John Tirman, political theorist and executive director of the MIT Center for International Studies, dies at 72 | MIT News


John Tirman, an MIT researcher in political theory and an expert on US-Iranian relations and human security, died on the morning of August 19 after suffering cardiac arrest. He was 72 years old.

Since 2004, Tirman has served as Executive Director and Senior Fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies (CIS). During this time, he was a prolific and thoughtful – but still modest – leader of many of the center’s initiatives.

He has led several projects on US-Iranian relations, organized conferences and published on the regional dimension of the war in Iraq, the role of terrorism in disrupting diplomatic relations and the challenges of political instability in the Persian Gulf. He has also written extensively on the human costs of war to civilian populations in war zones and on forced migration.

Tirman has co-authored and edited more than 15 books on international affairs, including, most recently, “Republics of Myth: National Narratives and the US-Iran Conflict” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2022), “Dream Chasers: Immigration and the American Backlash” (MIT Press, 2015) and “The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars” (Oxford University Press, 2011).

Previous works included: “Women, Migration, and Conflict: Breaking a Deadly Cycle” (Springer, 2009); a post-9/11 special series jointly organized by The New Press and the Social Science Research Council, “The Maze of Fear: Security and Migration After 9/11”; “The Fallacy of Star Wars” (1984), the first major critique of strategic defense; and “Spoils of War: The Human Cost of the US Arms Trade” (1997).

Additionally, he has published over 100 articles in periodicals such as The nation, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Squire, The Wall Street Journaland Boston review.

“John was an exceptionally capable and reliable partner in leading CIS,” shares Richard Samuels, director of CIS and Ford International Professor of Political Science. “As well as handling a wide range of administrative responsibilities, he maintained a regular and prolific program of research and publication. The center and the wider intellectual community benefited immensely from John’s commitment to exploring the intersection of human security and international affairs – what he called “the consequences of war for the innocent caught in the conflict “. What was there not to admire in this handsome public intellectual?

“John was a good friend, a capable administrator and an excellent scholar. Most importantly, he was the conscience of our center, with an intense commitment to human rights, justice and truth,” says Kenneth Oye, CIS Emerging Technologies Program Director and Science Professor policies, data systems and society. “John followed the march with thoughtless assessments of the civilian costs of war. John supported those who had the courage to cross the lines of ethnic and religious conflict. John brought new scholarship to CIS by inviting senior practitioners to MIT through the Robert E Wilhelm Fellowship Program. John has supported truth tellers by helping to bring courageous journalists from conflict zones to MIT through the Neuffer program and by encouraging frontline reporting through the Institute for War Peace Reporting. He will be greatly missed.”

“For female IEC professors, like me, his support was especially critical — he cared deeply about ensuring everyone was at the table and had a voice,” says Elizabeth Wood, MIT history professor and co-director of the MIT-Eurasia program. “He had an outsized influence in making the center an exceptional place for discussion that led to new thinking, for discussion that meant people cared deeply about their ideas and how they affected the world as a whole. .”

Anat Biletzki, CIS affiliate researcher and co-founding director with Tirman of the center’s human rights and technology program, says, “Working with John on the human rights and technology program meant bringing together MIT’s tech strengths (and amazing tech-centric students) with the call for morals that should never be ignored, especially when it comes to tech. The strength of this combination has been given, in John’s hands, a modest focus of excellence which we must continue to hold in his memory. I see it as the paradigm of Hannah Arendt’s concept of “radical goodness”. Biletzki is the Albert Schweitzer Professor of Philosophy at Quinnipiac University.

Before coming to MIT in 2004, Tirman was program director of the Social Science Research Council. From 1986 to 1999, he was executive director of the Winston Foundation for World Peace, a leading funder of work to prevent nuclear war and promote nonviolent conflict resolution. In 1999-2000 he was Fulbright Senior Scholar in Cyprus and produced an educational website on the conflict. He was a director of International Alert, Mother Jones magazine, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and the Center for Contemporary Art at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

“John’s initial support through the Winston Foundation was crucial to the National Security Archive’s work on Iran. Later, he assembled a wonderful group to launch a large-scale project on the checkered history of US-Iranian relations. His love of international affairs, his deep passion for the exploration and dissemination of knowledge, especially on fundamental human subjects such as victims of war, his leadership and initiative, his warm and generous friendship and encouragement, and during in recent months her dignity in the face of serious health issues have permanently affected many of us,” says Malcolm Byrne, CIS-affiliated researcher and co-author with Tirman of his latest book, “Republics of Myth.” . Byrne is Deputy Director and Research Director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

“It’s no exaggeration at all to say that I owe my academic career and life trajectory to him in part,” says CIS-affiliated researcher Hussein Banai, co-author with Tirman and Byrne of “Republics of Myth.” and associate professor. at the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies at Indiana University Bloomington. “He was a mentor, a generous benefactor, an intellectual resource and a kind and dear friend. I will miss his erudition, the warmth of his presence and his acerbic charm.

Tirman studied at Indiana University and received a BA in 1972. He received his Ph.D. from Boston University. His mentors included Howard Zinn, Frances Fox Piven, Murray Levin and Alasdair MacIntyr.

“As committed and passionate as he was to his research, John brought that same dedication as a father to our beloved daughter Coco, and to so many other outside interests he shared with us, including his love for trips,” says Nike Tirman, his ex-wife and mother of Coco Tirman.

The center and Tirman’s family will hold a memorial event in his honor. Please contact Michelle English if you would like to submit a personal tribute and stay informed of upcoming activity.


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