Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.


Ellsworth Bunker

Back to Diplomats and Diplomacy

Ellsworth Bunker: Global Troubleshooter, Vietnam Hawk

“Bunker was one of our country’s great diplomats…[marked by] gentleness, discipline, and selfless skill. Schaffer’s insightful and carefully researched biography of this quintessentially American figure fills an important gap in our understanding.”

HENRY A. KISSINGER, former Secretary of State (1973–1977)

In this first biography of Ellsworth Bunker (1894–1994), Howard Schaffer traces the life of one of America’s foremost diplomats–from his formative years as a successful businessman through his long diplomatic career. Schaffer highlights Bunker’s seasoned views on the craft of diplomacy, explains the principal “rules” of negotiating strategy Bunker employed, and in the process demonstrates the importance of the personal factor in diplomacy.

Bunker was named ambassador to Argentina by President Harry Truman in 1951 and went on to serve every president from Eisenhower to Carter–as ambassador to Italy, India, Nepal, and most famously, Vietnam, and as troubleshooting mediator in the Dominican Republic, the Yemen, Indonesia, and elsewhere. A widely recognized “hawk,” Bunker helped shape U.S. policy on Vietnam during his grueling mission in Saigon, 1967–73. Schaffer uses letters Bunker wrote to his wife, Ambassador Carol Laise, and recently declassified exchanges with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in recounting Bunker’s role in the war. Against the odds, Ellsworth Bunker did not retire when he left Saigon in 1973 on his 79th birthday. Instead, he played a major role under Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter in the six-year negotiation of the treaties that radically changed the operation and defense of the Panama Canal and in the difficult campaign to ratify them.

Career Foreign Service officer and South Asia expert Howard Schaffer served as ambassador to Bangladesh and twice as deputy assistant secretary of state. He was director of studies at the Georgetown University Institute for the Study of Diplomacy and author of Chester Bowles: New Dealer in the Cold War (Harvard University Press, 1993).