With the passing of Dan McMichael, whom I had the privilege to know for nearly five decades, we mourn the loss of one of the greatest of the greatest generation.
Having fought in World War II, Dan became a brilliant strategist with a superb tactical ability as well to identify, build, and work with diverse coalitions of individuals and groups who shared his vision. He understood that the threats to freedom came in many forms and from many quarters, from at home and abroad, but none more dangerous than the Soviet Union, of whose ideology, strategy, and tactics he had an intimate grasp. Having had the satisfaction of witnessing the breakup of the Soviet Union, Dan nevertheless recognized that the challenges to security and liberty transcended the Cold War.
Therefore, he remained actively engaged professionally, addressing the twenty-first-century issues until the very end of his long life. Never a person for small talk, a conversation with Dan quickly led to probing dialogues and discussions from which I always emerged with a sharper grasp of the issue at hand. He possessed vast knowledge across many subjects and fields about which he never stopped learning, thanks to his probing mind, informed insights, and creative intellect. For me, and I am sure for countless others, he was the alternative and antidote to “strategic loneliness.” His unique ability to connect the dots between the international and the domestic, between national security and individual liberty, formed the basis for the huge network of outstanding public policy groups, think-tanks, and educational programs that he helped to create.
In turn, they contributed decisively and exerted their multiplier effect on the intellectual-strategic-political landscape in the final decades of the twentieth century that helped topple the Soviet empire and now continue to shape the public policy debate in the present century. Understanding the importance of ideas and the need for strategy as the basis for action, he fought courageously against the conventional wisdom and political correctness that so often cloud our strategic judgment. One of his favorite phrases was “cutting-edge” ideas, by which he meant thinking outside the box about such topics as strategy, security, liberty, and the role of the individual in a society of limited government. He leaves an enduring legacy that will continue far into the future to influence all whose lives he touched.
Robert L. Pfaltzgraff Jr. is president of the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis and Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of International Security Studies in the Fletcher School at Tufts University.