Kaiser, David 1947- (David E. Kaiser)

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Kaiser, David 1947- (David E. Kaiser)


Born June 7, 1947, in Washington, DC; son of Philip M. (a diplomat) and Hannah (a social worker) Kaiser; married, 1973 (divorced, 1998); remarried, 2006; children: Daniel T., Thomas C. Education: Harvard University, B.A., 1969, Ph.D., 1976. Politics: Democrat.


Office—Department of Strategy and Policy, Naval War College, 686 Cushing Rd., Newport, RI 02841-1207.


Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, began as lecturer, became assistant professor of history, between 1976 and 1980; Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, associate professor of history, beginning 1980; Naval War College, Newport, RI, professor of strategy and policy.


(Under name David E. Kaiser) Economic Diplomacy and the Origins of the Second World War: Germany, Britain, France, and Eastern Europe, 1930-1939, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1981.

(Under name David E. Kaiser; with William Young) Postmortem: New Evidence in the Case of Sacco and Vanzetti, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1985.

(Under name David E. Kaiser) Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1990, enlarged edition, 2000.

Epic Season: The 1948 American League Pennant Race, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1998.

American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War, Belknap Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.

The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2008.

Contributor to various periodicals, including the New Republic, Journal of Modern History, International Security, and American Historical Review.


David Kaiser's first book, Economic Diplomacy and the Origins of the Second World War: Germany, Britain, France, and Eastern Europe, 1930-1939, explores the patterns of trade among England, France, Germany, and Eastern Europe between 1930 and 1939. Kaiser states that Germany undertook an "economic offensive" in Eastern Europe in 1931 and that the 1938 Munich agreements put that region's economic resources "at [German dictator Adolf] Hitler's feet." A reviewer in the New York Times Book Review observed that the book "has all the earmarks of an expanded Ph.D. dissertation," and, while praising the book as "ambitious and well executed," believed that most readers would prefer the "flavorful bacon of opinion to the dry minutiae of Rumanian pig exports." In the Times Literary Supplement, reviewer Paul M. Kennedy, noting Kaiser's contention that the British and the French should have checked Hitler's influence in Eastern Europe, objected that this foreign-policy critique is based on hindsight. Kennedy maintained that it was not clearly evident prior to 1939 that Hitler's economic aims extended beyond the incorporation of German-speaking peoples within the Reich. Nevertheless, he found Kaiser's book a "well-written, widely researched and useful study."

In 1977 Kaiser met and became friends with William Young, a rare book and art dealer in Massachusetts who had spent many years researching the famous Sacco-Vanzetti case. Shortly before Young died in 1980, he turned over a rough manuscript, his notes, and his conclusions about the case to Kaiser, who did additional research and rewrote the manuscript for publication. The book joined a sizable and distinguished group of publications on the "Tragedy in Dedham," as author Francis Russell named his popular and comprehensive account published in 1962. Nicola Sacco, a shoe worker, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a fish peddler, both Italian immigrants with associations in radical politics, were arrested in Massachusetts in 1920 and accused of an attempted payroll robbery in Bridgewater in which two guards were shot and killed. Sacco and Vanzetti were tried, convicted, and executed. The case quickly became an international cause célèbre because of what appeared to be prejudice against foreigners and anarchists on the part of the judge, the district attorney, and the police involved in the case. In 1962 Russell concluded in his book that Vanzetti was probably innocent and Sacco guilty. Some thirty years prior, Osmond K. Fraenkel, a New York lawyer and civil libertarian, had published The Sacco-Vanzetti Case, a book arguing that neither man was conclusively convicted of firing the fatal shots. Postmortem: New Evidence in the Case of Sacco and Vanzetti builds upon Fraenkel's claims and goes further by issuing evidence that the prosecution engaged in illegal actions to force the pair's conviction.

Postmortem, wrote William V. Shannon in the Washington Post Book World, "can be read as a series of fascinating footnotes and amplifications of Fraenkel and a rebuttal of Russell." In the New York Times Book Review, Richard J. Margolis wrote that Young and Kaiser's "plodding but persuasive study" presents a convincing argument that "appears to exonerate the victims while convicting the executioners." Shannon summarized that "on the deepest level, this book, like its several impressive predecessors, is a testament to the enduring American passion to learn the truth and to do justice, even if posthumously."

Kaiser's broad historical interests are evidenced in his 1990 book, Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler. The book examines the military conflicts that ranged across four centuries, including the Thirty Years' War, the English Civil War, and the French Revolution. Kaiser also probes the origins of the two World Wars of the twentieth century. Reviewer Hew Strachen stated in the Times Literary Supplement that Kaiser's attempt to provide an understanding of the logic of military battle succeeds "with considerable verve, providing en route, an excellent account of war's place in European international relations since 1559." Washington Post Book World contributor Ronald H. Spector, taking into consideration that the author's ambitious attempt to condense and comprehend 400 years of warfare would have built-in shortcomings, stated, "That the book hangs together at all is a tribute to Kaiser's boldness, imagination and wide-ranging scholarship."

