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Bruce, David Kirkpatrick Este

BRUCE, David Kirkpatrick Este

(b. 12 February 1898 in Baltimore, Maryland; d. 5 December 1977 in Washington, D.C.), prominent United States diplomat who served from 1961 to 1969 as ambassador to Great Britain and headed the U.S. delegation to the Paris peace talks on Vietnam from 1970 to 1971.

Bruce was the fourth and youngest son of William Cabell Bruce, a Virginia plantation owner and lawyer, and Louise Este Fisher, daughter of a socially prominent Baltimore lawyer. He was educated at the private Gilman Country School in Baltimore before pursuing undergraduate studies at Princeton University from 1915 to 1917. From 1917 to 1919 he served in the American Expeditionary Force, the army the United States raised to participate in the European conflict after entering World War I, an experience that precipitated his enduring fascination with Europe. After returning from the war, at parental insistence he studied law at the University of Virginia (1919–1920) and the University of Maryland (1920–1921), passing the Maryland bar examination in November 1921. Tall, handsome, and cultivated, in 1926 Bruce married wealthy heiress Ailsa Mellon, whom he divorced in 1945 to marry Evangeline Bell. He had one daughter, Audrey, with his first wife, and three children, Alexandra (Sasha), David Surtees, and Nicholas Cabell, with his second.

In 1939 the outbreak of war in Europe launched Bruce on a career of public service that, with occasional short breaks, continued until two years before his death. He was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1939, where he served until 1942. As head of the Economic Cooperation Administration in Paris (1948–1949) and U.S. ambassador to France (1949–1952), he was heavily involved in Europe's postwar reconstruction, subsequently serving as undersecretary of state (1952–1953), U.S. representative to the nascent European Coal and Steel Community (1953–1954), and U.S. ambassador to West Germany (1957–1959). The fervently pro-Allied Bruce had spent the 1940 blitz in London heading the American Red Cross War Mission, and his dispatches home helped to develop American support for Britain. In 1941 he had begun a four-year spell directing the London mission of the Office of Strategic Services, where he worked closely with the British Special Operations Executive and also met his half-British second wife. Bruce's wartime experiences, during which he gathered a vast array of influential British friends, led many Britons to consider him an "honorary Englishman." Bruce, a lifelong Democrat whose father served a term as senator for Maryland, had hoped that his party's victory in 1960 would bring his appointment as secretary of state. Instead, in 1961 President John F. Kennedy offered him the London embassy, where Bruce remained until 1969, that post's longest-serving incumbent.

The Bruces quickly became fixtures on the London social scene, entertaining the British royal family and the political and cultural elite, together with such distinguished visitors as first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and her sister, Lee Radziwill, with Evangeline's legendary elegance and stylish aplomb. Privy to many details of the 1963 Profumo affair, when Britain's secretary of state for war, John Profumo, resigned over his relationship with a call girl, Bruce attracted FBI criticism for failing to give the Kennedy administration sufficient warning of the developing scandal, whose ramifications some suspected might involve the American president. In 1963 Bruce found particularly depressing the untimely deaths of two men he greatly admired, President Kennedy, who was assassinated, and Philip Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post, who committed suicide. Personal tragedy struck closer to home in 1967, when Audrey Currier, his elder daughter, and her husband died in a Caribbean airplane crash.

Both Kennedy and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, respected and valued Bruce's literate, acutely analytical dispatches as ambassador. Although somewhat closer to Britain's Conservative Party politicians, Bruce was on sufficiently good terms with their socialist counterparts to negotiate a smooth transition without difficulty when the Labour Party took power in 1964. Bruce had to alleviate the tensions generated by Kennedy's sudden cancellation in December 1962 of the Skybolt missile program, which British leaders had anticipated using to deploy their own nuclear warheads, and to mediate the often strained relationship between Johnson and Labour's Harold Wilson, Britain's prime minister from 1964 to 1970.

When necessary, Bruce had the confidence to act independently. Disturbed by British street protests against the American decision to blockade Cuba during the October 1962 missile crisis, without obtaining State Department authorization Bruce released to the British press intelligence photographs of Soviet missile installations on Cuba. More sympathetic to British imperialism than many Americans, Bruce warned that Britain should not be pressured to de-colonize her remaining empire too quickly, and regretted Wilson's 1968 decision to withdraw British military forces east of Suez, which he considered strategically detrimental to the United States as well as Britain.

