Burrus " Buzz" Carnahan

burrus carnahan
Burrus (“Buzz “) Carnahan passed away from complications of pancreatic cancer on Sept 9, 2022. He was an academic and loved sharing his vast knowledge of history and legal scholarship with students, friends, and loved ones. Mr. Carnahan attended Drake University for his Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Political Science and Government, earned a JD from Northwestern University cum laude in Political Science, and earned a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in International Law and Legal Studies from the University of Michigan Law School. Mr. Carnahan was made a member of Phi Beta Kappa on May 4, 1966 while at Drake University.

Mr. Carnahan proudly served in the United States Air Force as a Judge Advocate from 1969 to 1989, specializing in international law and retiring with the rank of Lt. Colonel. His service included a tour of duty as Associate Professor of Law at the US Air Force Academy from 1974-1978. Mr. Carnahan was the first recipient of the Outstanding Academy Educator, receiving this award in 1977, an award that is presented to the Department of Law educator who best embodies the model of Teaching, Service, and Scholarship, from the perspective of both faculty and cadets. This honor is viewed as one of the two highest honors a faculty member can receive while assigned to the Dean of Faculty at USAFA. During his military career, Mr. Carnahan also served in the Air Staff and Joint Staff in the Pentagon, participating in International Negotiations on arms control.

As a civilian he worked for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) from 1989 until September of 2000 as a Senior Analyst, specializing in nonproliferation and arms control. From September of 2000 until April of 2017, Mr. Carnahan was a Foreign Affairs Officer in the Office of Nuclear Energy, Safety, and Security, US Department of State. In April of 2017, he was awarded along with other members of a team a Certificate of Appreciation from the Department of State for “outstanding contributions…. ensuring that the peaceful use of nuclear energy was conducted according to the highest standards of safety, security, and nonproliferation: and in particular advancing the development, approval and implementation of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s LEU Bank, a Presidential Initiative across two Administrations.”

Mr. Carnahan was the principal researcher on United States legal practice for the International Committee of the Red Cross study on Customary International Humanitarian Law (Cambridge U. Press, 2005), and he was the U.S. correspondent for the Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law.

He dedicated 25 years of teaching service as an Adjunct Professor at the George Washington University (GWU) Law School, recently attending a ceremony at the Law School on May 10, 2022 where he received an “Award for Dedication in Teaching.” He was teaching a course on the Law of War for which he created the syllabus and course materials. Along with another Adjunct Professor, he had previously taught a course on The Law of Non-Proliferation, Counter-Terrorism and Arms Control Law. He was recognized by his colleagues as having made a transformative difference in the legal education of generations of students there. To underscore his passion for teaching, he taught the first class of the new semester on August 30, 2022, just a few days before his surgery on September 2. He wanted to get his students well launched and was looking forward to working with them on their papers. He often spoke about how much he was learning from his students, some of who were serving or having served in areas of combat where the law of war needed to be analyzed real-time in the field. Up until his surgery he was revising his syllabus to reflect the issues raised by the war in Ukraine.

GWU Law School noted that Professor Carnahan gave generously of his time and knowledge to serve as a judge in the international rounds of the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, which convened law students from around the world to learn and sharpen their advocacy skills regarding complex questions of international law.

Mr. Carnahan was the author of two books: “Act of Justice: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War” (2007) and “Lincoln on Trial: Southern Civilians and the Law of War.” (2010) Both books were published by the University Press of Kentucky and analyzed how President Lincoln applied international law precedents to the conduct of the American Civil War. He penned numerous articles on Lincoln and his era, international law, and the law of war. More recently, he was enjoying reviewing new books on Lincoln and his era for many Civil War publications including “Lincoln Lore,” a publication of the Friends of the Lincoln Collection of Indiana.

