Friday, May 14, 2010

Passing of a Mentor

Norman Graebner died May 10 in Charlottesville, Virginia. He taught diplomatic history at the University of Virginia. I took his diplomatic history of the US course during my senior year. It was a lecture class but Graebner's lectures were electrifying. He was rumored to be the highest paid professor at Virginia, that the university lured him from Illinois with big bucks. True or not, he was worth his salary. Best of all, he told America's diplomatic history in a clear, logical and concise way that was directly applicable to contemporary events. Graebner spoke with knowledge and passion. Taking notes was impossibly difficult because note taking might distract from hearing something important and not one word ever seemed unimportant.

The Vietnam war dominated all discussions of foreign policy in 1970. Graebner presented that war in the context of misguided and misinformed decision-making and how those decisions fit in the longer dynamic of US and world history. He taught me the dynamics of war as an instrument of foreign polilcy, how a deeply nationalist movement fighting a foreign occupation had a strength that made up for limitations in weaponry and technology, and how never-ending war will bleed a nation. That nations choose war and conflict, in Graebner's thinking, was all the more tragic because diplomacy and keen understanding of national interest offered a more sustainable alternative.

I haven't seen any work by Graebner on America's current wars. But I would be amazed if he didn't think America was pouring lives and treasure into an effort that served this nation's interests.

Godspeed, Mr. Graebner.

Thank you.


Although he had a PhD, Norman Graeber was addressed as Mister Graebner. The University of Virginia had the tradition of addressing all members of the "academical village", student and professor alike, as Mister. Founder Thomas Jefferson was Mr. Jefferson, not President Jefferson. I have no reason to believe that tradition does not continue.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home