That was Lawrence: McGeorge Bundy

Stephen Nordin

By now most of us here at Lawrence have had some opportunity to meet the eighteenth Stephen Edward Scarff Distinguished Professor, Senator Russ Feingold. The Senator’s remarks in the most recent Povolny Lecture were titled: “While America Sleeps — A Wake-Up Call for the Post-9/11 Era”.

When the first Scarff Distinguished Professor arrived on campus in January of 1990, he too spoke about America’s role in a changing international system.

McGeorge Bundy, after being born to the WASPiest of Boston families, graduated from Yale and served as an intelligence officer during the Second World War. While Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, he was selected by President Kennedy to be National Security Advisor in 1961.

In this position, Bundy was a key advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, witnessing and participating in events such as the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the massive US intervention in the Vietnam conflict.

When Lawrence brought Bundy to campus in 1990, he was clearly a most distinguished statesman to inaugurate the Scarff Professorship. In addition to his impressive credentials, including his presidency of the Ford Foundation, membership at the Council on Foreign Relations and academic position at NYU, Bundy — like Senator Feingold — had already visited campus to give an address in 1980.

After Stephen Edward Scarff ’75 died due to a car accident in 1984, his parents gathered funds to endow an academic post. Lawrence President Richard Warch announced at a convocation on January 11, 1990, that Edward and Nancy Scarff donated $1 million in 1990.

The purpose of these funds was to purchase what is now known as Scarff House on College Avenue and to bring “public servants, professional leaders, and scholars to enrich and enliven the broad academic program of the college.” By doing so, Warch hoped, their presence would “provide broad perspectives on the central issues of our time.”

Following Warch onto the stage, Bundy gave a lecture entitled: “How Much Peace Without the Cold War?” As Bundy faced a body of Lawrentians that would usher in a new decade of American preeminence, he asserted that “we could have as much peace as, together, we earn and keep.”

He remarked that the extraordinary events in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union showed that “fear is not the only — or the best — source of energy.”

Bundy closed with a rousing call to action: “There is challenge enough in the new hope that has been opened, for themselves, for their peoples, for their neighbors and for ourselves, by the heroes of 1989.”

He also faced the many requests for class visits, as our Senator Feingold does. He found himself giving guest lectures and participating in discussion in American foreign policy, biomedical ethics, and nuclear weapons courses.

However, his arrival at Lawrence was not anticipated with universal acclamation.

A group of twenty-two faculty, headed by Professors Catherine Kautsky and Ruth Friedman sent a letter asserting that while they were “perfectly content to have such a statesman visit the Lawrence campus,” they also felt he should be met with “recognition of his decisive role in developing and perpetuating the extended American presence in Southeast Asia.”

They asserted as “children, students and teachers of the 1960s,” that in the context of the 1989 US invasion of Panama “it might behoove us to look back on Vietnam and its generation of napalmed children and hundreds of thousands of lost lives.”

Bundy addressed these concerns in the January 11 convocation. He claimed he understood “that there is one subject you would like me to address or at least some of you would, and I assure you that you are banging on an open door.”

Professor of Government Chong Do-Hah announced that Bundy would address Professor Friedman’s History 60 class: History of the Vietnam War. His remarks ran well over the usual class period, discussing his role in the conflict with students for over two hours.

He asserted that the escalation was due to the “consensus politics” of the Johnson administration and, in retrospect, was clearly “wrong.”

Lawrentian editor Mark Niquette commented in the January 12 issue that campus opinion was divided. He asserted that some on campus “question, in light of Bundy’s past decisions, his invitation in the first place,” while others considered it “rude and an insult to our invited and distinguished guest.”

He also acknowledged “the passion and emotion” of the faculty who responded to “horrors now so carefully recorded in our contemporary history books and films.”

Niquette’s own assessment viewed Bundy as a “brilliant dignitary,” but one critically involved in the “Rolling Thunder” bombing of North Vietnam.

He concluded:

“…While many children of the ’60s may feel the historical judgment of McGeorge Bundy is complete, the history of this man — as it relates to the man on campus and his views today — is uncertain to this child of the ’80s.”