|Born||December 29, 1928
Council Bluffs, Iowa, United States
|Died||April 30, 2015
|Alma mater||University of Notre Dame|
|Occupation||Writer, political commentator|
William Pfaff was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and was of German, English, and Irish origin. He grew up in Iowa and Georgia and graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1949, having majored in literary and political studies.
Career and Publications
Thanks to a letter of recommendation from Frank O'Malley, an English professor at Notre Dame, Pfaff obtained a job working for the lay-Catholic Commonweal magazine in 1949.
Pfaff served in the Infantry and Special Forces units of the United States Army during and after the Korean War. The Korean Armistice Agreement was signed while Pfaff was on a cruise ship, and so he never saw action. He was honorably discharged with the rank of staff sergeant.
He returned to Commonweal as an assistant editor, only leaving in 1955 for extensive travel in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. After a brief passage at ABC News in New York (1955–57), he was invited to join Free Europe Committee. In 1961 he was hired by Herman Kahn at the Hudson Institute, becoming one of its first members.
|“||I don't see that devastating a small country's economy, then mounting a 25,000-man invasion, which kills over 300 people and wounds hundreds more, to seize a disreputable but unimportant military adventurer over whom U.S. courts have disputed jurisdiction, should be considered a success.||”|
|— Pfaff on the US invasion of Panama.|
His first book, THE NEW POLITICS: America and the End of the Postwar World (with Edmund Stillman) was published in 1961. Seven others have followed.
Robert Heilbroner wrote in 1964:
"I suspect that in the future it will no longer be possible to qualify as a wholly serious thinker if one has not, to whatever small degree, made one's peace or accommodation with [his] harsh message."
During the 1960s, Pfaff co-wrote three books with Ed Stillman: The New Politics: America and the End of the Postwar World (1961), The Politics of Hysteria: The Sources of Twentieth-Century Conflict (1964), and Power and Impotence: The Failure of America’s Foreign Policy (1966). In 1971, Pfaff added a fourth book, this time without Stillman's co-authorship, entitled Condemned to Freedom.
In his role at the Hudson Institute, Pfaff provided the counterpoint to Kahn's more bellicose views at official events and debates. Fed up with the debate over the Vietnam War, Pfaff moved to Paris in 1971 to become Deputy Director of the Hudson Institute Europe, an entity founded by Stillman which eventually became totally independent of Kahn's Hudson Institute.
In 1978 he resigned from the Hudson Institute Europe to continue his career as a freelance journalist and writer. His most prestigious contract was with William Shawn's The New Yorker, where, between 1971 and 1992 he published more than seventy "Reflections" ("a political-literary form of your own invention," his editor, William Shawn, wrote to him), on international politics and society in The New Yorker magazine. Pfaff's other long-standing contract was for a twice-weekly opinion column for the International Herald Tribune, which continued in one form or another until his death.
In 1989, Pfaff brought together a modified collection of several of his New Yorker pieces under the title The Barbarian Sentiments. Although it was mostly written and edited in 1988, the political events of 1989 culminating in the fall of the Berlin Wall seemed to vindicate Pfaff's views on foreign policy. He was honored by being a finalist for the 1989 National Book Award, and in the years that followed became a much sought-after lecturer throughout the world.
In 1993, he published The Wrath of Nations: Civilization and the Furies of Nationalism, a study about nationalism.
During the build-up to the Iraq War in 2003, Pfaff wrote several columns questioning Bush's foreign policy. Many of these columns were collected in the 2004 collection Fear, Anger and Failure: A Chonicle of the Bush Administration’s War Against Terror, from the Attacks of September 11, 2001 to Defeat in Baghdad, published by Algora. About the same time, Pfaff published a book about the appeal of revoluationary violence in the 20th century entitled The Bullet's Song.
In 2010, Pfaff published his last book The Irony of Manifest Destiny.
His magazine articles have appeared in The New York Review of Books, Harper’s, Foreign Affairs, World Policy Journal, The National Interest, and other publications in the United States, and elsewhere in Commentaire (Paris), Neue Zürcher Zeitung and DU magazine (both Zurich), Politica Exterior (Madrid), Europäische Rundschau (Vienna), Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik (Berlin), and other journals.
- The New Politics: America and the End of the Postwar World with Ed Stillman (1961)
- The Politics of Hysteria: The Sources of Twentieth-Century Conflict with Ed Stillman (1964)
- Power and Impotence: The Failure of America’s Foreign Policy with Ed Stillman (1966)
- Condemned to Freedom (1971)
- Barbarian Sentiments: America in the New Century (2000) (a revision of Barbarian Sentiments: How the American Century Ends (1989))
- The Wrath of Nations: Civilization and the Furies of Nationalism (1993)
- The Bullet's Song: Romantic Violence and Utopia (2004)
- Fear, Anger and Failure: A Chronicle of the Bush Administration’s War against Terror from the Attacks of September 11, 2001 to Defeat in Baghdad (2004)
- The Irony Of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of American Foreign Policy, New York, Walker and Company (2010).
- Simons, Marlise (May 1, 2015). "William Pfaff, Critic of American Foreign Policy, Dies at 86". New York Times. Retrieved May 3, 2015.
- Pfaff, William (January 7, 1990). "Let's Examine This `Great Success'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 3, 2015 – via Seattle Times.
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