Secretary Carter praises mentors Sid Drell and Bill Perry

sidney drell
Sidney Drell ©Christian Pease


Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter praised two Stanford luminaries during his Pentagon policy speech on cybersecurity. He gave the annual Drell Lecture for Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. The lecture is named for theoretical physicist and arms control expert Sidney Drell, the center’s co-founder, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and former director of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Drell and former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry – a FSI senior fellow and consulting professor at CISAC – were both mentors to Carter. Drell could not attend due to illness and Perry was in the audience. Here are the comments Carter made about the two men who had such a significant impact on his life:

Thank you, Dr. Hennessy, for that introduction. And thanks to all my many friends and colleagues here at Stanford for the opportunity to be with you today. It’s a special privilege for me to give the Sidney Drell Lecture, and I need to tell you why.

I began my career in elementary particle physics, and the classic textbook in relativistic quantum field theory was Bjorken and Drell, entitled Relativistic Quantum Fields, which described the first of what are known as gauge field theories, namely quantum electrodynamics. Here is my copy of Bjorken and Drell, with my hand marking in the margins.

For my doctorate in theoretical physics, I worked on quantum chromodynamics, a gauge field theory of the force by which quarks are held together to make sub-nuclear particles. And at Oxford University’s department of theoretical physics, the external thesis examiner for my doctorate was none other than Sidney Drell.

When I visited the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in subsequent years as a post-doc, I remember sitting on the porch of the rambling ranch house right here on the Stanford campus that Sid and Harriet Drell lived in. As post-docs tend to do, I would hang around their house at dinnertime hoping that Harriet would invite me in to dinner, which she usually did. Sometimes their daughter Persis would be there, who is now, of course, the dean of engineering here at Stanford University.

A few years later, Sid was assisting the assembly of a team of scientists for the U.S. Congress on a topic that preoccupied Cold War Washington at the time: how to base the ten-warhead MX intercontinental ballistic missile so that it could not be destroyed in a first strike by 3,000 equivalent megatons of Soviet throw-weight atop their SS-18 missile. He recommended that I join this team. Sid Drell as an inspiration to all those who worked in those years to control the danger of nuclear weapons. This was the beginning of my involvement in national security affairs.

About that time, I got to meet then-Under Secretary of Defense in charge of technology and procurement for the Department of Defense. He impressed me with how lucid and logical he was, and how well he applied technical thinking to national security problems. That Under Secretary was of course William Perry, who is also present here today, and who later because Deputy Secretary of Defense and finally Secretary of Defense in a progression that I have followed some 20 years later. Bill has been a major figure in my life, including standing in for my father at my wedding.

So I thank both Sid Drell and Bill Perry, and many, many other colleagues and friends here at CISAC, at the Freeman Spogli Institute, at the hoover Institution, and in the engineering faculty. I especially thank everyone for their warm welcome for me as a visitor earlier this academic year. Not quite two months into it, on a fateful Monday morning in November, though, duty called. And I found myself nominated by President Obama to be Secretary of Defense. 

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