Robert Jervis Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

American Foreign Policy in a New Era: Conversation with Robert Jervis, Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics, Columbia University; November 17, 2005, by Harry Kreisler
Page 1 of 4


Bob, welcome back to Berkeley.

Thank you.

Where were you born and raised?

I grew up in New York City, in Manhattan.

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

I think my parents, Manhattan, the school I went to, all were important. The milieu of that time, the forties and fifties in New York, heavily Jewish, left-liberal, not really red diaper baby, that is, not Communist but left liberal, that was the dominant view, and involved in politics, if not running for office but certainly campaigning, talking about it, reading two newspapers a day, arguing -- that was the whole milieu.

You mentioned a school. Was this in high school or ... ?

This was the Ethical Culture School. Ethical culturism is Jewish Unitarianism and the school was not heavily influenced by that, but it was leftist. I remember Pete Seeger coming and singing "The Banks are Made of Marble," and I sort of sang along, and later it occurred to me, "Hm, there's a political message there."

Around the family table did you talk politics, or was it just everywhere?

It was both. We certainly talked politics and whether I prompted my parents or the other way, I was always interested. My almost first political memory is a false VJ Day, about a week before the war in Japan ended, and I remember sharply the next couple of years quizzing my parents about what we should do [in response to] Cold War [events]. When an American plane was shot down over the Adriatic, saying, "Well, what should we do? Should we retaliate?," and all this. My parents probably thought this was odd but they did encourage it.

It sounds like you got interested in international politics early.

Yes, very early from what was happening in -- well, whether I actually read the newspaper at age seven, I don't know. But the world was so fascinating and in fouth or fifth grade a couple of friends and I would put out a mimeographed (like a Xeroxed) newspaper commenting on, I remember, the Slansky trials in Czechoslovakia, as the Soviets got their hold.

You couldn't escape the world, and if you wanted to, the world wouldn't let you escape. Friends of my parents were called before McCarthy's hearings, and that was a milieu that was enveloping.

Where did you do your undergraduate work?

I went to Oberlin College. I entered in '58 and I thought having grown up in a big city, I really should try a small town. No; mistake. I liked Oberlin, a very good education, but quite an experience.

And then on to graduate school at Berkeley, and I should have said "welcome back" at the beginning.

Yes, it's always nice to come back to Berkeley. I really love it.

And you came to Berkeley in the early sixties?

I arrived in '62. I had choice of graduate schools, and unlike students today, I didn't know a lot about the places, but I was attracted to Berkeley partly because it was 3000 miles away from my parents, who I was close to, but still, it was away. My college roommate, Andy McFarland, who made a career in political science, had decided to go to Berkeley, and the fact that the San Francisco demonstrations in -- what was it, '60? -- against HUAC [the House Un-American Activities Committee].

Yeah -- or late fifties.

In '59 or '60. I thought that would be an interesting place to be.

When you were here you focused on international relations. Who were the academic mentors who influenced you, whether they were in IR or not?

I was fortunate because I hadn't done a lot of research. In fact, the IR faculty at Berkeley, distinguished in their ways, were not doing stuff that interested me. Ernie Haas was, of course, the big figure of towering importance in the field, and great integrity, but with all due respect, I just didn't find then, and don't find now, what he did terribly interesting.

That is, his subject matter.

Yes, the subject matter. Also, he was a reformer. Ernie was driven by the deep desire to change world politics. To be honest, I've done a little consulting -- we can talk about it, I hope -- but I'm driven to understand it. If I could understand international politics in the nineteenth century, I'd be happy as a clam. I don't care what it means now. Ernie wanted to change it and did it in odd ways.

But Glenn Snyder was here as a visitor, and I took Glenn's classes, and he was my mentor and I dedicated one of my new strategy books to him, and several others, and in many ways I owe a tremendous amount of my intellectual development to Glenn and the two years that we spent together when he was here.

Next page: Doing International Relations Theory

© Copyright 2006, Regents of the University of California