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Title: Peter Irons Interview II
Narrator: Peter Irons
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Lorraine Bannai (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 27, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-ipeter-02-0002

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PI: So I remember I was released from prison in February of 1969. And in New England there was a huge blizzard going on. I got out of prison. My brother Rockwell picked me up, drove me to Boston. And I was supposed to start graduate school the next day at Boston University. It was in the middle of the semester, as a matter of fact. I'd missed the first month and a half or so. And it was just a real blizzard. I walked all the way from Beacon Hill to Boston University, because the trolleys and subway weren't running. And I got there, and I remember going into the political science department and looking for, I had been registered for a class in, I think Marxist theory, that Howard was teaching. And I walked up the stairs, and this, there was this little seminar room. I just, I walked in. I'd never, still never met him. And I was shaking snow off and I said, "I'm Peter Irons." I was a little late. And he said, "Oh, sit down." And we just started right in like that as if I had been there all along. So I spent three years in graduate school at Boston University. Now, I have to confess that I did not enjoy graduate school, most of it. The only two things I did enjoy were working with Howard. I became one of his teaching assistants. He taught a course, a very, very popular course, usually enrolled, oh, several hundred students, called Justice in America. And we put together a curriculum for that. There weren't any textbooks that were any good. So he put together his own material. We later published a book called Justice in America, or Justice in Everyday Life was the title of the book. And it was based on papers that students had written, going out and investigating in the Boston area, you know, the injustices that happened to people -- not only major injustices, criminal things, but just minor things, you know, being dealt with badly by landlords and real estate agents and welfare agencies, things like that. So I really enjoyed that.

And the other thing I enjoyed, which is not true of most graduate students, was working on my dissertation. And don't remember how I picked the topic, but the topic for my dissertation was America's Cold War Crusade. And it was the study of the relation between domestic politics and foreign policy during the early Cold War period. I do remember it had been stimulated by reading a book by a historian named William Appleman Williams at the University of Wisconsin. And it was sort of a revisionist kind of history that looked at American policy at the end of the war. We were by far the most powerful country in the world. The Soviet Union was in very bad shape. Even though we had won the war, most of Europe and the Americans dominated -- setting up the Marshall Plan and NATO -- dominated the world. And at the same time, there was this very strong anti-Communist McCarthyism began really right after the war before McCarthy himself became, gave his name to McCarthyism. At any rate, that's what I worked on. And I did a lot of research, primary research. I really enjoyed doing that.

And at the time I finished graduate school, which was 1973, I -- and this was a time when the universities in Boston were turning out Ph.Ds in droves. A lot of people, especially young men, had gone to graduate school largely to escape the draft. And as long as you stayed in school you were safe. And so there were, the joke was that almost all the taxi drivers in Boston had Ph.Ds. And I was very, I wasn't sure where I could find a job. I finally wound up at Boston State College, which was basically a teacher-training school, a night school. I taught at night. Taught sociology, urban politics, things like that, and was basically not, the working conditions were terrible. The pay was terrible. The building we worked in was a warehouse. The students were very interesting. A lot of older students, working-class students, most of them Irish, Italian, and black. For some reason I had a lot of nuns and police officers and firefighters in my classes. And it was, we had a lot of debates on social issues in those classes. But it was, I was not in an institution that had tenure. There was, I had no guarantee of where I would go, what I would do.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.