34. Letter From the Under Secretary of State (Bowles) to President Kennedy1

Dear Mr. President:

I am enclosing a memorandum on the organization of the Department of State which I promised you before leaving Washington.2

In this memorandum I have tried to eliminate any references to my own emotions and commitments. However, I hope you will bear with me if I offer a few additional and highly personal comments on a situation that has been difficult for all of us.

When you asked me to accept the post of Under Secretary, I did so because I was convinced that a basic revitalization of the State Department both in Washington and in our overseas missions was long overdue and because I felt that I could help bring about the essential changes.

Much of my experience has been in administrative work. In the 1930’s I organized a private business with more that a thousand employees. In the 1940’s I reorganized a badly demoralized war-time agency with some 60,000 paid employees and 350,000 volunteers.

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In India I reorganized not only our embassy but USIA and the foreign aid program which were then being greatly expanded and integrated into the embassy operation—exactly as we are doing with our overseas missions today.

In each case we brought in new people to head each bureau, men dedicated to the President’s policies. And in each case there was a clear sense of purpose and high morale.

I do not make these comments as an expression of self-esteem. I do it simply because so much has been said about my alleged lack of interest in administration, and I would like to set the record straight.

The weak performance of some sections of the State Department has largely been due, in my opinion, to failure to introduce fresh faces where they are needed.

An additional weak point relates to the area of communications. Although no single individual possesses all the qualities desirable in the Secretary of State, I know of no one who possesses so high a percentage of them as Dean Rusk, nor anyone with whom I would prefer to work. For a variety of reasons, however, most of them the result of pressures, Dean, Adlai, and I have not worked together as closely as I believe we should.

Finally, I have been at fault in not maintaining close connections with the White House staff and you personally. My visit with you two weeks ago was the only direct exchange of views we have had since we had breakfast in your N Street home last November. If we had talked for no more than an hour a month, this situation would never have developed.

However, I was hesitant to take advantage of our former association or to infringe on the position which properly belongs to the Secretary, and so I held back.

As far as my own future is concerned, my strong preference is to continue where I am, with your support and that of Dean Rusk, so that we may bring about the changes in emphasis and direction which I believe to be needed in certain areas.

Once the right individuals have been selected and installed in the key bureaus where our principal difficulties lie, I would be in a position to divert a sizable amount of time to special policy problems in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Northeast Brazil, and elsewhere. I would also have time for more travel and for the essential task of explaining your policies in key nations abroad.

If you prefer to have someone else tackle these organizational problems, I will be glad to reshuffle various assignments with George Ball. This should also enable me to attend to special policy problems, overseas missions, and the achievement of a better understanding of your policies in the United States.

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If neither solution seems advisable to you and Dean, I will find myself in a most difficult position. I am deeply dedicated to your aims in foreign policy, and I have prepared myself in depth for many years to serve the Department of State. Yet in view of the totally false and malicious attacks on me, most of them from people with an equal disdain for all liberal-minded Democrats, I do not see how I could accept a down-graded role from my present position of Under Secretary and still appear to retain your confidence.

With my warmest regards,


Chet Bowles
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, State Department, 7/21/61–7/27/61. Personal and Private.
  2. Document 35, inexplicably dated one day later than the covering memorandum.