Le Vine was admired Wash.U. professor, Mideast expert

Victor Le Vine


Victor T. Le Vine, a widely admired and much beloved professor of political science at Washington University and a frequent contributor of Op-Ed analytical pieces to the St. Louis Jewish Light, died Friday, May 7, 2010, at his home in University City. He was 81.

The cause of death was complications from infections of the aortic valve after surgery, according to family members.

Mr. Le Vine taught generations of students at Washington University (disclosure: including this writer, who counted him among his favorite teachers), starting in 1961, He retired from full-time teaching in 2003, but continued to teach a popular class on Terrorism and Terrorists, which he planned to teach this coming fall.

Mr. Le Vine’s teaching style, delivered in a polished British accent (he had spent time in England after escaping from Nazi Germany), combined a wry sense of humor with a supple analytical mind and a memory for both major themes in history and the details regarding every regime, movement and political ideology, especially in his areas of specialty, Africa and the Middle East.

David Cooper, who had taken Mr. Le Vine’s course in African Politics in the early 1960s, recalled, “I not only learned a tremendous amount from Victor Le Vine’s classes, but he also taught that learning could be fun. We had many laughs in his class as we learned to identify every country on the African continent on a blank map, and the ongoing relationships between former colonies and their original colonizing metropoles.”

Similar statements of admiration and affection were expressed by scores of Mr. Le Vine’s former students, representing both the start as well as his more recent teaching at Washington U. He continued to mentor and kept in touch with former students through the years.

Mr. Le Vine was a widely regarded expert and resource to both print and electronic media in St. Louis. He had done substantial research in six Middle Eastern nations and about 12 African states. He was a consultant to the U.S. State Department on African and Middle Eastern affairs.

Whenever there was a major crisis or breakthrough in the peace process in the Middle East, Mr. Le Vine was interviewed by local TV and radio stations for his insights and views. He also contributed scores of popular Op-Ed and analytical pieces to the St. Louis Jewish Light, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and publications in both academic and popular periodicals across the United States.

Mr. Le Vine could be counted on not only to contribute learned and highly readable articles on request, but would often send pieces to the Jewish Light with the inscription, “Bob, I have been ‘reviewing the situation,’ and wanted to share some thoughts.” Without exception those articles evoked strong and positive readership response, and helped clarify complex and ever-changing events and issues in the Middle East, Southwest Asia and Africa.

Mr. Le Vine cautioned against easy stereotypes of Middle Eastern leaders and among the various factions popularly called terrorists. “One must have respect for those who have the determination and ability to carry out such horrible attacks as 9/11 or the terrorist attacks in Israel. One must also respect the right of Israel and the United States to protect their citizens from such attacks,” Mr. Le Vine said to the Jewish Light after a series of terrorist incidents in Israel.

Mr. Le Vine was born in Germany in 1928, and immigrated to the United States in 1938, the year of Kristallnacht, Nov. 9-10, 1938, which is regarded as the start of the major events of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.

In the United States, Mr. Le Vine attended law school, and later served in the U.S. Army in the Korean War. He taught high school in Los Angeles and earned his Ph.D. in Political Science at UCLA before joining the faculty of Washington U. in 1961.

Washington University plans a memorial service at a date to be announced.

Among the survivors are his wife, Nathalie Le Vine; a son, Theodore Le Vine of Los Angeles; a daughter, Nicole Vizcarra of St. Louis; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

The family suggests memorial contributions to a charity of the donor’s choice.