He was a “firecracker” who verworked assignments and loved a lively argument with professors and classmates alike. In an academic program full of highly motivated people — especially
fellow military officers — he was rated at the top.
He came to Chapel Hill an Army captain with a
bold idea for a master’s thesis. When he left, the people
who read it wondered whether he had torpedoed his
career. It became a best-selling book. And he has the
three stars of lieutenant general on his shoulder.
Those same people have high hopes and great
expectations for H.R. McMaster in the hypersensitive
job of national security adviser. They’re wondering
again — not about whether he’s smart enough or has
keen enough instincts or can make critical decisions
under fire, but whether he can survive disagreements he
might have with the commander-in-chief.
“It’s rare to have the combination of qualities that
made you outstanding on the battlefield and also
the patience to sit and write history with primary
sources,” said Tami Biddle, who taught McMaster in
a UNC-Duke joint program in military history as he
pursued his 1994 master’s degree and subsequent 1996
“He was clearly on the fast track, on the way to
being a rising star in the Army. He dove into the work
and never looked back.”
Michael Hunt, professor emeritus of history, recalled:
“I think what everybody else has commented on —
he’s a very bright guy. He took a seminar with me on
U.S. foreign relations, and I think he came out as the
best performer in the class. I usually don’t give out
straight honors, but he got one. I was quite impressed
Hunt added: “I wonder if Jimmy the Greek is
putting odds on H.R.’s prospects” of long-term
employment, given McMaster’s reluctance, as well as
President Donald Trump’s, to back down.
On Feb. 20, Trump appointed McMaster, with
whom he had no previous ties, to replace the ousted
The president’s national
security adviser impressed
his Chapel Hill teachers as a
warrior and as an intellectual.
They’re certain he’ll need both
skill sets in the White House.
by David E. Brown ’ 75