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My Story By Michael Krepon

Editor’s Note: My Story is an autobiographical series written by the experts and team at the nonpartisan Stimson Center. Each story details the people, places, and events that led the author to dedicate their career to resolving some of the world’s most pressing global challenges to peace and prosperity. We continue this series with Stimson Co-founder Michael Krepon.

My commitment to this meaningful work is rooted, like so many others, in an immigrant’s tale....

In my case, it begins with a ten-year old girl who anxiously made her way with an older brother from the Lithuanian-Polish border to New York Harbor, steerage class. That girl, my mother, joined the rest of her family in Dorchester, Massachusetts, where my grandfather set up a small convenience store. My mother found the love of her life hanging around that store. My father, born in America, changed his name from Kreponitsky to improve his prospects in life. When they could afford the down payment on a six-room house, my parents moved out of their tenement apartment to properly raise their children. Their dreams, including going to college, were invested in my sisters and me, and we are a reflection of them.

I didn’t compete with my sisters, who were straight-A students. Instead, I made my mark as a class officer and as the head of the junior congregation at our temple. When I was thirteen, my dad succumbed to cancer — probably from making munitions at the Watertown Arsenal during World War II. I am named after his younger brother who died in the Battle of Anzio.

U.S. Army troops landing at Anzio in Operation Shingle on January 22, 1944.

With no money for college, four community service organizations in our small town of Sharon came to my rescue, awarding me scholarships at my high school graduation.

These gifts, a student loan, and working as a dishwasher provided the money for me to attend Franklin & Marshall College, where I discovered, like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, that I had a brain.

I was one of the top four graduates in my class. The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies then offered me a free graduate education in the form of a National Defense Foreign Language Fellowship. In return, I was obliged to become proficient in Arabic, which opened doors to the Islamic world, diplomacy and travel. Fortuitously, my intensive language courses over the summer of 1969 were at Berkeley, where more doors were opened. The following summer, after graduating with a Master’s degree, I studied at the American University in Cairo, where I was one of two Jewish-American students.

My interests in the Vietnam War were stronger than my interests in the Arab-Israeli conflict. After returning from Cairo, I joined forces with two other recent graduates — also veterans of teach-ins and anti-war organizing — to start up a non-profit organization to channel student activism into constructive change in U.S. foreign policy. After three years of student organizing, I went to work on Capitol Hill. My proudest achievement there was persuading and then helping my boss to deny the U.S. Army funds for “binary” nerve gas weapons. In due course, the Army got out of the chemical weapons’ business, a necessary precursor for the negotiation of the Chemical Weapons Convention banning chemical weapons.

After the election of Jimmy Carter, I moved to the State Department’s Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, where I began working on nuclear arms control. As the youngest office director in the weakest agency of government dealing with nuclear dangers, this was a humbling as well as a learning experience. After Ronald Reagan was elected, I was asked to leave and was fortunate to be awarded a Council on Foreign Relations Fellowship. I spent a year at Princeton writing my first book, Strategic Stalemate: Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control in American Politics. Brent Scowcroft and Paul Warnke wrote the forewords.

Princeton University, where Michael wrote his first book - Strategic Stalemate: Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control in American Politics. Michael would go on to write or edit 20 more books.

Returning back to Washington, I managed to land as a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace where I worked for six years on nuclear arms control, verification and space.

There I edited the first book, Commercial Observation Satellites and International Security, to assess the likely impacts of any nation or person being able to buy high-resolution imagery.

From the Carnegie Endowment, a colleague in the Carter administration Barry Blechman and I co-founded the Stimson Center in 1989. Our founding motto was “Pragmatic Steps toward Ideal Objectives.” Stimson now employs over sixty people with a budget of over ten million dollars. Our “graduates” are engaged in meaningful work all over Washington and around the world. After stepping down from running Stimson, I taught for nine years as the University of Virginia’s Diplomat Scholar, while continuing to work — as I do to this day — on Stimson programming on nuclear and space issues.

In 2015, I received the Carnegie Endowment's award for lifetime achievement in non-governmental efforts to reduce nuclear dangers. I was recognized for co-founding the Stimson Center, for mentoring young talent, for working to prevent mushroom clouds on the subcontinent and for conceptualizing a code of conduct to prevent space warfare. I have been centrally involved in pushing for and protecting threat reduction treaties, especially those ending nuclear testing, reducing nuclear forces, and eliminating chemical weapons.

Michael receives the 2015 Thérèse Delpech Memorial Award, honoring his lifetime achievement for his work to reduce nuclear dangers.

I’ve written and edited a total of twenty-one books, 500 articles, and tap out a weekly blog at Arms Control Wonk and Forbes. All of my books are framed in my toolshed/office at home along with a royalty check from one of my publishers for one nickel.

Kids grown, my wife and I moved to North Garden, Virginia, near Charlottesville, where I am the steward of nine acres of woods, moss and countless ferns. We marvel that our two kids now have kids of their own — and at the distance we both have traveled since our forebears decided to make better lives for themselves in America.

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Michael Krepon co-founded the Stimson Center.

Innovative Ideas Changing the World

Credits:

Created with images by Lucas Franco - "untitled image," ItalBoublil, Misha Krepon

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