TISS Founder – Dr. Ropp

untitledOver the years, many persons have made important contributions to the Triangle Institute for Security Studies. Its true founder, however, is Dr. Theodore (Ted) Ropp. Although the organization has changed a lot over the last fifty years, his vision of military history, his understanding of the importance of intellectual collaboration, and above all his recognition of the need for the military, policy, and academic communities to work together, still inform our sense of mission.

Born in Hollywood, Ilinois on May 22, 1911, Dr. Ropp was the son of Irwin Ropp (an engineer of Austrian descent) and Margaret Esh (Ropp). He met and married his wife, a gifted musician, Elizabeth Chapman, at Oberlin College. They had three sons – Stephen, Frederick, and Paul – one of whom followed closely in his footsteps and teaches political science at the University of Wyoming. After graduating from Oberlin, Dr. Ropp, went on to Harvard University, where he earned his masters degree and then, in 1937, his doctorate in history. His dissertation was on the French Navy and he spent a year in Paris studying on a Sheldon Travelling Fellowship and living in the house of a Russian émigré family. His mentor, Dr. Langer, reputedly told him not to work too hard but “get around, see people and things.” (Irwin Abrams) This was undoubtedly advice that Dr. Ropp, a man with an enormous appetite for life, took to heart. He came to North Carolina in 1948 when he got an appointment at Duke University, and remained here until his death in December 2000.

Dr. Ropp was a man of varied talents, fluent in German, French, Italian, Afrikaans, possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge, and a remarkable intellect. He made an inestimable contribution to the study of war and military history. His War in the Modern World (first published in 1958 and still in print) is a classic in the study of war and led the way in establishing military history as more than the history of armies, navies, and campaigns.” (Joe Caddell) Besides this work he contributed to the Makers of Modern Strategy, Princeton University Press, 1943; edited, with Harold T. Parker, Historical Background of the World Today: A Synopsis, Rinehart, 1947; edited with David H. Pinkney, Festschrift for Frederick B. Artz, Duke University Press, 1964; and authored, The Historical Development of Contemporary Strategy, U.S. Air Force Academy, 1970; the History of War, Hamburg Press, 1984; and The Development of a Modern Navy: French Naval Policy, 1871-1904, edited by Stephen S. Roberts, Naval Institute Press, 1987. His very distinguished scholarly career was acknowledged by the award of a Social Science Research Council Fellowship, 1959-60.

It was, perhaps, as a teacher that Dr. Ropp made his most lasting mark. Known for his kindness and vibrant humor, “The Coach,” as he was affectionately dubbed, is still remembered with awe and fondness by his former students. (Joe Caddell) He made Duke University a leading institution in his field, producing more Ph.D. degrees in military history than any other school. He also insisted upon the importance of fostering interaction between the civilian and the military communities and the ties between the military history program at Duke and West Point grew quite close. He himself taught many officers, encouraging them to take the “longer view” of various military cultures and providing them with a profound understanding of war. (Robert Hickson)

It was Dr. Ropp who noticed the potential of our community here in the Triangle and who suggested that scholars attending Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill who shared an interest in the study of war and peace should form an association. He had an appreciation of the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation that was rare for its time. Under his aegis, military historians and other students of international security, gradually got into the habit of meeting together to discuss ideas. All the while he took a gleeful delight in our first (somewhat unfortunate!) acronym (D-UNC).

He continued to be a dedicated supporter of our organization when it joined forces with North Carolina State (an idea conceived by Dr. James (Jim) Leutze – one of Dr. Ropp’s students) and became TUSS and then when it became TISS. Several research projects (especially the Study of War Project, and the Study of Civil-Military Relations) develop themes and adopt approaches which Dr. Ropp understood to be vital. And generations of students once taught by Dr. Ropp, continue to play a central role in our organization, whether they are now teachers and scholars or went on to enjoy lengthy careers in government service. Many of them number among our most active members, others speak at our seminars and conferences, and yet others participate in our research projets.

The study of war and peace is as important now as it was when Dr. Ropp first wrought his magic on scholars tempted to pursue their research in isolated ivory towers and cajoled them into working together. His energy, brilliance, and good humor gave us our start. Now, as we approach the second half-century of our existence, we hope to continue to follow the path he laid in 1948.