Interview - Karl Shih Chang

Karl Shih Chang was born in 1981 in Clear Lake, TX, in a first generation Taiwanese American family. His father was an engineer in NASA and his mother is a retired freelance writer and journalist. He has a sister who lives in LA. Karl’s childhood in Clear Lake consisted of learning Chinese, reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy books, playing the piano and trombone. He went to his neighborhood schools up to high school, where he continued to play trombone and was a “band nerd”. After that, he attended Yale College studying Classical Civilization and Political Science (B.A., cum laude ), specializing in ancient/classical Greek language and literature. He was passionate about Greek philosophy, especially Thucydides— who he read over and over again. During his time at Yale, he was awarded the Winthrop Prize (competitive examination in ancient Greek) in 2003. Later upon graduation from Yale, he got into Harvard Law School, where he was awarded Williston Competition in Negotiation in 2004 and Heyman Fellowship in Federal Public Service in 2006. Same year in 2006, he passed his Bar Exam in DC. He also wrote for HLS Record during his time at Harvard.

In his last year in Harvard, he got an interview through the recommendation of his professor with the Department of Defense, where he has been working there ever since. During his career as a civil servant and as a General Counsel of International Affairs there, he was awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defence Medal - Exceptional Civilian Service in 2008, 2015 and 2017; as well as Secretary of Defense Medal Meritorious Civilian Service in 2020. One of his major works at DoD is the authorship of “The DoD Law of War Manual: Why, What and How,” Chapter II, for which he attended a number of international conferences and presented. In this interview, Karl spoke of his life stories, his family, and his relationship with his Asian American identity, with a modest and gentle demeanor despite the achievements he had in his life. He also shared his perspectives about voting decisions and racial justice. At the end of the interview, he made a time capsule for his future generations by sharing and reading an essay he wrote, titled “Life, Death and the Laws of War,” to reflect on his relationship with his passion in War, Law and Humanities, and dedicated to his late father, who passed away unexpectedly in 2015 due to an heart attack.

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