Little known facts: Dr. Willmoore Kendall

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Dr. Kendall converses with fellow faculty members during his time at UD. Photo courtesy of the UD Archives.

Dr. Willmoore Kendall, the founder of the University of Dallas’ Politics Department, “was born of Kentucky stock in a small town called Kenawa in Oklahoma,” according to former UD professor Dr. Leo Paul de Alvarez’s essay, “Willmoore Kendall: American Conservative.”

“His father, a blind Methodist minister, was constantly on the move, serving one small town after another, and it was in the closed societies of those small towns that he always said he learned his fundamental lessons about American politics,” wrote de Alvarez.

Kendall taught himself to read at the age of two, graduated high school at the age of thirteen, and was admitted to Northwestern University as the youngest student to ever be accepted.

He took his Bachelors and Masters in Romance languages, becoming fluent in French and Spanish. In 1932, Kendall was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship and earned his B.A. in economics from Oxford in 1935.

After graduation,  Kendall found himself in the midst of the  bloody Spanish Civil War while working as a foreign correspondent for the United Press Association. When Kendall departed for Spain he was a young and enthusiastic Trotskyite, but after his experience in Madrid, Kendall became a fierce anti-communist, according to Dr. Chris Owen, a professor of history at Northeastern State University.

After 1936, Kendall returned to Oxford to earn his Masters, and in 1940 received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois. Kendall taught for two years before taking up several government positions focused on South America.

In 1946, Kendall was instrumental in exposing Maurice Halperin as a Soviet agent. When Halperin was forced to resign from the State Department, Kendall took his position, according to Owen.

After a short stint with the State Department, Kendall became the chief of the Latin American Division in the CIA’s Office of Reports and Estimates. In 1947, the CIA was still in transition from the legendary OSS, its WWII predecessor, and the policy for how the CIA should operate going forward was still being decided.

In the ensuing debate, Kendall argued that the intelligence community’s “compulsive preoccupation with prediction” had led the CIA to see “the course of events… not as something you try to influence but as a tape [to be read,]” wrote Kendall in his 1949 article, “The Function of Intelligence.”

In the same article, Kendall argued for an alternate approach.

He wrote that “an intelligence operation built upon a concept of the research process in the social sciences that assign due weight to “‘theory’…  would enable [personnel] to work under conditions calculated to encourage thought… [and] would, above all, give them… access to… the raw data of the developing situation in the outside world.”

Kendall’s views were not adopted by the CIA, but his time with the agency got him a strong recommendation that led to a position at Yale University, according to Owen.

Kendall was the kind of man who “delighted in making difficulties,” wrote de Alvarez, and he “promptly enmeshed himself in controversy” at Yale.

“A wanderer by nature, he was encouraged to wander, so that he was never at Yale for more than two consecutive years at a time,” wrote de Alvarez. “But, despite all, the students came to him and he became known throughout the nation as one of the great teachers of political philosophy.”

Moreover, while not at Yale, Kendall kept busy as the Chairman of Project POWOW (Military Psychological Warfare) out of Johns Hopkins University from 1950-54. POWOW was sophisticated marketing and propaganda techniques used to influence the enemy’s moral and strategic decisions. Kendall applied his work with great success during the Korean War, traveling to the Korean peninsula between 1950 and 1952, according to Owen.

Kendall also worked for one of his previous students, William F. Buckley, Jr., as the senior editor of National Review.

Kendall left Yale with a “unique settlement,” as de Alvarez put it.

Yale actually paid Kendall to leave the university, according to Dr. John Alvis.

After divorcing himself from Yale, Kendall wandered between different teaching institutions and Europe. He found his lovely wife Nellie during these years, but they were dark ones nonetheless because he seemed to have lost his purpose, according to de Alvarez.

“But in his last years, everything seemed to cohere,” wrote de Alvarez.

“He came to the University of Dallas, a Catholic university, for he had converted to Roman Catholicism, to start his own undergraduate and graduate programs in political philosophy,” continued de Alvarez.

Furthermore, “he [had] found a wife and a home and said that his days of wandering were at an end. He was doing everything that he believed was important to do,” concluded de Alvarez.

Thus, we conclude our brief look at Dr. Kendall’s life before UD. However, we are far from finished. Tune back in next week to learn about Dr. Kendall’s unique form of conservatism, what it was like to take a class with him, and his influence on UD.

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