McGeorge Bundy

McGeorge "Mac" Bundy (March 30, 1919 – September 16, 1996) was an American academic who served 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 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.

McGeorge Bundy
6th United States National Security Advisor
In office
January 20, 1961  February 28, 1966
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Lyndon Johnson
Preceded byGordon Gray
Succeeded byWalt Rostow
Personal details
Born(1919-03-30)March 30, 1919
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedSeptember 16, 1996(1996-09-16) (aged 77)
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Resting placeMount Auburn Cemetery
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Mary Lothrop
EducationYale University (BA)

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 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, and he had two younger sisters, Harriet Lowell and Katharine Lawrence.[1] His father, Harvey Hollister Bundy, 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 were close to Henry L. Stimson. 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,[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 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.[5]

He was admitted to Yale University, one year behind his brother William. At Yale, 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 from Yale with an A.B. in mathematics in 1940.

In 1941, he was awarded a three-year Junior Fellowship in the Harvard Society of Fellows. At the time, Fellows were not allowed to pursue advanced degrees, "a requirement intended to keep them off the standard academic treadmill"; as such, Bundy would never earn a doctorate.[7]

Military service

During World War II, Bundy decided to join the United States Army despite his poor vision. He served as an intelligence officer.[8] In 1943, he became an aide to Rear Admiral Alan G. Kirk, who knew his father. He was discharged at the rank of captain in 1946 and returned to Harvard, where he completed the remaining two years of his Junior Fellowship.


From 1945 to 1947, Bundy worked with Stimson as ghostwriter of his third-person autobiography, On Active Service in Peace and War (1947).[9] Stimson suffered a massive heart attack (leading to a speech impediment) two months after completing his second appointment as United States Secretary of War in the fall of 1945, and Bundy's assistance was integral to the completion of the book.

In 1948, he worked for Republican presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey as a speechwriter specializing in foreign policy issues. After Dewey's defeat, Bundy became a political analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, where he studied Marshall Plan aid to Europe. The study group included such luminaries as Dwight D. Eisenhower, then serving as president of Columbia University; future Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles; future CIA official Richard M. Bissell, Jr.; and diplomat George F. Kennan. 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.[10]

In 1949, Bundy was appointed as a visiting lecturer in Harvard University's Department of Government. He taught the history of U.S. foreign policy and was popular among students; after two years, he was promoted to associate professor and recommended for tenure.[11]

In 1950, he married Mary Buckminster Lothrop, who came from a socially prominent and wealthy Bostonian family; they had four sons.

Following his promotion to full professor in 1953, Bundy was appointed dean of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Only thirty-four, he remains the youngest person to have received a decanal appointment in the University's history as of 2019. 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.[12] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1954.[13]

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 to 1966, he was also chair of the 303 Committee, responsible for coordinating government covert operations.[14]

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. According to Kai Bird, 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,[15] remaining in this position until 1979.

After testifying before the Church Committee in 1975, Bundy issued a statement: "As far as I ever knew, or know now, no one in the White House or at the Cabinet level ever gave any approval of any kind to any CIA effort to assassinate anyone." Bundy added: "I told the committee in particular that it is wholly inconsistent with what I know of President Kennedy and his brother Robert that either of them would have given any such order or authorization or consent to anyone through any channel."[16]

Beginning in 1979, Bundy returned to academia as a professor of history at New York University. He was professor emeritus from 1989 until his death. During this period, he helped found the group known as the "Gang of Four," whose other members were Kennan, Robert McNamara and Gerard Smith; together they spoke and wrote about American nuclear policies. They published an influential 1983 Foreign Affairs article that proposed ending the US policy of "first use of nuclear weapons to stop a Soviet invasion of Europe".[4] He also 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.[4]

Bundy was employed by the Carnegie Corporation of New York from 1990 until his death, serving as chair of the Committee on Reducing the Nuclear Danger (1990-1993) and scholar-in-residence (1993-1996).


Bundy died in September 1996 from a heart attack at the age of 77.[17]


  • 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".[18]
  • 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.[1][19]




  • On Active Service in Peace and War (Co-authored by Henry Stimson). New York: Harper & Brothers, 1947.
  • Danger and Survival: Choices about the Bomb in the First Fifty Years. New York: Vintage Books, 1988. ISBN 0-394-52278-8.



Portrayal in other media

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

See also


  1. '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. 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. Douglas Martin (March 2, 2007). "Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., a Partisan Historian of Power, Is Dead at 89". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 10, 2008.
  8. "McGeorge Bundy; Advisor to Two Presidents in 1960s". Los Angeles Times. 17 September 1996. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  9. "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.
  10. 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.
  11. Goldstein, Gordon M. Lessons in Disaster: Mcgeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam. New York: Times Books/Henry Holt and Co, 2008.
  12. 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.
  13. "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
  14. Miller, James E. (2001). Foreign Relations, 1964–1968 Volume XII. United States Government Printing Office.
  15. "People in the News ... Bundy Takes Over". The Des Moines Register. March 3, 1966.
  17. 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.
  18. Sanger, David E., "War Figures Honored With Medal of Freedom" (limited no-charge access), The New York Times, December 15, 2004.
  19. Rich, Frank (September 26, 2009), "Op-ed: Obama at the Precipice", The New York Times, retrieved September 27, 2009

Further reading

External video
Presentation by Kai Bird on The Color of Truth at the JFK Presidential Library, October 15, 1998, C-SPAN
  • Bellah, Robert N. (2005). "McCarthyism at Harvard". The New York Review of Books. Vol. 52 no. 2. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
  • 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.
  • 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 Little State Department: McGeorge Bundy and the National Security Council Staff, 1961–65”. Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 4, December 2001. pp. 635–659. doi:10.1111/j.0000-0000.2001.00191.x
  • Preston, Andrew. The War Council: McGeorge Bundy, the NSC, and Vietnam. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-674-02198-3.
Political offices
Preceded by
Gordon Gray
National Security Advisor
Succeeded by
Walt Rostow
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