May 22, 2008
In his memoir Entering New Worlds, Max Kampelman wrote that he was the product of a generation of immigrants who “were planted in the nourishing soil of American democracy.” He grew in that soil into a distinctively American citizen and statesman—a champion of freedom at home and abroad, a realist with vision in the cause of peace, an optimist who has never lost faith in mankind’s capacity to overcome evil and build a better and safer world.
In his career as a lawyer, political adviser, and diplomat, Max never lost touch with his roots in Jewish scholarship and ethics, in the labor movement’s commitment to social justice, or in the pacifist teachings that led him, as a conscientious objector in World War II, to volunteer as a guinea pig in a starvation experiment.
His grounding in these experiences gave him a distinct moral perspective that was his compass when he entered the world of politics and policy and engaged in ever widening spheres of public service—as an aide, confidant, and friend of Hubert Humphrey; as the head of the U.S. delegation to the human rights Helsinki review conference in Madrid; as President Reagan’s chief negotiator in the nuclear arms control talks with the Soviet Union; and today as the motivating force behind a new initiative to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
As a political actor, Max does not fit into any simple niche or category, and he transcends the partisan divisions that increasingly characterize our national politics. “No one who accepts the sovereignty of truth,” he has written, quoting the late philosopher Sidney Hook, “can be a foot soldier in a party or movement. He will always find himself out of step.”
And so Max is a long-time Democrat who served a Republican President; a tough-minded realist in foreign policy who is prepared to think in new ways about how to eliminate weapons of mass destruction; a practical man of affairs who never tires of telling us that we can change what is if only we are guided by our vision of what ought to be.
Like his hero Andrei Sakharov, who insisted during his darkest days of internal exile in the Soviet Union that disarmament, international security, and trust were inconceivable without an open society and the basic freedoms of expression, association, movement, and conscience, Max continues to maintain that our ideals and interests are inextricably linked, and that democracy is the only lasting foundation of world peace.
For his life-long service to America and to the cause of freedom and democracy throughout the world, the National Endowment for Democracy is proud to present its Democracy Service Medal to Max Kampelman.