"Grey is the color of truth."
So observed Mac Bundy in defending America's intervention in Vietnam. Kai Bird brilliantly captures this ambiguity in his revelatory look at Bundy and his brother William, two of the most influential policymakers of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. It is a portrait of fiercely patriotic, brilliant and brazenly self-confident men who directed a steady escalation of a war they did not believe could be won. Bird draws on seven years of research, nearly one hundred interviews, and scores of still-classified top secret documents in a masterful reevaluation of America's actions throughout the Cold War and Vietnam.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.43(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Kai Bird is the co-author with Martin J. Sherwin of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2005), which also won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography. His other books include The Chairman: John J. McCloy, the Making of the American Establishment (1992) and The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy & William Bundy, Brothers in Arms (1998). Bird’s many honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the German Marshall Fund, and the Rockefeller Foundation. A contributing editor of The Nation, he lives in Kathmandu, Nepal, with his wife and son.
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The Color of TruthMcGeorge Bundy and William Bundy: Brothers in Arms
By Kai Bird
Simon & SchusterCopyright ©2000 Kai Bird
All right reserved.
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.
UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE CHESTER BOWLES
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 onJanuary 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 with Khrushchev over Germany's postwar status. If Berlin was an artificial construct, then Khrushchev's insistence that there should be an end to its peculiar status was not entirely unreasonable.
Unfortunately, at Vienna Khrushchev acted the boor. In his meetings with Kennedy he employed much the same blend of earthy realpolitik and bluster that he had with Harriman two years earlier. Worse, in his public statements Khrushchev made it clear that he was making demands on Berlin. Afterwards, on June 15, he imposed a deadline, insisting that a peace treaty formally ending World War II and recognizing the division of Germany must be signed by the end of the year.
It seems clear in retrospect that the Soviet leader neither expected nor wanted a military confrontation, let alone a war, over Berlin. We now know from East German and Soviet archives that Khrushchev was being pushed by his own hard-liners and most particularly, by the communist leader of East Germany, Walter Ulbricht. Both the Soviet and East German leaders feared a collapse of the East German state if the exodus of Germans from east to west was not halted through the West Berlin window. Khrushchev also had wholly reasonable fears that a resurgent West Germany would soon be given de facto control over the NATO nuclear weapons stationed on its soil. West German defense minister Franz-Josef Strauss was publicly advocating that the West German Bundeswehr should be given independent access to nuclear weapons. Adenauer himself had stated that West Germany had "renounced the right of production, but not that of possession" of nuclear weapons. The prospect of a unified, nuclear-armed German state in alliance with the West alarmed many West Europeans, let alone Russians. Men like Kennan and Lippmann thought it a legitimate goal of Soviet policy to prevent this prospect. Kennedy returned from Vienna unnerved by his meeting with the voluble Khrushchev and determined to reverse the public's perception that he was on the defensive.
Bundy, too, was badly shaken by the harsh words exchanged at Vienna. At the end of one long day Bundy took out his frustrations on Marc Raskin, who had been trying to push Bundy into reading a long memo by David Riesman on rethinking German policy. Both Riesman and Raskin thought the administration was taking Khrushchev's threats far too seriously. Behind the bravado, they thought, was good evidence that the Soviets wanted to defuse the Berlin issue. Bundy had heard this argument before, and intellectually he understood its merits. But today he wanted none of it. Suddenly, he got red in the face and began screaming at Raskin, "Khrushchev is a pig, he's just a pig!" Raskin was shocked. "It had become a very, very personal thing," he recalled.
As the Berlin crisis continued to dominate headlines that summer, Kennedy ordered Bundy to have the NSC draw up contingency plans for what to do if Khrushchev seized West Berlin. Raskin subsequently learned that Kaysen and Henry Rowen, one of Paul Nitze's deputies in the Pentagon, had been working on a contingency first-strike war plan. Kaysen characterized it as a "back-of-the-envelope" effort "to show that we could have a successful, clean first strike." Theoretically, according to Kaysen, the United States had a 90 percent chance of wiping out all Soviet strategic nuclear weapons, making any retaliation by the Soviets against American cities or military targets impossible. Millions of Russians would still die.
Because there was still a 10 percent chance that even one Soviet bomber or missile might get through to bomb an American city in retaliation, civil defense became a part of the plan. Even if the United States did not intend to launch a first strike, in order to make nuclear deterrence credible, Kaysen argued that Washington had to convince the Soviets that the United States was willing to fight a nuclear war. One way to do that was to demonstrate a heavy investment in a civil defense program that would protect Americans from the few Soviet missiles that might survive a first strike or preemptive attack on Soviet nuclear forces.
As a contingency, Kaysen bought into the logic of this argument. Raskin, however, was appalled when he saw Kaysen's memo. He asked Kaysen, "How does this make us any better than those who measured the gas ovens or the engineers who built the tracks for the death trains in Nazi Germany?"
"It was unbelievable," Raskin later said. "Kaysen was going into all these details on how many millions would be killed. We argued for hours, we screamed, and at one point we found ourselves crying. I cried, he cried; we had been great friends and I guess we knew this would end our friendship." Raskin's relationship with Kaysen would never be the same. "Raskin thought it wicked of me to even discuss that we had a first-strike capability against the Soviets," Kaysen recalled. "I just thought it was a good idea to have a plan race we were, after all, relying on these weapons for deterrence. Having a plan is different from recommending its use. Marc was sort of a pacifist at heart, while I had been in a war before and therefore had a different attitude."
Bundy was well aware of Raskin's argument with Kaysen, but from his perspective Kaysen was only attempting to introduce some flexibility into what Bundy knew to be the Pentagon's dangerously rigid contingency plan for nuclear warfare. He later said it would have been "irresponsible for the administration not to have considered the possibility of using nuclear weapons in the [Berlin] crisis, but even more irresponsible to have actually used them." The line, however, between a mere "contingency" and concrete "planning" for a first strike was extremely thin.
