John Arquilla Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

International Relations in the Information Age: Conversation with John Arquilla, Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey; March 17, 2003, by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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John, welcome to Berkeley.

It's so good to be with you, Harry.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Oak Park, Illinois, and grew up a few doors down from Ernest Hemingway's studio.

Aha! But he was long gone by that time, I would assume.

Sadly so. Only the ideas linger on.

In looking back, how do you think your parents shaped your thinking about the world?

My parents are Italian immigrants, and always had a very simple and straightforward view of everything from economic to national security, and I've carried those values, always, with me: "Don't take any chances if you don't have to, and always look behind you."

Where were you educated?

I'm a long-term survivor of Catholic education in the Chicago area. And now it's twenty-eight years since I took a Bachelor's degree at the Rosary College, west of Chicago. Later on in the eighties I went to Stanford. Somehow they gave me a fellowship to do a doctorate there, and so I did one, and it was a lovely experience, and I went to the RAND Corporation. And about ten years ago, went to the Naval Postgraduate School to help establish a program in Special Operations.

Looking back, did you have any teachers or mentors that especially influenced the directions that your research took?

Alexander George at Stanford University was always a great influence on me. He seemed to understand the tight interconnection between ideas and actions. That began me on the path of thinking that even in this area of military affairs and national security, what we believe and what we stand for is every bit as important as every kind of military power we might have.

What did you do your dissertation on?

The problem is why losers start wars. It had struck me ... A lot of thinking goes back to the saying that "wars are a continuation of policy by other means." It occurred to me that the bigger the war, the less likely it was that the fellow who started it would win. So that was an interesting puzzle to examine.

What got you interested in matters of strategy, military affairs, and national security?

I always had some interest in the subject. My mother's brother had served in the American military during World War II. We had other relatives who were on the other side, including one uncle who was captured by the Russians and kept after World War II -- in fact, until after Stalin died. So I always had these various perspectives. But my uncle had been a company commander at the Battle of Enzio, in Italy, in World War II, and was badly wounded, and everyone in his company was killed. He gave me always a sense of how terribly, terribly, terribly important issues of war and peace are.

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