The 1948 baseball season entered its final month in the run for the pennant with three teams, the Cleveland Indians, the New York Yankees, and the Boston Red Sox, neck and neck. Cleveland finally took the pennant from Boston, but the season was memorable for more than the tight finish. Larry Doby, the first African-American player in the American League, was on the Cleveland roster, and owner Bill Veeck had recruited pitcher Satchel Page from the Negro League. Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra were playing for the Yankees and Ted Williams for the Red Sox. The war was over, and Americans were passionate about their baseball.

In Epic Season: The 1948 American League Pennant Race Kaiser relies on interviews and newspaper accounts to paint a game-by-game picture of that memorable season. A Kirkus Reviews contributor felt that his undoing "is that too often he turns to statistics, frequently using them not so much for illumination as for support."

A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Kaiser's American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War a "masterpiece of governmental history." James William Gibson wrote in Harper's that Kaiser "attempts to argue that the conflict represented a series of well-intentioned mistakes made by the political elite, most notably Eisenhower, who formulated the containment policies that committed us to action in Vietnam, and Lyndon Johnson, who embraced those policies. In the middle stands John F. Kennedy, who ‘questioned whether Indochina was an appropriate place for the United States to fight,’ and who in Kaiser's view might have gotten us out, given more time."

Gibson wrote that "the tragedy, in Kaiser's view, lay in the U.S. government's ‘utter inability to abandon its conventional approach to the war.’ But as Kaiser's own scholarship shows, ‘unconventional warfare’ never could have succeeded either. No set of techniques could reverse the political insurgency in Vietnam; techniques could not create loyalty to [Ngo Dinh Diem, who had become leader of South Vietnam], and no other cohesive force—no ‘third way’—emerged. In truth, the only solution was to recognize that the war had been misguided, that it was lost, and to make accommodations with the National Liberation Front, the political arm of the Vietcong. This recognition came too late."

New York Times Book Review contributor Gideon Rose believed there is validity in the idea that Kennedy was hesitant to sanction significant military operations and in the perception that the war could not be won at a reasonable cost. "And Kaiser is not alone in seeing lost opportunities for withdrawal or the change in presidents as a crucial turning point," said Rose. "But there are arguments against these positions as well, especially against the implication that Kennedy would have walked away from South Vietnam had it begun to collapse on his watch rather than on his successor's."

Rose called Kaiser correct in arguing that "the American military's preferred strategy and tactics were ill-suited to the task at hand (at least during the first two-thirds of the war), and probably even right more generally that ‘South Vietnam was not a place to confront the Communists successfully.’ But his book does not help readers see why it took unusual insight and courage to appreciate the latter point at the time rather than in retrospect, nor why such a consistent if mistaken policy was followed for so long by so many."

Kaiser spent years poring over formerly classified documents in order to reach his conclusions. A Kirkus Reviews contributor said American Tragedy is "certain to excite discussion and even controversy." Library Journal reviewer Karl Helicher called Kaiser's research "first-rate." Jay Freeman commented in Booklist that Kaiser "deftly organizes a vast amount of data into a provocative and important contribution to the controversy."

Kaiser once told CA: "My interests are broad, broader than those of most professional historians. They include the origins of the two World Wars, the origins of war and international conflict more generally, American politics in the postwar period, and the literature of revolution in the twentieth century. I have written on two famous crimes, the Sacco-Vanzetti case—which I became interested in through a now dead friend, William Young—and the Kennedy assassination."



Booklist, February 1, 2000, Jay Freeman, review of American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War, p. 1006.

Harper's, April, 2000, James William Gibson, review of American Tragedy, p. 78.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1998, review of Epic Season: The 1948 American League Pennant Race.

Library Journal, March 1, 1998, John M. Maxymuk, review of Epic Season, p. 96; February 1, 2000, Karl Helicher, review of American Tragedy, p. 101.

New Republic, December 9, 1981, David E. Craig, review of Economic Diplomacy and the Origins of the Second World War: Germany, Britain, France, and Eastern Europe, 1930-1939, pp. 32-36.

New York Times Book Review, November 15, 1981, Neal Johnston, review of Economic Diplomacy and the Origins of the Second World War, p. 18; May 14, 2000, Gideon Rose, "Who Set up the Dominoes?"

Publishers Weekly, February 21, 2000, review of American Tragedy, p. 74.

Times Literary Supplement, June 26, 1981, review of Economic Diplomacy and the Origins of the Second World War, p. 737.

Washington Post Book World, December 23, 1990, Ronald H. Spector, review of Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler, p. 6.