Kennedy himself was compelled to discuss such nuclear contingencies. In a meeting with the Joint Chiefs, Kennedy was told that the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, meeting in executive session, "wanted to know how long we could fight a conventional war prior to employing nuclear weapons with the build-up now anticipated and asked for. It was the sense of the Committee that we must prove our willingness and agree to use nuclear weapons if this crisis continues." Kennedy then talked about the difficulty of waging a conventional war in Central Europe and "stated that he felt that the critical point is to be able to use nuclear weapons at a crucial moment before they [the Soviets] use them. He inquired as to our capabilities of making such a decision without letting the enemy know that we are about to do it." Clearly, a first-strike attack on the Soviets with nuclear weapons was being discussed. In this sense, the "back-of-the-envelope" first-strike plan developed by Kaysen out of Bundy's shop was something more than an abstract contingency plan.
Bundy vividly remembered one meeting that summer which seemed to crystallize for him the contradictory logic of having to rely on weapons which ultimately should never be unleashed. Alone with Kennedy and Acheson in the Cabinet Room, Bundy heard the president ask the former secretary of state just when he thought nuclear weapons should be used. Acheson sat in silence for a moment, and then quietly said he thought Kennedy should give this question the "most careful and private consideration, well before the time when the choice might present itself," and that "he should tell no one at all what that conclusion was." Years later Bundy thought Acheson was telling the president that "the right final choice might be to accept defeat, and the loss of West Berlin, if the only remaining alternative were to start a nuclear war." Bundy's evidence was an article Acheson himself had written in 1959 in the Saturday Evening Post in which he had concluded that West Berlin was worth a conventional fight, but that it would be a mark of "wisdom and restraint" if Washington nevertheless had to accept defeat in order to avoid a nuclear war.
The incident underscored for Bundy that if even an original Cold Warrior like Acheson was ultimately unwilling to fight a nuclear war over such a critical issue as Berlin, then nuclear deterrence was mere bluff. Bundy had grappled with these notions about weapons of mass destruction at least as early as his conversations with Oppenheimer in 1952. His problem now as the president's national security adviser was to keep control over these weapons and make certain that they were never used. On this score, he had to worry about the brass in the Pentagon as much as the Soviets.
Back in late January 1961, Bundy had been given an extraordinary briefing by Daniel Ellsberg, a twenty-nine-year-old analyst working for the RAND Corporation, a think tank that did classified studies for the federal government. A junior fellow at Harvard, and an expert in game theory, Ellsberg was one of only a handful of civilians who had seen the Joint Chiefs' operating war plans, known as the Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (JSCP). What he saw sickened his stomach. The war plans called for the swift destruction of every city of any consequence in the Soviet Union, China and Eastern Europe. "It was just a trucking plan," Ellsberg said, "for moving thermonuclear explosives as fast as possible to every urban center in the Eastern bloc." Moscow alone was to receive 170 atomic and hydrogen bombs. There were no intermediate steps, no flexibility and no warnings. He called it a first-strike plan because it was the Joint Chiefs' planned response to any level of "armed conflict with the Soviet Union." The chiefs' planned response to a division-level Soviet attack on West Berlin, for instance, would be the annihilation of hundreds of millions of civilians. Ellsberg thought there were few safeguards against an accidental triggering of the JSCP. Worse, he had been told that Eisenhower had given individual commanders written authorization to use their nuclear weapons if in their best judgments they were under attack and out of communication with the White House. Ellsberg knew that the commander of the Seventh Fleet in the Pacific, for instance, was out of communications with Washington on average a few hours each day. So it was entirely possible that a nuclear war could be initiated by an isolated admiral without the president's knowledge.
Ellsberg was worried. Within days of Kennedy's inauguration, he had convinced Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Nitze that he ought to see the JSCP. Nitze authorized his deputy, Harry Rowen, and Ellsberg, working under him, to study the whole problem.
Almost immediately, Ellsberg and Rowen were stymied; after requesting a copy of the war plan for Nitze's reading, Ellsberg was told by a two-star army general working for Nitze, "No, he can't see it. He has no need to know." Nitze was not the kind of man who liked to be told no, and when he learned of this rebuff, Rowen arranged for Ellsberg to see Mac Bundy in the White House. When Ellsberg arrived, he began by trying to explain how he had received access to a document as sensitive as the general war plan. Bundy interrupted and said coldly, "Is this a briefing or a confessional?"
Ellsberg pulled himself together and replied, "There is a plan which no president has read, and which no secretary of defense has read, and it has the following characteristics." He then reeled off the bare facts of the plan, emphasizing how small of an armed conflict could initiate full-scale nuclear war. Within thirty seconds Bundy took out a pad of paper and began scribbling notes.
A briefing that was scheduled to last ten minutes stretched to an hour and a half. Mac was particularly astonished by Ellsberg's assertion that Eisenhower had issued presidential authorization in writing that would allow individual commanders to launch nuclear weapons.
Soon after Ellsberg left, Bundy picked up the phone and called the staff director of the Joint Chiefs. When he got a deputy, he said, "This is Mac Bundy; the president wants to see the JSCP." There was a long silence at the other end of the line until the general replied, "Oh, we never release that." Bundy responded, "No, I don't think you understand. I'm calling for the president and he wants to see the JSCP." Again the general said, "But we don't release that." Dumbfounded, Bundy shouted, "I don't think I'm making myself clear." At this point the general offered a compromise, "Well, we could give the president a briefing on the JSCP." Bundy snapped, "The president is a great reader; he wants to read the JSCP."
Bundy never did see the full war plan, but he wrote a memo to Kennedy describing a summary of the plan he had been given by the Joint Chiefs. He called it "dangerously rigid and, if continued without amendment, may leave you with very little choice as to how you face the moment of thermonuclear truth." Sometime that summer the president was given a formal briefing on the strategic war plan, and afterwards he turned to Dean Rusk and muttered, "And we call ourselves the human race." But if Kennedy recognized that the war plan was irrational, he nevertheless decided to sidestep the issue. Why confront the Joint Chiefs over an abstraction? As Carl Kaysen told Ellsberg, "This is not a good time for Lieutenant Kennedy to reverse the orders of the great general [Eisenhower]." Later in the autumn of 1961, Bundy helped to draft an "action memorandum" that signaled the adoption of what would later be called the strategic doctrine of flexible response. In the future, if armed conflict was initiated, the United States would first respond with conventional forces, and only later, if necessary, with nuclear weapons.
