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In memoriam: Carl Q. Christol, 98

by Ambrosia Brody
In Memoriam: Carl Q. Christol, 98
Carl Q. Christol, right, speaks with USC Annenberg alumnus Alan Friedenthal in 1977.

Carl Quimby Christol, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and pioneer in the field of international space law, has died. He was 98.

Christol died at home in Santa Barbara on Feb. 22 of natural causes.

“It’s a very sad day for our community,” said Howard Gillman, dean of USC Dornsife and professor of political science, history and law. “I remember how kind and generous Carl was to me when I first started at USC as a new political science professor in 1990. He was a wonderful colleague whose scholarship left an indelible mark on the field and whose commitment to teaching inspired generations of students.”

Beginning his 38-year tenure at USC in 1949 as professor of political science, Christol retired in 1987 and was appointed Distinguished Professor Emeritus in 1990.

He advanced the theory of international law of outer space and was among the first to promote human rights as a field of study. Colleagues and students in public international law know his famous treatise on international space law, said Alison Dundes Renteln, chair of USC Dornsife’s Department of Political Science.

Christol’s book, The Modern International Law of Outer Space (Pergamon Press, 1982), was the first of its kind to be written by an American on the topic.

After Christol joined USC Dornsife, he swiftly was named political science department chair. In his six years as chair, Christol helped shape the direction of the department by helping to build the international law and international politics program.

The former U.S. Army colonel and awardee of the Bronze Star was influential in the development of courses on human rights and politics of peace – two lifelong interests that stemmed from his experiences in World War II. Christol’s course, “The Politics of Peace – Human Rights,” established USC as one of the first universities to regularly offer classes on human rights. The course was a catalyst for a human rights minor at USC Dornsife.

Christol had a profound influence on the political science department, said Renteln, who also holds appointments in USC Dornsife’s Department of Anthropology, the USC Gould School of Law and the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.

“His innovative teaching techniques, such as holding moot courts in his classes, as well as his deep commitment to international law, laid the foundation for public law in political science, which he made sure included a global perspective,” she said.

Christol was known for his passion for the field and commitment to intellectual growth. For more than a quarter century, he served as faculty adviser for Blackstonians, USC’s undergraduate pre-law honors society.

In a 2003 interview with the then-USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences magazine, he said, “I loved working with my students, challenging them to think and watching them learn.” He counted among his former students members of Congress, judges and a foreign minister of Thailand.

Kantathi Suphamongkhon PhD ’84 remembered what Christol taught him when he served as Thailand’s 39th minister of foreign affairs. The two met often for discussions but always would return to the latest developments in international law, he said.

“Carl became my friend and my mentor,” said Suphamongkhon, who met Christol in 1978. “I often wondered how many countries around the world had been influenced by Carl via his students. I am grateful that he shared his wisdom with me throughout the years. I will miss him so very much.”

Christol began his work in space law in 1962 while on the faculty at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. He published extensively on international space law, international law, U.S. constitutional law, American foreign policy, and security issues resulting from terrorism and human rights. He published articles in 14 foreign journals and more than 100 articles and reviews in American journals. He authored eight books, including the political science text Introduction to Political Science (McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1957) with USC colleagues Carlton Rodee and Totton James Anderson.

Christol taught at universities nationwide and guest lectured at the United Nations University conference on arms control and disarmament at The Hague in the Netherlands in 1984.

During his career, Christol met at least seven U.S. presidents, including Harry Truman, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. His daughter, Susan Christol Deacon, remembered a story her father often told of a trip he took with fellow U.S. Army Reserve officers to Ft. Leavenworth, Kan.

“He got off the plane in Kansas City and saw former president Harry Truman,” she said. “My dad walked over and introduced himself. They chatted before the other officers came along, and when they walked up, he told his colleagues, ‘I’d like you to meet my old friend Harry Truman.’ Truman smiled and didn’t say a word.”

Professor Emeritus of International Relations Peter Berton enjoyed his causeries with Christol in the halls of the Von KleinSmid Center.

“I have very fond memories of Carl; he was full of life, constantly writing and doing research. He was a true gentleman scholar,” said Berton, who arrived at USC in 1953. “I’ll really miss him.”

John Schmidhauser, emeritus professor of political science, began a friendship with Christol when Schmidhauser joined the USC faculty in 1973.

“I remember him as an unfailingly gracious and supportive person, and keenly informative about the administrative realities of that time,” Schmidhauser said. “Carl and I worked together on strengthening our public law offerings during the often complex administrative changes within our department, division and the university as a whole.”

Upon his retirement, Christol continued to lecture and work on behalf of the American Arbitration Association, serving as an expert in court cases.

In 2002, he was elected by the USC Retired Faculty Association to deliver the Borchard Foundation lecture on “International Law and U.S. Foreign Policy.” The talk led to his book, International Law and U.S. Foreign Policy (University Press of America, 2002). He later wrote The American Challenge: Terrorism, Detainees, Treaties and Torture: The Rule of Law, 2001-2008 (University Press of America, 2009).

Christol was born to Carl Christol Sr. and Winifred Quimby Christol in 1913. He grew up in Vermillion, S.D., before earning a bachelor’s degree in history in 1934 from the University of South Dakota, where his father was a professor of European history. He earned a doctorate in political science from the University of Chicago in 1940 after studying at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Mass., the University of Geneva and the European Institute of High International Studies.

Christol earned a law degree from Yale Law School in 1947 and then studied at The Hague Academy of International Law in the Netherlands.

In 1950, he was founding chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Association Committee on International Law, which now is one of the largest and most active of the association’s sections.

In the 1970s, he chaired the Space Law Committee of the American Branch of the International Law Association and the International Law Committee of the American Studies Association.

During the ’70s and ’80s Christol was a vice president of the Court of Man Foundation. On its behalf, he met with many influential lawyers and judges in the United States, Europe and Africa, seeking their support for the concept of a nongovernmental tribunal designed to engage in prosecutions of governmental officials for violations of basic human rights. From 1970 to 1975, he was a member of the U.S. Department of State’s Advisory Committee on International Law.

Christol’s contributions were recognized with several awards and appointments. He was the recipient of the International Institute of Space Law’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 and an award from the International Astronautical Federation. At USC, Christol received the Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990 and the Dart Award for Academic Innovation.

Christol was preceded in death by his wife of more than 50 years, Jeannette, and his son, Richard. He is survived by his daughter, Susan; her husband, Jim Deacon; and grandsons Dekker C. Deacon and Kyle Q. Deacon of Goleta, Calif.

Memorial gifts honoring Christol may be made to the Carl Christol History Award, University of South Dakota Foundation, Vermillion, S.D., 57069. The award supports scholarships for undergraduate history students.

A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. on March 25 at the First Presbyterian Church at 21 E. Constance Ave. in Santa Barbara.

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