TRANSITION

Paul Nitze, 97

During a lifetime of public service, Ambassador Paul Nitze never held a cabinet-level job. But he did as much as anyone to win the cold war. Nitze was one of a remarkable group of statesmen who went to Washington during World War II and stayed to create the Western Alliance; they forged the doctrine of containment that kept the peace for a half century. Nitze was a tough-minded hawk, but never knee-jerk or inflexible. In 1950 he authored NSC-68, a State Department document that became the blueprint for building up the military to confront the Soviet Union—in order to avoid ever going to war with it. His attempts to find common ground with his Russian opposite during arms-control talks in the 1980s became the inspiration for a Broadway play, "A Walk in the Woods." Typically, Nitze dismissed the dramatization, which glorified him, as "nonsense."

He was probably too prickly to ever become secretary of State or Defense, but a half-dozen presidents from FDR to Reagan relied on his wisdom and candor. Silver-haired, handsome, a great dancer and wicked wit (when he chose to be), he could do one-armed push-ups at the age of 65 and stopped skiing and jumping horses only when injuries slowed him in his 80s.

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