McGeorge Bundy

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McGeorge Bundy
McGeorge Bundy.jpg
McGeorge Bundy during a 1967 meeting in the Oval Office
6th United States National Security Advisor
In office
January 20, 1961 – February 28, 1966
President John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by Gordon Gray
Succeeded by Walt Rostow
Personal details
Born (1919-03-30)March 30, 1919
Boston, Massachusetts
Died September 16, 1996(1996-09-16) (aged 77)
Boston, Massachusetts
Resting place Mount Auburn Cemetery
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Spouse(s) Mary B. Lothrop
Children Stephen M., Andrew L., William L., James A.
Alma mater Yale University
Profession Foreign and defense policy advisor

McGeorge "Mac" Bundy (March 30, 1919 – September 16, 1996) was an American expert in foreign and defense policy, serving as United States National Security Advisor to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961 through 1966. He was president of the Ford Foundation from 1966 through 1979. Despite his distinguished career as a foreign-policy intellectual, educator, and philanthropist, he is best remembered as one of the chief architects of the United States' escalation of the Vietnam War during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

After World War II, during which Bundy served as an intelligence officer, in 1949 he was selected for the Council on Foreign Relations. He worked with a study team on implementation of the Marshall Plan. He was appointed as a professor of government at Harvard University, and in 1953 as its youngest dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, working to develop Harvard as a merit-based university. In 1961 he joined Kennedy's administration. After serving at the Ford Foundation, in 1979 he returned to academia as professor of history at New York University, and later as scholar in residence at the Carnegie Corporation.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in 1919 and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Bundy was the second son of a wealthy family long involved in Republican politics. His older brother was William Putnam Bundy.[1] His mother, Katherine Lawrence (Putnam), was the daughter of two Boston Brahmin families listed in the Social Register. His father, Harvey Hollister Bundy, was from Grand Rapids, Michigan and was a prominent attorney in Boston.

The couple met Colonel Henry L. Stimson and became friends. As Secretary of State under Hoover, in 1931 Stimson appointed Harvey Bundy as his Assistant Secretary of State. Later Bundy served again under Stimson as Secretary of War, acting as Special Assistant on Atomic Matters,[2] and serving as liaison between Stimson and the director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Vannevar Bush.[3] William and McGeorge grew up knowing Stimson as a family friend and colleague of their father.[4] The senior Bundy also helped implement the Marshall Plan.

McGeorge Bundy attended the elite Dexter School in Brookline, Massachusetts and the Groton School, where he placed first in his class and ran the student newspaper and debating society. Biographer David Halberstam writes :

He [McGeorge Bundy] attended Groton, the greatest "Prep" school in the nation, where the American upper class sends its sons to instill the classic values: discipline, honor, a belief in the existing values and the rightness of them. Coincidentally, it’s at Groton that one starts to meet the right people, and were connections which will serve well later on – be it at Wall Street or Washington – are first forged; one learns, at Groton, above all, the rules of the Game and even a special language: what washes and does not wash.[5]

He was admitted to Yale College, one year behind his brother William. At Yale, where he majored in mathematics, he served as secretary of the Yale Political Union and then chairman of its Liberal Party. He was on the staff of the Yale Literary Magazine and also wrote a column for the Yale Daily News. Like his father, he was inducted into the Skull and Bones secret society, where he was nicknamed "Odin". He remained in contact with his fellow Bonesmen for decades afterward.[6] He graduated Yale in the class of 1940.

Military service[edit]

During World War II Bundy served as a U.S. Army intelligence officer.[7]


From 1945 to 1947, Bundy worked with Henry L. Stimson as co-author of his third-person autobiography, On Active Service in Peace and War (1947).[8] Stimson had recently retired as US Secretary of War.

In 1949, Bundy took a position at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York to study Marshall Plan aid to Europe. The study group included such luminaries as Dwight Eisenhower, commanding general of the Allied forces; Allen Dulles, Richard M. Bissell, Jr. and George Kennan, diplomat to the Soviet Union. The group's deliberations were sensitive and secret, dealing as they did with the classified fact that there was a covert side to the Marshall Plan, by which the CIA used certain funds to aid anti-communist groups in France and Italy.[9]

Due to his high-level experience, Bundy was appointed at Harvard University as a tenured professor of government. (He had a bachelor's degree and had not taken academic classes in government.) In 1953, Bundy was appointed as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard at the age of thirty-four, the youngest dean in the school's history. An effective and popular administrator, Bundy led policy changes intended to develop Harvard as a class-blind, merit-based university with a reputation for stellar academics.[10] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1954.[11]

Bundy moved into public political life in 1961 when appointed as National Security Advisor in the administration of President John F. Kennedy. One of Kennedy's "wise men," Bundy played a crucial role in all of the major foreign policy and defense decisions of the Kennedy administration and was retained by Lyndon B. Johnson for part of his tenure. Bundy was involved in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Vietnam War. From 1964 under Johnson, he was also Chairman of the 303 Committee, responsible for coordinating government covert operations.[12] Bundy was a strong proponent of the Vietnam War during his tenure, believing it essential to contain communism. He supported escalating United States involvement, including commitment of hundreds of thousands of ground troops and the sustained bombing of North Vietnam in 1965. Studies of the memorandums and policy papers since those years have revealed that Bundy and other advisors well understood the risk but proceeded with these actions largely because of domestic politics, rather than believing that the US had a realistic chance of victory in this war.[4]

He left government in 1966 to serve as president of the Ford Foundation, serving in this position until 1979.

