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January 8, 2015

Obituary: Joseph J. Zasloff

Joseph J. Zasloff, an emeritus faculty member who retired in 2003 after 49 years at Pitt, died Dec. 17, 2014. He was 89.

Zasloff earned two Pitt degrees: an AB in political science in 1947 and a Master in Letters in political science in 1948.

His undergraduate years were interrupted by his service in Europe during World War II, where as an Army infantryman 1943-46 he earned both the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with an oak leaf cluster.

In 1952, he received a PhD in international relations from the Graduate Institute of International Studies at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.

He joined the Pitt political science faculty in 1954 after a brief stint as instructor of political science at Allegheny College. Beginning in his early years at the University, he was a consultant everywhere from Washington, D.C., to Vietnam and Laos for the RAND Corp., USAID and the Peace Corps, as well as for the civil education arm of the Air Force and the United Nations Palestine Conciliation Commission 1949-50.

During those early decades he also was a part-time lecturer at Chatham College, a visiting lecturer in political science in the European program of the University of Maryland and the Smith Mundt Professor of Political Science at the University of Saigon, Vietnam. All his published research through his first academic decades concerned the Vietnamese communists, the Vietnam War and American foreign policy in that region.

Zasloff’s work in Asia was a formative experience, says Jonathan Harris, who joined the department in 1966. Zasloff became an expert on Vietnam, Harris says. “At various times he taught virtually every course in the department. He was incredibly versatile.”

Zasloff’s most recent Pitt courses were Government and Politics of Southeast Asia and Vietnam War for the University Honors College. He also was a faculty member of the Asian studies program of the University Center for International Studies.

Harris recalls the public debates he had with Zasloff about Vietnam. Harris was against the war, and Zasloff held the opposite view. “He would sometimes dress up” in a type of Asian jacket Harris assumes came from Zasloff’s days in Vietnam. “This gave him a presence that I had difficulty overcoming,” Harris says.

“He was a terrific colleague,” Harris adds. “He always had this extraordinarily optimistic view of how the world runs. Even in retirement he was very interested in American politics and international affairs.”

Their families were close, and Zasloff “was a classic wonderful father and grandfather” with a very devoted family that would get together often. “He married relatively late in life, so he was very impressive as a colleague and a model family man.”

Zasloff also remained a very active tennis player until his health declined after his retirement.

—Marty Levine

Filed under: Feature,Volume 47 Issue 9