The Eighth Annual Ernest May Memorial Lecture: The Pearl Harbor System at 75

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Political Science



Publication Title

America's National Security Architecture: Rebuilding the Foundation


I am very honored to have my name linked to Professor Ernest May, who personified the engaged academic. One of Professor May's most important insights was that, whether one is a scholar attempting to explain a specific foreign policy decision or a policy maker engaged in the formulation of foreign policy, it helps to think of time as a stream--in which carefully selected lessons from the past inform the discussion of current issues and help shape plans for the future. But Professor May would also have been the first to admit that this is easier said than done. One big problem that both analysts and policy makers confront when they attempt to derive lessons from the past is deciding how far back one needs to go to make sense of any contemporary situation. We might call this the challenge of infinite regress. How far back do we have to go to explain the Obama administrations's pivot to Asia? To the debates surrounding the Truman administrations's decision to create a network of military alliances in the Pacific in 1951? To Teddy Roosevelt's deployment of the Great White Fleet in 1907? To the geostrategic arguments of Admiral Mahan in favor of the Open Door to Asia in the late nineteenth century?


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