By JOHN GUSTAFSON
For several years a small group of retired friends and I have been meeting informally at a restaurant here in the Washington, DC, area to talk about international affairs and East Asia. Two of us are University of Oregon alumni. The management seats us downstairs, away from the regular lunch crowd where our spirited talk won’t bother other customers—our discussions often last three hours, and more than a few beers. We leave nice tips.
Our talks are wide-ranging, from what it was like growing up in China many decades ago (two of our group were youngsters there) to whether future conflict with that country is inevitable. We opine about avoiding nuclear proliferation in East Asia and discuss trade relations with that region.
We call ourselves the Far East Lunch Group. That’s a salute to a UO history course taught nearly 60 years ago—the Far East in Modern Times—and the man who made the class so compelling: Professor Paul Dull.
Professor Dull was a Marine officer and Japanese language specialist during World War II. On December 7, 1941, he was stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii, during the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the war, Professor Dull became an eminent scholar and historian, lecturing and writing about the Far East, the role of the Japanese Navy, and events during and after WWII.
But his first love was teaching. Professor Dull taught respect for the Japanese people, whose government had been taken over by militarists who ruled by assassination. If you wrote the hateful abbreviation “Jap” on an essay test in one of his exams—which was not so unusual in those days—he warned that the correct abbreviation “Jse” should be used or your grade would be lowered.
Though Professor Dull was a forceful lecturer and a dedicated teacher—one of the first professors to receive the university’s Ersted Award for Distinguished Teaching—he had a self-deprecating sense of humor and student-like priorities; one of my friends recalls that, reportedly ill, Professor Dull was away from class for a few days every year during the World Series.
Professor Dull died in 1981, but I can still picture him in his thick—almost Coke-bottle-thick—glasses, in the spring of 1959, giving his traditional senior lecture, the final lecture of the year. Every spring, several hundred of his current and former students crammed into the auditorium near what is now the Charles H. Lundquist College of Business to hear his observations about East Asia and its potential impact on the United States and the world in the years to come.
Professor Dull instilled curiosity and understanding about the importance of the Far East and the vital role it would play in the future of America and the world, urging us to stay informed and encouraging us to get involved in world affairs. Without knowing and understanding history, he argued, we could not understand the forces that shape the future. He reminded us that the United States is an island nation; our future and the future of the world depends on safe and open seas for trade, defense, and a peaceful world. We cannot and should not isolate ourselves from the rest of the world.
One of the members of our lunch group—my friend Elliott Carlson—is a journalist and historian. Since his retirement, he has written two books about US naval history in the Far East during WWII, the first of which won a national award. He credits Professor Dull with sparking his interest in history.
Elliott and I wrote editorials together for the Oregon Daily Emerald back in 1959. Professor Dull gave us the thrill of a lifetime by commenting, during a lecture, on one of our editorials. It was called “Life in Happy Valley,” and in it we criticized the complacency of UO students and our lack of interest of public affairs. He strongly agreed with our editorial.
Professor Dull was an inspiration to us and many other Oregon students, and that continues to this day.
John Gustafson edited the Oregon Daily Emerald editorial page in 1959. He retired from public service in 2005 after receiving the US Environmental Protection Agency’s highest honor, the EPA Distinguished Career Service Award. He and his wife live in the Washington, DC, area.