The New Frontiersmen and the Old Guard October 1962
"Allowing for reasonable exceptions and a wide latitude of variation, the typical New Frontiersman is about 46 years old, highly energetic, distinctly articulate and refreshingly idealistic. In short, he has much in common with the man the American people have chosen as their President."
M. B. Schnapper, 19611
The disaster of the Vietnam War would dominate America's memory of a decade that began with great promise. In the 1960 presidential election, John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Dwight Eisenhower's vice president, Richard Nixon. Despite a narrow margin of victory, the new president exuded confidence. His clarion call, "Let us begin anew," evoked the prospect of a new era of prosperity and opportunity.Although he was only five years younger than Nixon, Kennedy at forty-three seemed youthful and vigorous compared to his opponent and the "old timers" of Eisenhower's administration. A witty, attractive man, Kennedy was a World War II hero and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who had gained considerable political experience as a congressman and senator. His rhetoric exhorted America's youth to "pay any price" and "bear any burden" to extend the virtues of their country to the rest of the world.The idealism that Kennedy seemed to personify would be lost in a place that, in 1960, was of little interest or significance to Americans.
A campaign issue that Kennedy had taken up with some vigor was that of the need for reform in national defense strategy and the management of the Department of Defense. Truman administration Defense Secretary Robert Lovettadvised Kennedy that reform in the Pentagon would be "painful" but was "long overdue." He told him that his defense secretary should be "an analytical statistician who can . . . tear out the overlap, the empire building."Lovett urged the president-elect to consider the forty-four-year-old president of the Ford Motor Company, Robert Strange McNamara, for the job.
When World War II began, Robert McNamara was serving on the business faculty at Harvard University, teaching the application of statistical analysis to management problems. Initially disqualified from military service because of his inability to pass an eye examination, he became a consultant to the War Department to develop statistical controls within the Army Air Corps supply system. After spending the first year of the war teaching at the Army Air Forces Statistical Control Officers School, McNamara requested an assignment to the Eighth Air Force in England. McNamara arrived in England in February 1943 and, after three weeks, sought a commission as a captain. The professor-turned-military-officer became part of a traveling statistical control group that analyzed maintenance, logistics, and operational problems in England, India, China, and the Pacific. McNamara often met resistance from military officers who discounted his new methods. A lieutenant colonel in 1945, he left the Army an ardent believer in the need for statistical management and control over military organizations.
After World War II, McNamara, with several of his Army Air Corps statistician colleagues, joined Ford. They were known collectively as the Whiz Kids, a term later associated with the young analysts McNamara brought with him to the Pentagon. At Ford, McNamara preferred the academic milieu of Ann Arbor to the corporate culture of suburban Detroit. His drive, ambition, and analytical talents led to his appointment, in November 1960, as the first company president who was not a member of the Ford family. One month later R. Sargent Shriver, John F. Kennedy's brother-in-law, visited McNamara on behalf of the president-elect. Although he intended to remain at Ford, McNamara agreed to fly to meet Kennedy.
Among the qualities that Kennedy admired was self-assurance. During his second meeting with Kennedy, McNamara surprised the president-elect and his brother Robert with his assertiveness. He handed Jack Kennedy a contract stipulating that he be given free rein over appointments in the Department of Defense and not be expected to engage in purely social events. Kennedy read the document and passed it, unsigned, to his brother. McNamara seemed the man for the job. The Kennedy brothers swept McNamara out the front door of the brick Georgetown house and introduced the secretary of defense-designate to the bevy of reporters waiting outside in the freezing cold.
Kennedy worried most over the appointment of a secretary of state. Reluctant to alienate any of his key Democratic constituencies, he settled on everyone's second choice, Dean Rusk. Rusk, a former Rhodes scholar from Georgia, was a professor of government and dean of faculty at Mills College in California, when, in 1940, he was ordered into active military service as an Army captain. He served initially in Washington as an intelligence analyst. With the advent of American involvement in World War II, Rusk left the capital for the headquarters of the China, Burma, and India theater of operations. The quality of the cables that the young staff officer sent to the War Department caught the eye of Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall. General Marshall summoned Rusk to Washington, where he joined Col. George A. Lincoln's Strategy and Policy Group to help develop long-range politico-military contingency plans. In 1946 Rusk joined the State Department and, in 1950, became Secretary of State Dean Acheson's assistant for Far Eastern affairs. In 1952 he left the State Department to head the Rockefeller Foundation. During his years of government service, Rusk built a solid reputation for loyalty and trustworthiness within the Democratic establishment. The unprepossessing, introspective Rusk provided a conspicuous contrast to the confident, assertive McNamara. Lovett and Acheson had recommended Rusk enthusiastically, and, after a brief interview, Kennedy decided to appoint him.
Kennedy had considered McGeorge Bundy for secretary of state, but concluded that he was too young. In 1953, Bundy, at thirty-four, was appointed dean of Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. His formative years were spent in the best schools of the NortheastGroton, Yale, Harvardand in association with some of the most influential people in the twentieth-century United States. He assisted Henry Stimson (William Howard Taft's secretary of war, Herbert Hoover's secretary of state, and Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of war) in the preparation of his memoirs. He also helped Dean Acheson prepare a collection of his personal papers for publication. Bundy was known for an abruptness and imperious demeanor with those he considered his intellectual inferiors, but he could also be effusive and engaging in a social setting. Kennedy chose him as special assistant for national security affairs (usually called national security adviser).
Kennedy placed a premium on academic qualifications and superior intellect. McNamara, Rusk, and Bundy all shared distinguished academic backgrounds. Moreover Kennedy wanted men who shared his broad interests and could engage in wide-ranging, informal discussions. Perhaps the most important determining factor of each man's relative influence would be his ability to establish a close personal rapport with the president. Rusk, who preferred established procedures and protocol, had difficulty adjusting to the president's freewheeling style. Socially he remained distant from the president and was the only senior official Kennedy did not address by his first name. McNamara and Bundy would prove more adept at securing the president's confidence and affection.
The president's personal style influenced the way he structured the White House staff to handle national security decision making. Having no experience as an executive, Kennedy was unaccustomed to operating at the head of a large staff organization. He regarded Eisenhower's National Security Council (NSC) structure as cumbersome and unnecessary. Immediately after taking office, he eliminated the substructure of the NSC by abolishing its two major committees: the Planning Board and the Operations Coordinating Board (OCB). Kennedy resolved not to use the NSC except for the pro forma consultation required by the National Security Act of 1947. In place of the formal Eisenhower system, Kennedy relied on an ad hoc, collegial style of decision making in national security and foreign affairs. He formed task forces to analyze particular problems and met irregularly with an "inner club" of his most trusted advisers to discuss problems informally and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of potential courses of action.