Ellsworth Bunker: Global Troubleshooter, Vietnam Hawk

Ellsworth Bunker: Global Troubleshooter, Vietnam Hawk

by Howard B. Schaffer
     
 

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In this first biography of Ellsworth Bunker (1894-1984), Howard Schaffer traces the life of one of postwar America's foremost diplomats from his formative years as a successful businessman and lobbyist through a long career in international affairs.

Named ambassador to Argentina by Harry Truman in 1951, Bunker went on to serve six more presidents as ambassador to

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Overview

In this first biography of Ellsworth Bunker (1894-1984), Howard Schaffer traces the life of one of postwar America's foremost diplomats from his formative years as a successful businessman and lobbyist through a long career in international affairs.

Named ambassador to Argentina by Harry Truman in 1951, Bunker went on to serve six more presidents as ambassador to Italy, India, Nepal, and Vietnam and on special negotiating missions. A widely recognized "hawk," Bunker helped shape U.S. policy in Vietnam during his six-year Saigon posting. Using letters Bunker wrote to his wife as well as recently declassified messages he exchanged with Henry Kissinger, Schaffer examines how Bunker promoted the war effort and how he regarded his mission. After leaving Saigon on his seventy-ninth birthday, Bunker next became a key figure in the treaty negotiations, spanning three presidencies, that radically changed the operation and defense of the Panama Canal.

Highlighting Bunker's views on the craft of diplomacy, Schaffer paints a complex picture of a man who devoted three decades to international affairs and sheds new light on post-World War II American diplomacy.

This book is part of the ADST-DACOR Diplomats and Diplomacy Series, co-sponsored by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training in Arlington, Virginia, and Diplomatic & Consular Officers, Retired, Inc., of Washington, D.C.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Combines solid research and a nuanced understanding of diplomatic history. . . . Shaffer's treatment of Bunker is balanced and fair and sheds historical light on the dark corners of mid-level American diplomacy in the latter half of the twentieth century."
Journal of Cold War Studies

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807828250
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
11/25/2003
Edition description:
1
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.20(d)

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Ellsworth Bunker

Global Troubleshooter, Vietnam Hawk
By Howard B. Schaffer

The University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2003 University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8078-2825-0


Introduction

When Ellsworth Bunker accepted the invitation of his old Yale rowing coach and friend Secretary of State Dean Acheson to leave a successful business career and take on the difficult assignment of ambassador to Juan Per-n's Argentina in 1951, neither man anticipated that the appointment would lead to Bunker's becoming one of the outstanding American diplomats of the Cold War decades.

Already in his late fifties, Bunker had seen the Buenos Aires embassy as a brief stop on the way to a quiet, retired life, not as the start of a full-fledged, highly distinguished second career in public service. But before he finally left the diplomatic frontlines in 1979 at the age of eighty-five, he went on to become ambassador to Italy, India, Nepal, and, most famously, South Vietnam. As special diplomatic negotiator and troubleshooter, he helped resolve major challenges to U.S interests in such far-flung places as Indonesia, Yemen, Panama, and the Dominican Republic. When no diplomatic appointments were available, he served as the first full-time, salaried president of the American Red Cross. His years in diplomacy and public life climaxed with the complex negotiations and arduous domestic political effort that resulted in the signing and ratification of controversial treaties governing the operation and security of the Panama Canal.

Acheson has rightly called Bunker a rara avis, a natural professional in diplomacy. Dean Rusk has said that he considered himself blessed to have Bunker's services. Both of these secretaries of state joined many others in the foreign policy world, not least seven presidents, from Harry Truman to Jimmy Carter, in prizing him as an accomplished diplomatic craftsman, perhaps the most skillful of his time. He won similar respect from foreign leaders as different from one another as Prime Minister Nehru of India and President Sukarno of Indonesia.

A man with no political axes to grind or personal ambitions to satisfy, Bunker considered his public service a responsibility that a patriotic American should willingly shoulder. He brought to his assignments the classic skills and qualities that are vital to the successful conduct of diplomacy: integrity, creativity, realism, precision, and an ability to step into the shoes of his negotiating partners and understand their priorities. He had seemingly infinite patience, an innate courtesy, and a talent for convincing the foreign leaders and officials he dealt with that he was genuinely interested in helping them reach settlements that would satisfy their needs as well as his own. His impressive physical appearance and his gentlemanly, seemingly aristocratic manner contributed to his effectiveness.

