The Wise Men were a group of government officials and members of the East Coast foreign policy establishment who, beginning in the 1940s, developed the containment policy of dealing with the Communist bloc and crafted institutions and initiatives such as NATO, the World Bank, and the Marshall Plan. They came to personify an ideal of statesmanship that was putatively marked by non-partisanship, pragmatic internationalism, and aversion to ideological fervor.
The Wise Men The Wise Men were chronicled in a book by that title written by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas, published in 1986. The principal men featured in the book were:
- Dean Acheson
- Charles E. Bohlen
- W. Averell Harriman
- George F. Kennan
- Robert A. Lovett
- John J. McCloy
These six friends -—two lawyers, two bankers, two diplomats—- came together when Harry Truman became President of the United States in 1945 and helped create a bipartisan foreign policy based on resistance to the expansion of Soviet power.
They were exemplars of the American foreign policy establishment, and as such tended to be practical, realistic, and non-ideological. They had generally known each other since their days at prep school or college, and on Wall Street.
After they had retired, they and a group of like-minded establishment elders were dubbed The Wise Men and summoned back by President Lyndon Johnson. At first they supported the Vietnam War, but in a pivotal meeting in March 1968 they expressed the conviction that the war could not be won and American troops should be withdrawn.
On November 1 and 2, 1967, President Johnson brought together: Dean Acheson, George Ball, General Omar Bradley, McGeorge Bundy, Clark Clifford, Arthur Dean, Douglas Dillon, Justice Abe Fortas, Averell Harriman, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Robert Murphy and General Maxwell Taylor.
They were briefed by General Wheeler and George Carver on Vietnam. Carver and Wheeler reported that great progress was being made in Vietnam. As a group they were unanimous in opposing the United States departure from Vietnam. They did however recognize that battlefield casualties were eroding support and recommend that General William Westmoreland and Ellsworth Bunker should emphasize the idea that "the light at the end of the tunnel" was in sight.
Bundy reported to the President that "public discontent with the war is now wide and deep" but that Johnson should "stay the course".
On March 25, 1968 the same group that had met in November with the addition of General Matthew Ridgway and Cyrus Vance They were briefed by The State Department, the CIA and the Department of Defense on William Westmoreland request for additional troops for Vietnam in the wake of the Tet Offensive. With the exception of Robert Murphy, General Taylor and Abe Fortas the group's recommendations, summed up by Dean Acheson were "we can no longer do the job we set out to do in the time we have left and we must begin to take steps to disengage".