Walter Russell Mead Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Political Tradition: Conversation with Walter Russell Mead, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; February 25, 2003, by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

Page 6 of 6

Advice to Students

If students were to watch or read this interview, and they have an interest in foreign policy -- either as a field of study or to work in foreign policy, or as a citizen who wants to know more about it -- what advice would you give them?

First of all, study history, and not just American history. Yes, study American history. Study world history. I'd also say, get to know the United States, particularly if you're going to an elite university like Berkeley or some of the private schools, and maybe your family is a well-to-do family and you've lived in good suburbs and all that. Don't just think, "Oh, man, I should learn about foreign cultures and go to Nepal and smoke hashish." I'm sorry. Study their culture for six months. Or, "I should say go to Europe or Africa, whatever." That's nice, and you probably should. But what about like going to Topeka and working as a waiter or a waitress for a summer; working in a box factory; teaching public school in some ordinary, white-bread, mayonnaise-eating, lower-middle-class American part of the world, to understand your own country? That's something I would advise; then maybe more specific career steps.

I'd definitely say read The Economist; probably read The Financial Times. Those are probably the best news sources in English. Read Foreign Affairs.

There are increasingly going to be a lot of job opportunities in the field. There are a lot of corporate opportunities for working overseas. I think there are tremendous opportunities in the U.S. government for young people -- the Foreign Service. Something people may not have considered, but military careers. I run across a lot of military officers who've gotten advanced degrees paid for by the U.S. government. People who have had extremely interestingly careers and do quite interesting things. I would not rule that out, if I were young person. We at the Council hire a small number of kids just out of college to be research associates, working for people like me, which I'm sure is a pretty hideous job in many ways, but it is a chance to find out how people in the field operate.

One of the tough things in our society is, you get educated in schools, where the people that you meet, the adults you meet, are people who know how to do one thing, which is work in schools and universities. Making that transition from the educational world to the real world is actually one of the toughest things that people have to do.

Is it fair, for a final question, to conclude ... you said at the beginning of this journey that you were sensitized to the myths of race relations in [the Civil Rights era], and then you also became sensitized to how things could change. That seems to be a theme that you have carried to your foreign policy work. Is that fair?

Yes. I'm now half a century old and have seen an awful lot of change and an awful lot of things that people took absolutely for granted which have disappeared or have turned into their opposite. It's very easy to be involved in the tyranny of the present and to think that the ideas that are fashionable today, the institutions that are powerful today, the cultural norms that are dominant today, are going to last forever. They aren't going to last forever. As an individual, you have to try to find a way of orienting yourself in a world of constant change and upheaval. Find values that you can live by, a grounding in a history that is bigger than just the history of your own life.

Walter, on that note, I want to thank you very much for writing this book, and coming here to tell us about it, and also, lecturing to our foreign policy class. Thank you very much.

It was a lot of fun, and thanks for having me.

And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

© Copyright 2003, Regents of the University of California

To the Conversations page