Ball, George Wildman

views updated Jun 27 2018

BALL, George Wildman

(b. 21 December 1909 in Des Moines, Iowa; d. 26 May 1994 in New York City), undersecretary of state for economic affairs, January–November 1961; undersecretary of state, 1961–1966; and the most prominent and consistent advocate of U.S. nonintervention in Vietnam during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

Ball was the third and youngest son of Amos Ball, Jr., a Standard Oil of Indiana vice president, and Edna Wildman, a teacher. Educated at public schools in Evanston, Illinois, Ball obtained bachelor's and law degrees from Northwestern University in 1930 and 1933 and, after a spell in the U.S. Treasury Department, practiced law in Chicago until the early 1940s. In 1932 Ball married Ruth Sneathen Murdoch, a social worker from Pittsburgh; the couple adopted two sons, Douglas Bleakly and John Colin.

During World War II Ball held government positions with the Office of Lend-Lease Administration and the Foreign Economic Administration. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who met Ball in 1943, found him "a delight … a wonderfully spirited, resourceful, joyous, imperturbable, elegant man." After the war Ball moved to Washington, where he helped found the international law firm Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen, and Ball. The firm represented the French government and the European Coal and Steel Community—later the European Economic Community (EEC)—and Ball became a dedicated, lifelong supporter of freer international trade, which he believed was an engine of economic growth and political progress. In the 1950s he also helped establish the Bilderberg Group, which organized annual meetings of prominent Western political and business leaders. Four mentors greatly influenced Ball: his Chicago law partner, the liberal Democrat Adlai Stevenson, who became governor of Illinois; Jean Monnet, the French architect of post-war European unity and Ball's greatest role model, whom he met during World War II; Dean Acheson, Harry Truman's assertive and Atlanticist secretary of state from 1949 to 1953; and the preeminent Washington journalist, Walter Lippmann.

Ball worked for Stevenson in both his unsuccessful 1952 and 1956 presidential campaigns and initially supported his 1960 bid for the Democratic nomination. When John F. Kennedy became the nominee, Ball made speeches and wrote articles on his behalf and prepared foreign policy position papers. Kennedy was sufficiently impressed to invite Ball to become undersecretary of state for economic affairs, the third-ranking post in the Department of State. Ball quickly assembled a well-qualified staff, some experienced departmental officers, others talented outsiders, who greatly enhanced his own bureaucratic effectiveness. So did the close relationship he developed with the reserved Secretary of State, Dean Rusk. The two men often shared an evening scotch or bourbon and, despite their major policy differences over Vietnam, Ball paid warm tribute to Rusk in his memoirs. Rusk never developed similar rapport with his own deputy, Chester Bowles, an idealistic and somewhat ineffective liberal who concentrated on American relations with Asia, Africa, and Latin America, whereas throughout his career Ball believed that his country's primary international interests lay in its relationship with Europe. After ten months Ball replaced Bowles, becoming undersecretary for political affairs in the November 1961 "Thanksgiving Day massacre" reorganization of top State Department personnel. From then on Ball's responsibilities were far more extensive, and in Rusk's absence he often served as acting secretary. Immensely energetic and hardworking, Ball also became an administration troubleshooter, making numerous trips to such problem areas as Pakistan, Congo, the Dominican Republic, Korea, Cyprus, and Greece. He generally sought peaceful resolution of conflicts and disliked American endorsement of regimes not firmly based on popular political participation.

Before his promotion, Ball focused primarily on his economic responsibilities, and he did not attend top-level meetings on political and military strategy. Ball argued forcefully that a major downward revision of American tariff rates and greater presidential flexibility on economic issues were needed to resolve the persistent balance-of-payments deficit and other trade difficulties he anticipated would occur after Britain's expected entry into the European Common Market. He was heavily involved in drafting the 1962 Trade Expansion Act, which slashed tariffs on many foreign goods and gave the president great discretionary authority to take retaliatory measures against foreign protectionism. Ball also successfully supported the use of United Nations and United States forces to prevent the Belgian-backed secession of the copper-rich Katanga province from the newly independent Congo.

