James Webb

NDISC Distinguished Fellow


Former Senator Jim Webb has been a combat Marine, a counsel in the Congress, an assistant secretary of defense and Secretary of the Navy, a national security and foreign policy specialist, an Emmy-award winning journalist, a filmmaker, and is the author of ten books.

Webb graduated from the Naval Academy in 1968, receiving a special commendation for his leadership contributions. First in his class of 243 at the Marine Corps Officer's Basic School, he served as a rifle platoon and company commander in Vietnam and was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star Medal, two Bronze Star Medals and two Purple Hearts. He graduated from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1975, having received the Horan Award for excellence in legal writing.

Webb served as counsel to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs from 1977 to 1981.  In 1982, he led the fight to include an African-American soldier in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall. In 1984 he was appointed assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, and in 1987 became the first Naval Academy graduate in history to serve in the military and then become Secretary of the Navy. 

While in the Senate, Webb delivered the response to the President's State of the Union address in 2007 and served on the Foreign Relations, Armed Services, Veterans Affairs, and the Joint Economic committees. He wrote, introduced, and guided to passage the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the most significant veterans legislation since World War II.  Having widely traveled in Asia for decades, as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Asia-Pacific Subcommittee he was the leading voice in calling for the U.S. to re-engage in East Asia, meeting frequently with key national leaders throughout the region. He conceived and carried out the process that resulted in opening up Burma (Myanmar) to the outside world, and in 2009 was the first American leader to be allowed entry into Burma in ten years, an historic visit that resulted in the re-establishment of relations between our two countries. 

 Webb’s leadership and public service have been recognized with more than 30 national awards, including the Medal of Honor Society’s Patriot Award, top national commander’s awards from the VFW, American Legion, and Marine Corps League, and the Naval Academy Class of 1968's award for Superior Leadership in Military Service.  A long-time advocate of fixing America's broken criminal justice system, Webb was spotlighted in The Atlantic Magazine as one of the world's "Brave Thinkers" for tackling prison reform and possessing "two things vanishingly rare in Congress: a conscience and a spine."

In addition to his public service, Webb has enjoyed a varied career as a writer. His commentaries on national security, foreign relations, and domestic issues have been published in a wide range of major periodicals and newspapers. Traveling widely as a journalist, he received a national Emmy Award for his PBS coverage of U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983 and in 2004 was embedded with the U.S. military in Afghanistan. He wrote the story and was executive producer of the film "Rules of Engagement," the top film in the U.S. in April 2000.  His ten books include Fields of Fire, widely recognized as the classic novel of the Vietnam War, and Born Fighting, a sweeping history of the Scots-Irish culture that Tom Wolfe termed the most important ethnography in recent American history. 

Webb taught literature at the Naval Academy, was a fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, and in 2014 was awarded the University of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson award for  citizen leadership, its  highest recognition for public service.