The color of truth : McGeorge Bundy and William Bundy, brothers in arms : a biography /
Kai Bird.
New York : Simon & Schuster, c1998.
496 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.
More Details
New York : Simon & Schuster, c1998.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. 465-474) and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Chapter One

The Kennedy Years

If every question in the world becomes an intellectual exercise on a totally pragmatic basis, with no reference to moral considerations, it may be that we can escape disaster, but it will certainly be putting the White House group to a test .


April 22, 1961

             Mac Bundy returned from his Caribbean vacation in early January 1961 to a bitterly cold New England winter. A few days later, President-elect John F. Kennedy was escorted inside Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s Cambridge home to meet with a select group of his Harvard-based advisers. As a team of Secret Service men stood guard outside, Bundy rode his bicycle past a crowd of onlookers, dismounted and, after leaning his bicycle against the gate, strode in to meet with his new boss. Inside were some of the well-known scholars who would be joining Bundy in Washington. Schlesinger himself was already slated to work as one of the president's assistants; Jerome B. Wiesner became White House science adviser, and John Kenneth Galbraith was named ambassador to India.

    When Kennedy announced Bundy's appointment on January 1, the president-elect said that his national security adviser would be "helping me to strengthen and to simplify the operations of the National Security Council." What he really meant was that Bundy was going to dismantle much of the NSC's bureaucratic paraphernalia created during the Eisenhower years. Both Kennedy and Bundy had read Richard Neustadt's 1960 book, Presidential Power , which contrasted the freewheeling presidential style of Franklin Roosevelt with the rigid, military chain-of-command system Dwight Eisenhower had brought to the White House. A trendy political scientist at Columbia University, Neustadt argued that Roosevelt's disorderly style actually exposed him to more information from a wider range of sources and gave him the flexibility that was the genius of his administration. Neustadt's book gave Kennedy and Bundy the intellectual rationale to do what they were going to do anyway--run the White House as if it were Harvard, with Bundy as dean and Kennedy as president.

    They would promote disorder. There would be fewer people, reports and formal meetings of the National Security Council. Bundy himself would take the jobs of five of Ike's NSC aides. The NSC would become more of a mini-State Department and less of a debating society. Within a month the NSC's staff was cut from seventy-one to forty-eight. In place of weighty policy papers, produced at regular intervals, Bundy's staff would produce crisp and timely National Security Action Memoranda (NSAMs). The new name signified the premium that would be placed on "action" over "planning." In effect, foreign policy would no longer be made at cabinet-level meetings. In theory, the men who came to advise the president in these smaller, freewheeling NSC meetings would represent no bureaucratic constituency other than the president, and they would argue the merits of each policy course based on substance. This was how intellectuals, not bureaucrats, would make foreign policy.

    Bundy immediately began recruiting his own staff, and many of them were also Cambridge men. Kennedy himself hired Walt W. Rostow to fill one slot in the NSC. Temperamentally, Bundy's old MIT friend was hardly the kind of man to serve as a deputy. Rostow was voluble, exuberant and full of good and sometimes foolish ideas. Bundy didn't mind. The former Harvard dean would give Rostow all the flexibility of a tenured member of the faculty.

    Just ten days after the inauguration Bundy phoned another Cambridge friend, Carl Kaysen, forty, and said, "I need help. I'm having a lot of fun. Come work with me." Kaysen replied, "Mac, have you already forgotten Harvard? I have two courses I am committed to teaching this semester."

    "Oh, just come and we'll talk about it," Bundy insisted. Kaysen came, was introduced to Kennedy in the Oval Office and agreed to start work in May.

    Bundy was not as eager to recruit Henry Kissinger; he knew from personal experience that Henry was hardly a team player. At Kennedy's invitation Kissinger visited the White House in early February. It is unclear whether Bundy ever offered Kissinger a full-time position; Kissinger later suggested that Bundy did not seem to share "the President's sense of urgency to add to the White House staff another professor of comparable academic competence." Kissinger wanted to be a player in the new administration, but he also wanted to retain his tenured position at Harvard. Bundy was annoyed, but nevertheless arranged a part-time consultancy in which Kissinger would fly down four or five days a month. The arrangement did not last, and when Kissinger created a diplomatic gaffe during a trip to India in early 1962, Bundy quietly dismissed him.

    Having recruited quite a few outsiders, Mac called his brother Bill for the names of a few veterans of government service who knew the drill in Washington. Bill gave him the names of two colleagues from the CIA, Bob Komer and Chet Cooper. Cooper would soon spend half his time in the White House under Bundy. Komer soon went to work as Bundy's man on the Middle East and South Asia. (Blunt and abrasive, Komer would later earn the sobriquet "Blowtorch Bob" for his tough stance on the Vietnam War)

    Despite his qualms about Bundy's move to the White House, or perhaps because of them, David Riesman began lobbying his old dean early that year to hire a young man whom he promised would be the "conscience" of his staff. At twenty-six, Marcus Raskin came to Washington with hardly any of the usual establishment credentials expected of an NSC staffer. A concert-level pianist (he once taught the composer Philip Glass), Raskin had abandoned a career in music to study law at the University of Chicago. In 1959, two years after earning a law degree, he became a staff assistant to Congressman Robert W. Kastenmeier (D.-Wis.). Kastenmeier put Raskin to work coordinating an informal caucus that included nine other congressmen interested in developing a new liberal agenda. They called themselves the Liberal Project, and by 1960, Raskin was editing a collection of essays for publication. Together with another Kastenmeier aide, Arthur Waskow, Raskin had drafted for inclusion in the book an essay critical of nuclear deterrence theory called "The Theory and Practice of Deterrence." Riesman was greatly impressed with the essay and the work of the Liberal Project.

    Soon after the inauguration, Riesman persuaded Bundy to talk to Raskin about a White House job. The interview took place in Bundy's office, Room 374A of the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House. "We had a good talk," Raskin recalled. "He was funny and witty; I was also at my best. I remember him asking me, `Well, Mr. Raskin, do you have a liberal theory of deterrence?' I was all of twenty-six, and I handed him this essay." Bundy was not altogether unfamiliar with the arguments contained in the Raskin-Waskow essay; he had, after all, picked up a healthy skepticism of deterrence theory from his work with Oppenheimer nine years earlier.

    Later, as Raskin was about to come on board, Bundy asked him some difficult questions that dearly stemmed from the FBI's security check. Didn't he have a cousin, he asked, who was a communist? Raskin said he really didn't know, and hadn't seen her in years.

    "You were on a program with I. F. Stone," the radical journalist, Bundy said. "We know that he is a communist."

    "I don't know that," Raskin replied hotly. At this sign of vehemence, Bundy turned crimson, and Raskin later recalled being struck that Bundy was clearly embarrassed. Despite this exchange Raskin was hired.

    Bundy knew he was getting a free spirit, a left-of-center, Jewish intellectual who might be troublesome. Curiously, at one point he asked Raskin, "Would you mind being the Oppenheimer of this administration?"

