After attending Loyola High School in Montreal – where he met Bora Karaman, one of his lifetime fellows and also mentors - Brzezinski entered McGill University in 1945 to obtain both his Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees (received in 1949 and 1950 respectively). His Master's thesis focused on the various nationalities within the Soviet Union. Brzezinski's plan for doing further studies in Great Britain in preparation for a diplomatic career in Canada fell through, principally because he was ruled ineligible for a scholarship he had won that was open to British subjects. Brzezinski then attended Harvard University to work on a doctorate, focusing on the Soviet Union and the relationship between the October Revolution, Vladimir Lenin's state, and the actions of Joseph Stalin. He received his doctorate in 1953; the same year, he traveled to Munich and met Jan Nowak-Jezioranski, head of the Polish desk of Radio Free Europe. He later collaborated with Carl J. Friedrich to develop the concept of totalitarianism as a way to more accurately and powerfully characterize and criticize the Soviets in 1956.
For historical background on major events during this period, see:
- History of Poland: The failure of reform Communism (1956–70), and
- 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
As a Harvard professor, he argued against Dwight Eisenhower's and John Foster Dulles's policy of rollback, saying that antagonism would push Eastern Europe further toward the Soviets. The Polish protests followed by Polish October and Hungarian Revolution in 1956 lent some support to Brzezinski's idea that the Eastern Europeans could gradually counter Soviet domination. In 1957, he visited Poland for the first time since he left as a child, and his visit reaffirmed his judgment that splits within the Eastern bloc were profound.
In 1958 he became a United States citizen. Despite his years of residence in Canada and the presence of family members there, he never became a Canadian citizen.
When in 1959 Brzezinski was not granted tenure at Harvard, he moved to New York City to teach at Columbia University. Here he wrote Soviet Bloc: Unity and Conflict, which focused on Eastern Europe since the beginning of the Cold War. He also became a member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and attended meetings of the Bilderberg Group.
During the 1960 U.S. presidential elections, Brzezinski was an advisor to the John F. Kennedy campaign, urging a non-antagonistic policy toward Eastern European governments. Seeing the Soviet Union as having entered a period of stagnation, both economic and political, Brzezinski correctly predicted the future breakup of the Soviet Union along lines of nationality (expanding on his master's thesis).
Brzezinski continued to argue for and support détente for the next few years, publishing "Peaceful Engagement in Eastern Europe" in Foreign Affairs, and supporting non-antagonistic policies after the Cuban Missile Crisis, on the grounds that such policies might disabuse Eastern European nations of their fear of an aggressive Germany and pacify Western Europeans fearful of a superpower condominium along the lines of the Yalta Conference.
In 1964, Brzezinski supported Lyndon Johnson's presidential campaign and the Great Society and civil rights policies, while on the other hand he saw Soviet leadership as having been purged of any creativity following the ousting of Khrushchev. Through Jan Nowak-Jezioranski, Brzezinski met with Adam Michnik, then a communist party member and future Polish Solidarity activist.
Brzezinski continued to support engagement with Eastern European governments, while warning against De Gaulle's vision of a "Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals." He also supported the Vietnam War. From 1966 to 1968, Brzezinski served as a member of the Policy Planning Council of the U.S. Department of State (President Johnson's October 7, 1966, "Bridge Building" speech was a product of Brzezinski's influence).
For historical background on events during this period, see:
- Six-Day War;
- Prague Spring, and
- Socialism with a human face;
- Tet offensive.
Events in Czechoslovakia further reinforced Brzezinski's criticisms of the right's aggressive stance toward Eastern European governments. His service to the Johnson administration, and his fact-finding trip to Vietnam, made him an enemy of the New Left, despite his advocacy of de-escalation of the United States' involvement in the war.
For the 1968 U.S. presidential campaign, Brzezinski was chairman of the Hubert Humphrey Foreign Policy Task Force. He advised Humphrey to break with several of President Johnson's policies, especially concerning Vietnam, the Middle East, and condominium with the Soviet Union.
Brzezinski called for a pan-European conference, an idea that would eventually find fruition in 1973 as the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Meanwhile he became a leading critic of both the Nixon-Kissinger détente condominium, as well as McGovern's pacifism.
In his 1970 piece Between Two Ages: America's Role in the Technetronic Era, Brzezinski argued that a coordinated policy among developed nations was necessary in order to counter global instability erupting from increasing economic inequality. Out of this thesis, Brzezinski co-founded the Trilateral Commission with David Rockefeller, serving as director from 1973 to 1976. The Trilateral Commission is a group of prominent political and business leaders and academics primarily from the United States, Western Europe and Japan. Its purpose was to strengthen relations among the three most industrially advanced regions of the capitalist world. Brzezinski selected Georgia governor Jimmy Carter as a member.
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