George Ball (diplomat)

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George Ball
7th United States Ambassador to the United Nations
In office
June 26, 1968 – September 25, 1968
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by Arthur J. Goldberg
Succeeded by James Russell Wiggins
23rd Under Secretary of State
In office
December 4, 1961 – September 30, 1966
President John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by Chester Bowles
Succeeded by Nicholas Katzenbach
Personal details
Born George Wildman Ball
(1909-12-21)December 21, 1909
Des Moines, Iowa, U.S.
Died May 26, 1994(1994-05-26) (aged 84)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Northwestern University
Profession American diplomat

George Wildman Ball (December 21, 1909 – May 26, 1994) was an American diplomat and banker. He was a protégé of Adlai Stevenson II and played a major role in his unsuccessful presidential campaigns of 1952 and 1956. He served in the top ranks of the State Department from 1961 to 1966 and most remembered as the only dissenter against the escalation of the Vietnam War. Herefused to go public with his doubts, which were based on calculations that South Vietnam was doomed. He also helped shape American policy regarding trade expansion, Congo, the Multilateral Force, policy toward de Gaulle's France, Israel and the Middle East, and the Iranian revolution. Critics complain about his eurocentrism, his elitism, and his indifference to social justice.[1]

Early life[edit]

Ball was born in Des Moines, Iowa. He lived in Evanston, Illinois and graduated from Evanston Township High School and Northwestern University with a B.S. and a J.D.. Ball worked for the New Deal in 1933 and joined the Chicago law firm in which Adlai Stevenson II was one of the partners, and became a protégé of Stevenson.

Early career[edit]

In 1942, he became an official of the Lend Lease program. In 1944 and 1945, he was director of the Strategic Bombing Survey in London.[2]

In 1945, Ball began close collaboration with Jean Monnet and the French government in its economic recovery in its negotiations regarding the Marshall Plan. In 1950 he helped draft the Schuman Plan and the European Coal and Steel Community Treaty. He played a major role in the in Stevenson's presidential campaign in 1952. He was the liaison between Stevenson and President Truman and helped publicize Stevenson's viewpoint in major magazine articles.

He was the executive director of the Volunteers for Stevenson, focused on winning over independent and Republican voters. He was also a speechwriter in the Stevenson campaign. Ball likewise played a major role in Stevenson's 1956 presidential campaign and unsuccessful 1960 bid to gain the Democratic nomination.[3]

State Department[edit]

He was the Under Secretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs in the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He is known for his opposition to escalation in the Vietnam War. After Kennedy decided to send 16,000 "trainers" to Vietnam, "Ball, the one dissenter in Kennedy’s entourage, pleaded with JFK to recall France’s devastating defeat in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu and throughout Indochina. 'Within five years we'll have 300,000 men in the paddies and jungles and never find them again.'"[4] In response to this prediction, "JFK laughed and replied, 'Well, George, you're supposed to be one of the smartest guys in town, but you're crazier than hell. That will never happen.'"[5] As Ball later wrote, Kennedy's "statement could be interpreted in two ways: either he was convinced that events would so evolve as not to require escalation, or he was determined not to permit such escalation to occur."[6]

Ball was one of the architects of Cable 243 and a supporter of the 1963 overthrow of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.

As President Johnson was prodded by his closest foreign policy and defense advisors towards a decision to initiate a sustained bombing campaign against North Vietnam in the winter of 1965-1966, Ball forcefully warned Johnson against such a move. In a February 24, 1965, memo he passed to the President through his aide Bill Moyers,

Ball provided a piercing, accurate analysis of the situation in South Vietnam, and of the US stake in it, as well as a startlingly prescient description of the disaster any escalation of American involvement would entail. Urging Johnson to re-examine all the assumptions inherent in the arguments for increasing US involvement, Ball stood alone among the upper echelons of Johnson's policymakers when he attacked the prevailing notion, virtually unquestioned at the time in Washington, that America's fundamental strategic interest in escalating the conflict lay in protecting US international prestige and the reliability of its commitments to allies. He observed that other international actors, including both allies and enemies, rather than being concerned whether the US could live up to its promises, were instead watching to see whether the US could avert a disaster in time instead od quandering its strategic capital in a fruitless struggle to prop up a failed regime.