    A few weeks later Bundy wrote Riesman, thanking him for his referral of Raskin: "With any luck, he should be at work here in another few days. In my few conversations with him, I have found just the qualities you describe. ... He has a remarkably powerful and lively mind, and it is flanked by both moral and physical energy. I think we shall probably have some disagreements, but I shall feel a lot better for knowing that certain problems have passed by his critical eye on their way to resolution."

Informality was the rule in Bundy's shop, which he likened to a think tank. Mac had pulled together a staff of very independent-minded men: Kaysen, Rostow, Komer, Raskin, Bromley K. Smith, Dave Klein, Ralph Dungan and, on occasion, Kissinger. These were all "very high-powered, strong-minded people" and Bundy generally made no attempt to block their access to the president. He and his principal deputy, Kaysen, made a point of taking staff members into the Oval Office and allowing them to brief Kennedy on their area of expertise. "We were few enough," Kaysen recalled, "so that the president had some idea of who we were and what we were doing."

    Bundy's daily routine was hectic. Each morning at 7:45 A.M. a government-chauffeured Mercury sedan picked him up at his spacious, white-bricked home in the Spring Valley section of Washington and ferried him down to the White House. Along the way, he dropped off his sons at St. Albans, Washington's elite prep school. After glancing at the early-morning cable traffic--some seven pounds of paper each day--Bundy would preside over a 9 A.M. staff meeting where he peppered his aides with questions. "Mac is brilliant at 9 o'clock in the morning, as very few other people can be," recalled one staffer. Afterwards, Bundy would go up to the president's quarters and brief Kennedy on the overnight intelligence developments from around the globe.

    Most evenings he did not return home until eight o'clock at night. Over a bourbon-on-the-rocks or a martini, he would spend a little time in horseplay with his sons before their bedtime. He enjoyed good food and vintage wines, and was known to consume large quantities of ice cream. He and Mary rarely entertained in their home, but not infrequently attended dinner parties on the diplomatic circuit or with such old friends as Joe Alsop, Walter Lippmann and Felix Frankfurter. Mary found the change of pace from Cambridge "a little frightening. All those parties--I wasn't used to it, you know. It took a lot out of me."

Kennedy's foreign policy team was ostensibly headed by Secretary of State Dean Rusk formerly president of the Rockefeller Foundation) and Robert S. McNamara, who had left his new job as president of the Ford Motor Company after only thirty-four days to become secretary of defense. Bundy immediately recognized a soul mate in McNamara, whose persona as a "whiz kid" meshed nicely with his own peppery personality. By contrast, Mac quickly decided that Rusk's bland demeanor masked neither wit nor intelligence. Very early in the new administration it became clear that Bundy's shop was running circles around Rusk's State Department. Bundy had daily access to the president; Rusk did not. With calculated modesty, Bundy would tell the press that his job was only that of a "traffic cop--to see what gets forwarded to the President." It was that and much more. One day, the president told his wife, Jacqueline, "Damn it, Bundy and I get more done in one day in the White House than they do in six months at the State Department." Soon, the Washington Post labeled Bundy a "shadow secretary of state." Asked what he would have done if Bundy had been at the NSC when he was secretary of state, Dean Acheson replied, "Resign."

    After two months on the job Bundy quipped to a New York Times reporter, "Yes, at this point we are like the Harlem Globetrotters, passing forward, behind, side-wise and underneath. But nobody has made a basket yet." About the same time he wrote Stanley Hoffmann, then attending a seminar in Geneva, "Your description of Geneva makes it sound like the opposite of Washington. There you have serious discussions in an atmosphere of unconcern, and here ..." But then he confided, "I think perhaps we are moving toward a period in which we shall be able to take serious decisions, some of them even based on thought."

Kennedy had a special rapport with his national security adviser. "They think alike," said one colleague. "He knows what the President wants. The President's intensity is perfectly complemented by Bundy's ability to move things." Kennedy hated small talk and quickly cut off those who bored him. Bundy, of course, never bored anyone. It was not long before the New York Times was quoting an anonymous official as saying that Bundy was the president's "alter-ego ... another Harry Hopkins--with hand grenades." The analogy was both apt and inept. Franklin Roosevelt's friend and confidant was a gentle soul, an intensely introspective man who arrived at his judgments after exhaustive consultations. There was nothing abrupt about Hopkins. But perhaps just as Hopkins came to symbolize an archetype for the action-oriented intellectual of the Roosevelt era, so too Mac Bundy would soon become a model for the liberal policy intellectual of the 1960s. He knew he was serving a man impatient with the language of bureaucrats. So he took to summarizing tedious State Department cables with one-liners that amused the president. He once said of a visiting foreign diplomat that the man possessed a "very tactical sense of the truth."

    Bundy didn't hesitate to push Kennedy if he thought the president was wrong. When Kennedy kept interrupting Bundy's early-morning intelligence briefing with complaints about press leaks, Bundy calmly cut the president off. "Goddammit, Mac," Kennedy was once overheard exclaiming, "I've been arguing with you about this all week long."

    There was no mistaking that they liked each other immensely. Kennedy jokingly told his (and Bundy's) childhood friend, Newsweek bureau chief Ben Bradlee, "I only hope he [Bundy] leaves a few residual functions to me.... You can't beat brains.... He does a tremendous amount of work. And he doesn't fold or get rattled when they're sniping at him." Temperamentally, Bundy and Kennedy were cast from the same impatient mold. A Harvard professor who knew both men said of Bundy, "He pays no attention to what the other fellow may think. He's as cold as ice and snippy about everything. He and Jack Kennedy are two of a kind."

    Yet, Bundy sometimes could surprise people with unexpected warmth. Once, after hearing Kennedy give a State Department official a tongue-lashing on the phone that "made the wires sizzle," Bundy called the official fifteen minutes later and said, "I was in the room when the President was ... er, talking to you, and I just wanted to say that it has happened to all of us. This little hot spot will quickly cool, and you should realize that the President would not have permitted himself that kind of blow-off if you were not one of those he regards highly and fully trusts." The official in question, Roger Hilsman, would have his differences with Bundy, but he always thought of him as a "man of warmth and thoughtfulness."

    Kennedy also found it convenient that his national security adviser was a Republican. When Bundy suggested that he now "felt like a Democrat" and that perhaps he ought to change his party registration in time for the 1962 congressional elections, Kennedy told him that it was "marginally more useful to me to be able to say that you're a Republican."

    Jack Kennedy was also a man who felt compelled to complicate his sexual life with a large cast of women--both inside and outside the White House. It helped that Bundy was the kind of Boston Brahmin who was not a prude. Evidently, Kennedy trusted him enough that he felt no need to hide all of his sexual dalliances from his friend. Still, it could be awkward, particularly when the president arranged for one of his lovers--a Radcliffe graduate he had met in 1959--to work on Bundy's staff. "It was very embarrassing," the woman later told Seymour Hersh. "It put McGeorge in a very creepy situation." In any case, Bundy was a paragon of discreetness.

