Walter Laqueur has died, well into his nineties. He certainly beat the odds, having escaped the Third Reich, gaining entry to British-controlled Palestine, learning Hebrew and Arabic while living through several wars against the nascent Jewish state (later he added Russian), and reporting on it all for our benefit. When Walter wrote about events, you knew his sources were excellent and much of it was first-hand. There is no contemporary equivalent.
Walter was a friend and mentor. Almost like an older brother. He brought us from Rome to Washington in 1977 to start a new magazine, The Washington Quarterly, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was the guiding intellect, I did the detail work.
He was uniquely suited for this task, having written several important books and, already by then, a long list of articles for any serious person’s Must Read list on the essentials of the Cold War, the Middle East, and the parlous state of American and European universities.
Above all, he lived the seminal events of the Twentieth Century, from the failed socialist revolutions in post-World War I Europe, to Lenin’s briefly successful Soviet Revolution, to the fascist revolutions across the continent, to the Holocaust and the Second War, the creation of Israel, the defeat of the Arab armies, and the fall of the Soviet Empire.
Walter did not hold any advanced degrees, so there was a built-in resistance against hiring him at “major” universities. Brandeis hosted him for a while, but he never received the recognition he deserved from top Ivy League institutions, oor, for that matter, from, say, the Hoover Institution. No matter that he was a proven talent, and was greatly admired by the likes of Bernard Lewis, Senator Henry Jackson, Henry Kissinger, Renzo De Felice, Martin Kramer, Michel Gurfinkiel and Patrique Weissman.
He died aged 97, his mind razor-sharp to the end. The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for his physical condition. He had great trouble moving, and relied on Susi for assistance. Still, his many devoted friends and students celebrated his birthdays, and his memory will surely be honored by his admirers. Sadly, one of his longtime associates, Barry Rubin — who joined us at the Washington Quarterly and wrote for PJ Media — left us prematurely and can’t tell us things we need to remember about Walter.
I, and indeed an entire generation, owe much of our understanding of the world to him. He authored the basic book on Zionism, the most successful diaspora movement in history, as well as the basic book on terrorism, which now spawns a variety of terror states and, like Soviet Communism and the other totalitarian regimes of the last century, threatens Western civilization. His recent writings on Putin’s Russia, the death spiral of Europe, and the spectacular emergence of Israeli creativity are indispensable.
In his last years, Walter provided us with unforgettable portraits of mostly Jewish thinkers and artists. He even crafted love stories of men and women caught up in the many catastrophes of his lifetime. His own marriages with two very different women would provide the basis for a fine film. He was a very charismatic man, who acted like a magnet for the most talented writers and scholars of his time. These included my own major professor, George Mosse, who introduced us. Thereafter, Walter was a frequent visitor to Rome and got to know the great generation of Italian intellectuals that included De Felice and Rosario Romeo, the brilliant Sicilian who wrote the fundamental political biography of Cavour. Walter was one of the few who fully appreciated the intellectual, cultural and political novelty of a Sicilian explaining the significance of the Piedmontese (noble but ultimately failed) creation of unified Italy.
Throughout his long life, Walter always welcomed the opportunity to improve on his own work, correcting the inevitable errors, adding new information, respecting critics and rejecting false claims. No wonder his work is the best place to go to explore that most explosive modern question: who knew?
Godspeed, Walter. One of a kind.