Bunker proved unusually adept in carrying out specific diplomatic tasks. Like all good ambassadors and special negotiators, he sought to influence strategy and tactics. Surprisingly for someone of his recognized diplomatic achievements, he rarely challenged the main contours of U.S. policy toward the countries he dealt with. Nor did he seek a significant part in shaping America's role in the world or in crafting diplomatic architecture to promote this. What was important to him were the issues for which he was immediately responsible. He was masterly in dealing with these in resourceful ways that achieved the objectives Washington laid out.

Bunker's place in the annals of American diplomatic history has been distorted by his assignment to Saigon, where he served as ambassador for six crucial years during the Vietnam War. Caught up in the bitter antagonisms the war generated, he became for the first time in his public life both a widely recognized figure and a controversial one. He is now remembered, ironically, more for what he did or failed to do as Lyndon Johnson's and Richard Nixon's representative in South Vietnam than for any of his other diplomatic assignments.

The prominence of Bunker's role as a "hawk" in wartime Saigon and the controversies that still surround it should not obscure the major contributions he made to the successful practice of American diplomacy. Many of his accomplishments in promoting U.S. interests in areas of continuing significance to our national security remain relevant now, almost a quarter century after he retired from public life. Perhaps most important, the way Ellsworth Bunker went about achieving the difficult goals assigned him can teach our generation a great deal that is as useful to the conduct of foreign policy in these very different times as it was in his day.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Ellsworth Bunker by Howard B. Schaffer Copyright © 2003 by University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Schaffer's first-rate relation of Ellsworth Bunker's life in and contribution to American diplomacy will fascinate all those with an interest in this country's premier diplomat of the twentieth century. Bunker was, most unusually, a breathtakingly effective global troubleshooter in the Yemen, Dominican Republic and New Guinea (West Irian) crises; a key negotiator of the Panama Canal Treaties; a successful Ambassador to Argentina, Italy and India; and, perhaps most importantly, a quiet, gentle but convinced "hawk" for almost six years as Ambassador at Saigon. Schaffer tells the story lucidly and with grace and objectivity--not an easy job with a man this big.--The Honorable Thomas R. Pickering, Career Ambassador, United States Foreign Service

Readers will find the book provides a detailed survey of an exemplary life that also illuminates important developments in post-World War II diplomacy. Well-written, with extensive notes, bibliography and index, and illustrated with significant family and official photographs, Ellsworth Bunker brings fresh insights into U.S. history.--Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus

Combines solid research and a nuanced understanding of diplomatic history. . . . Shaffer's treatment of Bunker is balanced and fair and sheds historical light on the dark corners of mid-level American diplomacy in the latter half of the twentieth century.--Journal of Cold War Studies

In Schaffer's sympathetic but balanced biography, [Bunker] emerges with his reputation intact as one of the finest US diplomats of his generation.--International Historical Review

Ellsworth Bunker was a remarkable diplomat with superb negotiating skills who served American presidents in sensitive assignments for nearly thirty years. He had the personal qualities of the ideal ambassador: he inspired trust all around and was known for his evenhandedness. . . . Howard Schaffer has performed a great service by writing this splendid biography. The book is both thorough and readable, and it should be required reading from now on by students of diplomacy of whatever nationality.--Ambler H. Moss Jr., Director, Dante B. Fascell North-South Center, University of Miami

Schaffer's biography of Ellsworth Bunker is an incisive, well-written, carefully researched, and briskly paced examination of a singularly significant diplomatic figure and the various diplomatic wrangles in which he was involved.--Robert McMahon, University of Florida

I count myself fortunate to have worked with Ellsworth Bunker, not only on our efforts to bring an end to the Vietnam War but also on our Panama Canal negotiations and the Mideast Shuttles. He was one of our country's great diplomats and carried out the heavy responsibilities entrusted to him with gentleness, discipline, and selfless skill. Schaffer's insightful and carefully researched biography of this quintessentially American figure fills an important gap in our understanding.--Henry Kissinger

Bunker becomes an essential study for scholars of the U.S. experience in Vietnam, as well as of the events that swirled around it.--Choice

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Meet the Author

Howard B. Schaffer is director of studies at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. A retired U.S. Foreign Service officer and former ambassador to Bangladesh, Schaffer twice served as a deputy assistant secretary of state. He is author of Chester Bowles: New Dealer in the Cold War.

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