Andrew J. Bacevich Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Military and U.S. Foreign Policy: Conversation with Andrew J. Bacevich, Professor and Director, Center for International Relations Boston University; May 9, 2005, by Harry Kreisler

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Background

Andrew, welcome to Berkeley.

Oh, thanks very much for having me.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in the Midwest, in Normal, Illinois, in 1947. My parents were living there. My dad was going to Illinois Wesleyan University on the GI bill. After he graduated from medical school in the early fifties, I grew up in Indiana.

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

Well, two important facts: first of all, they were (and I am) Roman Catholic and took that Catholicism pretty seriously. Secondly, they were both World War II veterans. My dad had served in the Coast Guard, my mom had served in the Army Nurse Corps; then my dad served as a lieutenant during the Korean War just as he came out of medical school. Those two factors, the fifties vintage Roman Catholicism and the war service as big events in their lives probably gave me my world view, at least to start out.

What was most important in your concluding that you wanted to be a professional soldier?

I didn't go to West Point necessarily thinking I was going to be a professional soldier. I went to West Point partly because I was absolutely determined as a Midwesterner to go somewhere "out east" for school. That seemed like the definition of sophistication, "out east." West Point was an attractive opportunity and was free. I knew I was going to have an obligation to serve for a period of time, but it was only after I had graduated that a five-year commitment transitioned into a longer period of service.

What were some of your postings? Were you in Vietnam?

Yes, I graduated from West Point in 1969 and served in Vietnam from the summer of 1970 to the summer of 1971, after Tet -- a very bleak period of the war. Then I pretty much did the things that army officers did in the latter part of the Cold War, meaning we spent a couple tours in Germany, we bounced around different posts in the United States, attended various military schools. I also had a posting in the early 1990s in the Persian Gulf as we began to make this transition to a military focus on a different part of the world.

Do you think, in retrospect, that the education you got at West Point adequately prepared you for your life and work as a soldier?

I think it prepared me well for my life as a soldier. In retrospect, I really don't think I got the education that I wished I had gotten. In that regard it was going to graduate school in history at Princeton that really began to open my eyes, and I'm very grateful that it was the army that sent me to Princeton to have that opportunity. Intellectually, I think graduate school made all the difference.

When in your military career did you go to Princeton?

Mid-seventies. I was a captain and the army had decided that I would have an assignment teaching history at West Point, and so they sent me to Princeton for a couple years of graduate study to prepare me to teach, and then I ended up teaching there for three years before going back into the real army to do regular kinds of assignments.

What was the focus of your work in history at Princeton? I'm sure you took a broad education, but what did you wind up doing your dissertation on?

I specialized in U.S. diplomatic history, principally early twentieth century. My advisor was the then chairman of the department -- he's now deceased -- Richard Challener. I also did a lot of work with, also now deceased, Arthur Link, the great Wilson scholar. Under the influence of both those scholars I became very interested in the period from around the Spanish-American War through the Progressive Era. That's where I focused.

In diplomatic history?

Right. I then did my dissertation, which was published as a book called Diplomat in Khaki and was a biography of an army officer who certainly had a reasonably successful military career but actually achieved greater prominence as a soldier who was a diplomatic troubleshooter for Teddy Roosevelt, for Henry Stimson, for Herbert Hoover.

And his name was ... ?

His name was Frank Ross McCoy. He's a third-ranking figure, believe me. But when the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931, the League of Nations decided that they were going to put together a commission to investigate this, to determine the causes, and if they found that it was indeed Japanese aggression, which of course it was, presumably [they would] impose some sorts of sanctions. The Hoover administration, and in particular Secretary of State Henry Stimson, decided that the United States would have a representative on this commission, which at the time was a big deal because, of course, we had refused to join the League of Nations. For that position Stimson turned to his friend, Major General Frank Ross McCoy of the U.S. Army. So, McCoy was the American member of what was called the Lytton Commission.

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