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McGeorge Bundy

National Security Adviser who advised a dialogue with Cuba and increased U.S. military involvement in Indochina

McGeorge Bundy

McGeorge Bundy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 30, 1919, the youngest of five children born to Harvey Hollister and Katherine Lawrence Putnam Bundy. His family had a tradition of public service -- his father had served as a secretary to Oliver Wendell Holmes, as Assistant Secretary of State (1931-1933), and as a special assistant to the Secretary of War (1941-1945); his mother was a descendant of John Amory Lowell, one of Boston's most powerful men of the 19th century; and, his maternal grandfather, A. Lawrence Lowell, served as president of Harvard from 1909 to 1933. He received his primary education at the private Dexter elementary school in Brookline, Massachusetts, where one of his classmates was John F. Kennedy, and at the Groton preparatory school. In 1940, he graduated first in his class and Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University.

After college, Bundy enlisted in the U.S. Army, and served as an intelligence officer during World War II. After the war, he collaborated with former Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson (under whom his father had served) on his autobiography, On Active Service in Peace and War, which was published in 1948. His first venture into politics was as an adviser to Thomas E. Dewey's 1948 presidential campaign. He took a teaching position at Harvard University in 1949, and served as its Dean of Arts and Sciences from 1953 to 1961.

Bundy returned to politics in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy named him as his National Security Adviser. In this position, Bundy played key roles during every one of the major foreign policy issues faced by the President, including the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Vietnam War. Concerning Cuba, Bundy was usually at odds with the Central Intelligence Agency because he advocated a dialogue with Fidel Castro. Concerning Vietnam, however, Bundy was more at odds with the general public, due to his assertion that the United States needed to increase its military involvement in Indochina in order to prevent the spread of Communism, including the bombing of North Vietnam. One of the few Kennedy advisers to survive the transition to President Lyndon B. Johnson, Bundy finally decided he could no longer work with Johnson and resigned in 1966.

After leaving Washington, Bundy became president of the Ford Foundation. During his tenure in this position, he pushed the Foundation into a greater emphasis on race relations. In 1979, he became a Professor of History at New York University, in which capacity he served until 1989. He then joined the Carnegie Corporation as chairman of a committee on reducing the danger of nuclear war, and served as a scholar-in-residence there until his death. He died of a heart attack at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston on September 16, 1996; he was survived by his wife, Mary Buckminster Lothrop (whom he had married in 1950) and four sons -- Stephen McGeorge, Andrew, William, and James.

Bundy was the author of three books: Presidential Promises and Performance (1980), Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (1988), and Reducing Nuclear Danger: The Road Away from the Brink (1993). He received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Richard Nixon in 1969.

John F. Kennedy
Yale University
World War II
Cuban Missile Crisis
Fidel Castro
President Lyndon B. Johnson
President Richard Nixon

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: General History and Description >> Late 20th Century, 1961-2001 > Biography, A-Z

This page was last updated on December 13, 2017.