The Remembrance Project: Joseph Zasloff

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Near the end of his life, Professor Joseph Zasloff interviewed his personal health aides with the same interest he had once used in Vietnam to interview government officials, North Vietnamese defectors and prisoners. The technique, he explained to his daughter Anne, was straightforward: "He always told us, to get people talking, you ask them about themselves, and people always like to talk about themselves."

Joe Zasloff (Courtesy Anne Zasloff)
Joe Zasloff (Courtesy Anne Zasloff)

An expert in Southeast Asian politics, Professor Zasloff was also an expert in the darkness of war. World War II was the first to shape him. Wounded at one point, separated from his unit, he hid in a barn for three days while Germans searched outside. His grandchildren were enthralled with the adventure, but his family heard little of the horror.

Vietnam was the second war that shaped him. Anticipating American involvement, the RAND Corporation asked him for a prediction: could the Viet Cong be overthrown?  Professor Zasloff began conducting interviews into the motivation and morale of the North Vietnamese. Finally presented his findings: the North Vietnamese were organized, fiercely determined, and largely undeterrable. No, he said. Their defeat was unlikely.

His prediction was ignored.

For almost 50 years afterwards, he taught political science around the world, while antiwar protesters marched on campuses, and countries marched into conflicts.

"And that's kind of the mysterious part to me," Anne remembers. "That he seemed to be continuously researching violence, but still believed in the good in everybody. It was incredible."

His family was living proof. The expert in violence was so tender with his four daughters that he couldn’t bear to remove splinters, or let them go when they wavered on training bikes.

He never lost his faith in mankind. Firmly, firmly, Joe placed his faith there.

Did you know Joseph Zasloff? Share your memories in the comments section.


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