Mr. Carnahan was a life-time member of the Lincoln Group of DC, having served a term as President and was an enthusiastic member of the monthly book study forum. He was the author of a 2009 pamphlet entitled “The Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia, Guide to Lincoln Sites In and Around Washington, DC.” He was a life-time member of the Lincoln Forum in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, serving for many years on the organization’s Advisory Board and on at least once occasion serving as a moderator on a panel of Civil War historians. He had previously served on the Scholarly Advisory Group for President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers Home in Washington DC and spoke at one of their first “Cottage Conversations” on the Emancipation Proclamation. A recent treasured memory for Mr. Carnahan (“Gramps”) was showing his grand-daughter Ada the Lincoln Cottage and nurturing her developing interest in history. He enjoyed being a volunteer docent at Historic Blenheim and the Civil War Interpretive Center in Fairfax, Virginia, telling visitors about the lives of the ordinary soldiers who were stationed there during the Civil War. Mr. Carnahan also was one of their monthly speakers.

Additionally, Mr. Carnahan spoke on Lincoln and his era in numerous venues, including the Lincoln Group of DC, the Civil War Round Table of DC, The Abraham Lincoln Institute Symposium at the National Archives in Suitland, Maryland, The Gettysburg College Civil War Institute, the Filson Historical Society, Louisville, Kentucky, The Treasury Historical Society in Washington, DC, Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland, Robert Todd Lincoln’s Hildene house museum in Manchester Vermont, and the Cosmos Club.

He created a talk for the Vienna Woman’s Club entitled “The Gray Ghost and the White Whale” about Herman Melville’s visit to the Vienna, Virginia area during the Civil War and the search for the elusive John Mosby. Of note, was a walking tour he developed several years ago for Cultural Tourism DC of “Lincoln and the Civil War in Foggy Bottom.” This tour focused on little-known historic sites associated with Lincoln and members of his cabinet in the Foggy Bottom area of DC. One of the out-of-town tour participants wrote to Mr. Carnahan on May 18, 2012, stating: “History is everywhere in DC if you just know where to look and have a great guide like Buzz.” Mr. Carnahan’s avid scholarly interests were not limited to the Civil War. He had studied Roman Jurisprudence, and visited many Pre-Columbian archeological sites as well as significant sites in Greece and Turkey in particular.

Mr. Carnahan had a deep love of animals, especially cats. He was generous to various humane societies and adopted one of his most notable cats, Tacitus, from the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. The last visit Mr. Carnahan made to the Shelter was to a recent event promoting adoption of the “smalls” such as rabbits and guinea pigs. He came close to bringing home a young guinea pig, but knew that his cat Blackie (adopted from the Humane Society of Fairfax County) would lodge a vociferous veto. Many years ago, Mr. Carnahan was asked by the editor of “Kind News”, a newsletter for children then published by the Humane Society of the United States, to edit a short word puzzle about Abraham Lincoln’s kindness to animals. Mr. Carnahan admired Lincoln’s compassion for animals as a young boy growing up on the frontier; for his intervening to prevent cruelty to turtles and other creatures.

He had a delightful, if not a touch acerbic Irish wit that will live on in his family. He is survived by his wife of 22 years, Lucinda (Cindy) Stewart, his children, Dr. Jennifer Carnahan (Julia VanDeren) and Ms. Erin Belenky, his granddaughter, Ms. Ada Carnahan-VanDeren, and his cat, Blackie. He is also survived by Mr. Carnahan’s first wife, Cheryl (Kay) Carnahan, mother of Jennifer and Erin and grand-mother of Ada, with whom Mr. Carnahan and Cindy shared recent happy family gatherings.

Visitation at the Money and King Funeral Home will take place from 5 to 8 pm on Thursday, October 13. The address is 171 Maple Avenue, West, Vienna, VA 22180. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, October 15 at 2 pm at the Vienna Presbyterian Church at 124 Park Street, NE, Vienna, VA 22180, with a reception to follow. A private Inurnment will take place at Quantico National Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Mr. Carnahan’s memory to any one of the following: The Lincoln Group of DC (www.lincolnian.org), The Civil War Round Table of DC (www.cwrtdc.org), the Lincoln Forum (www.thelincolnforum.org), President Lincoln’s Cottage (www.lincolncottage.org), Historic Blenheim (www.fairfaxva.gov), The Friends of the Fairfax County Animal Shelter (www.ffcas.org) and the Humane Society of Fairfax County (www.hsfc.org).

