In 1928, Zbigniew Brzezinski was born into a Polish family, with a father who was a diplomat. After living in a number of countries, the family moved to Canada in 1938, as a result of a new diplomatic posting. They soon decided to remain in Montreal, however, for Poland fell under the control of the Soviet Union in 1945. In 1950, Dr. Brzezinski obtained his master’s degree from McGill University and later attended Harvard University for his doctorate. In 1956, he worked with Carl J. Friedrich to develop the notion of totalitarianism as a way to more accurately and forcefully classify and criticize the Soviets. Despite years of residence and the presence of family in Canada, Dr. Brzezinski decided to obtain U.S. citizenship in 1958 because he felt he could make a stronger impact in America. “I felt that America has the greater capacity for influencing world affairs for the good, and thus helping to fashion a more international system that would therefore also help Poland.”
In 1960, Dr. Brzezinski became a professor at Columbia University, where he went on to head the Institute on Communist Affairs. He remained at Columbia until 1989, while also starting a parallel political career. He was an advisor to the John F. Kennedy 1960 U.S. presidential campaign, urging a non-antagonistic policy toward Eastern European governments. Among other political responsibilities throughout the years, Dr. Brzezinski served as a member of the Policy Planning Council of the U.S. Department of State. He called for a pan-European conference, an idea that resulted in the 1973 Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Out of his piece entitled Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, he cofounded with David Rockefeller the Trilateral Commission and served as director from 1973 to 1976. Brzezinski selected Georgia governor Jimmy Carter as a member. Upon becoming U.S. president in 1977, Carter chose Dr. Brzezinski for the position of National Security Adviser, where he encouraged the president to engage with the People’s Republic of China. The new relationship between the U.S. and China was instrumental in the Cold War, for it brought China to the side of the US scientific, technological and cultural interchange — and trade relations also resulted from diplomatic relations.
In 1981, Dr. Brzezinski received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role in the normalization of U.S.-China relations and for his contributions to the human rights and national security policies of the United States. He is currently a professor of American Foreign Policy at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a counselor and trustee of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. For all of the world changing ideas Dr. Brzezinski set in motion, he never forgot his roots. He made a visit to Poland in 1977, and of his visit, he says, “There was a shift in the definition of my identity. I realized that I was no longer a Pole, but an American of Polish descent.”