INT: Can you reflect on Kennedy 's response to the creation of a barrier down the city of Berlin?
MB: The building of the wall was a shock obviously to the Americans and especially to the President who had to decide what to say about it and what to do about it. He wasn't going to tear it down and what he had to do was to explain what the Americans were going to do and where they were going to hold firm, and that led him to the speech of July twenty five in which his primary emphasis was on the determination of the Americans to hold firm in West Berlin and it is true,....
INT: The barrier which has become a wall has been put up on the 13th of August. Can you remember Kennedy's response and your own please.
MB: We are now on the wall itself?
INT: The wall, it starts off as barbed wire....
MB: (Interrupts) I really can't, and I don't think it's a good question for me to answer 'cause I don't have direct recollection of it.
INT: Let's go on to what you have written about the US response to the wall. It starts as barbed wire which is why I'm referring to it as a barrier. But why was the response so slow?
MB: I don't know what you mean by so slow.
INT: Well, it took a week before the Vice President Johnson went to...
MB: (overlap) I don't think that's slow... this is now my 1996 view, I don't what I've written earlier about it.
INT: At the time, there was a degree of criticism..
MB: There were people who said it's slow.
MB: I don't think it was that slow.
INT: What about from the West German point of view, from the West Berliners?
MB: Well, it all worked out. We got the reassurance there in time. The people who did go, the Vice President and the American capability of maintaining the basic rights in West Berlin was demonstrated the West Berliners did not lose their nerve. I think it's a very marginal question whether anything was gained or lost by the number of days it took to do those things.
INT: Was there any sense of relief at the White House that the crisis appeared to have been eased?
MB: I think any sense of relief.. in those days was a minor sentiment compared to the continuing sense that we were in a large-scale crisis and a very serious time of political testing.
INT: Because Kennedy has been quoted as saying at the time 'a wall is a helluva lot better than a war'. I don't know who he said that to.
MB: I don't either.
INT: Were you aware that he...?
MB: (Interrupts) Oh, yes, but my view of it is the one I've just stated.
INT: Right. The other thing that you may be perhaps witness to was Kennedy's response to Willy Brandt's letter which criticised the slowness of the American response.
MB: Well, I remember that Brandt was distressed and I remember that we tried to reassure him and I think on the whole we succeeded and again, I think about that episode as I think about questions of times, rates and distances in American responses, that the larger point is that it all came out all right.
INT: In view of the background noises, can I ask you to try again. Kennedy's response to Brandt's letter?
MB: Well, the wall was a shock in Berlin and especially a shock to the Mayor so it wasn't surprising when you thought about it that that Willy Brandt should be upset about it. I think President Kennedy understood that and responded as best he could and presently it became clear I think to the Berliners and the Mayor, as it was to us, that we had the emphasis right, that the object was to make sure of the survival of the basic rights in West Berlin and the long-run opinion of the Germans and the Berliners was made entirely clear when Kennedy went to Berlin in 1963.
INT: I will ask you athat because that was a tremendous reception, but while we're still on the......
INT: Going back to the response of the time, the sending of the troops up the autobahn, what at the time did people think were the risks involved in that?
MB: There waa risin the decision to send troops up the autobahn but it was a lesser risk or so we thought than doing nothing and the estimate was I think that we could expect that the American decision to use that perfectly clear privilege would be respected, and it was respected. I think we knew that it was a moment that would be watched with great care on both sides but we thought doing it was less dangerous than not doing it.
INT: As it proved. The serious confrontation of October '61, where you had tanks facing each other at Checkpoint Charlie, can you remember at the time how serious that was reckoned to be?
MB: I think the cases of confrontation all required careful choices. One which required a careful.. one confrontation which had to be carefully considered was the deployment of tanks through the wall. That was a well-established right of the American occupation forces. we felt it was important to reassert that right. We had to calculate the risk that there might be some kind of confrontation. There was a counter-deployment of Soviet tanks. It was all conducted with a kind of firmness without conflict on both sides that I think both sides estimated as the likely result, so that in effect it was a stand off.
INT: What about General Clay or is that something you could reflect on. Was he considered too..... ?
INT: General Clay. Now General Clay was quite tough. Was he considered over tough by the White House?
MB: General Clay was not an unknown article. I don't think there's anything in that for me. I don't want to comment on that.
INT: Let me ask you about the 1963 the tremendous welcome that Kennedy received. Who coined the phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner"? How did that come about?
MB: (laugh) What was the.. what was the... one that he wanted to have an analogy for? He wanted.. I was involved in that but I must get it straight. Oh, something like "Lafeyette, we're here" right. He said, "What are we gonna say when we get to Berlin that really will get across to the Germans and the Berliners, how I feel about them?" And I said "Well, we could say that you're proud to be in Berlin and to say that you're a Berliner" or words to that effect. And he said, "Well, I've heard worse" or words to that effect. "What would be the German for that?" And I said, "I don't really count as a German translator" He said "You're the one we've got here on the plane" and so" we decided that we'd take a chance on 'Ich bin ein Berliner'. (Of) course it wasn't the most idiomatic bit of German. As my German friends pointed out to me if they'd chosen to read it that way they could have heard the President as saying "I'm a Hamburger"! because a Berliner is some sort of.. kind of food, as well as a citizen of Berlin. But they heard it as he intended it and saw on the whole it was a success.
INT: What was the West Berliners' response to Kennedy?
MB: Well, the day in Berlin, for those of us who were in the Kennedy party, was an experience that none of us ever had before and I think exchanged views that we would be unlikely to ever to have it again because it was an enormous outpouring of the sentiment of the Berliners about Kennedy as the man who had stood firm in the Berlin Crisis. And that was totally unforced, enormously genuine personal reaction to a man who was of course also an extraordinarily appealing human being, and the Berliners shared that feeling with a great many other people but the special intensity came out of their own experience of danger where the final responsibility on the Western side had fallen, if it fell to anyone, had fallen on Kennedy. So it was a great moment.
INT: This is Roll 10334, continuation of the interview with McGeorge Bundy. Could you summarise for us what the Eisenhower and the Kennedy Administrations had in common as regards the issue of Berlin and where they differed and the degree in which they differed about military approaches?
MB: In the largest sense, the policies of the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations on Berlin and West Berlin were the same. Namely, to stand firm and to be ready to maintain Western rights especially in West Berlin. When you got to the question of what would be the deterrent, the two Administrations had important differences in emphasis. Eisenhower and his team believed in the deterrent effect of nuclear superiority. They did not think there was a particular need for conventional reinforcement to increase their credibility. The Kennedy people and Kennedy himself in particular believed that in the case of the threat to Berlin, it was important to have visibly increased conventional capabilities and conventional readiness, both in general terms of showing readiness to resist and in specific terms by maintaining increased capability to react on the spot along the Autobahn or wherever it might be. So that was a difference of emphasis. It's not black and white but it did exist.