Thomas Hughes, State Department voice against Vietnam War, dies at 97

Thomas L. Hughes, a leading voice in US foreign policy for decades, first served as a high-ranking official at the State Department in the 1960s, where he argued forcefully if relentlessly against the escalation of the Vietnam War, and later as president of the Vietnam War. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, died January 2 in a hospital in Washington. He was 97.

His wife, Jane Casey Hughes, confirmed his death but did not state a cause.

A Rhodes Scholar and Yale-educated lawyer, Mr. Hughes spent the early years of his government career, in the 1950s, as legislative counsel to Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D) of Mr. Hughes’ home state of Minnesota.

“In a city full of high egos, Hughes was a Midwesterner of modest stature and shrewd intellect,” biographer Bruce LR Smith wrote in the 2021 volume “The Last Gentleman: Thomas Hughes and the End of the American Century.”

“He was always near the center of the action,” Smith wrote, “but as an adviser rather than a final decider.”

As a result, Mr. Hughes became an adviser to Humphrey, who served as vice president under Lyndon B. Johnson during part of Mr. Hughes’ tenure at the State Department.

Mr. Hughes headed the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or INR — essentially the intelligence arm of the State Department — from 1963 to 1969. Based on his office’s analysis, Mr. Hughes reached out to journalist David Halberstam, writing in his 1972 book “The Best Man and the Brightest Man,” called it “a very pessimistic assessment of the chances of success in Vietnam and a relatively positive estimate of the enemy’s vitality.”

Humphrey shared Mr Hughes’ doubts. Their views antagonized officials including Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, who were pressing Johnson to deepen America’s involvement in the conflict.

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In February 1965, Johnson was considering expanding the war with a major bombing campaign, called Operation Rolling Thunder, and by committing. US ground troops to the war, Mr. Hughes rushed to meet Humphrey in Georgia, where the Vice President was hunting quail.

Together they drafted an emergency memo trying to convince Johnson to back down. Humphrey saw this time, Mr. Hughes later pointed out, as “his last clear opportunity to prevent the advance of Vietnam.”

The memo, dated February 17, 1965, and signed by Humphrey, argued that “a full-scale military attack on North Vietnam … would risk seriously undermining other US policies,” including through to draw on Johnson’s Great Society agenda.

In addition, he noted that Johnson, fresh from a landslide victory in the 1964 election, was “in a stronger position” to extricate the United States from Vietnam “than any Administration in this century. 1965 is the year of minimum political risk for the Johnson Administration.”

If Johnson went ahead with the promotion, the memo said, it would damage “the image of the President of the United States — and the image of the United States itself.”

Johnson responded angrily to the vice president’s letter and essentially “exiled” him, in Mr. Hughes’ description, for the rest of the year, until Humphrey publicly recanted himself on the Vietnam issue. .

Fredrik Logevall, a professor of history and international affairs at Harvard University, said in an interview that he considers the memo “one of the most significant documents” in the history of US policy in Vietnam, one that argued “strongly, that strong against processions. increase in the US.”

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Mr. Hughes remained in office at the State Department until 1969, the year President Richard M. Nixon succeeded Johnson. Saigon fell to North Vietnam in 1975. By the end of the war, millions of Vietnamese people had lost their lives and nearly 60,000 American troops had died as a result of the conflict.

Mr. Hughes had a brief stint as second in command at the US Embassy in London before returning to the United States to run the Carnegie Endowment beginning in 1971. According to Smith’s book, he turned down two overtures from President Jimmy Carter to serve. as CIA director.

Under Mr. Hughes’ leadership, the Carnegie Endowment was consolidated in Washington operations that had previously been spread among the District, New York City and Geneva. Mr Hughes remained at the helm until 1991, through the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, as the organization became one of the most influential think tanks in Washington and nurtured new generations of diplomats. Mr. Hughes also served for many years as chairman of the board of Foreign Policy magazine.

Thomas Lowe Hughes was born in Mankato, Minn., on December 11, 1925. His father was a lawyer, and his mother was a housewife.

Mr. Hughes early showed an interest in public policy and government. He was a high school debate state champion and, at 18, became president of the Student Federation, a group founded by the future Sen. Harris Wofford (D-Pa.) proposed a global federal government to keep peace after World War II.

Mr. Hughes studied government and international relations at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., graduating in 1947. He then studied politics as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in England before receiving his degree in law from Yale in 1952. He began his government career after service in the Air Force.

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In addition to working for Humphrey, Mr. Hughes served as an aide to Representative Chester B. Bowles (D-Conn.), former Connecticut governor and US ambassador to India, and followed him to the State Department when Bowles became Under Secretary. states under President John F. Kennedy. Mr Hughes served as deputy director of the INR for two years before being named head of the office.

Mr. Hughes’ first wife, the former Jean Reiman, died in 1993 after 38 years of marriage. He and Jane Casey Kuczynski married in 1995.

Besides his wife, of Chevy Chase, Md., survivors include two sons from his first marriage, Thomas “Evan” Hughes of Brooklyn and Allan Hughes of Athens, Ga.; three stepchildren, Carolina Kuczynski Reid of Austin, Alex Kuczynski of New York City and John-Michael Kuczynski of Fayetteville, NC; sister; and five children.

Mr. Hughes’ off-the-record speeches while serving in the State Department were collected in the volume “Speaking Up and Speaking Out,” published in 2013. In the same year, he published the book “Anecdotage: Some Authentic Retrievals,” about his life in Washington and beyond.

“Those of us who worked [at INR] on Vietnam in the 1960s the happy irony of knowing that most of our predictions are based on history,” wrote in an essay published by the non-profit National Security Archive. “We can only lament that, although we were given attention, we were unable to persuade, control, or prevail when it came to the final decisions.”


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