The summer of 1961 was a gloomy time for anyone working in the Kennedy White House. Khrushchev's year-end deadline to "normalize" Berlin's status had not been withdrawn and some observers thought this might mean war. Bundy later remembered it as "a time of sustained and draining anxiety," and thought his old Cambridge neighbor Robert Lowell had it right when he wrote,
All autumn, the chafe and jar
of nuclear war;
we have talked our extinction to death.
At a June 28 NSC meeting to discuss the Berlin crisis, a feisty Acheson urged Kennedy to respond to Khrushchev's threats by sending an army division (15,000 troops) down the Autobahn to West Berlin. Any effort, he said, "to solve the Berlin issue by negotiations is worse than a waste of time and energy. It is dangerous." Because Khrushchev obviously didn't believe Kennedy was willing to use nuclear weapons over Berlin, Acheson insisted the president must devise a military response that "will change the present apparent Russian disbelief that the United States would go to nuclear war over Berlin, rather than submit." The danger, Acheson believed, was that Berlin would prove the whole idea of deterrence was an empty threat.
Afterwards, a shocked Averell Harriman complained to Arthur Schlesinger that Acheson, a "frustrated and rigid man," was "leading us down the road to war." Bundy took Acheson's bellicosity with a grain of salt. "Dean loved popping off," Bundy would explain later. Privately, the former secretary of state was astounded that White House aides were making foreign policy instead of the State Department. Acheson had always been rankled by Bundy's brashness, and his performance in the Bay of Pigs, Laos and now Berlin had done nothing to elevate his opinion of the younger man's judgment. He thought Mac was soft, and Bundy, for his part, thought Acheson was posturing.
In the following month more than 30,000 refugees crossed into West Berlin, draining the East German state of many of its best-educated workers. It was clear that either the Soviets would have to do something to end the exodus or the East German state would collapse, creating the prospect of either a major war or the reunification of Germany under NATO's banner. And no one but the Germans welcomed the idea of a reunified Germany. Kennedy himself understood the macabre irony of the West's dilemma over Berlin. Flying home from the disastrous Vienna summit with Khrushchev, he had turned to his old friend and aide Kenneth O'Donnell and remarked, "all of us know that Germany will probably never be reunited.... God knows, I'm not an isolationist, but it seems particularly stupid to risk killing a million Americans over an argument about access rights on an Autobahn... or because the Germans want Germany reunified. If I'm going to threaten Russia with a nuclear war, it will have to be for much bigger and more important reasons than that."
Kennedy decided not to send additional troops to West Berlin, but he and Bundy did conclude that they had to make it clear to Khrushchev where the United States would fight. So on July 25, Kennedy gave a televised speech in which he announced the calling up of 150,000 reservists and a $3.25 billion increase in the defense budget. These signs of bellicosity prompted Khrushchev to complain that the speech was "a preliminary declaration of war." But there were also signals in the speech of Kennedy's willingness to negotiate. At Bundy's urging, Kennedy acknowledged "the Soviet Union's historical concerns about their security in Central and Eastern Europe" and the "enormous losses ... bravely suffered [by] the Russian people" during World War II. The president also made a subtle distinction when he emphasized the inviability of West Berlin's rights, suggesting that "the endangered frontier of freedom runs through divided Berlin...." Years later Bundy would write that this distinction "may have given advance encouragement to Khrushchev" to resolve the crisis by building a wall through the divided city.
Kennedy and Bundy knew the wall or something like it was inevitable. Early in August, Kennedy told Bundy's deputy, Walt Rostow, "Khrushchev is losing East Germany. He cannot let that happen. If East Germany goes, so will Poland and all of Eastern Europe. He will have to do something to stop the flow of refugees--perhaps a wall. And we won't be able to prevent it. I can hold the Alliance together to defend West Berlin but I cannot act to keep East Berlin open."
At 2:30 A.M. Berlin time on Sunday, August 13, East German paramilitary police began throwing up barbed-wire barricades between East and West Berlin. Four days later the barbed-wire began to be replaced with a concrete wall. Kennedy was up in Hyannis Port, sailing for the weekend, and when he returned to Washington on Monday morning, Bundy had a memo prepared for the president which concluded there was nothing to be done. Bundy had already talked with both Joe Alsop and George Kennan, two men he respected who did not often agree with each other. But on what Bundy called this "border closing episode," they both agreed: "(1) this is something they [the Soviets] have always had the power to do; (2) it is something they were bound to do sooner or later, unless they could control the exits from West Berlin to the West; (3) since it was bound to happen, it is as well to have it happen early, as their doing and their responsibility."
Acheson was livid. Mac knew that Acheson felt "the Wall would have come down in a day if Harry Truman had been President." Acheson later wrote a friend, "It seems to me interesting that a group of young men who regard themselves as intellectuals are capable of less coherent thought than we have had since Coolidge. They are pretty good at improvising.... But God help us... if they are given any time to think!" The Berlin wall not only divided a city, it also confirmed Acheson's worst instincts about Mac Bundy.
For the next twenty-eight years the Berlin wall would stand as the defining symbol of the Cold War. To most Americans, it was a monument to Soviet tyranny, even as most Americans forgot that the real division of Germany had occurred in 1946-48. Far from inaugurating the division of Germany--and by definition, the condemnation of millions of East Germans to communist rule--the Berlin wall merely ratified the largely American initiative to divide Germany at the very beginning of the Cold War. President Kennedy and his advisers fully recognized that the Berlin wall was necessary if Germany was to remain divided. They also knew that there was an alternative to what was, after all, an artificial construct.
In the midst of the crisis, Carl Kaysen sent Bundy a memo which he described as "my instinctive reactions to the Berlin situation." Kaysen's August 22 memo is a seminal document of the Cold War. Written at a moment of great tension, it nevertheless managed to raise broad questions about the necessity for any conflict at all with the Soviets. A "cold war stance," he suggested, had "significant defects." A policy of confrontation with the Soviets forced a certain "rigidity" on Washington. "Further, its internal consequences are highly undesirable: McCarthyism was not unconnected with the fact that we were literally at war with the Soviet Union in Korea." Logically, "when we take a strongly military stance, we face a dearth of suitable objects of action. This aggravates the internal [domestic] political consequences of such a stance, and we seek enemies within when we cannot come to grips with the enemies without." This was an extraordinary admission, particularly coming from the president's number two deputy on the NSC. Because the Cold War could never become "hot," or, in Kaysen's words, because we cannot "come to grips" with the enemy, "radical right-wing elements" in the United States are naturally empowered. Kaysen thought this an unacceptable cost and he now told Bundy that he was convinced that the "only one of our past aims which we must continue to pursue is the freedom of West Berlin."