From 1979 to 1989, Bundy served as a professor of history at New York University. He helped found the group known as the "Gang of Four," whose other members were Robert McNamara, George F. Kennan and Herbert Scoville; together they spoke and wrote about American nuclear policies. They published an influential article in Foreign Affairs in 1983, which proposed ending the US policy of "first use of nuclear weapons to stop a Soviet invasion of Europe".[4] During this period, Bundy wrote Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (1988). Their work has been credited with contributing to the SALT 2 treaty a decade later.[4]

Bundy was scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Corporation from 1990 to 1996.


Bundy died in 1996 from a heart attack.[13]


Representation in other media[edit]

Bundy and his role have been featured in feature and TV films:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 'The Doves Were Right' Review by Richard C. Holbrooke of Goldstein, Gordon M., Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam, The New York Times Book Review, 28 November 2008. Retrieved 7/7/09.
  2. ^ Kenneth W Hechler (5 January 1953). "Memorandum on the Potsdam Conference to David D Lloyd". 
  3. ^ Daniel J. Kevles (March 1990). "The Politics of Atomic Reality". Reviews in American History 18 (1). 
  4. ^ a b c d Mark Danner, "Members of the Club: Review of Kai Bird's 'THE COLOR OF TRUTH/ McGeorge Bundy and William Bundy: Brothers in Arms. A Biography', The New York Times, April 1999, accessed 22 November 2014
  5. ^ Peter W. Cookson Jr. and Caroline Hodges Persell, Preparing For Power: America's Elite Boarding Schools (1987), quoting David Halberstam 1969
  6. ^ Goldstein, Gordon M. (2008). Lessons in disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the path to war in Vietnam. Henry Holt. 
  7. ^ "McGeorge Bundy; Advisor to Two Presidents in 1960s". Los Angeles Times. 17 September 1996. Retrieved 29 November 2012. 
  8. ^ "When Bundy Says, 'The President Wants--'" (paid archive), The New York Times, December 2, 1962. Partial quote: "After V-J Day, Bundy spent a year and a half working on the Stimson book, ...." Retrieved July 7, 2009.
  9. ^ Covert CIA side to the Marshall Plan – see Bird, Kai (1998). The Color of Truth: McGeorge and William Bundy, Brothers in Arms: A Biography. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 106. ISBN 0-684-80970-2. 
  10. ^ Kabaservice, Geoffrey (2004). The Guardians: Kingman Brewster, His Circle, and the Rise of the Liberal Establishment. New York: Henry Holt & Co. pp. 136–140. ISBN 0-8050-6762-0. 
  11. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 6 April 2011. 
  12. ^ Miller, James E. (2001). Foreign Relations, 1964–1968 Volume XII. United States Government Printing Office. 
  13. ^ Goldstein, Gordon (2008). Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam. New York: Times Books. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-8050-7971-5. 
  14. ^ Sanger, David E., "War Figures Honored With Medal of Freedom" (limited no-charge access), The New York Times, December 15, 2004.
  15. ^ Rich, Frank (September 26, 2009), "Op-ed: Obama at the Precipice", The New York Times, retrieved September 27, 2009 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bird, Kai. The Color of Truth: McGeorge and William Bundy, Brothers in Arms: A Biography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998. ISBN 0-684-80970-2.
  • Bundy, McGeorge. Danger and Survival: Choices about the Bomb in the First Fifty Years. New York: Vintage Books, 1988. ISBN 0-394-52278-8.
  • Bundy, McGeorge. "The Issue Before the Court: Who Gets Ahead in America?", The Atlantic Monthly 240, no. 5 (November 1977), pp. 41–54.
  • Gardner, Lloyd. "Harry Hopkins with Hand Grenades? McGeorge Bundy in the Kennedy and Johnson Years", in Behind the Throne: Servants of Power to Imperial Presidents, 1898–1968, ed. Thomas J. McCormick and Walter LaFeber. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993. pp. 204–229. ISBN 0-299-13740-6.
  • Goldstein, Gordon M., Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2008. pp. 300. ISBN 0-8050-9087-8.
  • Halberstam, David. "The Very Expensive Education of McGeorge Bundy". Harper's Magazine 239, no. 1430 (July 1969), pp. 21–41.
  • Kabaservice, Geoffrey. The Guardians: Kingman Brewster, His Circle, and the Rise of the Liberal Establishment. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2004. pp. 136–140. ISBN 0-8050-6762-0.
  • Nünlist, Christian. Kennedys rechte Hand: McGeorge Bundys Einfluss als Nationaler Sicherheitsberater auf die amerikanische Aussenpolitik, 1961–63. Zurich: Center for Security Studies, 1999. ISBN 3-905641-61-5.
  • Preston, Andrew. The War Council: McGeorge Bundy, the NSC, and Vietnam. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-674-02198-3.
  • Stimson, Henry and McGeorge Bundy. On Active Service in Peace and War. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1947.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Gordon Gray
United States National Security Advisor
Succeeded by
Walt Rostow