Stephen Kelly

Visiting Professor of the Practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy
Faculty Network Member of The Energy Initiative
Research Scholar

I’m a research scholar at the Sanford School of Public Policy here at Duke University.  Sanford has been my home since I retired from the US Foreign Service in 2010, and it has given me a chance to think more deeply about the issues I worked for nearly three decades in diplomatic postings as diverse as Jakarta, Indonesia; Brussels, Belgium; and Bamako, Mali.

For the last few years I have been digging into the life and times of one of the last Japanese stragglers found after World War II. Lance Corporal Shoichi Yokoi had been hiding in the jungles of Guam for 28 years when two local hunters stumbled across him in 1972. He was a combination of Robinson Crusoe, Rip Van Winkle and The Fugitive, dodging bullets from US patrols and the Guamanians, grubbing for food wherever he could find it, and missing a huge chunk of 20th century history. Ninety percent of the 20,000 Japanese soldiers on Guam were wiped out when the US retook the American territory in 1944. Yokoi was the last to come out alive. When he finally got back to Japan, more than 70 million people tuned into live television coverage of his arrival, the equivalent in percentage terms to 200 million Americans today. I’m obsessed with how he managed to survive, especially after all his companions had died, why he didn’t just give himself up, and why he apologized to his countrymen for coming back alive. I am writing a book – working title Shamefully Alive – that I hope will begin to answer those questions.

Before becoming a full-time researcher, I taught courses here at Duke on energy security, border issues and immigration. I drew on my diplomatic career to give my students a practical view on managing these issues. My postings as the US Consul General in Quebec City, the Deputy Chief of Mission in the US Embassy in Ottawa, and the same job in the US Embassy in Mexico City, gave me plenty of real-life material. I tried to provide my students enough context and history so they could propose their own policy solutions to these complex problems. 

I joined the Foreign Service after a career in journalism. I was a reporter for three U.S. newspapers, beginning at the Pacific Daily News on Guam, where I first learned about the Yokoi saga, and ending at the Charlotte Observer, for which I was the Raleigh and later the Washington correspondent.  I have gotten back to my journalistic roots in recent years by writing op-eds for publications like the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal

I graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and hold a master’s degree in National Security Strategy from the National War College in Washington, D.C. I served in the Peace Corps in Zaire after college, and picked up a few foreign languages over the years, including French, Indonesian, Dutch and Spanish. I got to teach two semesters at Duke’s campus in Kunshan, China, a country where energy, border and security issues are just as touchy as they are currently in the U.S.


  • Other, Duke University (2010)
  • M.S., National Defense University (1995)
  • A.B., Cornell University (1972)
  • A.B., Cornell University (1972)

Mailing Address

Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability
Box 90467
Durham, NC 27708

Street / Delivery Address

Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability
140 Science Drive
Gross Hall, Suite 101
Durham, NC 27708