In return for a Soviet accommodation in which the freedom of West Berlin is guaranteed, Kaysen argued that the United States should be prepared to offer "(1) acceptance of the Oder-Neisse line as the final boundary of West Germany"; (2) recognition of East Germany; (3) negotiations between the two Germanys on unification; (4) mutual security guarantees for both German states and, most significantly, "the creation of a nuclear-free zone in Germany." These steps would, Kaysen argued, create an accommodation that would transform the Cold War from a militarized confrontation into a relationship of "peaceful coexistence." With the settlement of the "German question"--which had always been at the heart of the Cold War--the two ideological systems would henceforth compete on strictly economic and political playing fields.
Having proposed a radical reversal of U.S. policy, Kaysen went on to lay out all the reasons such an accommodation would be in Washington's interest. Recognition of East Germany would naturally lead to increased contacts between East and West Germany, and the contrasts in the quality of life between the two would naturally enhance the attractiveness of the West. Likewise, acceptance of the Oder-Neisse line [the river dividing Poland from Germany] would bury forever any future German claims to additional territory to the East. This, in turn, would ease fears of German revanchism in East Europe and allow the Soviets to consider loosening their tight control over Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany itself.
Kaysen's memo ended with an acknowledgment that the most important political obstacle to such a policy change was undoubtedly domestic: "As the crisis grows tenser, the ability of the administration to espouse any policy which involves 'concessions' to the Soviets diminishes, for fear that the opposition will attack it for appeasement. The whole argument of this essay is the error of such a view, and there is no way of dealing with it other than by meeting it head-on." There was nothing to be done, Kaysen concluded, than to call for negotiations.
Kaysen's was no lone voice. George Kennan had been making the same argument for years. Averell Harriman said much the same thing in a secret letter to Kennedy on September 1: "Since Potsdam, I have been satisfied that Germany would be divided for a long time. I am sure Khrushchev means what he says when he told me as well as others that 'We [the West] would never agree to a united Germany under socialism (as he calls it) and I will never agree to a united Germany under your system.'... In addition, I believe Khrushchev is sincerely concerned with the remilitarization of Germany, particularly with the prospect of her eventually getting independent nuclear capability.... He feels Adenauer is safe enough, but he said to me, 'What will happen if Strauss or someone else gets control' ... She [Germany] will have the strongest army in Europe, and who can stop her if some leader determines that she shall produce her own nuclear weapons?" Harriman urged Kennedy to negotiate a "denuclearized control zone of West Germany and East Germany...." Finally, the veteran diplomat with the Secret Service code name of Crocodile told Kennedy, "He [Khrushchev] obviously does not want nuclear war...."
A reasonable argument can be made that if the policy shift advocated by Kaysen and Harriman had been accepted by the Kennedy administration, the Cold War might have ended much earlier than 1989. If there had been a settlement in Germany that ended the division of Europe, most of the tensions that fueled the militarization of the Cold War would have quickly receded. Certainly, the ideological contest between the Soviets and the Americans, particularly in the developing world, would have continued, but this rivalry was always peripheral to the high stakes that existed in Europe. If a European detente had been achieved in the early 1960s, the evolutionary forces of economic and cultural liberalization that ultimately brought about the collapse of the Soviet system in 1989-91 would have become powerfully evident much earlier in the Cold War's trajectory. We now understand from the very manner in which the Cold War ended that there was nothing inevitable about the conflict. It was not, as two of Bundy's successors in the NSC job--Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski--later argued, a permanent confrontation. Kaysen didn't think this, and neither did Averell Harriman nor George Kennan. Nor did Mac Bundy.
Six days after receiving Kaysen's memo, Bundy wrote Kennedy that there was a growing belief among his advisers "that we can and should shift substantially toward acceptance of the GDR [East Germany], the Oder-Neisse line, a non-aggression pact, and even the idea of two peace treaties." Far from disagreeing with Kaysen, Bundy accepted the logic of his argument and was willing to endorse the policy change to his president.
Kennedy did not reject this advice outright, but as the weeks and months rolled by American policy did not change. Right-wing domestic political opinion, combined with Adenauer's insistence on the status quo, persuaded Kennedy to drop the matter. In doing so, President Kennedy missed a major opportunity to demilitarize the Cold War. Throughout his short presidency, Kennedy's political instincts persuaded him to avoid the political risks of accommodation and to accept the risks of military confrontation. After the Bay of Pigs he could not afford to look feeble.
In his own history of the period Bundy later acknowledged his advice to Kennedy, but blamed Khrushchev for the missed opportunity. "Clearly if we had heard proposals of this sort from Moscow," he writes, "coupled with a prospect of reassurances on West Berlin, we would have had powerful reasons to press Bonn for concessions that did not come for another decade." But this was turning the argument upside down. As Bundy knew from Kaysen's memo, and from Khrushchev's own public statements, the Soviet leader was on record as favoring most of the steps delineated in Kaysen's proposal. The ball was in Washington's court, not Moscow's. Moreover, Washington, not Moscow, would be negotiating from a position of strength.
Bundy had learned "within weeks" of taking office that "there was no discernible missile gap." But again, for political reasons, Kennedy would not yet admit publicly that a major theme of his presidential campaign had been based on myth. The truth was that America possessed a vastly superior nuclear strike force. In 1961 the United States had roughly 1,685 nuclear warheads and some 1,000 delivery systems (mostly long-range bombers and over a hundred intercontinental ballistic missiles). By contrast, the Soviet Union had fewer than 250 nuclear warheads and around three hundred delivery systems. (These included only four intercontinental missiles, some two hundred bombers capable of hitting the United States and a small fleet of submarines equipped with short-range nuclear-tipped missiles.) Even so, Kennedy proceeded with his determination to rectify what he had claimed was Eisenhower's neglect of both conventional and strategic defense forces.
