufficient to answer the questions I needed to ask. I am still a musicologist. But my engagement with diplomatic history, and with history more broadly, has been formative for my work. I believe, too, that musicology has insights to offer diplomatic history as well.
Becoming a historian was perhaps over-determined in my family. My father, Brian Fitzpatrick, wrote books on Australian economic and labour history; my mother Dorothy taught history; and my younger brother, David Fitzpatrick, would become a distinguished historian (of twentieth-century Ireland) in his turn. But both David and I tried at first to avoid our fate, he with mathematics and I with the violin. I was well-trained as a historian at the University of Melbourne, although I did not fully appreciate this until later in life, but what hooked me was writing my history honours essay in my fourth year. The topic was Soviet music and my question was whether, as claimed, it had in fact succeeded in overcoming the growing chasm between popular and “serious” music evident in the West. I concluded that it hadn’t, which may have been partly wrong (if a reasonable conclusion at the time), but the search for an answer fascinated me. Decades later, working in the archives of the Soviet Society for Foreign Cultural Relations (VOKS) in Moscow, I stumbled upon my own letter of enquiry to VOKS, the Soviet society for foreign cultural relations, carefully typed on a blue aerogramme and sent from Melbourne in 1960. (They answered.)
My career has been, I suppose, that of a changeling – an historian trapped in a political scientist’s body, an occasional bureaucrat and diplomat, a Dean and a pundit. My field has been that of ‘hard,’ i.e., military national security, but also military history, and some topics much further afield, to include a current project on William Shakespeare. It has been an exceptionally fulfilling and generally (although not always) a happy one. Much of it owes to good fortune, but the greatest part to all those who helped me along the way. Of all these, I will say at the outset, the important have been family – grandparents, parents, my wife, children and even grandchildren. It would be an intrusion on their privacy to say much on that score, but unquestionably they played the most important role in forming me, to include my professional career.
Growing up in 1970s Phoenix was hardly an obvious starting point for a career as a historian of Modern Europe. In formal terms of American history, Arizona was one of the newest political entities of the New World, having only acquired statehood in 1912, the last territory in the contiguous United States to do so, followed by Alaska and Hawaii in 1959. The state’s cultural identity oscillated between the poles of Texas and California, and loyalties to sports teams generally split along these lines, especially since the state only had one major sports franchise at the time. Phoenix was a fairly sleepy town through the 1970s, mostly serving as an overland stop on the way to the beaches of San Diego and Los Angeles, or a winter holiday destination for retiree ‘snow birds’ from the Midwest looking to play golf and tennis in January. Geographically and culturally, the East Coast was very far away, to say nothing of Old World Europe. Local history taught in school was provincial and colonial, pivoting on recounting the glories of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, landgrabs trumpeted as triumphant tales of Manifest Destiny. The typical diet of national(ist) history was occasionally complemented by forays into a more open-minded “world history,” usually conveyed in UNESCO-style “separate but equal” modules on Egyptian, Aztec, Greek and Roman Civilizations. I don’t remember much of it, mainly because school knowledge of history was tested exclusively through tedious multiple-choice examinations. I was able to memorize facts and dates quite easily, so that meant that I did well in history courses and probably carried on with them for that reason, with not much thought devoted to it.
This is the story of the winding path from my arrival at grad school to my dissertation and first book, The Psychology of Nuclear Proliferation: Identity, Emotions, and Foreign Policy. My hope is that a step-by-step account of my journey will serve as useful comparative data for young scholars embarking on their own paths.
I was brought up in a small town in west-central Iowa, where my father was a lawyer and long-time mayor. He was a conservative Republican, critical of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal; Charles Tansill’s Back Door to War: The Roosevelt Foreign Policy, was his favorite book. Politicians would seek him out in their travels across the state since he was a local opinion leader. In 1952, when I was a junior in high school, he encouraged me to support Senator Robert Taft for the Republican nomination and, after Taft’s loss to Dwight Eisenhower, he endorsed the Republican nominee and joined in the Republican campaign in Iowa. I heard Eisenhower speak in Boone, Iowa, and shook the great man’s hand as he moved down the aisle of a campaign train.H-Diplo Essay 387
H-Diplo asked me to contribute to this new series about the formative years of scholars who do diplomatic and political international history. As I was thinking about my assignment, it occurred to me that I was one of the very few and privileged who grew up and studied in the Soviet Union at the end of its existence, and still stayed in the profession. We were pushed, one may say by the forces of history itself, to deal with such exciting topics as the Cold War and international relations. To explain how it happened, I have to write an autobiographical rather than an analytical essay.
Columbia College did not require a major when I was an undergraduate. I didn’t take my first history course until my junior year, although I had worked earlier with Peter Gay, the great scholar of modern Europe intellectual history, when he was an assistant professor in the Government Department teaching Contemporary Civilization in Columbia’s core curriculum—lots of Freud. I enjoyed the survey of American history and enrolled in a wonderful colloquium in American history my senior year—8 students, 3 professors, weekly essays.