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Lincoln Palmer Bloomfield, professor emeritus of political science, dies at 93

Longtime member of the MIT faculty was noted for his work on containing conflict and averting nuclear escalation.
Professor emeritus of political science Lincoln Palmer Bloomfield gave his final lecture at MIT upon his retirement in 1991.
Professor emeritus of political science Lincoln Palmer Bloomfield gave his final lecture at MIT upon his retirement in 1991.
Photo courtesy of the Bloomfield family

Professor emeritus of political science Lincoln Palmer Bloomfield died Oct. 30 of respiratory failure. He was 93.

Bloomfield was a public servant, educator, and author. He was noted for his work on containing conflict and averting nuclear escalation; developing the role of the United Nations; rationalizing the foreign-policy planning process; and managing future competition in the “global commons” of the Arctic and outer space.

Building on experimentation by the RAND Corporation, Bloomfield developed the contemporary model for political military war-gaming and ran many exercises for MIT, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and later the U.S. State Department. He taught four semesters at the Institute of Advanced International Studies, residing in Geneva.

A 1941 graduate of Harvard University and a veteran of the U.S. Navy — having served during World War II and with the Office of Strategic Services in Burma and China after the war’s end — Bloomfield served for 11 years at the State Department before returning to Harvard for his master’s in public administration (1952) and his PhD (1956). His thesis was awarded Harvard’s Chase Prize and published by Harvard University Press as “Evolution or Revolution,” the first of his 14 books.

At MIT, where he taught for 30 years, from 1961 to 1991, Bloomfield became a tenured professor after his book, “The United Nations and U.S. Foreign Policy: A New Look at the National Interest,” (Little, Brown and Co., 1960) gained wide recognition; leading scholar Hans Morgenthau called it “brilliant” and “pioneering.”

Bloomfield directed the MIT Arms Control Project and, with Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling, ran the Joint Harvard-MIT Arms Control Seminar during the 1960s. President Richard Nixon appointed Bloomfield to the Presidential Commission on the United Nations, chaired by Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. With IBM and MIT colleague Allen Moulton, Bloomfield developed CASCON, the first computer-aided tool for policy planners using a database of contemporary conflicts, which was awarded the EDUCOM/NCRIPTAL Award for Distinguished Software in Political Science in 1988.

During the period of U.S.-Soviet détente, Bloomfield was one of several U.S. civilian and military experts who traveled repeatedly to Moscow, exploring prospects for nuclear disarmament. In 1970, visiting that city’s Institute for the USA and Canada Studies, Bloomfield ran a simulated gaming exercise in which he assigned to his Soviet hosts the role of Israel in a Middle East conflict. He introduced the now-common phrase “coalitions of the willing” as early as 1970 in correspondence with then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. In 1979, he returned to Washington to serve for one year in President Jimmy Carter’s administration as director of global issues on the National Security Council staff.

Under the sponsorship of the State Department, Bloomfield lectured in 35 countries and received the department’s Distinguished Visiting Lecturer award. He served on the board of visitors of the National Defense University, and was the sole foreign board member of the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security.

Bloomfield served as a consultant for HBO and appeared, along with Scott Glenn, Nancy Dickerson, Eric Sevareid, Newt Gingrich, and Eugene McCarthy, in the network’s 1984 movie “Countdown to Looking Glass,” which depicted events leading to a nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. For five years, beginning in the late 1980s, he hosted a daily television show, “Fifty Years Ago Today,” on the Monitor Channel, which won a New England Emmy.

Bloomfield’s final book and memoir, “Accidental Encounters With History (and Some Lessons Learned),” was published in 2005. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote that this “scholar, practitioner and former colleague” had fulfilled his responsibility to educate “brilliantly in this well-written account of major events shaping the last half of the twentieth century.”

Bloomfield, a 56-year resident of Cohasset, Mass., was an avid skier, tennis player, golfer, self-taught classical and jazz pianist, and choral singer. He was a board member of the Unitarian Universalist Association and longtime devoted member of the First Parish Church in Cohasset, where he chaired the Parish Committee, served as moderator three times, sang in the choir, and performed in the annual cabarets.

Married for 65 years, he is survived by his wife, Irirangi Coates Bloomfield; daughters Pamela and Diana; son Lincoln Jr.; grandsons Nicholas Bloomfield Culver and Adrian Bloomfield Culver; and granddaughter Alison Noelle Bloomfield.

A memorial service will be held at the First Parish Church in Cohasset at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16. Donations in Bloomfield’s honor may be made to the First Parish Church, 23 North Main St., Cohasset, MA 02025, or to a charitable cause of the donor’s choosing.

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