Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Rostow, Walt Whitman (1916–2003)

U.S. special assistant to the president for national security affairs (1966–1969). Born in New York City on 7 October 1916, Walt Rostow studied economics at Yale University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University (1936–1938). He then completed a PhD at Yale and taught at Columbia University. During World War II he served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Following the war, Rostow joined the U.S. State Department as assistant chief of the German-Austrian Division. He also worked on developing the Marshall Plan but returned to the academic world in 1950, teaching economics at Oxford University, Cambridge University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His academic work centered on providing alternatives to Marxist models and historical theories of economic development. In 1960 he published The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. This book greatly impressed Senator John F. Kennedy, to whom Rostow became an informal advisor in the 1960 presidential campaign.

When Kennedy became president in 1961, he appointed Rostow as deputy to McGeorge Bundy, the special assistant to the president for national security affairs. Later that year, Rostow became chairman of the State Department's Policy Planning Council. A hawk as far as U.S. involvement in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, South Vietnam) was concerned, he sought the expansion of U.S. aid and programs there as well as the bombing of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, North Vietnam).

After Kennedy's assassination in 1963, Rostow continued to work for President Lyndon B. Johnson. In March 1966, Johnson appointed Rostow special assistant to the president for national security affairs. Rostow remained unshaken in his belief that the United States could win the Vietnam War. In 1967 he called for the extension of the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam and opposed an unconditional bombing halt as well as the March 1968 decision to open negotiations with the North Vietnamese government.

Following the election to the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, Rostow resigned in January 1969 and joined the University of Texas at Austin as a professor of economics and history. In his subsequent writings, he continued to defend his position regarding the Vietnam War, arguing that the U.S. stance had helped stabilize the remainder of Southeast Asia. Rostow died in Austin, Texas, on 13 February 2003.

Spencer C. Tucker


Further Reading
Halberstam, David. The Best and the Brightest. New York: Random House, 1972.; Rostow, Walt W. The Diffusion of Power, 1957–1972: An Essay in Recent History. New York: Macmillan, 1972.
 

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