William R. Polk, Historian and Middle East Envoy, Dies at 91

William R. Polk, Historian and Middle East Envoy, Dies at 91


William R. Polk, a longtime historian, diplomat and noted Middle East scholar who served negotiate resolutions to conflicts, such as the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, died on Monday at his residence in Vence, in southeast France, close to the Mediterranean Sea. He was 91.

His daughter Milbry Polk mentioned the lead to was leukemia.

Around 6 many years, Mr. Polk delved into many professions, operating in and out of govt, crafting, co-writing or modifying extra than two -dozen textbooks and traveling the globe, generally to scorching places.

His academic history was in Center East research. In the late 1950s, he started off creating content in The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs and other publications detailing what he saw as the failures of American plan in the region. In 1961 President John F. Kennedy put him in demand of arranging coverage for most of the Islamic globe.

He also served on Kennedy’s three-male “crisis administration committee” for the duration of the Cuban Missile Disaster.

Mr. Polk’s curiosity in geopolitics was fueled in aspect by his more mature brother, George, a CBS radio correspondent dependent in Greece. George, who was 17 a long time more mature than William, was murdered in 1948 although masking the Greek civil war. The future calendar year, Long Island University set up the George Polk Awards for investigative reporting the prizes stay between the most coveted in journalism.

William Polk devoted considerably of his everyday living to figuring out what had happened to George, which include inspecting the historical context of his death. The dying has been a secret for many years, with the Greek governing administration accusing the Communists of killing him, and the Communists accusing the government. Milbry Polk stated that her father experienced recently done a reserve about him (not nonetheless revealed) titled “The Initial Casualty.”

“For my closing reserve,” Mr. Polk wrote in an unpublished selection of letters to relatives and pals, “I have turned back again to a process I have been putting off for nearly fifty percent a century — a form of biography of my brother George, the unmasking of his killers and the transformation of the planet on which George was reporting.”

However he was a historian, William Polk was no armchair tutorial. In 1971 he put in a thirty day period crossing, by camel, the shifting pink sands of the terrific Nefud Desert in the Arabian Peninsula to seize the vanishing way of life of the Bedouin and to better understand an ancient poem, the “Golden Ode,” by Labid Ibn Rabiah, a pre-Islamic Arab poet. His compact caravan traveled from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to Amman, Jordan, an arduous 1,200-mile tour that had not been performed by camel in more than 50 years.

Mr. Polk wrote about the journey in his e book “Passing Brave” (1971), and he released his translation of the poem, with his commentary, in “The Golden Ode” (1974). Both books highlighted photos by William J. Mares, who had accompanied him.

“He was a classical Arabist,” his daughter claimed. “He wished to working experience the poet’s words and phrases himself instead than sit in a university and translate them.”

William Roe Polk was born on March 7, 1929, in Fort Value, exactly where he grew up. His father, George Washington Polk, was a attorney and rancher. His mother, Adelaide Elizabeth (Roe) Polk, was a librarian.

One particular of five young children, Mr. Polk was descended from James K. Polk, the Tennessee Democrat who became the 11th president of the United States, from 1845 to 1849. A long time afterwards, Mr. Polk wrote “Polk’s Folly: An American Family members History” (2000), in which he traced his forebears’ saga given that their arrival in Maryland in 1680 and confirmed how it experienced paralleled the advancement of the nation.

His ancestors served in each individual one of the country’s wars, which includes on each sides of the Civil War — a pedigree that influenced him to go to large college at the New Mexico Armed service Institute, where by he properly trained in the cavalry.

He graduated in 1945, but before likely on to university he researched Spanish in Mexico and Chile. He joined his brother George, then in Cairo, for a time, and worked briefly as a reporter for The Rome Day by day American.

He then immersed himself in a 10 years of teachers, commencing at Harvard, exactly where he gained a bachelor’s degree in historical past in 1951. From there he went to Oxford, where he gained yet another bachelor’s diploma, this one in Arabic and Aged Turkish. He went again to Harvard for his Ph.D. in background, which he gained in 1958, then again to Oxford for his master’s in Arabic and Old Turkish in 1959.

From 1955 to 1961, he was an assistant professor of Center Jap reports at Harvard, just before joining the Point out Division less than Kennedy.



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