    What for some was Bundy's arrogance appeared to Kennedy as simple "balls." Kennedy respected balls. When the president's brother Bobby, the attorney general, resigned his membership in the Metropolitan Club over the club's refusal to admit a black guest, Bundy astonished all of Washington by joining the club just a month later. When reporters queried him about it, Bundy responded, "This is a question each man must decide for himself.... If I were Attorney General I might come to a different conclusion. I have no quarrel with those who reached a decision to resign." He did not say so, but among those who had resigned was his own brother Bill, then deputy assistant secretary of defense. "There'd been a recurrent question of blacks coming to the club," Bill Bundy recalled. When the club made it clear that blacks weren't welcome even as guests, "this raised it to the level of outrage," he said, "and I resigned. It wasn't a very great sacrifice...." It was not an issue between the brothers, but the incident spoke volumes about their respective political sensibilities.

People who worked with both Bundy brothers were struck by how different they were. "Mac had a mathematical mind," recalled Chet Cooper, who first met the younger brother in 1961. "Very clipped. Almost surgical. And then there's Bill with the legal thing, who was able, I think, to argue for either the plaintiff or the defendant. They were two brothers, very different mind-sets, although in many respects, very much the same. A staff meeting with Bill and a staff meeting with Mac are really two very different kinds of sessions."

    Friends naturally wondered about sibling rivalry. That chemistry had to be there, people thought, but the Bundys rarely gave evidence of it. Mac confessed to at least one friend that he had "twitches of conscience because his brother had so much more governmental experience than he had." But there was no time to dwell on the ironies of life. By his own testimony, Mac was a man "genuinely in a hurry."

    At the age of forty-four, Bill seemed on first impression more easygoing than Mac. Walt Rostow--who knew both Bundys from Yale and now was working for Mac in the White House--thought Bill "rather straitlaced in appearance, but he could turn around and suddenly dance the Charleston. He sometimes did imitations of people; he could be quite fun. I've never seen Mac Bundy do anything like that." Bill's secretary, Blanche Moore, always pictured him arriving each morning at his office humming Broadway tunes or whistling. But he was also very demanding, expecting her dictation to be letter perfect. "He dictated like a lawyer," Moore recalled. "He never had to back up; his sentences were always full, grammatical sentences. You didn't change anything. It was such a pleasure to see his mind work." When he once discovered that Moore had not returned a classified document to the vault, he made her go down to the security office and confess the transgression. "He told me," Moore said, "`I have given my word, and if I don't keep it, how can they trust me?' I felt so ashamed. But after that incident, he never checked up on me." Moore would loyally serve Bundy as his secretary for more than a dozen years.

    At the end of a long day Bundy typically invited a reporter into his Pentagon office--just down the hall from where his father had worked under Stimson--for a drink, something Mac never did except with senior journalists like Joe Alsop or James Reston. Bill saw working reporters like Henry Brandon, Meg Greenfield and Joe Kraft. He would stretch his six-foot four-inch frame out on his office couch, sip his drink and smoke short, nonfilter cigarettes. Off the record, he "chewed" over the day's events and quizzed reporters about what they thought. He laced his speech with quaint, "hasty-pudding" expressions which his friends came to call Bundyisms. "No strain," he would say to his secretary when she couldn't find a book he wanted. "I must have pinched it." He used phrases like "whiff of grapeshot," "cannonball on the deck," and when an unsatisfactory memo landed on his desk, he would say, "We need to bring this up to concert pitch." To voice his disapproval of an idea, he would say, "Well, we can't suck eggs on that one."

    There was nothing archaic about Mac in these years. Where Bill could be disarmingly polite, Mac was brisk to the point of brusque. Bill could be harshly self-critical, while Mac--though not oblivious of his mistakes--had no time for introspection. "Most men have too much ego," said one of Bill's colleagues years later. "But Bill has just the right amount. He doesn't feel like he has to convince people of his worth. But then he also thinks people will naturally be interested in hearing what he has to say."

    Bill was the kind of man who was generally liked by just about anyone he got to know. Mac, however, could arouse extreme passions. People either liked him immensely or feared him. After dining with Mac one evening, the Oxford historian Isaiah Berlin wrote Joe Alsop, "I have never admired anyone so much, so intensely, for so long as I did him during those four hours ... his character emerged in such exquisite form that I am now his devoted and dedicated slave. I like him very much indeed, and I think he likes me, now, which was not always the case." On the other hand, an anonymous colleague told the New York Times in 1962, "I would not like to have him as my enemy." And another half-admirer said, "McGeorge Bundy is the iron priest of an iron faith in the definitiveness of his yes or no, and he has such a marvelous storehouse of language to make everything he says sound plausible that he scares the hell out of me."

    Mac scared people, but some learned that if you stood your ground he would listen. "Sure he's sharp; at times even nasty," said a State Department official, "if he thinks you're off base. But often, suddenly, halfway through the conversation, he'll turn and tell you, `You're right.' The important thing is that he is there and he listens." Mac once told Max Frankel of the New York Times that he understood that "where feelings become strong and differences of opinion become evident, there is some truth on every side and also some danger of error."

    Some people loved Mac Bundy even when they disagreed with him. James C. Thomson, Jr., worked for both Bundy brothers during the early 1960s and would clash repeatedly with them over Vietnam policy. But Thomson relished in Mac what so many people found dangerous. "Mac loved taking risks," Thomson said. "He loved irreverence and humor. He loved hearing dissent. He loved all the things that troubled his older brother. Bill was prim about irreverence, humor and all the things that made Mac so earthy, funny and wise."

    Mac always got good press during these years, while Bill labored in relative obscurity. Reporters found Mac colorful and unusually spontaneous for a White House official. They were astonished, for instance, that he rarely spoke from a prepared text. One day a reporter called and learned that Bundy was just beginning to think about what to say an hour before he was scheduled to give a formal address. When the reporter expressed some surprise at this, Bundy explained, "I'm used to the university lecture platform." Then he added what the reporter dubbed Bundy's Law: "Never write it out unless you have to get it cleared for security reasons." This was good copy and endeared him to members of the press.

    When Bobby Kennedy decided he wanted to host a monthly seminar at his Hickory Hill estate, Mac was the Bundy brother he thought to invite, not Bill. Organized by Schlesinger, Bobby's seminars brought together no more than twenty-five or thirty people--husbands and wives--and served to remind them, in Schlesinger's words, that "a world of ideas existed beyond government." Scholars like Isaiah Berlin, Ken Galbraith, George Kennan and Eric Goldman would give a short lecture and then the audience--which included such leading lights of the Kennedy administration as Bob McNamara, Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall and Ambassador-at-Large Averell Harriman--would pepper them with questions. "They sound rather precious," Alice Roosevelt Longworth later said, "but there was nothing precious about these lectures. It was all sorts of fun." At Hickory Hill, Mac got to know Bobby Kennedy as an eager interrogator, "a terrier of a man" who like himself could sometimes seem abrasive to people, particularly upon a first meeting. Mac didn't often say a great deal; the seminar topics--though not the surroundings--must have seemed old hat to a former Harvard dean. The seminars continued throughout the Kennedy presidency, and Mac would be there for most of them.

