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
Born in 1919 and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Bundy was the third son in a prosperous family long involved in Republican politics. His older brothers were Harvey Hollister Bundy, Jr., and William Putnam Bundy, he had two younger sisters, Harriet Lowell and Katharine Lawrence. His father, Harvey Hollister Bundy, hailing from Grand Rapids, Michigan, was a prominent attorney in Boston serving as a clerk for Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in his younger days. Bundy's mother, Katherine Lawrence Putnam, was related to several Boston Brahmin families listed in the Social Register, the Lowells, the Cabots, and the Lawrences; she was a niece to Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell.
The Bundys met and befriended Colonel Henry L. Stimson at some point of time. As Secretary of State under Herbert 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, and serving as liaison between Stimson and the director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Vannevar Bush. William and McGeorge grew up knowing Stimson as a family friend and colleague of their father. The senior Bundy also helped implement the Marshall Plan.
McGeorge Bundy attended the private Dexter Lower School in Brookline, Massachusetts and the elite 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 where 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.
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. He graduated Yale in the class of 1940. In 1941 he was awarded a three-year junior fellowship in Harvard Society of Fellows.
During World War II Bundy decided to enlist despite his poor vision. He served as a U.S. Army intelligence officer. In 1943 he became an aide to Rear Admiral Alan G. Kirk, who knew his father. In 1946 he was discharged with rank of captain returning to his graduate studies at Harvard.
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). Stimson had recently retired as US Secretary of War but suffered a massive heart attack in the fall of 1945, and Bundy's assistance was important to him.
In 1948, he worked for Republican presidential candidate Thomas Dewey as one of his speechwriters dealing with foreign policy issues. After Dewey's defeat, 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.
In 1949, Bundy received appointment at Harvard University as a lecturer in the government department despite having only a bachelor's degree. Bundy lectured on the U.S. foreign policy history and was popular among students; after two years he was recommended for tenure at his department.
In 1950 he married Mary Buckminster Lothrop, who came from a socially prominent and wealthy Bostonian family; they had four sons.
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. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1954.
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. 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.
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". 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 II treaty a decade later.
Bundy was scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Corporation from 1990 to 1996.
Bundy died in September 1996 from a heart attack at the age of 77.
- In 1969 he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson, one of 20 to receive the medal "in the last 24 hours of [Johnson's] presidency in January 1969".
- Bundy was later included on President Richard Nixon's "Enemies List", his compilation of political opponents.
- Views of Bundy's role in the Vietnam War changed over the decades. Gordon Goldstein's 2008 book, Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam, was reported in late September 2009 as the "must-read-book" among President Barack Obama's war advisers, as they contemplated the alternative courses ahead in Afghanistan. Richard C. Holbrooke, who had reviewed the book in late November 2008, was a member of the team of presidential advisers in 2009.
- Sanger, David E., "War Figures Honored With Medal of Freedom" (limited no-charge access), The New York Times, December 15, 2004.
- Rich, Frank (September 26, 2009), "Op-ed: Obama at the Precipice", The New York Times, retrieved September 27, 2009
Representation in other media
Bundy and his role have been featured in feature and TV films:
- He was played by James Olson in the made-for-TV film, The Missiles of October (1974).
- In the 2000 film Thirteen Days, McGeorge Bundy is portrayed by Frank Wood.
- In the 2002 HBO film Path to War, Bundy is portrayed by Cliff DeYoung.
- In the 2013 TV film, Killing Kennedy, Bundy was portrayed by Ray Nedzel.