If the US continued in its course, Ball argued, US loyalty would not be questioned so much as US strategic judgement would. Although Johnson took the memo very seriously, Ball had waited too long to deliver it: the decision had already been made, and sustained US bombing operations against North Vietnam commenced on March 2, 1965.[7]

Ball also served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from June 26 to September 25, 1968. In August 1968 at the UN Security Council, he passionately defended the right of Czechoslovakia for freedom against the Soviet invasion and the right to live without dictatorships.

During the Richard Nixon administration, Ball helped draft American policy proposals in the Persian Gulf.


Ball was long a critic of Israeli policies toward its Arab neighbors. He "called for the recalibration of America’s Israel policy in a much noted Foreign Affairs essay in 1977"[8] and, in 1992, co-authored The Passionate Attachment with his son, Douglas Ball. The book argued that American support for Israel has been morally, politically and financially costly.[9]

He often used the aphorism (perhaps originally coined by Ian Fleming in Diamonds are Forever) "Nothing propinks like propinquity," later dubbed the Ball Rule of Power.[10] It means that the more direct access one has to the president, the greater one's power regardless of the title.

Ball was an advocate of free trade, multinational corporations and the their theoretical ability to neutralize what he considered to be "obsolete" nation states. Until and ater his ambassadorship, Ball was employed by Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb bankers. He was a senior managing director at Lehman Brothers until his retirement in 1982.[11] ball was among the first North American members of the Bilderberg Group, attending every meeting except for one before his death.[12] He was a member of the Steering Committee of the group.[13]


Ball died in New York City on May 26, 1994. He was buried in Princeton Cemetery.

In popular culture[edit]

George Ball was portrayed by John Randolph in the 1974 made-for-TV film The Missiles of October, by James Karen in the 2000 movie Thirteen Days and by Bruce McGill in the 2002 TV film Path to War.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bill (1997)
  2. ^ Robert D. McFadden (May 28, 1994). "George W. Ball Dies at 84; Vietnam's Devil's Advocate". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ Eleonora W. Schoenebaum, ed. Political Profiles: The Truman Years (1978) pp 19-22
  4. ^ Polner, Murray (2010-03-01) Left Behind, The American Conservative
  5. ^ Stanley Karnow, in "Vietnam, A History," 1983.
  6. ^ George Ball, "The Past Has Another Pattern: Memoirs," 1983, p. 366.
  7. ^ VanDeMark, Brian (1991). Into the Quagmire: Lyndon Johnson and the Escalation of the Vietnam War. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 87. ISBN 0195065069. 
  8. ^ McConnell, Scott (2007-12-03) The Lobby Strikes Back, The American Conservative
  9. ^ George Ball's Mideast Views Were Muffled by U.S. Media, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July/August 1994.
  10. ^ Hugh Sidey, "Learning How to Build a Barn," Time, Oct. 17, 1983
  11. ^ George Ball : Alumni Exhibit: Northwestern University Archives
  12. ^ "George W. Ball Papers, 1880s–1994: Finding Aid". Princeton University Library. 
  13. ^ "Former Steering Committee Members". Bilderberg Group. Retrieved 2014-02-08. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Dileo, David L. (1991). George Ball, Vietnam, and the Rethinking of Containment. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-4297-4. 
  • Bill, James A. (1997). George Ball: Behind the Scenes in U.S. Foreign Policy. Yale University Press. 

Primary sources[edit]

  • Ball, George W. (1983). The Past Has Another Pattern: Memoirs. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-30142-7. 

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
C. Douglas Dillon
Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs
February 1, 1961 – December 3, 1961
Succeeded by
Thomas C. Mann
Preceded by
Chester Bowles
Under Secretary of State
December 4, 1961 – September 30, 1966
Succeeded by
Nicholas Katzenbach
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Arthur J. Goldberg
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
June 26, 1968 – September 25, 1968
Succeeded by
James Russell Wiggins