A diplomat easy to dub ‘the man who was always right’, George Ball’s reputation as a critic of US policy towards South East Asia during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations often cast him to the fringes of decision-making, but eventually saw him vindicated when the ‘Wise Men’ group of senior advisors decided to halt US escalation in the Vietnam War following the 1968 Tet Offensive.
Believing that the main arena for USA Cold War policy should be Europe, George Ball argued against growing escalation from 1961. When the Taylor-Rostow Report recommended the dispatch of 8,000 US troops in October, Ball predicted that 500,000 would be required within four years. Although President Kennedy famously described him as being crazy as hell for this prognosis, the experience of Americanization 1965-68 vindicated Ball’s original fears.
In spite of his attitude to the Vietnam War, Ball was not a pacifist, but argued that developing strong relationships with her western European partners should be America’s prime objective, which in turn would lead to a rapprochement with the Soviet Union. He also claimed that the US should build closer relationships with China, whose threat to US interests was seriously over-estimated in Washington.
After resigning in 1966, George Ball maintained a strict silence over the administration’s approach to the war, only returning to his critical theme after Lyndon B Johnson had left office. Ball became US Ambassador to the UN for a brief period during the last few months of Johnson’s presidency, before working as an investment. He continued to write and speak on international issues, gaining a new reputation as a critic of America’s relations with Israel.
George Ball died aged 84 on 26 May 1994.