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January 25: 400 Hours with Soviet Negotiators

Lawrence Bush
January 25, 2017
Max Kampelman, a diplomat who spent World War II as a conscientious objector and then enlisted in the Marine Corps, shifting from a liberal to a neoconservative, died at 92 on this date in 2013. Kampelman co-founded the Committee of the Present Danger, which favored military build-up during the Reagan years, then led the negotiations that led to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991, which lowered nuclear stockpiles just a few months before the USSR collapsed. He said that he had sat through more than 400 hours of face-to-face meetings with Soviet diplomats, mostly over meals, during which he won numerous human rights victories, particularly for Soviet Jews. As a registered conscientious objector during World War II, Kampelman’s public service included participation in a University of Minnesota examining the effects of starvation and extreme weight loss, during which his weight fell from 160 pounds to 100. The experiment proved useful in restoring to health prisoners of war and survivors of concentration camps. Kampelman was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by Reagan in 1989 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton in 1999. “Diplomacy is, after all, a human event involving human beings.” --Max Kampelman

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.