Ball accorded high priority to furthering European economic integration through Britain's membership in the EEC. He believed that a strong and economically interdependent and prosperous Europe was crucial to U.S. alliance policies. Like Acheson, he trenchantly argued that since World War II, too often with American backing, Britain had myopically tried to maintain the illusion that it was still an independent great power rather than moving to become the leader of Europe. Ball also thought greater British influence in Europe was desirable to offset that of West Germany. In 1965 Ball termed French president Charles de Gaulle "a self-centered nationalist" for vetoing Britain's application to join the Common Market, and briefly contemplated a contingency plan for a limited confederation of the English-speaking peoples in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The plan included amalgamating those areas of the world whose currencies were linked to either the dollar or the pound sterling, a scheme he soon abandoned as impracticable.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy included Ball in the Executive Committee (ExCom) of senior officials who met regularly to discuss the U.S. response. Ball advised following the less drastic course of a naval blockade or quarantine rather than launching surprise air strikes. After the crisis Ball wrote a legal justification for the U.S. decision and made arrangements to inform American allies of it. After Kennedy's death Ball worked on White House transition arrangements for the Lyndon B. Johnson administration.

Despite his multifarious responsibilities, Ball was best known for his consistent opposition to U.S. intervention in Vietnam. Tall, burly, forceful, and well read, Ball could be a formidable opponent, but on Vietnam he failed to convince his fellow officials. In November 1961 Ball dissented when General Maxwell D. Taylor and the economist Walt W. Rostow returned from Vietnam recommending an increased commitment of U.S. aid, advisers, and, if possible, troops. Over two years the Kennedy administration gradually increased the number of American advisers in Vietnam from a few hundred to 16,000, with Ball always on the losing side. Ball was greatly influenced by his memories of France's failure to sustain a quasicolonial Vietnamese government during the 1950s but also believed that Vietnam, and indeed all of Asia, was an area of peripheral importance to the United States. In addition, Ball considered President Ngo Dinh Diem's government in South Vietnam both corrupt and incompetent, incapable of winning the war. On 24 August 1963 Ball, together with State Department officials Michael V. Forrestal and Roger Hilsman, drafted a cable instructing Henry Cabot Lodge, the American ambassador to South Vietnam, to respond favorably to enquiries by Vietnamese generals whether the United States would welcome a coup against Diem and recognize the resulting government. In November 1963 Diem was overthrown and assassinated, an event Ball always maintained made no difference to the eventual outcome of the war in Vietnam.

Ball found Johnson personally more congenial than Kennedy and later suggested that, whereas Johnson tolerated his repeated private questioning of administration policies on Vietnam, Kennedy would probably have been far less patient and would have eventually demanded his resignation. Some, however, felt that Ball was the "house dove" or "devil's advocate," his dissent acceptable because his presence in discussions on Vietnam proved that all options had been thoroughly considered. As American involvement in Vietnam escalated, with large-scale bombing raids on North Vietnam launched after the August 1964 Tonkin Gulf incident and the commitment of American ground forces in May 1965, Ball repeatedly submitted lengthy memoranda questioning almost every prevailing assumption on the conflict. He argued from European experience that the domino theory (which suggested that a single communist Asian country would "infect" its neighbors) was unfounded and contended that, rather than considering U.S. involvement in Vietnam proof of American anticommunist resolve, the West European allies would regard it as a major error that would call into question American officials' prudence and judgment. Ball also warned that war in Vietnam might easily dilute support for Johnson's Great Society domestic reform programs. Drawing on his World War II service with the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey and on his report that concluded that heavy bombing of German cities had failed to destroy popular morale and the will to fight, Ball contended that American bombing of North Vietnam would be no more effective in persuading Hanoi to cease its campaign against the South. He maintained these positions even when Johnson forced him to admit that American withdrawal would probably lead to the collapse of South Vietnam and to a communist takeover. Ball also recommended increased U.S. trade with and recognition of mainland China as well as its admission to the United Nations. Between October 1964 and July 1965 Ball submitted eight lengthy memoranda urging American withdrawal from Vietnam, all of which the president ignored.