Despite his Anglophile outlook, Bruce feared that British leaders failed to realize their country was living well beyond its means and frequently predicted economic collapse. His gloomy dispatches on Britain's economic problems became notorious within the U.S. State Department. Much influenced by his lengthy friendship with Jean Monnet, the "father of the Common Market," Bruce was a committed advocate of postwar European integration. He therefore welcomed Britain's 1961 decision to apply for membership in the European Economic Community, which he hoped might ultimately also promote closer links between the United States and Europe, and deplored French president Charles de Gaulle's veto of the British request.

Dealings between Wilson and Johnson became particularly acerbic over growing American involvement in Vietnam, an issue that became increasingly prominent in Anglo-American relations. Dubious as to the wisdom of American backing of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, initially Bruce nonetheless felt that his country should keep its pledged faith to these states. He privately questioned the accuracy of reports of the August 1964 Tonkin Gulf Incident, but in public he loyally supported and defended his country's position. Massive popular protests against the Vietnam War, particularly the violent demonstrations in which both the London embassy and his Georgetown home became targets, and such Vietnam-related episodes as the defacement of the British memorial to Kennedy at Runnymede repelled a man who valued decorum and restraint. Bruce's growing private fears that American victory was unattainable and concern over the war's damaging domestic and international impact on the United States led him to favor a negotiated settlement. As ambassador Bruce supported and sought to facilitate various proposals intended to accomplish this. The most prominent among them was a peace effort devised in 1967 by Wilson in collaboration with the visiting Soviet premier, Aleksei Kosygin, but aborted in part by Johnson's intransigent refusal to extend a bombing pause then in effect. Predictably, Bruce welcomed Johnson's March 1968 decision to seek peace and American withdrawal.

After leaving the embassy, the Bruces broke with diplomatic convention by leasing a stylish London flat, from which Evangeline Bruce conducted a well-publicized feud with Lee Annenberg, her successor as ambassador's wife in the American embassy. From 1970 to 1971 Bruce headed the American delegation at the largely nonsubstantive Paris peace talks on Vietnam, until ill health and frustration brought about his resignation. Bruce's penultimate assignment was as first chief of the United States Liaison Office to the People's Republic of China (1973–1974), a largely symbolic position in which his seniority, ability, and charm facilitated a crucial stage in the reopening of Sino-American relations. He retired after one last stint as United States ambassador to NATO (1974–1976). In 1977 Bruce died of heart failure in Washington, D.C., and was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Maryland. Early in 1978 the British held an official memorial service in Westminster Abbey for him, the first American since Kennedy so honored.

Elegant, cultivated, witty, discreet, and able, a consummate insider blessed with immense stamina, Bruce embodied both the virtues and limitations of the U.S. diplomatic establishment that dominated the making of his country's mid-twentieth-century foreign policy. His years in London coincided with the Vietnam-generated loss of confidence in that elite's foreign policy tradition and to a broader loss of civility and restraint he found deplorable.

Bruce's personal papers are held by the Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia. The originals of his diaries, together with numerous official cables and other correspondence, are in National Archives II, College Park, Maryland; many of his official communications are also published in the series Foreign Relations of the United States. Archival materials on his years in London are in the British Foreign Office Files on the United States in the Public Records Office, Kew, United Kingdom. The only full biography is Nelson D. Lankford, The Last American Aristocrat: The Biography of Ambassador David K. E. Bruce (1996). Philip M. Kaiser, Journeying Far and Wide: A Political and Diplomatic Memoir (1992), portrays Bruce as ambassador in London. Bruce's assignments London and at the Paris peace negotiations are covered in the articles on him in Nelson Lichtenstein, ed., Political Profiles: The Kennedy Years (1976), and Political Profiles: The Johnson Years (1976); and Eleanora Schoenebaum, ed., Political Profiles: The Nixon/Ford Years (1979). A tribute to Bruce is in the Century Association Yearbook 1978. Obituaries are in the New York Times and Washington Post (both 6 Dec. 1977). Bruce recorded oral history interviews for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston, Massachusetts, and the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, Austin, Texas.

Priscilla Roberts

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