David Holloway: Remarks at the John Lewis Legacy Conference, 13 January 2018

The following are remarks delivered by Professor David Holloway at the John Lewis Legacy conference on January 13, 2018.

John was a founder – CISAC, APARC, and Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford, to name but a few of his creations. And we honor founders. There is a passage somewhere in Montesquieu where he explains why we do so. It goes something like this: When institutions are first founded, it is the men who make the institutions; once the institutions have been created, it is they that make the men. In other words the founder’s ideas and values, embodied in the institution, shape those who come later. In that way John’s values are transmitted not only by his students, but also by the institutions he created.

One of the crucial values John embedded in CISAC was the need for dialogue with adversaries of the United States. It was important to talk to one’s potential enemies and to try to understand how they thought and why they thought the way they did. Only then could one pursue genuine cooperation. And John acted on this belief with great determination in arranging meetings and dialogues with Chinese, North Koreans, and Russians. This is a tradition that CISAC continues to this day. Tom Fingar and Bob Carlin and I are continuing work that John began in his last round of Track 2 efforts.

I first met John at the very end of 1982. He came on a visit to Edinburgh where I was teaching at the time. I had already accepted an invitation to spend three years at CISAC. The invitation had come from Condi Rice, whom I knew, but John must have approved the invitation. Jackie was with John in Edinburgh. I invited them to our home for a haggis dinner, but John declined, so I did not meet Jackie until we arrived in Palo Alto in August 1983.

I was bowled over by CISAC when I came to Stanford. John and Sid Drell had created a very active interdisciplinary community. I had never come across anything like it. It was a real treat to be working there. I feel very fortunate to have been able to spend a large part of my career here at Stanford, connected to CISAC.

John Lewis at his 80th birthday party.

I was struck when I first met John by how much he fitted my image of a certain type of American: tall and broad-shouldered, with a friendly manner and a big smile. He was almost a comic-book character. But of course he knew a great deal and he had a subtle mind. I used to watch with interest how Chinese and Russian specialists would respond to him. Those who knew him well knew, of course, what kind of mind he had, but it was interesting to watch Chinese and Russian interlocutors come to that realization. I know mainly from Russian colleagues how much they appreciated John’s genuine attempts to understand Russian views. He avoided the all too common trap of conveying to them that he knew better than they did what their true interests were.


here is an amusing short essay by CISAC’s first fellow from the Soviet Union. Arsenii Berezin, a physicist from Leningrad, came to CISAC in the fall of 1989. John and I had travelled to Moscow three times in the mid-1980s in an effort to build contacts with Soviet institutions, and Berezin’s stay at CISAC was a result of that. Berezin did not continue with work on arms control and went into business when he returned to Leningrad. He achieved modest fame as a writer of feuilletons. I want to quote two passages from an essay entitled “Keep Smiling Attitude.” Berezin captures a certain side of John’s character. It’s a slightly ironic but also affectionate tribute to John and to America (or at least California).

“After a week, the director of the Center, Professor Lewis, called me to his office. He sat me down in an armchair, offered me a cup of coffee, made a worried face, and asked:

                 ‘Bad news from home?

                  ‘No, nothing bad.’

                  ‘Then jetlag?

I had no jetlag. A couple of bottles of Californian wine over two evenings and my biorhythms had adjusted.

                  ‘Which wine?’ John Lewis wanted to know.

                  ‘Chardonnay from Sonoma Valley.’

                  ‘That’s fine. A good wine. Then it must be the climate. It’s hot. The eucalyptus trees give off a scent, everything is strange.’

                  ‘No, no again. The scent of the eucalyptus is in general healthy. I walk in the grove on purpose to breathe.

                  ‘So everything is fine? John asked gloomily.

                  ‘Simply great!’

                  ‘Then, if all at home are well, the jetlag has passed, the climate suits you, and in general everything is wonderful, why are you so sad, so gloomy? Look at yourself – my colleagues can’t work. ‘Why is Arsenii so sad here? What has happened to him, how can we help him? If nothing bad has happened, don’t traumatize people, smile – smile. It’s even written in our Rules of the Road: Be friendly! Keep a smiling attitude! The first policeman will take you to the police station for breaking that rule.

               Look out the window! The sky is blue, the sun is shining, the hummingbirds are flying, your office is comfortable, the coffee tastes good, the stipend is good – smile, for God’s sake, just the way I’m doing.’

He stretched out his jaw in an immense smile. I also, with a creak, drew my cheeks up to my ears and like that left him, holding the smile the whole length of the corridor to my office door. After that, every morning, going out to work, I looked in the mirror, stretched my mouth, grinned and continued that exercise in mimicry for several minutes. It was as strange for me as holding awkward positions when I took up fencing. But in the end I got used to it and even had some success. This was a task I couldn’t shirk! After two weeks I was already walking around like a normal Californian. I kept my idiotic smiling attitude and didn’t inspire in anyone the desire to give me humanitarian first aid.” 

Berezin was here during the Loma Prieta earthquake. He describes in the essay how people responded. They were disciplined. The traffic lights weren’t working, so people got out of cars and took off their red and green shirts to direct the traffic – and drivers followed their instructions. Shopkeepers offered free food for victims of the earthquake. At one point Berezin acquired a trolley full of fruit and other food and brought it to Galvez House, where CISAC was then housed. He was even given a box of Pedigree dog food, so he was able to feed John’s dog.

Berezin concludes his essay as follows:

“And so, when someone somewhere says how greedy Americans are, how soulless, how cruel, I remember the San Francisco earthquake, the volunteers at the crossroads naked to the waist, the shopkeepers of the small shops who, not waiting for appeals or orders, wheeled out their goods to give them to victims for free. The words ‘Are you a victim of the earthquake? Take this, whatever you want.’ still ring in my ears. They write, and they say, that it was different in New Orleans. I don’t know. I wasn’t in New Orleans. I was in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989 and remember with wonder what I witnessed. The most astonishing thing was that, in spite of the terrible natural disaster, they kept their smiling attitude, in accordance with the Rules of the Road of the state of California.”

I think this essay brings out several things: John’s concern for visiting fellows at the Center; his American-ness, as seen by Russian eyes; and also his wholeness – this is the same John Lewis that his former students have been describing. The same John Lewis who cared for those of us who fell under his wing and whom we all admired so much.