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Walt Whitman Rostow
7th United States National Security Advisor

In office
April 1, 1966 – January 20, 1969
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Deputy None
Preceded by McGeorge Bundy
Succeeded by Henry Kissinger
1st United States Deputy National Security Advisor

In office
President John F. Kennedy
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Carl Kaysen
Personal details
Born October 7, 1916
New York City, New York
Died February 13, 2003 (aged 86)
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Elspeth Rostow
Children Peter Rostow, Ann Rostow
Profession Economist, Political theorist and advisor

Walt Whitman Rostow (also known as Walt Rostow or W.W. Rostow) (October 7, 1916 – February 13, 2003) was a United States economist and political theorist who served as Special Assistant for National Security Affairs to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964-8.

Prominent for his role in the shaping of US foreign policy in Southeast Asia during the 1960s, he was a staunch anti-communist, noted for a belief in the efficacy of capitalism and free enterprise, strongly supporting US involvement in the Vietnam War. Rostow is known for his book The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (1960), which was used in several fields of social science.

His older brother Eugene Rostow also held a number of high government foreign policy posts.

Early life

Rostow was born in New York City to a Russian Jewish immigrant family. His parents Victor and Lillian Rostow, were active socialists, and their three sons were named after Eugene V. Debs, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman.

Rostow entered Yale University at age 15 on a full scholarship, graduated at 19, and completed his Ph.D. there in 1940. He also won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Balliol College, Oxford, where he completed a B.Litt. degree. In 1936 during the Edward VIII abdication crisis, he assisted broadcaster Alistair Cooke, who reported on the events for the NBC radio network. After completing his education he started teaching economics at Columbia University.

Professional and academic career

During World War II Rostow served in the Office of Strategic Services under William Joseph Donovan. Among other tasks, he participated in selecting targets for U.S. bombardment. Nicholas Katzenbach would later joke, "I finally understand the difference between Walt and me[...] I was the navigator who was shot down and spent two years in a German prison camp, and Walt was the guy picking my targets."

In 1945 immediately after the war, Rostow became assistant chief of the German-Austrian Economic Division in the United States Department of State in Washington, D.C.. From 1946 to 1947 he returned to Oxford as the Harmsworth Professor of American History. In 1947 he became the assistant to the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe, and was involved in the development of the Marshall Plan.

Rostow spent a year at Cambridge University as the Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions. He was professor of economic history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1950 to 1961, and a staff member of the Center for International Studies at MIT from 1951 to 1961. In 1954 he advised President Dwight Eisenhower on economic and foreign policy, and in 1958 he became a speechwriter for him. In August 1954 Rostow and fellow CIA-connected MIT economics professor Max F. Millikan convinced Eisenhower to massively increase U.S. foreign aid for development as part of a policy of spreading American-style capitalist economic growth in Asia and elsewhere, backed by the military.[1][2]

The Stages of Economic Growth

In 1960 Rostow published The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto, which proposed the Rostovian take-off model of economic growth, one of the major historical models of economic growth, which argues that economic modernization occurs in five basic stages of varying length: traditional society, preconditions for take-off, take-off, drive to maturity, and high mass consumption. This became one of the important concepts in the theory of modernization in social evolutionism. Rostow's thesis was criticized at the time and subsequently as universalizing a model of Western development that could not be replicated in places like Latin America or sub-Saharan Africa. The book impressed presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, who appointed Rostow as one of his political advisers. When Kennedy became president in 1961, he appointed Rostow as deputy to his national security assistant McGeorge Bundy. Later that year Rostow became chairman of the U.S. State Department's policy planning council. After Kennedy's assassination, his successor Lyndon B. Johnson promoted Rostow to Bundy's job after he wrote Johnson's first state of the union speech. As national security adviser Rostow was responsible for developing the government's policy in Vietnam, and was convinced that the war could be won, becoming Johnson's main war hawk and playing an important role in bringing Johnson's presidency to an end.

When Richard Nixon became president, Rostow left office, and over the next thirty years taught economics at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin with his wife Elspeth Rostow, who later became dean of the school. He wrote extensively in defense of free enterprise economics, particularly in developing nations.

Honors and awards

Rostow received the Order of the British Empire (1945), the Legion of Merit (1945), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1969).


  • Investment and the Great Depression, 1938, Econ History Review
  • Essays on the British Economy of the Nineteenth Century, 1948.
  • The Terms of Trade in Theory and Practice, 1950, Econ History Review
  • The Historical Analysis of Terms of Trade, 1951, Econ History Review
  • The Process of Economic Growth, 1952.
  • The Dynamics of Soviet Society (with others), Norton and Co. 1953, slight update Anchor edition 1954.
  • "Trends in the Allocation of Resources in Secular Growth, 1955, in Dupriez, editor, Economic Progress
  • An American Policy in Asia, with R.W. Hatch, 1955.
  • The Take-Off into Self-Sustained Growth, 1956, EJ
  • A Proposal: Key to an effective foreign policy, with M. Millikan, 1957.
  • The Stages of Economic Growth, 1959, Econ History Review
  • The Stages of Economic Growth: A non-communist manifesto, 1960.
  • The United States in the World Arena: An Essay in Recent History (American Project Series), 1960, 568 pages.
  • Politics and the Stages of Growth, 1971.
  • How it All Began: Origins of the modern economy, 1975.
  • The World Economy: History and prospect, 1978.
  • Why the Poor Get Richer and the Rich Slow Down: Essays in the Marshallian long period, 1980.
  • Eisenhower, Kennedy, and foreign aid, 1985.
  • Theorists of Economic Growth from David Hume to the Present, 1990.
  • The Great Population Spike and After, 1998

See also

  • The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
  • Rostovian take-off model
  • film

Further reading

  • America's Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2008), by David Milne.


External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
New office
Deputy National Security Advisor
1961 – 1961
Succeeded by
Carl Kaysen
Preceded by
McGeorge Bundy
United States National Security Advisor
Succeeded by
Henry Kissinger

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