Dumb Luck

Question: When did you first understand your life's purpose?

Jim Woolsey: My mother always wanted me to go to law school and to come back and practice law at my father’s firm.  And being an only child and somewhat independent, of course that was the last thing I was going to do.  I was always very interested in history.  Still I am.  I spent most of my years of junior high school, high school, and college thinking I was going to be a professor of history, mainly modern Europe focusing on Germany. I learned to speak German when I was a freshman at Stanford and was passably good at it, not great.  Studied at Stanford’s branch campus in Germany.  Worked in a German refugee camp – a Red Cross refugee camp in West Berlin in the summer of 1960 when I was 18.  That was a year before the wall went up, so we were helping refugees who were trying to get across before something happened.  We didn’t know what it was going to be, but it was going to be something.  And I finally decided about halfway through my first year at Oxford that I really wasn’t the sort of person who was going to be happy spending most of my life in a library writing books.  I might want to write one sometime, but I haven’t yet.  So I almost, by default, turned back to law.  I went to Yale Law School, loved it, did reasonably well and was headed for full time law practice – probably with a very fine Los Angeles firm where I’d interned during the summer, … & Meyers – when I had to go on active duty because I held an ROTC commission.  I was assigned to the Pentagon working on intelligence matters, and I’d been there about six months. 

Recorded on: 7/2/07

Woolsey talks about how he planned to be a professor of history, but then his life took a different turn.

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