It was the third day of demonstrations around the White House. The president had called out some 10,000 military forces, including paratrooper units of the 82nd Airborne Division, to handle the protesters. His chief of staff proposed recruiting teamsters to provoke violence. The president enthusiastically agreed: “they’ve got guys who’ll go in and knock their heads off.” “Sure,” said his aide, “Murderers. Guys that really, you know, that’s what they really do… it’s the regular strikebuster-types and all that…hope they really hurt ‘em. You know, I mean go in with some real – and smash some noses.” Looking for ways to discredit the protesters and undermine their image for television audiences, the aide mentioned two prominent activists, Rennie Davis and Abbie Hoffman, who had been tried for conspiracy to riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago: “Fortunately, they’re all just really bad-lookin’ people. There’s no, there’s no, uh, semblance of respectability.” “Aren’t the Chicago Seven all Jews?” asked the president?
The story of the development of my professional life as a historian is like history itself: serendipitous, hard to predict, yet wedded to the times. It has depended on multiple influences and a series of fortuitous accidents. Special mentors, good friends, and generous colleagues have made a huge difference. Travel, too, has played an important role and, in some ways, still does. The inevitable questions that emerge from living among and talking to people in different cultures and societies are best approached by knowing their histories.
Although history was one of my favorite classes in high school, I chalked that up to an outstanding teacher, John Smith, who first taught me in an elective world history class (which today would be considered more of a comparative cultures class, since the textbook did not pay much attention to crossings or interconnections). I then had the good fortune of taking his U.S. history class (focused on white male political elites, in preparation for the Advanced Placement [AP] exam), and an independent study political philosophy class, which freed up time in my academic schedule for student council, which Mr. Smith advised.
NATO’s enlargement after 1999 to include fourteen new member-states from Central and Eastern Europe remains among the most consequential and controversial policies of the post-Cold War era. In an effort to deepen the debate over enlargement, we edited a special issue of the journal International Politics that included twelve articles by leading scholars representing a diverse array of thinking on the merits of expansion. A subset of those authors have written for this H-Diplo/ISSF roundtable, highlighting the continued interest in the topic.
For someone who has physically been much in motion with transnational teaching and research, I am struck by the extent to which my intellectual interests have been stable. I was and am a historian, specializing in the role of media, communication, and culture in international relations. The short account of my career is that I began as a scholar of propaganda in international history, and as propaganda evolved into public diplomacy so my area of study and self-description changed too. My temporal focus evolved also: World War Two became the Cold War, then post-Cold War, then contemporary policy. I have even written on issues of the future, which I enjoyed. People contradict you much less when you are talking about the future as compared to the past.
Chapter 1: By the age of twelve, I had been a refugee twice: the first time, when my family fled Chongqing (Chungking) China in late 1949 to British Hong Kong after the Communists triumphed over Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists (Kuomintang or KMT). As part of the Great Exodus from China, my parents did not follow the KMT to Taiwan after a defeated Imperial Japan was forced to release its colonial hold on the island; there, Chiang established the Republic of China under the patronage of the United States at the dawn of the Cold War. Adherents of neither the Communist Party nor the KMT, my parents were stranded with three small children in Hong Kong as stateless people because the British would not grant us formal refugee status. My father, a graduate of Peking University, had been secretary of the anti-Japanese movement in the thirties; he then worked in the wartime capital Chongqing where he managed the government bank that handled foreign exchange. My mother, a rare woman university graduate of the early twentieth century, worked as a high school teacher.
All historians are surely accidental historians. At the most basic level, the opportunity to be a historian—at least in the more conventional understanding of the term—is the consequence of multiple accidents of timing, circumstance, and unequal opportunity: success in examinations, in grant applications, and simply being in a particular place at a particular time. But, more profoundly, an engagement with History is the product of the myriad and essentially accidental influences of social background, of location and generation, and of the impulses and consequences of curiosity.
My “formative years” as a historian go back to the 1950s when I studied British history in college and then U.S. and East Asian history as a graduate student. Actually, however, it may be more correct to say that my interest in history goes back to the 1940s when the Second World War was fought and ended. Japan, where I was living, was defeated and occupied by U.S. forces. Like virtually all grade school pupils in Japan at that time, during the 1930s and beyond, history essentially consisted of what the government told us it was. When I was born in 1934, Japan was already at war with China, having invaded Manchuria and sought to expand its control over other regions of the country. At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, I was in first grade, and four years later when the war ended, in fifth grade.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and perhaps in some ways because of it, conflicts of interest between the United States and China seem only likely to increase in the coming years. As conflicts of interest between these two states increase, one central question for scholars and policy-makers is the probability of different causal mechanisms whereby a conflict of interest generates a crisis and the crisis becomes a limited, conventional or even nuclear war. Another important and closely related question is which allies Washington and Beijing can count on to do what as these conflicts of interest grow. Unlike China, the United States has alliances that span the world, with formal defence commitments throughout Europe and Asia. If alliances do more than aggregate but substantially multiply U.S. power, exactly what do they bring to the table?
My becoming an international historian was, as Marxists would say, overdetermined—but nevertheless I took a long time to determine it. I did not so much decide to study international history as make a series of incremental decisions, usually driven by advice or inspiration from an intellectual mentor, that led me along that path. So even if not by design, it was no accident that I came to study international history.