McGcorge Bundy was born on March 30, 1919, in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale in 1940 and joined the United States Army during World War II. His primary responsibilities were logistics and the planning for the invasions of Sicily and France. Bundy came from an old New England family, and as a result enjoyed contacts with influential people in the American business and political establishment. That he was brilliant only ensured his success. Bundy left the army in 1946 and became a research assistant to former secretary of state Henry L. Stimson, and was coauthor with him of On Active Service in Peace and War in 1948. In 1948, Bundy served as a consultant to the Thomas Dewey presidential campaign, to the Marshall Plan implementation group in the State Department, and to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. He began lecturing at Harvard in 1949, and in 1953 Bundy became dean of arts and sciences at Harvard. In January 1961, President John F. Kennedy named Bundy special assistant to the president for national security affairs. There he became a principal architect of the Vietnam escalation.
In 1965, Bundy traveled to South Vietnam for a personal assessment of the situation there, and he returned advocating large-scale bombing of North Vietnam. His recommendation soon became Operation Rolling Thunder. One of the "best and the brightest" of the Cold Warriors, Bundy was convinced that communism had to be stopped in Southeast Asia if the rest of Asia was going to remain free. In 1966, Bundy left the administration to become head of the Ford Foundation, but he continued to serve as a consultant to Lyndon B. Johnson as a member of the "Wise Old Men" group. As part of that group in 1968, Bundy helped Johnson realize that the combination of the antiwar movement at home and the difficult political and military situation in Vietnam made a negotiated settlement of the war inevitable.