Although Ball based his opposition on pragmatic considerations, on moral grounds the death and suffering caused by the war distressed him deeply. In September 1966 Ball, weary of publicly defending policies he privately deplored, and under financial pressure, resigned to become a senior partner in Lehman Brothers, a top New York investment bank. He never questioned fellow officials' good faith on Vietnam, merely their judgment, and, following the gentleman's code, he remained silent on Vietnam, later stating, "I could not share the confidence of my colleagues for a sustained period, then go out and denounce them." Only with the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers did his dissent become common knowledge.

Ball became one of the senior advisers, or "wise men," whom Johnson occasionally consulted on major foreign policy issues and in January 1968 chaired a committee to investigate the Pueblo Incident, when North Korea seized an American intelligence-gathering vessel. As before, he advocated that the United States cut its losses and leave Vietnam; at a November "wise men" meeting Ball bitterly assailed his colleagues for their indifference to rising American casualty figures. After the disastrous Tet offensive early in 1968, Ball's fellow advisers finally swung around to his perspective, and Johnson publicly announced that he would open negotiations and would not seek reelection. In the following months, however, Ball felt Johnson's peace policies were far too half-hearted. In spring 1968 Johnson prevailed upon a reluctant Ball to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, an assignment that bored him and one he left after three months to campaign aggressively for Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic presidential nominee, who might well have named him secretary of state. Ball had ably positioned himself for this office by publishing The Discipline of Power (1968), which forcefully assailed the growing isolationist trend in the United States. The victory of Republican Richard Nixon, whom Ball despised for his use of McCarthyite smear tactics in the 1950s, effectively relegated him to private life.

Ball remained with Lehman until he retired in 1982, cultivating international business contacts in Europe and the Middle East. In 1978 President Jimmy Carter asked Ball to report on the growing troubles in Iran, and he presciently but unavailingly recommended that only democratic reforms would prevent the ouster of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. From the early 1970s Ball criticized Israel's post-1967 annexation of Palestinian territory and called for reduced American support of Israel, a controversial stance that made him politically unacceptable to many Democrats. Until his death in 1994 of abdominal cancer, he spoke and wrote extensively on foreign affairs.

Elitist, ambitious, and Eurocentric, Ball nonetheless demonstrated not merely bureaucratic effectiveness but a reflective streak that distinguished him from most of his contemporaries. When convinced of a position's validity, he argued for it with stubborn conviction and tenacity regardless of its unpopularity. Unlike most of his peers, he preferred long-term analyses to short-term, ad hoc crisis management. It may be no exaggeration to term him the greatest secretary of state the United States never had.

Ball's personal papers were deposited in the Seeley G. Mudd Memorial Library of Princeton University. He donated relatively small collections of his official papers to the National Archives II, College Park, Maryland; the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston, Massachusetts; and the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, Austin, Texas. Many of his papers were published in the appropriate volumes of the series Foreign Relations of the United States. Ball wrote his own memoirs, The Past Has Another Pattern (1982), and reflected on some of the lessons of office in The Discipline of Power (1968). The fullest biography is James A. Bill, George Ball: Behind the Scenes in U.S. Foreign Policy (1997). Ball's position on Vietnam is fully covered in David L. DiLeo, George Ball, Vietnam, and the Rethinking of Containment (1991). Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., wrote a revealing memorial of Ball for the Century Association Yearbook (1995). Obituaries are in the New York Times (28 May 1994); the Washington Post (29 May 1994); the Times (London) (30 May 1994); and the Daily Telegraph (31 May 1994). Ball recorded oral histories for the Kennedy and Johnson presidential libraries.