    At forty-two, Mac looked ten years younger. He wore the same clear-plastic frame glasses that he had sported as a Cambridge dean. He dressed his five-foot ten-inch, 160-pound frame in casual suits cut with the narrow lapels fashionable in the early 1960s. His cheeks were perpetually rosy, and his thinning sandy brown hair was brushed straight back--and disheveled just enough to suggest a man in a hurry.

While Mac Bundy was busy pulling together his team, the new president was weighing what to do about Fidel Castro's Cuba. Ever since Castro's guerrilla insurgency toppled the corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in January 1959, Cuban-American relations had soured. By the autumn of 1960, Dean Bundy was telling the Harvard Crimson that it would be "difficult for us not to support a movement on the part of true Latin American liberals to depose the current regime." Just eight days after the inauguration, CIA director Allen Dulles told Kennedy and Bundy, "Cuba is now for practical purposes a Communist-controlled state." Ten months earlier President Eisenhower had authorized the CIA to train Cuban exiles for an invasion of the island, and in the meantime the Agency organized a series of hit-and-run attacks along the Cuban coastline. The CIA also began hatching assassination plots against Castro. On January 3, 1961, the Eisenhower administration broke diplomatic relations with Castro's regime. In effect, Ike was handing his successor an undeclared war.

    Now CIA chief Dulles urged the Kennedy White House to approve a plan to topple Castro with an invasion force of some 1,500 Cuban exiles trained by the CIA in Guatemala. Kennedy was noncommittal. By February 8, Bundy was telling him, "Defense and CIA now feel quite enthusiastic about the invasion.... At the worst, they think the invaders would get into the mountains, and at the best, they think they might get a full-fledged civil war in which we could then back the anti-Castro forces openly." Kennedy's cautious response came just a few days later. After reading a New York Times story which went into considerable detail about the planning behind what was supposed to be a covert operation, Kennedy dictated a memo to Bundy: "Has the policy for Cuba been coordinated between Defense, CIA [and State]?... If there is a difference of opinion between the agencies I think they should be brought to my attention."

    Bundy replied with a "road map" to these differences. Defense and CIA were "quite enthusiastic," while the State Department "takes a much cooler view...."He reported that he and Dick Goodwin "join in believing that there should certainly not be an invasion adventure without careful diplomatic soundings. We also think it almost certain that such soundings would confirm the judgment you are likely to hear from State." In other words, Bundy was skeptical of an "invasion adventure." Skeptical, but not opposed.

    Throughout February, Kennedy refused to make a decision about the operation, and indeed, he kept asking for "alternatives to a full-fledged invasion." Could not, the president asked, "such a force be landed gradually and quietly and make its first major military efforts from the mountains--then taking shape as a Cuban force within Cuba, not as an invasion force sent by the Yankees?" The notes Bundy took of this particular conversation make it clear that the CIA's deputy director for plans, Richard Bissell, just didn't think there were "other really satisfactory uses of the troops in Guatemala...." Bissell and Kennedy were talking right past each other.

    Over the next two months Bundy thought he was doing his job, playing gatekeeper to the Oval Office. On February 18, Bundy handed Kennedy two memos, one from the CIA's Bissell and another from Thomas C. Mann, assistant secretary of state for Latin America. "Bissell and Mann are the real antagonists at the staff level," Bundy wrote in a cover note to the president. "Since I think you lean to Mann's view, I have put Bissell on top." Bundy then told the president that he thought the "gloomier parts of both papers are right.... The one hope I see is in an early--even if thin--recognition of a rival regime." Bundy wanted to stall for time, recognize a government-in-exile, impose a "full trade embargo against Castro," and then, "conceivably, we could hold back Bissell's battalion for about three months and even build it up somewhat. And when it did go in, the color of civil war would be quite a lot stronger."

    The Bissell-Mann debate came down to the fact that Mann thought it highly unlikely that the invasion would spark a popular uprising, and without such a rebellion, Mann thought the invasion force would be doomed. Bissell responded that in the absence of a general revolt, the invasion force could be sustained almost indefinitely as a guerrilla force. Kennedy read the Mann and Bissell memos, but he again decided to postpone a decision on whether to authorize the invasion. In retrospect, Bundy clearly should have used Mann's dissent memo to press for a full-dress debate. Bissell later told the historian Piero Gleijeses that he had never seen the Mann memo. Mann later said of his memo, "It was like a stone falling in water" Eventually, even Mann would decide that his dissent had gone far enough, and he voted to proceed with the operation.

    By March 11, when Bissell gave another briefing to the president, Kennedy persuaded himself that he had to approve some kind of operation involving the landing of "an appropriate number of patriotic Cubans to return to their homeland." The CIA-backed force of Cuban exiles was a fact which would not go away, Allen Dulles told him. As Bundy later put it in a postmortem, the president was being told that the Cuban force had to leave Guatemala in the near future. Politics was a major factor. If the operation was canceled, Republicans would have blamed "this antsy-pantsy bunch of liberals. ... Saying no would have brought all the hawks out of the woodwork."

    So for domestic political reasons, Kennedy allowed the CIA to refine its covert plan to ease the exile army into Cuba. As designed by Bissell, Operation Zapata would be executed without any overt involvement of U.S. military forces. The brigade of Cuban exiles would seize a beachhead at the Bay of Pigs on Cuba's southern coast and establish a defensive perimeter that would include control of a local airstrip. A CIA-run air strike from planes based in Guatemala could then be attributed to defectors from the Cuban air force. Within days the exiles would be launching air strikes all over Cuba from the Bay of Pigs airstrip, creating chaos throughout the island. A new government would be proclaimed, which would immediately be recognized by Washington.

    Bissell--the "Great Expositor"--convinced Bundy that Operation Zapata had a "fighting chance." On March 15, Bundy told Kennedy that he thought the CIA had done "a remarkable job of reframing the landing plan so as to make it unspectacular and quiet, and plausibly Cuban in its essentials. I have been a skeptic about Bissell's operation, but now I think we are on the edge of a good answer." So concerned was Bundy to disguise the American hand, he failed to grill Bissell about whether such a small invasion force could defend itself on the ground against Castro's militia. He knew Bissell better than to have been so unquestioning: on February 25, Bundy had written the president that "if Dick [Bissell] has a fault, it is that he does not look at all sides of the question...."

    In the weeks leading up to the April invasion, no one inside the administration would question the military feasibility of the plan. And only Senator William Fulbright (D.-Ark.), the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would question whether it was the right thing to do. On March 30, Fulbright gave Kennedy a memo urging him to pursue a policy of isolating Castro, not overthrowing him: "The Castro regime is a thorn in the flesh," argued Fulbright, "but it is not a dagger in the heart." Five days later Kennedy invited the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to a full-dress review of the CIA operation. In the presence of Mac Bundy, Bill Bundy, Arthur Schlesinger, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Paul Nitze and three members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Fulbright listened as Dulles and Bissell outlined the operation. Finally, Kennedy turned to Fulbright and asked him what he thought. As Schlesinger later recalled, "Fulbright, speaking in an emphatic and incredulous way, denounced the whole idea. The operation, he said, was wildly out of proportion to the threat." Far from being moved by Fulbright's eloquence, the president's advisers closed ranks against the outsider.

