Lexington Green sent this extended profile/interview with Charles Hill by Emily Esfahani Smith. The tone of the article is somewhat hagiographic because Hill is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and….well…. this is in Hoover’s journal 😉 If you can get past that, it is a worthwhile read about a deep thinker and scholar of grand strategy.
….In diplomacy, literature is relied upon because, as he writes in “Grand Strategies,” “The international world of states and their modern system is a literary realm; it is where the greatest issues of the human condition are played out.” That is why Alexander the Great carried the Iliad with him on his conquests, and why Queen Elizabeth studied Cicero in the evenings. It is why Abraham Lincoln read, and was profoundly influenced by, Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” and why Paul Nitze paged through Shakespeare on his flights to Moscow as America’s chief arms negotiator.
Hill, for his part, has always kept the “History of the Peloponnesian War” in his mind as the “manual of statecraft.”
Why Thucydides? He explains: “When you read the Peloponnesian War, you realize that Thucydides is moving from one set of problems to another, and you have to deal with them all-rhetorical problems, material problems, and moral problems. That’s the closest literary work related to statecraft that I can imagine.”
To understand world order-and those who manipulate it for their own aims-requires a literary education, the kind students were once able to find at such places as Yale, where Hill now teaches the humanities to freshman undergraduates.
This is a departure from his days at the State Department, where he helped orchestrate monumental events in the grand strategy of the Cold War. One of his first memories as a diplomat was of being seated behind Adlai Stevenson at the UN during the Cuban missile crisis, characteristically scribbling notes-in grand strategy, no detail can be lost. Later, Hill was a “China watcher” during that country’s Cultural Revolution. And when the Iran-Contra scandal nearly brought down the Reagan administration, Hill’s meticulous notes played an influential role in the Congressional investigations by shedding light on the chronology of then-Secretary of State George Shultz’s knowledge of the arms sale. Over the years, Hill has also served as confidante to Secretaries of State. For Henry Kissinger, Hill was speechwriter and policy analyst. For Shultz, Hill was an executive aide and trusted ally.
These days, Hill embodies grand strategy in a different way. After a long and distinguished career as a diplomat, Hill is now a heralded figure in academia. Beyond his appointment as a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, he is the Brady-Johnson Distinguished Fellow in Grand Strategy, a Senior Lecturer in Humanities, and a Senior Lecturer in International Studies at Yale. Alongside historians John Gaddis and John Kennedy [ sic] , he teaches one of Yale’s most legendary courses to a select group of elite students-future statesmen-the Grand Strategies course.
And yet, Hill tells me stoically, “There is no grand strategy in our time.” Turning his attention to the turmoil in the Middle East, Hill provides an example. “America’s lack of strategic outlook responding to the Arab Spring is really distressing.”
Hill retains the diplomat’s gift for understatement.
Read the rest here.