The defense budget in the Kennedy years would climb rapidly. Conventional forces were modernized and the country's "triad" of strategic nuclear delivery systems--ICBMs, submarine-launched Polaris missiles and long-range bombers--was vastly expanded.
There was nothing secret about this defense buildup. What was Khrushchev to think? He knew how weak his own strategic forces were and now he knew that Kennedy was building what Soviet generals considered a first-strike nuclear arsenal. Khrushchev's own military establishment demanded a response. The Kennedy arms buildup led in the short term to the Cuban missile crisis and in the long term to a dangerous and costly arms race. As the historian Michael Beschloss later wrote, "... throughout his term, Kennedy rarely showed the magnanimity that should have been expected of a superior power. Instead he aroused the Western world to an hour of imminent danger that did not exist, provoked the adversary by exposing Soviet nuclear weakness to the world, and unwittingly caused the Soviets to fear that he was on the verge of exploiting American nuclear strength to settle the Cold War on American terms, perhaps even in a preemptive strike."
Bundy knew there were alternatives. In the autumn of 1961, just as the missile buildup was getting under way, a classified study group operating within the new Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) came up with a plan to place a cap on the missile race. The Foster Panel--so named after William Foster, the president's new disarmament adviser--first tried to determine how many delivery vehicles would be necessary to maintain deterrence. Assuming that any enemy would be deterred from major war by the certainty that half of its citizenry would be annihilated, the Foster Panel concluded that no more than two hundred to five hundred strategic delivery vehicles were necessary. Just to be sure, the panel doubled its higher estimate and recommended that the president propose to the Soviets that a ceiling of one thousand delivery vehicles be placed on each country's strategic nuclear arsenal.
If Kennedy had accepted this recommendation--and if the Soviets had agreed to it--the arms race might have been capped at a relatively low level. Kennedy made his decision at a meeting in Hyannis Port the day after Thanksgiving. The air force was asking for 2,400 ICBMs. McNamara knew from quizzing his own whiz kids from the RAND Corporation that no more than four hundred such missiles were necessary to destroy half the Soviet population. But he nevertheless told Kennedy that he would be "politically murdered" if he built less than a thousand missiles. Kennedy agreed, even though Ted Sorensen warned him that such a dramatic missile buildup was sure to accelerate the arms race.
As to the Foster Panel's proposal to negotiate a formal cap of one thousand land- and sea-based missiles and bombers, Bundy labeled the proposal "too radical" and the president rejected it. Jerome Wiesner, the president's science adviser, thought Bundy was being "much too cautious." Years later one of the ACDA officials who had supported the Foster Panel recommendations confronted Bundy about this missed opportunity. Bundy conceded that his decision might have been a mistake.
In the autumn of 1961, Bundy was distressed to hear his friend and mentor Walter Lippmann publicly complain that Kennedy's policies were no different from Ike's: "It's like the Eisenhower administration thirty years younger." Lippmann had severely criticized the Bay of Pigs invasion, called for negotiations with Khrushchev over Berlin and questioned the necessity for any military intervention in Southeast Asia. But the nation's premier pundit had not given up on Kennedy's men. He had been in nearly constant touch with Bundy, Schlesinger and the president himself, and in private he gave them specific ideas and even tried his hand at a draft speech. Lippmann thought the president should stand up to his right-wing critics and forcefully rebut the charges of appeasement to which he was being subjected over Cuba, Berlin and Vietnam. He told the president's speechwriter, Theodore Sorensen, that Kennedy was the first president in history to have to deal with the fact of "nuclear parity." The president, Lippmann wrote, should make "our people realize how primitive and romantic are men like [Republican Senator Barry] Goldwater, who talk as if war today would be like the Alamo...." There was a difference, Lippmann argued, between appeasement and compromise, and the president should explain to the American people that merely negotiating with the Soviets did not mean another Munich. Bundy, who was appalled by the jingoism and blustering of Kennedy's right-wing opponents, agreed with much of this criticism. Well aware of the dangers of nuclear war, he recognized the reality of nuclear parity. He understood Khrushchev's fears of a nuclear-armed Germany and the need for some kind of coexistence with the Soviet Union. He was painfully skeptical of those who urged Kennedy to mount military adventures in places like Cuba, Laos and Vietnam. But as a liberal, he also thought Lippmann underestimated the power of the right wing, and failed to understand that Kennedy had to look tough if he was ever going to be allowed to change the direction of the Cold War.
One year into the new administration, a growing number of Bundy's Harvard friends found themselves questioning his good judgment. David Riesman thought the new administration was "almost out of control." During the Berlin crisis Riesman and Erich Fromm had visited Bundy's deputy, Carl Kaysen, to plead that the president's tough rhetoric was inflating the crisis and undermining the very real possibilities for negotiating a U.S.-Soviet settlement of the German question. Kaysen and Schlesinger firmly rebuffed them, and afterwards Riesman told a friend he found the atmosphere in Washington "frightening."
Riesman in particular was appalled by Kennedy's endorsement of a national civil defense program that encouraged citizens to dig nuclear fallout shelters in their backyards. He and many other Harvard colleagues--including Stanley Hoffmann, Robert Paul Wolff, Michael Walzer and Martin Peretz--were also critical of the administration's decision to renew U.S. atmospheric nuclear tests in response to Khrushchev's decision to do the same. (A voluntary moratorium on such tests had been observed by the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain since 1958.)
In mid-February 1962 two Harvard students active in the Cambridge peace group Tocsin, Peter C. Goldmark, Jr., and Todd Gitlin, organized a march on Washington that brought, by varying accounts, four thousand to eight thousand demonstrators to stand outside the White House in a blinding snowstorm. The protestors distributed a document calling for an end to nuclear testing, an end to the civil defense program and the unilateral removal of American intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) from Turkey. Kennedy sent out a White House butler with an urn of coffee for the freezing demonstrators and allowed Mac Bundy to meet with a few of their leaders in his White House basement office. Gitlin felt the meeting degenerated into "a dialogue of the moral with the deaf." Bundy came off as condescending, telling his earnest young visitors that while he applauded the demonstrators for providing a "counterweight" to the "cold warriors" in Washington, they had to understand that "politics is the art of the possible." On the issues at hand, he defended Kennedy's policies, including the civil defense program. Goldmark, who would become president of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1988, later grumbled that Bundy hadn't even bothered to read their policy statement.