Priscilla Roberts

George Ball

views updated May 17 2018

George Ball

George Ball (1909-1994) was a classic Atlanticist who promoted both strong ties between the United States and Western Europe and the development of an economically united Europe. He served as undersecretary of state during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and wrote extensively on foreign affairs.

George W (ildman) Ball was born in Des Moines, Iowa, on December 21, 1909. He received both bachelor of arts and doctor of jurisprudence degrees from Northwestern University. Graduating from law school in 1933, Ball went to Washington, D.C., where he worked for Henry Morgenthau, first at the Farm Credit Administration and then at the Department of Treasury. In 1935 he returned to Chicago to practice law. In the late 1930s he became greatly interested in world affairs. When war began in Europe, Ball followed his friend and colleague, Adlai Stevenson, into the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, an interventionist organization usually known as the White Committee.

When the United States entered World War II, Ball reentered government service, developing a specialty in international economic affairs. From 1942 to 1944 he served in the Office of Lend-Lease Administration and the Foreign Economic Administration. In 1944 he was appointed director of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey in London. He returned to Washington in 1945 to work for Jean Monnet as general counsel for the French Supply Council, a post he held until his return to private practice in 1946.

Monnet's Influence on Ball

Monnet was probably the greatest single influence on Ball's subsequent thought and career. Out of the shambles left by the war, the brilliant French visionary sought to create a united Europe with an integrated economy. His dream captured Ball, who worked with him toward creation of the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Common Market. Ball also represented a number of Common Market agencies in the United States in the years that followed.

Ball became a classic Atlanticist, profoundly committed to the idea that Western Europe was central to America's future, as it had been to America's past, and that the well-being of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the vitality of the European Common Market were the essential interests of the United States. He believed that events in the Afro-Asian world were relatively less important and should never be allowed to corrode the links between the United States and Great Britain and France.

Economic Affairs and Trade Matters

In the 1950s Ball aided Henry Wallace in his defense against McCarthyism and, most importantly, helped orchestrate the "drafting" of Stevenson as Democratic presidential candidate. He remained with Stevenson through the 1960 campaign, managing the candidate's affairs at the Los Angeles convention. Nonetheless, the victorious John F. Kennedy was induced to appoint him undersecretary of state for economic affairs in January 1961.

Secretary of State Dean Rusk had little taste for economic affairs and left Ball a clear field. For most of 1961 Ball concentrated on trade matters, working to eliminate trade barriers by reducing American tariffs and giving the president broad powers to retaliate against nations that restricted imports. He helped draft the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which embodied his ideas.

In November 1961, Ball replaced Chester Bowles as undersecretary of state, the second-ranking position in the department. Rusk delegated power easily, giving Ball full authority whenever the secretary travelled or was otherwise preoccupied. Rusk was also unusually tolerant of dissent and allowed Ball free rein to express his views to the president.

The Congo Crisis

Spared complicity in the Bay of Pigs debacle and the Laotian situation Kennedy inherited, Ball was less fortunate in the Congo crisis. In the Congo, a government which had won independence from Belgium in 1960 was threatened by internal strife from which the former Soviet Union, Belgian industrialists, other western investors, and various Congolese politicians sought to benefit. Moise Tshombe, who became the darling of American conservatives, led a secessionist movement in the mineral-rich province of Katanga. Ball was probably more sympathetic to the Belgians than Rusk, but no less aware that colonialism in any form was doomed. Both men were obsessed with fear that the Soviet Union might gain a foothold in the Congo, which Ball purported to believe was the key to the destiny of Africa in the Cold War struggle. Neither man was as committed to the United Nation's policy of suppressing the Katanga secession by force as were Bowles, Stevenson, and Assistant Secretary for African Affairs G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams. Indeed, Ball and Stevenson argued bitterly on the issue. Taking charge of the problem, Ball successfully negotiated the political minefields, contained the Left, pacified the Right, satisfied advocates of the United Nations, and minimized the irritation of NATO allies.

