News & Event Highlights

Cold War Historian Illuminates Library Lecture Series
by John T. Hughes Library Staff
November 7, 2013

Much is made of the larger-than-life characters who pepper the chronicles of bygone eras, such as CIA Director William “Wild Bill” Donovan and Gen. William “Westy” Westmoreland. Recently though, author and historian Frank Leith Jones (right) spoke to an audience at the NIU John T. Hughes Library about a lesser-known player and subject of his biography Robert “Blowtorch” Komer.

In “Blowtorch: Robert Komer, Vietnam and American Cold War Strategy,” Jones documents the professional life of Komer, a second echelon civil servant whose career spanned the decades from the post-World War II CIA to the Carter Administration. Komer was a valued advisor to President Lyndon Johnson and developer of the U.S. pacification and counterinsurgency strategy (CORDS) under Gen. Westmoreland in Vietnam, but still is not widely recognized for the role he played in the development of U.S. foreign policy. The biography was written to change that.

Jones, a professor of security studies at the US Army War College and former policy and strategy Senior Executive for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said in his talk that Komer’s ideas for developing and implementing strategy came as much from his broad background in history as his experiences as a military historian during World War II and analyst in the early days of the CIA. Harvard-educated and influenced by such early intelligence strategists such as Sherman Kent among others, Komer viewed strategic intelligence as a social science and believed in the influence intelligence can have on strategy. As Jones said in the book, Komer achieved a reputation as one “who could formulate a strategy that would harness the elements of national power to achieve policy objectives and then vigorously and doggedly pursue its implementation.”

It’s that vigor and dogged pursuit that inspired Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. to coin Komer’s nickname. Lodge claimed Komer’s aggressive personality and tenacity when carrying out a plan was “like having a blowtorch aimed at the seat of one’s pants.” Jones’ engaging presentation sparked a lively conversation during the audience Q&A. The author and participants discussed the role a background in history like Komer’s plays in informing intelligence analysis and policy. Jones entreated young analysts and policy makers to just “Read!” and reiterated that an understanding of the broader historical context of world issues will bring a better informed presence to their work.

The NIU John T. Hughes Library presents bimonthly “Meet the Author” events featuring published authors to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and NIU to discuss their books and answer questions from the DIA and wider Intelligence Community. Future events will be published on the NIU Main Page under Upcoming Events.

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