In private, Bundy had a healthy skepticism for civil defense. He once sardonically told the syndicated columnist Joseph Kraft, "There are many who appear to think that the way to win the Cold War is to move it underground." But he had not put up a fight when Kennedy decided to ask Congress for $207 million for a national civil defense program. Similarly, he could quip, "The law of diminishing returns applies to strategic missiles as to all other commodities"--and then turn around and support Kennedy's decision to build one thousand missiles, double the number he considered necessary to achieve deterrence. It was easy to see why such a man could prove to be so infuriating to left-of-center intellectuals in the early 1960s. He knew and understood, and sometimes even accepted, the intellectual integrity of their arguments, but on grounds of pragmatism--or simple political expediency--he supported the status quo.
Although Mac had surrounded himself with lively, opinionated men, he could not tolerate having their views made public. In the spring of 1962 the volume of essays Marc Raskin had edited for Congressman Kastenmeier's Liberal Project was published under the title The Liberal Papers. The book rapidly became a minor best-seller, selling 30,000 copies, and created a furor on Capitol Hill. Conservative politicians like Republican Senators Barry Goldwater of Arizona and Everett Dirksen of Illinois charged that the book's agenda was appeasement and unilateral disarmament. The Republican Party prepared a campaign brochure with damaging quotations from the book. It quickly became apparent that anyone associated with the book would be tarred as a radical.
Bundy, of course, knew many of the authors quite well. He liked and respected David Riesman, and felt much the same regard for Michael Maccoby, his former assistant from his years as Harvard dean. These and other authors Bundy knew by reputation as serious scholars outlined some provocative ideas; the goal of disarmament was taken seriously, deterrence theory was questioned, an argument was made for admitting Communist China to the United Nations, and policies for strengthening the United Nations were outlined. One author predicted that the Cold War "will henceforth be waged on economic and ideological, rather than military, battlegrounds..." and therefore it would be in Washington's interest to "de-emphasize military aid" to countries like Laos and South Vietnam. Bundy did not think any of these arguments were illegitimate per se, but after previewing the book prior to its publication he told Carl Kaysen, "Either Marc takes his name off the book or he has to leave the staff." Raskin took his name off the book. Still, as the controversy brewed, word leaked around town that one of Bundy's own NSC staffers had edited the book.
In a memo to the president in late April, Bundy reported, "That young menace, Marcus Raskin, has returned from Geneva [where he had been attending disarmament talks with the Soviets]... you may be curious about gaskin, who has been a good staff officer in spite of--and perhaps partly because of--his insistent effort to find ways of making progress in this most unpromising field [disarmament]." Based on his private conversations with members of the Russian delegation, Raskin was then bucking the conventional wisdom by reporting that a deal could be cut on a test ban treaty. (An atmospheric test ban treaty would be agreed to a little more than a year later.) Bundy then advised Kennedy that "critics of the Liberal Papers may be trying to focus attention on Raskin, and in that event we may have a small fuss. If he comes under that kind of fire, I would much rather keep him and ride it out than try to move him on a basis that would be misunderstood ... we will probably know better in a week or two which way the wind is likely to blow."
The wind blew against Raskin. Late that spring Raskin noticed that his end-of-the-day chats with Bundy had ceased abruptly. Weeks went by, then Bundy called him into his office and said, "It just isn't working out." Though his firing was not unexpected, Raskin was saddened and yet also as ambivalent as Bundy was about their relationship. "He liked me very much," Raskin later said, "and I liked him. He was funny and smart. We had a good thing, but the differences were profound. We weren't singing from the same hymnbooks."
By the summer, Raskin had been quietly shunted over to the Bureau of the Budget (though still on the NSC's payroll), where he worked on education policy. By the end of the year, he had left government altogether to co-found the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-of-center think tank. Initially, Bundy's liberalism was inclusive enough to tolerate someone with Raskin's political views. Intellectually, he was both entertained and intrigued by someone who could question some of the holy grails of the Cold War. But as a pragmatist, Bundy practiced a liberalism that was all about what was politically possible on a conservative era. For the remainder of the 1960s, men like Raskin would drift into what became known as the New Left; in a few years, as America's involvement in the Vietnam War deepened, Raskin would stand trial for abetting draft evasion. For Bundy, it may well have been a tragedy that this troublesome twenty-six-year-old was no longer by his side to serve as his "conscience."
By the autumn of 1961, with the Berlin crisis receding, Vietnam suddenly became a priority in Mac Bundy's in-box. Never very stable, the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem seemed to be falling apart from within just as the Viet Cong insurgency was growing to battalion-strength operations. That September, President Kennedy sent his White House military adviser, General Maxwell Taylor, and Walt Rostow, by then chairman of the Policy Planning Council at the State Department, to Saigon for an overview of the situation. They came back with a report filled with disturbing facts about Diem's political and military incompetency, but they nevertheless recommended a limited military commitment of some eight thousand American troops, McNamara and the Joint Chiefs responded that if military intervention was contemplated, the administration should be willing to do whatever was necessary to defend South Vietnam. In their estimate, this might mean 205,000 ground troops. A debate ensued within the administration.
Kennedy was very skeptical. "It will be just like Berlin," he told Schlesinger. "The troops will march in, the bands will play, the crowds will cheer, and in four days everyone will have forgotten. Then we will be told we have to send in more troops. It's like taking a drink. The effect wears off, and you have to take another."
At one point, Bill Bundy weighed into the debate with a one-page memo addressed to McNamara: "For what one man's feel is worth, mine--based on very close touch with Indochina in the 1954 war and civil war afterwards till Diem took hold--is that it is really now or never if we are to arrest the gains being made by the Viet Cong." Bill knew far more about the French defeat in Indochina than his brother Mac; he understood that Vietnam was one nation, if not one country, and he also knew that "all depends on Diem's effectiveness, which is very problematical." Yet, he found a way of talking himself into a recommendation for intervention: "An early and hard-hitting operation has a good chance (70% would be my guess) of arresting things and giving Diem a chance to do better and clean up.... The 30% chance is that we would wind up like the French in 1954; white men can't win this kind of fight." Still, "On a 70-30 basis, I would myself favor going in." But if a month goes by, he warned, the odds would slip sharply down to 50 percent.
