Andrew Bacevich repeatedly railed against the Iraq war in op-ed columns and interviews, calling it a "catastrophic failure." But the Boston University professor rarely, if ever, said that his son was serving in the conflict.
Friends say he did so to protect Andy Bacevich Jr. and to avoid any question that he was proud of his son's service.
Bacevich, himself a veteran of Vietnam and the Gulf wars, learned this week that his 27-year-old son had been killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq.
Bacevich's critiques of the war have been measured, with the professor emphasizing that the war's architects are not evil but disastrously mistaken. Now that he has suffered a personal loss, that approach could change, a colleague said.
"If this happened to me, I could not predict, you know, the effect it would have on me. It would be so devastating," said professor William Keylor, who teaches with Bacevich in BU's international relations department. "So I honestly think that's an open question that he's going to be wrestling with."
The younger Bacevich, who died in Balad, Iraq, was a charismatic man so determined to follow his father into the military that he enlisted even after being forced to leave the university's ROTC unit for medical reasons.
After joining the Army in 2005, he headed for the conflict that the elder Bacevich had warned in 2003 could test the nation in ways that would "make the Vietnam War look like a mere blip in American history."
But Bacevich, a West Point graduate and retired lieutenant colonel, would never have tried to discourage his son from joining the Army, said Erik Goldstein, chairman of the international relations department.
"He had the highest regard for people who wore the uniform," Goldstein said. "The appreciation for what the military does is differentiated from his opposition to the conduct of this particular war."
The younger Bacevich, born in West Point, N.Y., majored in public relations with a concentration in international relations.
The university's ROTC office manager, Beri Gilfix, remembered a man with a strong resemblance to his father and a determination to carry on the family's military tradition.
"I think he really admired his father a great deal and wanted to be just like him," Gilfix said.
But Bacevich was not allowed to continue in ROTC because of childhood asthma, a restriction he made look absurd when he began running marathons in college.
After graduating from BU in 2003, Bacevich worked in politics, first as an intern for the late Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, and later as a legislative aide to then-Gov. Mitt Romney. When the asthma restriction was relaxed, Bacevich attended officer training in 2005.
The elder Bacevich, a conservative, viewed the war as a delusional overreach by political and military leaders who overestimated the power of the American military to transform the Middle East.
"There are no easy answers, but one at least ought to acknowledge that in launching a war advertised as a high-minded expression of U.S. idealism, we have waded into a swamp of moral ambiguity," he wrote in the Washington Post in July 2006.
Bacevich advocated withdrawal from Iraq, writing in The Boston Globe in March that the war had made the world more dangerous for the United States.
"Our folly has alienated friends and emboldened enemies" he wrote.
Bacevich asked interviewers not to mention his son's service in Iraq, telling the Globe recently that he wanted to limit attention on his son and separate his opinion from his deep personal connection to the war.
The younger Bacevich communicated with his father from Iraq by e-mail. Keylor said he would occasionally check in with Bacevich to see how his son was doing, and the report was always that things seemed OK, until Keylor received a call from Bacevich on Sunday.
Bacevich was not available for an interview, and the family has referred all requests for information to a National Guard spokesman. In his only public comment since his son's death, Bacevich told the Boston Herald: "He joined the Army to serve his country in a time of need. We love him and mourn his loss."