    Bill Bundy remembered being annoyed that Fulbright was even there; to his mind the senator's presence turned the meeting into a "charade." Instead of debating whether the invasion could succeed, Fulbright's pitch forced everyone to defend the morality of the intervention. "Damn it to hell," Bundy thought to himself, "these are bridges we crossed long ago." Though Bill had been swamped with other work on Laos, the Congo and Berlin, he had been assigned by his boss, Nitze, to monitor the Cuban operation. And that had entailed several rather pessimistic briefings from Colonel Edward Lansdale. This veteran counterinsurgency expert questioned the basic assumption behind the venture: that the exile force would be welcomed by the Cuban masses. Nitze later wrote that Lansdale "had caused me to doubt the practicality" of the operation. But in the meeting with Fulbright and the president, Nitze did not pass along his reservations, partly because he did not want to appear to be buttressing what he regarded as Fulbright's moralistic arguments against intervention. But Nitze also knew that Bundy disagreed with Lansdale; based on intelligence estimates from his former colleagues at the CIA, Bundy thought there was a reasonable expectation that the Cuban people would respond to the invasion with an uprising. But he had not, as Nitze thought, carefully analyzed the military aspects of the operation. In fact, Bundy was just passing along what the Joint Chiefs were saying about the operation. As Bill later put it, "The ball was dropped between the two of us.... It would have been clear in a five-minute conversation that I had not dug deeply on it, and he [Nitze] would then have said, `For God's sake, dig, really come up with something.'"

    He later felt some personal responsibility: "We were one of the `joints' of the policy-making process, where you ought to be very critical of the political assumptions, very critical of the military assumptions.... And between us, we really weren't doing that. And McNamara wasn't doing what he invariably did after this, that is, to impose himself--some would say to excess--between the Joint Chiefs and the President." When Kennedy asked for a vote at the critical April 4 meeting with Fulbright, Bill Bundy thought, "This is not the right way to do it." But then he, Mac and everyone else in the room voted "yes." Planning for the invasion proceeded.

    Once the decision was made, Mac Bundy made sure that no further dissents reached the president. Richard Goodwin, a close aide to the president, remembered how one morning shortly before the invasion, he met Bundy, Walt Rostow and Arthur Schlesinger in the White House mess for breakfast. Clearly overwrought, Goodwin pressed Bundy, saying, "Even if the landings are successful and a revolutionary government is set up, they'll have to ask for our help. And if we agree, it'll be a massacre.... We'll have to fight house-to-house in Havana." Bundy responded, "Listen, Dick, I have an idea. Why don't you go over to see Rusk...." Only afterwards did Goodwin realize that Bundy had shunted him out of the way, knowing that the secretary of state had no inclination to change the president's mind. Bundy was also unpersuaded by two memos from Schlesinger, who voiced his blunt opposition to the whole scheme: "I am against it." In the end, vigorous dissents from Schlesinger, Mann, Fulbright and Goodwin did not persuade Bundy to come out against the operation.

Early on the morning of Monday, April 17, some 1,300 members of Cuban Exile Brigade 2506 landed on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs and fought until they ran out of ammunition. Only hours before, on Sunday evening, Mac Bundy had phoned Bissell and the CIA's deputy director, General Charles P. Cabell, to say that Kennedy had decided to cancel the D-day air strikes, which would have been flown by American pilots. Bundy explained that the president believed the air mission would reveal too much of the American hand in the operation. Bissell was stunned. Even with air cover, the brigade at best could hold its beachhead for days or maybe even a week or two. If they lasted that long, Bissell thought, anything could happen. Without air cover, the game could be up within hours. Indeed, within a day the force, with its back to the ocean, was surrounded by 20,000 Cuban troops and militia. By Tuesday morning, Bundy was writing the president, "... the situation in Cuba is not a bit good." Even then, Bundy still thought that at worst the exile force could melt into the mountains. In fact, by Thursday the battle was all over: 114 exiles were dead and 1,189 captured. Air strikes or not, the Bay of Pigs was a military and public relations fiasco that could not have turned out otherwise.

    Mac immediately sent Kennedy a handwritten resignation note: "You know that I wish I had served you better in the Cuban episode, and I hope you know that I admire your own gallantry under fire in that case. If my departure can assist you in any way, I hope you will send me off." Resignation was not a real option. Instead, Kennedy rewarded Bundy with an office closer to the Oval Office, moving his whole operation from the Old Executive Office Building to the basement of the West Wing of the White House.

    Mac felt the Bay of Pigs had been a mistake, but not one that really belonged on his ledger. Indeed, when General Maxwell Taylor, who had been appointed by the president to investigate what had happened, circulated his critical report on the fiasco in early May, Bundy wrote a vigorous rebuttal defending his staff and making it clear that crucial information had been withheld from the president by the Joint Chiefs. Taylor's report suggested the fiasco occurred because the operation was "run from the White House." This Bundy vigorously denied. The president had repeatedly stated that he did not want any overt use of U.S. military forces. "I recall no word of opposition," Bundy wrote, "to this decision...." Bundy was angry, and like Kennedy, he felt he had been misled by the Joint Chiefs, the CIA and his old economics professor at Yale, Dick Bissell.

    Bissell knew he was through and did not even try to defend the operation. A few days after the fiasco Mac gently told Bissell, "The president thinks you should swing your axe elsewhere for a while." Some months later Bissell was given a medal and then prematurely retired.

    Historians remain puzzled by many aspects of the Bay of Pigs operation. Why, for instance, did such smart men think that so few troops could land and defend themselves against Castro's army? As Dean Acheson chided Bill Bundy afterwards, it didn't take "Price Waterhouse to discover that 1,500 Cubans weren't as good as 25,000 Cubans." Mac Bundy insisted that Bissell and Dulles "never really believed Kennedy when he said he wasn't going to put American forces in, so they didn't worry about whether the landing force would succeed because they believed whatever Kennedy said he would reinforce them once the game was joined.... We told them as flatly as we knew how that it was never going to be an American venture. And they heard all that, but they didn't believe it.... It's incredible, but it's the fact."

    As Mac put it later, the Bay of Pigs entailed a "very big failure in communication." He told one of Ben Bradlee's reporters from Newsweek , "We were just freshmen, and as freshmen you don't go in and say, `Dammit, Mr. President, you're not getting the right kind of information.'" The Bay of Pigs was not that important. Bundy called it just "a brick through the window." This was clever spin control, both self-deprecating and protective of Kennedy.