Antagonized By de Gaulle

Ball's arch-antagonist in Europe was Charles de Gaulle, whose intensive nationalism could not abide the Monnet-Ball images of France's place in a united Europe. Ball led the "theologians" who sought the further integration of Europe. He was the force behind the American effort to drive Britain into the Common Market and to solve the nuclear weapons control issue with the Multilateral Force (MLF). Always de Gaulle thwarted him, and neither Kennedy nor Lyndon Johnson would allow him to undertake a broader challenge to the French leader.

Questioned American Involvement in Vietnam

Ball's most memorable role was not widely known until publication of The Pentagon Papers in 1971. Alone among senior foreign policy advisors of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, he consistently questioned American involvement in Vietnam and argued that intervention would not succeed. In part his views were based on understanding of the futility of the earlier French effort. They were also based on an Atlanticist's conviction that Southeast Asia, like the rest of the Afro-Asian world, mattered little. If the United States could protect the sources of industrial power in Europe, the Middle East, and Japan, it would prevail in the struggle against Communism.

Life After Politics

In September 1966, weary of the struggle, Ball resigned—in a quiet, establishment-approved way that preserved future opportunities to serve. He returned to government briefly as ambassador to the United Nations in 1968. He resigned that post to help Hubert Humphrey's presidential campaign.

In private life, Ball built his fortune as an investment banker with Lehman Brothers and wrote regularly on foreign affairs. His criticism of the policies of the administrations of the 1970s and 1980s appeared in frequent articles and books. An articulate and forceful writer, he never lacked a forum for his views. Ball passed away in 1994, but his legacy as a friend of Europe lives on.

Further Reading

The most useful sources of information are Ball's own memoir, The Past Has Another Pattern (1982), George Ball: Behind the Scenes In U.S. Foreign Policy by James A. Bill, Yale University Press (1997), and Warren I. Cohen, Dean Rusk, volume 19 in Samuel F. Bemis and Robert H. Ferrell, editors, The American Secretaries of State and Their Diplomacy (1980). See also David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (1972); Lyndon B. Johnson, The Vantage Point (1971); The Pentagon Papers (1971); and Jean Monnet: The First Statesman of Independence by François Duché, with a foreword by George W. Ball (1995). □

Ball, George Wildman

views updated May 23 2018

Ball, George Wildman

b. 21 December 1909 in Des Moines, Iowa; d. 26May 1994 in New York City), lawyer, government official, and writer who urged the importance of a united Europe.

The son of Amos Ball, Jr., a Standard Oil of Indiana vice president and director, and the former Edna Wildman, a teacher, George Ball grew up in Des Moines and in Evanston, Illinois. Ball was born into a family that included two older brothers, and he graduated from Northwestern University in 1930 and its law school in 1933. He joined the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration in Washington as a member of the Farm Credit administration, about which subject he knew nothing, he later wrote, having never spent a night on a farm. When his superior, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., transferred to the treasury department, Ball accompanied him, and upon Morgenthau’s becoming secretary in 1934 the young lawyer found himself in the midst of major New Deal events. It was an exciting time. But in 1935, having discovered that handling a kaleidoscope of projects was doing little for his training as a lawyer, he resigned and moved to Chicago to learn the details of practice.

In 1942, another landmark year, Ball went back to Washington during a second time of national emergency, initially working with the Lend-Lease Administration and in 1944 with what became the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. The survey’s sponsor, the U.S. Army Air Forces, sought to defend the bombing of the European continent as crucial to the defeat of Germany. Ball’s report concluded that bombing failed to play a decisive role.

In the war’s last months Ball became a close friend and disciple of the French economist Jean Monnet, who advocated European integration in a common market and a coal and steel community. During Ball’s tenure as undersecretary of state from 1961 to 1966, he supported a “Europe first” agenda, expressing little interest in that decade’s consuming subject of American foreign relations, Vietnam.

