The color of truth : McGeorge Bundy and William Bundy, brothers in arms : a biography /

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Main Author: Bird, Kai.
Format: Book
Published: New York : Simon & Schuster, c1998.
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Review by Booklist Review

The Bundys, brilliant, privileged, well connected--epitomes of the Eastern establishment--attracted much of the blame for Vietnam. After the debacle, they conceded little to critics, as Bird remembers his infuriation with a 1972 McGeorge Bundy performance at Bird's college, in which Bundy coolly deflected all attacks. This biography doesn't mitigate Bird's anger, yet it fairly explores the Bundys' background, early careers, and views of the turbulent situation in Vietnam in the early 1960s. By then ex-Harvard dean McGeorge was the national security advisor, and his lanky older brother Bill was an assistant secretary of state. After critiquing McGeorge's performance in the Cuban missile crisis, Bird exhumes his and Bill's memos rationalizing U.S. support of Saigon. The brothers knew that success was remote, though Bill was more willing to countenance withdrawal, according to a 1964 memo that was shot down by hawks. Following the disaster, both repaired to establishment institutions (Mac ran the Ford Foundation; Bill, Foreign Affairs magazine), where they partially restored their liberal credentials. Ably researched and fluidly synthesized, this biography will have no challenger for a long time. --Gilbert Taylor

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The color of truth? McGeorge Bundy is quoted as saying it's gray, but there is nothing gray about this crisply written, carefully researched dual biography of brothers, who during the Vietnam era were regarded as fascists by the protesters and wild-eyed liberals by the right wing. The gray area comes when Bird (The Chairman) looks into motives. As stellar examples of what David Halberstam ironically called "the best and the brightest," the Bundys (McGeorge as JFK's National Security adviser; William was at the Pentagon) recognized early in Kennedy's administration that an American war in Southeast Asia was folly. But both actively pursued it into the Johnson administration. Bird is a sympathetic, but not apologetic, biographer, and his portrait shows two exceptional men who parlayed brains, a knack for cajoling influential older men and impeccable family connections into successful careers both in and out of government. He comes up with no tidy explanations for why they promoted a war they morally opposed. Perhaps, he suggests, they feared appeasement (the lesson of Munich) more than disastrous involvement, or that others would do an even worse job containing the conflict. The book, for which both brothers were interviewed, covers more than Vietnam. Besides being a sharply detailed depiction of a social class that Bird all too often calls "Boston Brahmin," the book covers breaking the enemy military codes during WWII, Harvard in the 1950s, Senator McCarthy and the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis and the liberal agendas of the Great Society. This is a careful, intelligent biography of two careful, intelligent men. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

An award-winning journalist, contributing editor at the Nation, and biographer (The Chairman, LJ 4/1/92), Bird here investigates the Bundy brothers, whom he sees as major architects of the Vietnam War. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A probing, ultimately critical dual biography of the Boston Brahmin brothers who helped plunge America into the Vietnam quagmire as members of the JFK-LBJ Žbest and brightest.Ž Bred to esteem public service by father Harvey (an assistant to Henry Stimson in the Hoover and FDR administrations), William and McGeorge Bundy seemed natural choices when John Kennedy appointed them, respectively, assistant secretary of defense and national security adviser. In the 1950s these policy intellectuals had displayed coolness during McCarthyite witch huntsŽWilliam as staff director of the CIA's Office of National Estimates, McGeorge as dean of Harvard's faculty of arts and sciences. But, Bird (co-editor with Lawrence Lifschultz of Hiroshima's Shadow, p. 543, etc.) emphasizes, these gifted, charming men also epitomized the ``vital center'' that was as confident of projecting liberalism abroad as it was of upholding it at home. Bird's predilection for New Left/revisionist history inclines him to view American power as provocative toward communism during this period (e.g., he sees JFK's management of the Cuban missile crisis as less a triumph of cool thinking than a lucky escape from the consequences of assassination plots against Fidel Castro following the Bay of Pigs). At times, the Bundys seemed less governed by the lessons of Munich than by a politically pragmatic fear of what McGeorge called ``the wild men in the wings'' (i.e., conservative Republicans). The Bundys, Bird reveals with the help of a wealth of declassified documents and interviews, realized the dangers of deep American involvement in Vietnam from the start. But their sense of loyalty to Lyndon Johnson caused them not only to stay silent publicly but even to mute their dissent privately with him, thereby doing a disservice to boss and country, Bird suggests. Though somewhat biased toward a leftist view of American foreign policy, this biography scrupulously and compellingly details how two pillars of the American establishment struggled, often unsuccessfully, to balance conscience against power in the nuclear age.

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