This was peculiar advice. Bill was profoundly pessimistic. Intervention with U.S. combat troops would probably only "arrest" the deterioration of Diem's regime, and even then these "white men" might well wind up like the French. But he was nevertheless willing to risk it.
The debate within the administration stretched into November. John Kenneth Galbraith, who happened to be back briefly from his post as ambassador to India, derided Walt Rostow's proposal to send U.S. troops under the guise of a flood control program as "half-baked intervention." Galbraith subsequently noted in his diary, "Mac thinks there is no occasion when I would urge the use of force. I have to admit that my enthusiasm for it is always very low." On his way back to New Delhi in late November, Galbraith dropped into Saigon and sent Bundy and Kennedy a blistering nine-page cable. Galbraith agreed that the Viet Cong were strengthening their hold on the countryside. But he cautioned, "We must not forever be guided by those who misunderstand the dynamics of revolution and imagine that because the communists do not appeal to us they are abhorrent to everyone." The United States had "unquestionably exaggerated" the role of external support to the guerrillas: "... the amount of ammunition and weaponry that a man can carry on his back for several hundred kilometers over jungle trails was not increased appreciably by [Karl] Marx." (Indeed, the CIA later concluded that at this stage of the war most of the Viet Cong's weapons were captured from their adversaries.) The "key and inescapable point," Galbraith wrote, was "the ineffectuality (abetted debatedly by the unpopularity) of the Diem government." Diem was not going to reform "... because he cannot. It is politically naive to expect it. He senses that he cannot let power go because he would be thrown out." The only solution in this "hopeless game" was "to drop Diem." Though not ideal, Galbraith wrote, "We should not be alarmed by the army as an alternative...." A military regime might "buy time and get a fresh dynamic." In any case, the time would inevitably come when it would be clear to all in Washington that Diem has not carried out the promised reforms and American "troops will be urged to back up Diem." Needless to say, Galbraith observed, "It will be sufficiently clear that I think this must be resisted. Our soldiers would not deal with the vital weakness. They could perpetuate it... there can't be enough of them to give security to countryside...."
Well aware that such advice would be falling on unsympathetic ears, Galbraith added this strikingly emotional appeal: "... it is those of us who have worked in the political vineyard and who have committed our hearts most strongly to the political fortunes of the New Frontier who worry most about its bright promise being sunk under the rice fields." And knowing of Bundy's predilections for an Achesonian toughness, Galbraith went on to observe that in similar circumstances, "[John Foster] Dulles in 1954 saw the dangers in this area. Dean Acheson knew he could not invest men in Chiang [Kai-shek]."
Bundy was unmoved. When he finally got around to responding to Galbraith with a personal letter in December, he reprimanded him for using "Acheson's techniques on an anti-Acheson position." He pleaded with him to moderate his mood. Galbraith noted in his diary that he had received "a rather sharp letter from McGeorge Bundy complaining that I have been insufficiently pleasant to some of the more pompous people in Washington. He says that both Rusk and Alexis Johnson have come to suspect that I do not have a very high regard for them. This does credit to their perception." Galbraith did not care if he was burning his bridges within the bureaucracy. He had a direct line to the president and Bundy.
Shortly before receiving Galbraith's dissent on Vietnam, Mac was swimming with the president in the White House indoor pool when Kennedy bluntly asked him what they ought to do about Vietnam. Bundy replied that he would compose an answer on paper, and a day or two later a carefully worded memo appeared on Kennedy's desk. "I believe," wrote Bundy, "we should commit limited U.S. combat units, if necessary for military purposes (not for morale), to help save South Vietnam." Bundy's reasoning was complicated. He argued that sending combat troops had "become a sort of touchstone of our will." Why not, therefore, pledge one division? After all, "the odds are almost even that the commitment will not have to be carried out." He saw the danger of committing combat troops for something as nefarious as morale boosting. Yet he felt the more limited actions proposed so far--an increase in the number and training of South Vietnamese troops and the adoption of different tactics--might not succeed without the prior U.S. commitment to send its own combat troops. "A victory here," argued Bundy, "would produce great effects all over the world. A defeat would hurt, but not much more than a loss of South Vietnam with the levels of U.S. help now committed or planned." Since the U.S. Army commander on the ground was not now urging the use of American combat troops, a mere pledge for their use in the future, if necessary, was not a hard decision.
But why South Vietnam? Why should a line be drawn in the sand here? Why not in Laos? Bundy had an answer: South Vietnam, he argued, stands "on a footing wholly different from Laos. Laos was never really ours after 1954. South Vietnam is and wants to be. Laotians have fought very little. South Vietnam troops are not U.S. Marines, but they are usable."
The logic was seductive, yet, in the end, Kennedy managed to resist. That autumn he refused to send combat troops. But in the months ahead he quietly authorized the gradual introduction of many more military advisers. This suggests that he accepted Bundy's argument with one major exception: he did not want to publicize his decision.
This fall 1961 debate on Vietnam was revisited in the spring of 1962 when Galbraith sent Kennedy yet another missive on the subject. Even from the distance of his ambassadorial perch in India, Galbraith was alarmed by the trend of events. "We have a growing military commitment," Galbraith warned. "This could expand step by step into a major, long-drawn out indecisive military involvement. We are backing a weak and, on the record, ineffectual government and a leader who as a politician may be beyond the point of no return. There is a consequent danger we shall replace the French as the colonial force in the area and bleed as the French did."
Galbraith's prescription was "to keep the door open for la] political solution." He proposed several negotiating tactics which might induce Hanoi to agree to a standstill in Viet Cong activity in return for a phased American withdrawal and an agreement "to talk about reunification after some period of tranquillity." The Indian government, he wrote, could be asked to make that approach to Hanoi. "In the meantime policy should continue to be guided by the following: (1) We should resist all steps which commit American troops to combat action.... (2) We should disassociate ourselves from action, however necessary, which seems to be directed at the villagers, such as the new concentration program [a reference to the U.S.-sponsored strategic hamlets program]. ... Americans in their various roles should be as invisible a the situation permits."