    But later, even Bundy would sometimes wonder if Bissell and his boys in the CIA had told him and the president the whole plan. Some evidence has emerged from unverifiable Cuban sources that there was another piece to this puzzling episode. One of Castro's veteran counterintelligence officers, General Fabian Escalante, claimed that years after the failed invasion Cuban intelligence learned that one of the decoy ships had a far more important mission: to approach the U.S. base at Guantanamo, three hundred miles to the southeast, and land a force of troops dressed in uniforms of Castro's army, who would then stage an "attack" on the U.S. base. This staged attack would then provide the provocation for a full-scale U.S. military intervention in support of the landing force at the Bay of Pigs. In the event, the decoy ship, Santa Ana , with a force of some 164 men, did arrive at the mouth of the Macambo River, near Guantanamo. According to one member of the force, his men were dressed in the kind of khaki uniforms that could easily have been mistaken for those of the Cuban army. As it turned out, the landing was aborted when a small surveillance unit from La Playa happened to encounter a Cuban patrol. The staged attack on the U.S. base was thus aborted, leaving Bissell without the pretext he needed to push Kennedy into authorizing further air strikes over the Bay of Pigs, and perhaps even a full-scale invasion.

    When asked years later about this scenario, Mac Bundy responded, "I don't remember it, but it is not out of bounds. Somebody might have thought this up." Bissell died before he could be asked about Escalante's information, but in his posthumously published memoirs, he reported that just a week before Kennedy was inaugurated, President Eisenhower said he was "prepared to `move against Castro' before Kennedy's inauguration if a `really good excuse' was provided by Castro." According to Bissell, Secretary of State Christian Herter then "suggested we stage an attack on Guantanamo." Perhaps this was Bissell's backhanded way of signaling to his readers that there was more to the invasion plan than could be revealed. If true, the failure of the decoy ship to carry out the covert attack on Guantanamo was part of what Bundy called "this dunces performance."

Recriminations about the Bay of Pigs would reverberate throughout the remaining years of the Kennedy administration. The defeat turned Cuba into an obsession. "We were hysterical about Castro," McNamara said later. Even two years later a reporter noticed that together with the usual in- and outboxes on Bundy's cluttered walnut desk were two other boxes, one marked "President's box" and the other "Cuba."

    Publicly, Kennedy made a dignified show of taking full responsibility for the disaster. But among themselves, the Kennedy men blamed Eisenhower. "Ike left Kennedy an impossible situation," Bill Bundy said. "A grenade with the pin pulled."

    They also blamed the military; the Joint Chiefs would never be trusted again. "We were all very disillusioned with the Joint Chiefs," recalled Bill. "It was unforgivable that they should operate on the assumption that the president would order" U.S. forces to intervene "in a pinch."

    Not surprisingly, Kennedy was annoyed by a Walter Lippmann column on May 2 that reported how right Senator Fulbright had been in his opposition to the operation. "He [Fulbright] foresaw what would happen.... Senator Fulbright was the only wise man in the lot." Bundy promptly wrote Lippmann, "... your column this morning seemed to me hard but fair..."

    An even harsher judgment came from Under Secretary of State Chester Bowles. "The Cuban fiasco," Bowles wrote in his diary, "demonstrates how far astray a man as brilliant and well intentioned as Kennedy can go who lacks a basic moral reference point." Bowles would soon be dismissed, partly because Kennedy thought he had leaked to the press his early opposition to the operation, and partly because in one of the NSC meetings following the fiasco Bowles had argued that it would be a great mistake "to create additional sympathy for Castro in his David and Goliath struggle against the United States." According to the minutes of the meeting, Bowles's "comments were brushed aside brutally and abruptly by the various fire eaters who were present." Needless to say, Bundy was one of the fire-eaters.

    Bowles wrote that he left this meeting "with a feeling of intense alarm. ... If every question in the world becomes an intellectual exercise on a totally pragmatic basis, with no reference to moral considerations, it may be that we can escape disaster, but it will certainly be putting the White House group to a test when ... the minds that are attempting to do this are tired, uneasy, and unsure, the values and the arithmetic are unlikely to reflect wise courses." These were bitter words, written by a prophet who knew he was being banished from Camelot.

    A crisis was no time, thought Bundy, to be pressed with cloying "moral considerations." As it happened, Marcus Raskin, the young man David Riesman thought could serve as Bundy's moral conscience in the White House, did not receive his security clearance until mid-April. So when Raskin showed up on Monday, April 17, for his first day of work, everyone was talking about an isolated swamp in Cuba called the Bay of Pigs. By Wednesday morning, when Bundy held a staff meeting it was painfully clear that the CIA's operation was an unmitigated disaster. The meeting took place across from Bundy's office on the third floor of the Old Executive Office Building. Raskin thought it a surrealistic atmosphere: "There was this enormous bowl of fruit on the table in this very ornate, high-ceiling room; you have to remember, there were people dead on the beach that day and I'm eating fruit." As they discussed what was happening, Bundy flippantly said, "Well, Che learned more from Guatemala than we did." (Castro's fellow revolutionary, Che Guevara, had been in Guatemala during the CIA's 1954 coup, which had succeeded in part due to the operation's air superiority.) To which Raskin interjected, "And what have we learned?" Bundy stared at him stony-faced, and another aide quickly suggested that there should be no recriminations: "We must show a unified front within the administration." The next day Raskin was told, "Mac would prefer you not to come to the meetings--he'll have you report to him at the end of the day." Raskin later heard that Bundy had explained, "I can't take Marc anywhere without worrying that he won't pee on the floor."

    Still, Bundy didn't get rid of Raskin. He liked having difficult men like Raskin, Komer and Kaysen hanging about. So long as they didn't lecture him about morality he could tolerate a great deal of intellectual debate. If anything, the Stimsonian in Bundy thought the real lesson of the Bay of Pigs was that they had not been pragmatic enough. On May 16 he tried to reassure Kennedy: "Cuba was a bad mistake. But it was not a disgrace and there were reasons for it. If we set our critics on the left and right against each other they would eat each other up, and we already know more about what went wrong and why than any of them.... Against our hopes and our responsibilities, Cuba is a nitpick--it must not throw us off-balance."

    Bundy warned the president that his true friends "now fear that because of Cuba we may turn back to cautious inactivity." Far from heeding Fulbright's or Bowles's warnings, the White House would now redouble its efforts to overthrow Castro by covert means. In the summer of 1961 the CIA was ordered to come up with a plan to oust Castro. Thus was born Operation Mongoose, an escalation of the sabotage and hit-and-run attacks Eisenhower had authorized against Cuba in 1960.

