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Eugene V. Rostow

Eugene Rostow in 1981

Eugene V. (Victor Debs) Rostow (August 25, 1913 – November 25, 2002) was an influential legal scholar and public servant. He was Dean of Yale Law School and served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs under President Lyndon B. Johnson.


  • Early life 1
  • Education 2
  • Career 3
  • Personal life 4
  • Selected books 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Rostow was born in Brooklyn, New York, a grandson of poor Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire, and raised in Irvington, New Jersey, and New Haven, Connecticut. His parents were active socialists and their three sons, Eugene Victor Debs, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, were named after Eugene V. Debs, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman.


Rostow attended New Haven High School and was admitted to Yale College in 1929. At the time, his scores on his entrance examinations were so high that The New York Times called him the first "perfect freshman". In 1931 he earned Phi Beta Kappa, and in 1933 he earned a B.A., graduating with highest honors, and receiving the Alpheus Henry Snow Prize, which is awarded annually to that senior who, through the combination of intellectual achievement, character and personality, shall be adjudged by the faculty to have done the most for Yale by inspiring in his classmates an admiration and love for the best traditions of high scholarship. He became a member of Alpha Delta Phi.

From 1933 to 1934 Rostow studied economics at Cambridge University (where he would return in 1959 as the Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions) as a Henry Fellow. He then returned to Yale, attending Yale Law School, and earning his LL.B. with highest honors. From 1936 to 1937 he served as editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal.


After graduation, Rostow worked at the New York law firm of Cravath, deGersdorff, Swaine and Wood specializing in bankruptcy, corporations, and antitrust. In 1937 he returned to Yale Law School as a faculty member (becoming a full professor in 1944), and became a member of the Yale Economics Department as well.

During World War II Rostow served in the Lend-Lease Administration as an assistant general counsel, in the State Department as liaison to the Lend-Lease Administration, and as an assistant to then–Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Dean Acheson. He was an early and vocal critic of Japanese American internment and the Supreme Court decisions which supported it; in 1945 he wrote an influential paper in the Yale Law Journal which helped fuel the movement for restitution. In that paper he wrote, "We believe that the German people bear a common political responsibility for outrages secretly committed by the Gestapo and the SS. What are we to think of our own part in a program which violates every democratic social value, yet has been approved by the Congress, the President and the Supreme Court?"

In 1955 Rostow became dean of Yale Law School, a post he held until 1965. Towards the end of his tenure, he was appointed Sterling Professor of Law and Public Affairs.[1] At one point in 1962 – according to Alistair Cooke – he was considered by John F. Kennedy for appointment to the Supreme Court but geographical and religious issues interfered. From 1966 to 1969 he served as Under Secretary for Political Affairs in Lyndon B. Johnson's government, the third-highest-ranking official in the State Department. During this time he helped draft UN Security Council Resolution 242, one of the most important Security Council resolutions relevant to the Arab–Israeli conflict.

After leaving government service Rostow returned to Yale Law School, teaching courses in constitutional, international, and antitrust law. Concerned about Soviet military expansionism, in the mid-1970s he was an active member of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority and helped found and lead the Committee on the Present Danger. In 1981 President Ronald Reagan appointed him director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, making Rostow the highest-ranking Democrat in the Reagan administration.

At his confirmation hearing in 1981, Senator Claiborne Pell asked Rostow if he thought the US could survive a nuclear war. Rostow replied that Japan "not only survived but flourished after the nuclear attack." When questioners pointed out that the Soviet Union would attack with thousands of nuclear warheads rather than two, Rostow replied, "the human race is very resilient. ... Depending upon certain assumptions, some estimates predict that there would be ten million casualties on one side and one hundred million on another. But that is not the whole of the population."[2][3]

In 1984 Rostow became Sterling Professor of Law and Public Affairs Emeritus.

In 1990 Rostow had this to say regarding the Geneva Convention/Oslo Accords and finding a peace between Israel and the Palestinians: "The Convention prohibits many of the inhumane practices of the Nazis and the Soviet Union during and before the Second World War – the mass transfer of people into and out of occupied territories for purposes of extermination, slave labor or colonization, for example. ... The Jewish settlers in the West Bank are most emphatically volunteers. They have not been 'deported' or 'transferred' to the area by the Government of Israel, and their movement involves none of the atrocious purposes or harmful effects on the existing population it is the goal of the Geneva Convention to prevent."[4]

Personal life

In 1933 Rostow married Edna Greenberg, and they remained married until his death from congestive heart failure. Together they had three children, Victor, Jessica, and Nicholas and six grandchildren.

His younger brother, Walt Whitman Rostow, served as national security adviser to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Selected books

  • A National Policy for the Oil Industry (1948)
  • Planning for Freedom (1959)
  • The Sovereign Prerogative (1962)
  • Law, Power, and the Pursuit of Peace (1968)
  • Is Law Dead? (ed., 1971)
  • The Ideal in Law (1978)
  • A Breakfast for Bonaparte (1993)


  1. ^ "Yale Law Dean Named Professor". New York Times. 19 October 1964. Retrieved 11 March 2015. 
  2. ^ J. Peter Scoblic (2008) U.S. vs. Them: How a Half Century of Conservatism Has Undermined America's Security, New York: Viking, ISBN 0-670-01882-1, p. 126.
  3. ^ "Nomination of Eugene V. Rostow," Hearings before the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, 79th Congress, First Session (July 22–23, 1981), p. 49.
  4. ^ Alan Baker (January 5, 2011) The Settlements Issue: Distorting the Geneva Convention and the Oslo Accords.

External links

  • In Memoriam: Eugene V. Rostow, 1913–2002 (pdf).
  • Eugene V. Rostow '37: Dean, Scholar, Statesman, Yale Law School.
  • Eugene V. Rostow, The Japanese American Cases: A Disaster, 54 Yale Law Journal 489 (1945).
  • Eugene Victor Rostow papers (held at Yale University Library Manuscripts and Archives)
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
Academic offices
Preceded by
Harry Shulman
Dean of Yale Law School
Succeeded by
Louis Heilprin Pollak
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