In the latter 1940s and in the 1950s, Ball engaged in legal work, in large part concerning international economics. In the administration of President John F. Kennedy (1961–1963), he was appointed undersecretary of economic affairs and then, upon the resignation of Chester Bowles, of political affairs, both positions under Secretary of State Dean Rusk. The first two political issues that the lawyerturned-diplomatist addressed were Laos and Cuba. To the former he brought skepticism, believing American interests in the Southeast Asian nation’s civil strife to be minuscule. Cuba, close at hand, was something else. As U.S. involvement deepened after the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion (1961), developing into the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, Ball became one of the key figures in the administration’s decision to prevent Soviet ships from bringing war materiel into Cuba and to insist that the Soviets withdraw their missiles from Cuban soil.

As Ball was not a part of “the Harvard crowd,” his relations with President Kennedy were close but not intimate. Moreover, for one involved in government during the Depression and World War II, 1961 represented a less momentous experience. His relations with Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, were far more complicated, he wrote years later. Continuing as undersecretary of state, Ball privately sought to balance Johnson’s patriotism and mastery of congressional arm-twisting with the weaknesses and insecurities that he felt derived from the president’s sensitivity over having graduated from a Texas teachers’ college.

Vietnam was the central foreign policy issue of the Johnson years, and from the beginning Ball opposed escalation. He did not hesitate to present his views to the president. Although Johnson thanked him for them, he went in the opposite direction by following the advice of Ball’s chief, Secretary Rusk, and Secretary of Defense Robert S. Mc-Namara.

In 1966 Ball resigned and chose not to go public with his Vietnam dissent until the beginning of the Richard M. Nixon administration in 1969. After leaving the Department of State, he was associated with the New York investment banking firm of Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb and maintained a residence in Princeton, New Jersey, with his wife, the former Ruth Murdoch, whom he had married on 16 September 1932 and with whom he had two sons.

Ball was a tall, powerfully built man who was well read and closely connected to a number of important people. He believed himself the champion of lost causes. Among these causes were Adlai Stevenson’s 1952 and 1956 presidential campaigns, with which he was closely associated; Vietnam; and also efforts to lessen U.S. involvement with the shah Reza Pahlavi’s regime in Iran. In another area of foreign policy, he favored reduced support of Israel. Monnet once told him that his basic fault was having an interest in too many things. The advice may have been unfair, considering the complexity of American foreign relations during his time of government service. His policy positions on the major issues have sparked debate, both over the issues themselves and his approaches to them. He died of abdominal cancer at the age of eighty-four.

Ball was the author of a half-dozen books, the most important of which is The Past Has Another Pattern: Memoirs (1982). Other significant books by Ball include The Discipline of Power (1968), Diplomacy for a Crowded World (1976), and Passionate Attachment: America’s Involvement with Israel (1992). See also David L. DiLeo, George Ball, Vietnam, and the Rethinking of Containment (1991). An obituary is in the New York Times (28 May 1994).

Robert H. Ferrell

Ball, George

views updated May 23 2018

Ball, George (1909–1994), undersecretary of state.As undersecretary of state (1961–66) under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, George W. Ball achieved his greatest prominence as the highest‐ranking U.S. official to oppose, consistently but unsuccessfully, the decisions to increase the American military role during the Vietnam War.

President Kennedy appointed him assistant secretary of state for economic affairs in 1961. After the Bay of Pigs disaster, Ball was promoted to undersecretary of state. He took issue with the Taylor‐Rostow mission in 1961, which advocated the introduction of U.S. combat troops into Vietnam. Ball saw the United States becoming involved in a revolutionary war with little hope of eventual success; he argued that U.S. military resources were better deployed in Europe.

Ball's opposition to American involvement in the war continued throughout the Johnson administration, but this opposition proved futile, and he left the administration in 1966 to return to his law practice. He remained personally and publicly loyal to the president, and his determined opposition to American involvement in the war became widely known only after the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. He later served as U.S. delegate to the United Nations and as an adviser on Iran to President Jimmy Carter.


Lyndon B. Johnson , The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency, 1963–1969, 1971.
George W. Ball , The Past Has Another Pattern: Memoirs, 1982.

Herbert Y. Schandler

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