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George Herring

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I am told that Dr. George Herring, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Kentucky, has passed after a long illness. George, esteemed historian of US foreign policy and especially of the Vietnam War, was Director of the Patterson School when I applied for the position that would develop into the job I have today. George retired before I arrived in Lexington but over the years I had the extraordinary good fortune to get to know him as a friend.

Long time readers will recall that Erik and I did an extended series reviewing George’s book From Colony to Superpower. The LGM selections can be found here, and Erik’s Alterdestiny contributions can be found through links in those posts. Here is George’s wonderful, recent essay on Learning the Scholar’s Craft.

I have often reflected that through some stroke of good fortune I drifted rather aimlessly into a career that has been rewarding and immensely satisfying. As a student at Roanoke College, 1953-1957, I could have been a poster boy for the so-called Silent Generation: apolitical, devoid of ambition and sense of purpose, floating with an uncertain tide.  I did not seek out a career counsellor—I’m not sure we had them in those days. I didn’t explore different possibilities or talk to practitioners of various professions. I briefly considered law school, in part, I suspect, because that’s what other history majors were doing and when people asked me what I wanted to do with my life I had to tell them something. In my defense, I knew I would go into the military after graduation and that gave me reason not to think too seriously about a career.  Who knows, I might do twenty years in the service and retire at a young age.  Some of my classmates actually did that.

I did ponder journalism.  From high school days, I had enjoyed writing.  I was also a sports fanatic, and I wrote articles for the sports’ pages of both my high school and college newspapers. When Roanoke Times journalist, John Patterson, offered a course at the college, I jumped at it.  It was an excellent class, and I visited the teacher once in the Times’ newsroom.  That visit was also important to me because it gave me the opportunity to spend quality time with an attractive journalism classmate I was briefly smitten with.  We went there at night, and I must say that the hours worked by newspaper people did not especially appeal to me.  The story I have since told is that I thought seriously of journalism as a career, but when I found out how little reporters were paid I turned toward academia. 

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