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  1. The Owners and Staff at the Money and King Funeral Home, wish to express our sincere sympathy to you. It is our hope that we may be able to make a difficult time more bearable. Please feel free to call us anytime as we are always available to you.

    Bob Gallagher
    Funeral Director

  2. Photo of Cindy and Buzz, preceding our visit last summer to the Stonestreet Museum of the 19th Century, including a meeting with Dr. E.E. Stonestreet himself, in downtown Rockville, MD. I will miss you, Buzz Carnahan. Love to Cindy, Jennifer, Erin, all. Frances Moran

  3. Buzz was a very intelligent person with a phenomenal memory who was interested in and usually knew something about essentially everything around him. When we were stationed together in Izmir, Turkey in the early 1970’s he was the unofficial American guide to Ephesus which was located a little over half an hour from Izmir. One weekend he guided a tour there for a group of Sunday School children after which they visited the touristy grounds outside of the historical site. When he was ready to leave he found that the bus had already left without him! He had enough lira (money) with him to ride the colorful dolmush (Turkish jitney or minibus) with the local people, chickens, baggage, and whatever back to Izmir. The pastor’s wife who had organized the trip was so embarrassed when she found out about this said that she had counted the children on the bus over and over but hadn’t thought about counting him.

    Buzz was also a sincere, honest, and generous man. Our divorce was amicable but sad. However I always knew that I could count on him as a friend for any advice or help that might be needed. That thought gave me much comfort and relief which was truly appreciated.

  4. To Cindy and Buzz’s Family very sorry to hear of Buzz’s passing, my condolences to you. My thoughts are will you at this sad time.

  5. Dear Ms. Cindy, we are so grateful to have known Mr. Buzz! Together, you were the highlight of our daughters’ week. They loved coming to your house, hunting for cat’s toys and enjoying chess with Mr. Buzz. He was an excellent player who never just “let” the kids win! We will miss his humor and his courage. I remember last Halloween when many were still concerned about Covid-19 and our girls cautiously approached your table with treats… Mr. Buzz just said: “you can’t eliminate all risk in life”! I appreciated that level headed approach to life and his wisdom. He is already very, very missed as a neighbor and a friend. Our thoughts are with you and his family.

  6. Buzz was an illustrious civil servant, and, more importantly, a good and decent man. May his soul be in peace and warm memories of him comfort his kind and gentle wife, Cindy.

  7. I met Buzz at Drake University in a history class, of course! I have kept up with his amazing career and accomplishments by “googling” his name every now and then. I bought and read his books and was so happy for him to have a career investigating and sharing with others what he loved. At Drake we all knew Buzz as an amazing scholar, great writer of papers (and helpful editor of friend’s papers), a kind friend, and a great picnic arranger! This week I googled Buzz and was so very sad to learn of his passing! I know his kindness will be a legacy for all who knew him and his ability to explain hard to understand concepts to others will have surely impacted so many. May memories wrap around his family making sad days brighter. Rest In Peace, Buzz!
    Linda Frost

    • Dear Linda and everyone who has posted a remembrance of Buzz. I am so touched by each and re-reread them several times.I am pointing out each tribute to Buzz’s daughters and Erin. I so agree that Buzz had a remarkable ability to explain and distill complex facts and historical events. Love to you all for sharing your unique memories of Buzz. Cindy

  8. I am late in coming to share a memory, because I was just thinking about Buzz and found this. In 1994, he hired me to work in his division at SAIC. I was very young and needed a solid full-time job to get my new career moving. I am grateful to have worked with him. He assigned me projects that fit with my strengths. He was kind and thoughtful, and his door was always open for me to come down with questions. I had an opportunity to work on a paper with him. We were also friends, and I attended his wedding. We lost touch after I changed jobs and moved away. Thank you for everything Buzz! You helped me more than you’ll ever know. My heartfelt condolences to Cindy and Buzz’s family.

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