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.