Two days later President Kennedy discussed Galbraith's memo in a meeting with Averell Harriman and Michael V. Forrestal, Mac Bundy's new deputy for Far Eastern affairs. According to Forrestal's classified notes of the meeting, the president and Harriman agreed that "it was important that the overt association of the U.S. with military operations in Vietnam be reduced to absolute minimum." On the other hand, Harriman said he was not in favor of reconvening the Geneva Conference and disagreed with Galbraith's implied notion of seeking a "neutral solution" in Vietnam. Kennedy nevertheless expressed interest in exploring Galbraith's suggestion that the Indian government might serve as a conduit to negotiations with Hanoi. The meeting ended with Forrestal noting, "The President observed generally that he wished us to be prepared to seize upon any favorable moment to reduce our involvement, recognizing that the moment might yet be some time away." Clearly--at least at this moment in early 1962--Kennedy was seeking an escape route out of Vietnam.
By the end of 1961, Bundy's characteristic self-confidence had taken a battering. One crisis had followed another and none seemed to have a decisive ending. Fidel Castro was still a problem, and the situations in Berlin, Laos and Vietnam were filled with more ambiguity than Bundy liked. None of these festering issues were likely to disappear, and absent military intervention--which he realized the president shunned--Bundy increasingly looked to the CIA to provide him with alternatives.
As the president's national security adviser, Bundy's duties included chairing the meetings of the 5412 Committee, or Special Group, which supervised all covert operations for the president. Bundy approved literally dozens of such operations, including Operation Mongoose, the effort to dislodge Castro's regime. Bundy recruited Brigadier General Edward G. Lansdale, the legendary counterinsurgency veteran, to run the operation. Mongoose quickly ballooned into a $50 million a year project.
In the course of five years in the White House, Bundy learned that accountability was an elusive quality in the intelligence business. "It can happen," he later testified, "and I think it has happened that an operation is presented in one way to a committee [the 5412 Committee] and executed in a way that is different from what the committee thought it had authorized." But at the time, there was an inclination--despite the Bay of Pigs--to turn to the CIA when someone wanted something done. Early on, Kennedy told him, "I don't care what it is, but if I need something fast, the C.I.A. is the place I go...." Many covert operations spun out of control in Laos, Cuba, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Tibet and a half-dozen other hot spots in the Cold War. Bundy was involved in all of them.
Some of these operations included contingency planning for assassinating foreign adversaries. In 1975 the U.S. Senate heard testimony from William Harvey, a legendary CIA operative, that Richard Bissell had told him that "the White House" had twice urged the creation of an "Executive Action Project." Subsequently, a project code-named ZR/RIFLE was established, and one agent with the cryptonym QJ/WIN was assigned to work under Harvey's supervision. ZR/RIFLE was later described in a CIA inspector general's report as a project to research means for overthrowing foreign leaders, including the "capability to perform assassinations."
In 1975, Mac Bundy confirmed to the Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities chaired by Democratic Senator Frank Church that Richard Bissell had briefed him sometime in early 1961 on the CIA's assassination capabilities, but because no target was mentioned, he did not "discourage or dissuade" Bissell. Though they were talking about "killing the individual," Bundy told congressional investigators that he thought the Agency was merely "testing my reaction," not "seeking authority." "I am sure I gave no instruction. But it is only fair to add that I do not recall that I offered any impediment either" So far as he could recall, Bundy testified, he had not informed President Kennedy about his conversation with Bissell. He felt he did not need to "pursue the matter at all" because "this was not an operational activity, and would not become such without two conditions: first, that there be a desire or a request or a guidance that there should be planning against a specific individual; and second, that there should be a decision to move against the individual."
Bundy was ready to discuss the CIA's assassination capabilities in the abstract, but he always claimed ignorance of its attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. Bissell testified that he never briefed Bundy on the Castro operation. On the other hand, Bundy admitted that he had a "very vague, essentially refreshed, recollection that I heard the word 'poison' at some point in connection with a possibility of action in Cuba. But that is as far as I have been able to take it in my own memory." The proposal to use poison had seemed "impractical" to him because it would involve killing "a large group of people in a headquarters mess, or something of that sort."
None of the CIA's many schemes to assassinate Castro came to fruition, but on May 30, 1961, the right-wing dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, was gunned down by the "action" arm of a group of Dominican dissidents who had been in close contact with the CIA. Bundy and the Special Group had been briefed on the planned coup attempt. And late in the game they learned that the Eisenhower administration had authorized the passing of a small number of carbines to the dissidents. Some of these carbines were in the possession of the assassination team, but it seems that Trujillo was killed with the use of handguns and shotguns. A decade later Bundy said with hindsight, "I had that serene confidence that we knew what was going on until the assassination stories began to appear years later."
Mac brought a heavy dose of pragmatism to his supervision of covert operations. Whatever worked was fine. And even those operations that aides like Michael V. Forrestal advised him were dubious--like the cross-border raids into Tibet from Nepal by thousands of Tibetan guerrilla troops trained by the CIA in a secret army base in Colorado--were allowed to putter along so long as they didn't get out of hand. Throughout 1962, Bundy approved covert counterinsurgency operations in Laos and Cambodia, the introduction of intelligence-gathering teams into mainland China and the insertion of sabotage teams into North Vietnam. But none of these paramilitary operations matched the scale of Operation Mongoose. By the summer of 1962, the Kennedy administration's covert efforts to eliminate Castro's regime were a secret only to the American people. In response, Khrushchev would soon decide to so increase the stakes that the Americans would find themselves on the brink of thermonuclear war.
Excerpted from The Color of Truth by Kai Bird Copyright ©2000 by Kai Bird. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
1 Harvey Hollister Bundy: The Patriarch
2 Groton: A Very Expensive Education
3 Yale: The "Great Blue Mother"
4 The War Years, 1941-1945
5 Stimson's Scribe
6 Portrait of a Young Policy Intellectual, 1948-1953
7 Dean Bundy of Harvard, 1953-1960
8 William Bundy and the CIA, 1951-1960
9 The Kennedy Years
10 The Cuban Missile Crisis
11 Autumn Assassinations
12 LBJ and Vietnam, 1964
13 Vietnam: The Decision, 1965
14 Vietnam Quagmire, 1966-1969
15 The Ford Foundation
16 Vietnam Aftermath