Michael KreponMcGeorge Bundy

‘Tis the season for giving thanks – at least for U.S. readers of ACW. One of the many things I am thankful for is the opportunity to have had conversations about arms control with McGeorge Bundy.

He was one of the principle architects of the Vietnam War. I was one of 10,000 people arrested during the “May Day” anti-war demonstrations on May 4, 1970. (On this occasion, I wasn’t demonstrating, but I looked the part.) Our paths crossed much later, in 1989, when Barry Blechman and I were starting up a new think tank, which we wanted to name after Henry L. Stimson. The Stimsons were childless, so we decided to ask McGeorge Bundy for permission.

Bundy’s father was Stimson’s trusted adviser at the State Department during the Hoover administration and at the War Department, serving under FDR and Truman. When Stimson was agonizing over the Bomb, he consulted with Harvey Bundy. When, after stepping down as Secretary of War, he needed help writing about the Bomb and his many years of public service, Stimson turned to McGeorge Bundy.

Bundy gave his consent to creating a think tank in Stimson’s name, and subsequently stayed in touch. He kept for safekeeping the briefing General Leslie Groves prepared for his father about the bombs detonated in New Mexico, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Before he died in 1996, Bundy gifted the folios from this briefing along with many of his books on nuclear issues to the Stimson Center.

Reading these books, with Bundy’s marginalia written in a tiny and neat script, is like reading in stereo. Here are a few examples taken from One World or None, a compendium of short pieces written by heavy hitters such as Arthur Compton, Niels Bohr, Hap Arnold and Albert Einstein. Edited by Dexter Masters and Katherine Way, this book was originally published in 1946 to help Americans understand “the proper handling of atomic energy. Our great hope,” wrote Compton in the introduction, “is that this volume will help in finding a wise solution to that problem, a solution which will bring us lasting peace and make real to us the clear possibility of an enriched human life.”

A new edition of One World or None was published in 2007 with a preface by Richard Rhodes. Here are three excerpts from my original copy, followed by Bundy’s marginal notes.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, in his most hopeful phase after World War II ended, wrote this excerpt in his essay, The New Weapon: The Turn of the Screw:

Scientists are, not by the nature of what they find but the way in which they find it, humanists; science, by its methods, its values, and the nature of the objectivity it seeks, is universally human. It is therefore natural for scientists to look at the new world of atomic energy and atomic weapons in a very broad light. And in this light the community of experience, of effort, and of values that prevails among scientists of different nations is comparable in significance with the community of interest existing for the men and the women of one nation.

Bundy’s marginalia: “Alas not.”

E.U. Condon’s essay was entitled, The New Technique of Private War:

We cannot allow our world, beset with many real problems, with much uncertainty and distrust, to drift into a state so fantastic that it beggars words, and so real that you have photographs of it in the newspapers. An atomic-arms race must be prevented by international control of atomic energy. The saboteur cannot be found, but the factory that makes his bomb need never exist.

Bundy’s marginalia: “this is almost the worst conjunction – why has it not happened yet?”

Walter Lippmann’s contribution, International Control of Atomic Energy placed uncommon faith in the rule of law to keep the Bomb in check:

The struggle of civilized men with the primitive, the stubborn, the malign, and the stupid, within each of us and all about us, will not end. But how different would be the assumptions and the expectations of diplomacy if, as a great power, in the company of other nations who would surely be with us, we were committed to the formation of a world order or universal law! Merely to have begun upon this enterprise, though the first steps be small and difficult, would be to introduce into all the calculations and judgments of international affairs a new orientation and into men’s lives a compelling purpose.

Bundy’s marginalia: “How far all this is from Soviet Power!”

I’m not sure when Bundy wrote these notes. My hunch is that he re-read One World or None while preparing to write his own book, Danger and Survival.


  1. FSB

    So Bundy was critical of Soviet power?

    I wonder how he would have reacted to some of our congressmen and senators who worship Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini in a secret society?

    Unfortunately, this is not a joke — please read the above link and despair at our government. Before worrying about nukes in foreign countries, we need to rid ourselves of these “weapons of mass destruction” in our own Capitol.