    For the next eighteen months the Kennedy administration waged an undeclared war on Cuba. Bundy specifically rejected Fulbright's alternative policy of merely isolating Castro's regime. And only four months after the Bay of Pigs, he and Kennedy scorned an olive branch offered by Castro's closest associate, Che Guevara. In an extraordinary meeting in Uruguay initiated by the Cubans, Guevara told White House aide Richard Goodwin that he and Castro wanted a modus vivendi with the United States. Without giving up their socialist agenda inside Cuba, Guevara said they nevertheless were willing to accept some limits on their foreign policy. Specifically, he said they "could agree not to make any political alliance with the East [the Soviets] ... [and] they could also discuss the activities of the Cuban revolution in other countries." Guevara also volunteered that Cuba could pay for American property confiscated by the Cuban revolution. Goodwin passed a detailed memo of his three-hour conversation with Guevara to Bundy and Kennedy, and recommended that they "seek some way of continuing the below ground dialogue which Che has begun." The president and his national security adviser never bothered to respond to this offer of detente. Without a modus vivendi, Guevara ended up in Moscow the following summer to negotiate the delivery of nuclear-tipped missiles to deter the expected American invasion of Cuba. The missile crisis of October 1962--the most dangerous nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union of the entire Cold War--was a direct consequence of the Bay of Pigs.

Some of the fallout from the Bay of Pigs would land in Laos, a sliver of a peasant nation unknown to most Americans. The Kennedy style of flexibility had its costs, and one of them was that White House task forces tended to personalize each crisis. Bundy and his colleagues had a tendency to apply lessons learned from the handling of one crisis to the next in a very different part of the world. So it was that the failure in Cuba had consequences in faraway Southeast Asia.

    In March 1961, Kennedy had focused the nation's attention on a crisis in Laos, where a local communist insurgency appeared to be on the verge of seizing power Kennedy initially turned this obscure local conflict into a Soviet-American confrontation with a televised speech in which he was seen by millions of Americans brandishing a wooden pointer at large maps of Laos depicting the communist aggression. His performance led many Americans to believe that U.S. troops would soon be dispatched there. But then came the disaster in Cuba in April, and the Kennedy White House became highly skeptical of advice from the Joint Chiefs. In one meeting Bundy so exasperated Army General Lyman Lemnitzer with icy, baiting questions that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs abruptly conceded that any intervention in Laos was likely to lead to a full-scale ground war. This persuaded Kennedy to accept a Soviet offer to negotiate a neutral, coalition government in Laos. Bobby Kennedy later confirmed, "if it hadn't been for the Bay of Pigs, we would have sent troops into Laos." Instead, the crisis in Laos quickly receded with a "neutralist" solution. Anyone who knew anything about Laotian affairs thought this was a pretty good solution; it made no sense for America to go to war in Laos. Kennedy's right-wing critics, nevertheless, could claim that the administration had compromised with communists, and that, of course, meant the president had incurred some domestic political costs by doing the sensible thing in far-off Laos. Moreover, if the Cuban fiasco led to caution in Laos, the muddied nature of Laotian neutralism persuaded some Kennedy men, particularly Mac Bundy, that they might have to draw a line in neighboring Vietnam.

    Just one day after the collapse of the Bay of Pigs operation, Kennedy ordered a review of U.S. options in South Vietnam. In the aftermath of the 1954 Geneva Agreements that had ended the French Indochina War, South Vietnam's anti-communist leader, Ngo Dinh Diem, had consolidated his power. With American support, Diem had refused to hold the 1956 elections specified under the Geneva Agreements that would have reunified North and South Vietnam. In 1959 communist and nationalist forces indigenous to South Vietnam began to take up arms against Diem's regime. By the spring of 1961, Viet Cong guerrilla bands, with some logistical support from the North, were challenging Diem's control of much of the countryside.

    April 29, 1961, was later described in the classified official history of the war known as the Pentagon Papers as a day of "prolonged crisis meetings at the White House." On that spring day President Kennedy made a series of fateful decisions on Vietnam. With Bundy's support, he ordered the deployment of four hundred Special Forces anti-guerrilla troops to South Vietnam. American advisers would now train South Vietnamese troops to conduct "ranger raids and similar military actions in North Vietnam as might prove necessary or appropriate." Because these actions constituted what the Pentagon Papers described as "the first formal breach of the Geneva agreements," no publicity was given to the decisions. Within weeks the government of North Vietnam was lodging formal protests that its airspace and territory were being violated by foreign aircraft and South Vietnamese combat teams. An Indochina war that had begun in 1945 was about to enter a new phase?

    Not coincidentally, Bundy himself began boning up on a country about which he knew practically nothing by reading Bernard Fall's new and very pessimistic book, Street Without Joy . A French journalist who first went to Indochina in 1953 on a Fulbright fellowship, Fall brought a distinctly European perspective to his reporting on the Vietnamese conflict. An anti-communist, he nevertheless was a critic of the French colonial experience and the subsequent American intervention. He described the full extent of the French defeat at the hands of powerful nationalist forces, led by an indigenous communist movement determined to reunite the country. No one who read Street Without Joy in 1961 could later claim to have been innocent about the prospects for keeping Vietnam divided.

The Cuban fiasco also placed enormous pressure on Kennedy to show his mettle with the Soviets in Germany. That spring Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev was again making threats about ending the postwar agreement that established four-power control over a divided Germany and its former capital, Berlin. Early in the Cold War, Washington had decided to keep Germany divided, and consequently the American, French and British occupation zones had been forged into a sovereign West German state allied to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In reaction, the Soviets forged their own communist-dominated East German state. Berlin, though located deep inside East Germany, remained divided into four sectors governed, respectively, by the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain and France. The allure of West Berlin's free market economy and open democratic society was a constant irritant to East Germany's communist rulers. Hundreds of East Germans were leaving daily by simply walking into West Berlin. This population drain threatened the very existence of the East German state. It seemed obvious to Khrushchev in 1961 that he could stabilize the status quo by simply abrogating the four-power status of Berlin and absorbing West Berlin into East Germany. To his mind, if the Americans wanted to keep Germany divided, then the anomaly of West Berlin had to end. Khrushchev's threats, therefore, were very much on Kennedy's mind as he prepared for a summit meeting in Vienna with Khrushchev in June 1961.

    Khrushchev's reputation for bombast posed a dilemma for Kennedy. The narrowly elected young president felt that he could not ever appear to be cowed by the man who had once pounded his shoe at the U.N. General Assembly. Yet, many of Kennedy's advisers who knew Khrushchev best believed that this earthy Soviet communist was someone with whom Washington could quite possibly negotiate an armistice to the Cold War.

    Khrushchev had risen to power in Joseph Stalin's shadow, and as such he had been a witness and collaborator to some of the tyrant's worst crimes. But he was not Stalin, and he had repeatedly taken steps toward liberalization, including dramatic cuts in the Soviet defense budget, that encouraged some in Washington to believe that an early detente was possible. Averell Harriman, who had served as Franklin Roosevelt's ambassador to Moscow during World War II, was now one of Kennedy's most important advisers on Soviet affairs. Significantly, Harriman believed the key to detente was a resolution of the German question. The Soviets still feared Germany, even as it remained divided and virtually occupied by a handful of foreign armies.

