Conor Cruise O'Brien

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Conor Cruise O'Brien (3 November 1917, Dublin) commonly called "The Cruiser" in Ireland, is, to quote Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the Guardian, another "one-time idol of the left [who] is now a darling of American neo-conservatives".[1] He has been, at various times, a scholar, diplomat, politician, government minister, historian, biographer, anti-war activist, intellectual, playwright, newspaper editor, prose stylist, political theorist and university president. He has written on such topics as Zionism, terrorism, Ireland, Africa, post-colonialism, and nationalism. His books include the pro-Israel tome, The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism (1986).

Early life

Born in Dublin in 1917, he has held a variety of political and diplomatic posts, including positions in the Republic of Ireland's Department of External Affairs and in the Irish delegation to the United Nations. In 1961, O'Brien was chosen to serve on the executive staff of United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld; subsequently he resigned from diplomatic service and devoted his attention to writing and teaching.


O'Brien was in 2000 a contributing editor to The Atlantic.

Views on Israel

The journalist Geoffrey Wheatcroft wrote of O'Brien's stance on Israel in The Guardian:

His knack for taking reasonable premises to extreme conclusions also led him from attractive philosemitism to fervent Zionism and intransigent support for Israel, horrifying an erstwhile admirer, Edward Said. This had painful consequences 20 years ago when O'Brien wrote an Observer column stoutly defending the Israeli incursion into Lebanon. It appeared just as news had broken overnight of the massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila camps in September 1982. To say, as Howard does, that "we had egg all over our faces" seems an understatement, but O'Brien was unabashed and persevered to write The Siege, a learned but partisan history of Zionism and Israel, making little attempt to see the Palestinian side or even to consult Arab sources. Maybe this is what Ferdinand Mount means when he calls O'Brien a man "whose function it is to be gloriously wrong".[2]


Educated: Sandford Park School, Dublin; Trinity College (BA, PhD).
Married: Christine Foster 1939 (one son, one daughter) divorced '62; Maire Mac Entee '62 (adopted son and daughter).
  • Irish External Affairs 1944-62: Counsellor in Paris 55-56, Irish delegation at UN 56-60; UN Secretary-General representative in Katanga 61; vice-chancellor University of Ghana '62-65;
  • Albert Schweitzer professor of humanities, New York University '65-69
  • member of Irish parliament '69-77
  • minister for posts '73-77
  • editor-in-chief Observer '79-81.[3]



  • 1952 Maria Cross;
  • 1957 Parnell and His Party;
  • 1962 To Katanga and Back;
  • 1972 States of Ireland;
  • 1986 The Siege;
  • 1992 The Great Melody;
  • 1996 The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution.


  • O'Brien, Conor Cruise (1977) 'Liberty and Terrorism', International Security. Vol 2, Fall : 56-67.
  • O'Brien, Conor Cruise (1981) 'A Journalist Doesn't Stop Being a Citizen', The Listener. 22 January : 108.


  1. Geoffrey Wheatcroft, No regrets, no surrender, Guardian, 12 July 2003.
  2. Geoffrey Wheatcroft, No regrets, no surrender, Guardian, 12 July 2003.
  3. Wheatcroft, ibid.