Like most roads in life, my path to becoming what was traditionally called a ‘diplomatic historian’ was full of chances. Even my survival as a 4.5 lb. preemie born in a ‘birthing home’ in Sheridan Wyoming in 1944 was a roll of the dice. As a (female) child, raised in Billings, Montana, during the 1950s with a working father and a stay-at-home mother, I had vague aspirations with no particular goal except to go to college and see the wider world. I ended up at the University of Nebraska, a university from which my older sister, mother, two aunts, grandmother, and grandfather had graduated and was therefore touted in our family as a great school in ‘the East.’ My first clear professional interest emerged in a geology class. I asked my professor how I could become a geology major, and he laughed at the fact that I did not know women could not be geologists because only men could do the required field work. Silly me.

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In this tightly-written and richly-sourced article, Rosella Cappella Zielinski and Kaija Schilde offer a theory to explain why some U.S. presidents have been able to make targeted military spending cuts according to strategic needs whereas others were forced into blunt across-the-board cuts to assuage entrenched domestic interests. Although developed from U.S. cases, the authors expect that their theoretical framework has generalizability to other countries.

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Why did I become an historian and an historian of France for that matter? And once an historian, why did I take on the subjects that I did? It’s not hard to put together answers to such questions, but it must be kept in mind that they are, like all historical explanations, retrospective constructions and to be regarded in just that light, not as truth, but as interpretation.

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“Mr. Gardner, please come to see me in my office this afternoon at four o’clock if that is convenient.” It was mid-term time in the fall of my sophomore year at Ohio Wesleyan University. The summons was from Dr. Henry Clyde Hubbart, whose book, The Older Middle West, 1840-1880, published in 1936 had established him as the indisputable senior figure in the History Department.[1]The course was American Constitutional History, a traditional prerequisite for law school. Normally, it was only open to seniors. I had gained admission as a sophomore through the intervention of another professor, David Jennings, who feared that Hubbart would not continue to teach in retirement. So, I was pretty nervous about this command appointment, all the more so because my exam book was the only one Hubbart had not given back during class time. What did that mean? I feared the worst.

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Comments and cautions about a life committed to writing abound and have probably been with us since script was invented. Five hundred years ago, Erasmus assailed the scholarly life in a satire that sharpened the edge of truth to cutting point: “people who use their erudition to write for a learned minority… do not seem to me favoured by fortune but rather to be pitied for their continuous self-torture. They add, change, remove, lay aside, take up, rephrase, show to their friends, keep for nine years and are never satisfied.” And that is the good news. As matters progress: “their health deteriorates, their looks are destroyed, they suffer partial or total blindness, poverty, ill-will, denial of pleasure, premature old age and early death.”[1] Read on, if your courage permits.

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The 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the tenth such event, will be held from 27 April to 22 May in New York. One of the most important and controversial pillars of the global nuclear order will be evaluated there. The NPT was opened for signature in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. Its ratification was a milestone in nuclear history and gradually developed into a centerpiece of the liberal international order.[1] The NPT was the first joint international arms control treaty signed by the Soviet Union and the United States. With it, the Soviet government led by Leonid Brezhnev turned definitively away from demanding a complete ban on nuclear weapons, which had informed Soviet nuclear policy between 1946 and the mid-1960s.[2] The NPT encompassed a threefold strategy that aimed first at preventing further proliferation, second at reducing existing arsenals, and third at the promotion of non-military nuclear technology under the condition of compliance with a safeguards system based on inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).[3]

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In the fall semester of 1964 I took two graduate seminars at Berkeley in the subfields of American history I was then considering as a specialty. One was in diplomatic history, taught by Visiting Professor Gerald Wheeler. He was substituting for the Department’s on-leave Armin Rappoport, whose two-semester lecture course I had taken the year before as a first-year grad student. The other was Robert Middlekauff’s seminar in colonial history, or as we would say now, British North America. That seminar was largely intellectual history simply because much of it was devoted to the works of Perry Miller. Reading Miller and participating in Middlekauff-led discussions made it clear to me that intellectual history was the path I wanted to take.

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Born in 1928 in Hannover, Germany, into a Jewish family, the new restrictions on Jews meant my being kicked out of the equivalent of the fifth grade in November 1938. The family had already applied for immigration into the United States, and we went to England to await the calling up of our “Quota Numbers” under the arrangement for such cases worked out by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in addition to the famous Kindertransport. Our numbers came up in the summer of 1940, and we left for the United States on September 1.[1]

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Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling described the tens of thousands dead in the Korean War as “undoubtedly worth it” because the United States needed to defend its reputation for resolve.[1] In 2013, President Barack Obama implicitly disagreed with Schelling, when he refused to carry out military operations based on his ‘red line,’ after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons. Of all the hot-button debates about the use of military force, few arouse such recurring, intractable debates as whether, and when, it is worth fighting for reputation.

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Thirty years ago, Francis Fukuyama famously argued that the end of the Cold War was “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”[1] I recently argued that Fukuyama was basically correct: Nothing in the past three decades has cast doubt on the verdict that liberal democracy is the most successful form of government by virtually every conceivable measure, and that is not a terribly hard call.[2]

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