    Harriman had visited Khrushchev in the Kremlin in the summer of 1959 and came away impressed with the Russian premier's fierce intelligence and basic sincerity. "We want to disarm and cease the Cold War," Khrushchev had said. As a start, the Soviet Union was prepared to negotiate an end to all testing of nuclear weapons. He was also prepared to end the division of Europe. What he had in mind was the proposal floated by Polish foreign minister Adam Rapacki which envisioned a vast demilitarized zone composed of the two Germanys, Poland and Czechoslovakia. In his controversial 1957 Reith Lectures on the BBC, George Kennan, the father of containment policy, had advocated a similar solution: a unified, but neutral and demilitarized Germany. "Many of Mr. Kennan's ideas," Khrushchev told Harriman, "would be acceptable to us, and should be to the advantage of the U.S. as well."

    As to Germany, Khrushchev gave Harriman a vivid demonstration of his ribald humor "There is a current joke in Russia," Khrushchev said, "that if you look at [West German Chancellor Konrad] Adenauer naked from behind, he shows Germany divided. If you look at him from the front, he demonstrates that Germany cannot stand." The joke said it all. Germany was divided and no one wished to see it rise up once again.

    "We will not agree to your taking over Eastern Germany, and I know you will not agree to a united Germany that does not have your system, in fact, no one wants a united Germany. [French president Charles] De Gaulle told us so; the British have told us so; and Adenauer himself when he was here said he was not interested in unification. Why, then, do you persist in talking about it?'

    As to Berlin, Khrushchev reasoned, "You state you want to defend the two million people in West Berlin. We are prepared to give any guarantees you desire to perpetuate the present social structure, either under the supervision of neutral countries or under the U.N. However, we are absolutely determined to liquidate the state of war with Germany. It is an anachronism."

    And then, as he often did when pressed about Berlin, Khrushchev began to threaten war. "What good does it do you to have eleven thousand troops in Berlin? If it came to war, we would swallow them in one gulp ... you have surrounded us with bases but our rockets can destroy them. If you start a war, we may die but the rockets will fly automatically."

    This was the Soviet leader's bluster, and Harriman took it with a grain of salt. Harriman, too, feared the Germans, and did not wish to see an economically vibrant Germany reunited under any circumstances. He disliked Kennan's notion of a unified, demilitarized Germany. Like many other members of the American foreign policy establishment, Harriman preferred to keep: Germany divided as long as possible. There were, however, unspoken costs to this policy. One was that the West Germans had to be cajoled into accepting the situation. They had been given "sovereignty" even as American, French and British troops continued to be stationed on West German territory. Washington's recognition of West German sovereignty in 1952 had been one more violation of the Yalta accords. As Khrushchev had just told him, "You recognized West Germany on conditions contrary to those agreed upon during the war." So from Khrushchev's perspective, it was only fair that the Soviets accord recognition to East Germany as a sovereign state with full control over its territory. This would help to ease Russian fears about Germany, but it would also, as Kennan had pointed out, condemn the East Germans--and much of Eastern Europe--to living within the communist sphere.

    Viewed in this light, Khrushchev's talk of normalizing the abnormal division of Germany was not threatening to the West in any military sense. He was attempting only to cloak the de facto division of Germany with a reassuring legality. He was attempting to place the status quo in concrete. From the Soviet perspective, this was a purely defensive policy. But from the perspective of the Kennedy administration, recognition of the East German state, even by just Moscow, threatened political embarrassment because it suggested that Washington's commitment to Germany's freedom and democracy was laced with hypocrisy. Some members of the new administration understood this conundrum and wished to stabilize the status quo in Central Europe, which was defined first and foremost as a divided Germany. But they could not be seen to do this while giving way to Khrushchev's threats.

    A few days before Bundy accompanied the president to Vienna, he tried to summarize the administration's dilemma: "At one extreme are those who feel that the central Soviet purpose is to drive us out of Berlin and destroy the European Alliance as a consequence. On the other extreme are those who feel that if we think in terms of accommodation, we should be able to avoid a real crisis.... The one thing which must be avoided ... is any conclusion that the United States is feeble on Berlin itself.... We ourselves might indeed have new proposals at a later time."

    Bundy didn't have to name names: that spring Dean Acheson had been "a man with a mission," as Bundy later put it in his 1988 book, Danger and Survival . Convinced that the Soviets were determined to take over West Berlin and thereby destroy NATO's credibility, Acheson was using all his prestige to persuade the young president to confront the Soviet challenge in Germany with a show of force. Acheson was ready for war. At the other extreme, men like Walter Lippmann, George Kennan and many of Bundy's friends at Harvard (Riesman, Hoffmann and others) were convinced that it was in America's interest to come to a realistic accommodation wit

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 1998-08:
The remarkable McGeorge Bundy figures largely in David Halberstam's wonderful The Best and the Brightest (1972). Bird (The Chairman: John J. McCloy; The Making of the American Establishment, LJ 4/1/92) has now produced an outstanding dual biography of the Bundy brothers that is easily on a par with Halberstam's classic. Exhaustively researched over nearly a decade, it delves into the inner workings of foreign policy-making in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations through the careers of the Brahmin-born McGeorge, Kennedy's national security advisor, and William, who served as an assistant secretary of state. McGeorge was a Harvard dean at the age of 34; William edited Foreign Affairs for over a decade. But they were best known for their work in government, where the brothers represented the liberal vital center. Uncompromising cold warriors, they carried their fight against global communism to the far corners of the earth‘and ultimately into the Vietnam War tragedy. Filled with insight and sprightly writing, this is an essential purchase for all libraries. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/98.]‘Edward Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1998-08-24:
The color of truth? McGeorge Bundy is quoted as saying it's gray, but there is nothing gray about this crisply written, carefully researched dual biography of brothers, who during the Vietnam era were regarded as fascists by the protesters and wild-eyed liberals by the right wing. The gray area comes when Bird (The Chairman) looks into motives. As stellar examples of what David Halberstam ironically called "the best and the brightest," the Bundys (McGeorge as JFK's National Security adviser; William was at the Pentagon) recognized early in Kennedy's administration that an American war in Southeast Asia was folly. But both actively pursued it into the Johnson administration. Bird is a sympathetic, but not apologetic, biographer, and his portrait shows two exceptional men who parlayed brains, a knack for cajoling influential older men and impeccable family connections into successful careers both in and out of government. He comes up with no tidy explanations for why they promoted a war they morally opposed. Perhaps, he suggests, they feared appeasement (the lesson of Munich) more than disastrous involvement, or that others would do an even worse job containing the conflict. The book, for which both brothers were interviewed, covers more than Vietnam. Besides being a sharply detailed depiction of a social class that Bird all too often calls "Boston Brahmin," the book covers breaking the enemy military codes during WWII, Harvard in the 1950s, Senator McCarthy and the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis and the liberal agendas of the Great Society. This is a careful, intelligent biography of two careful, intelligent men. (Oct.)
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, June 1998
Kirkus Reviews, August 1998
Library Journal, August 1998
Publishers Weekly, August 1998
Booklist, September 1998
Chicago Tribune, December 1998
Los Angeles Times, April 1999
New York Times Book Review, April 1999
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