Ira Straus: “Correction to my note on Pipes”

File Photo of Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan at Table Signing Documents

Subject: Correction to my note on Pipes
Date: Tue, 22 May 2018
From: Ira Straus <>

I’d like to clarify that my note was not meant to be a comprehensive appraisal of Richard Pipes and his work, and all the good and bad points I might find in it. I do note with concern that I’ve been taken to task for not raising bad points about Pipes and stressing them. I don’t think that’s usually considered a social requisite in comments upon a deceased person. But in any case I want to clarify that that’s not what my note was about.

It was, rather, a recollection of Pipes’ important role in discussing one specific matter: the prospect of an end to Soviet Communism, and the need to think about that from a policy standpoint; and the public hounding that was brought down upon him for that. His comments in this regard were treated as breaking a terrible taboo, and misrepresented as stating a wish for nuclear war. The same was done to his boss, President Reagan; he was to some extent a lightning rod for attacking Reagan in this way. However, breaking the taboo on this was in reality a great virtue. The taboo was serving to silence a necessary public discussion and prevent necessary policy thinking.

I’ve also had a specific error pointed out to me, and I would like to correct it here. I was not accurate in stating that the media hounding of Pipes was the cause of his leaving the government after two years. The immediate cause of his leaving was that Harvard has a rule that, if you take a leave of longer than two years for government service, you lose your tenure.

To be sure, Harvard has found a way to give high positions to former tenured professors who have overstayed their two years’ leave, when those professors are in good ideological standing. Nevertheless, the loss of tenure makes that outcome uncertain, and it does not immediately bring back tenure. That makes it is a risk that some have chosen not to run; and Pipes himself could not expect such consideration, since he was not in good ideological standing. In that sense, his ideological hounding in the media and academia was inevitably relevant to his decision to leave. Nevertheless, the direct reason was, from what I am told, the tenure rule.

[featured image is file photo]