US Democrat politician. He was secretary of state to presidents J F Kennedy and L B Johnson 1961–69, and became unpopular through his involvement with the Vietnam War.
He was prominent in Korean War negotiations. Convinced of the need not to appease communist expansionism, he played a key part in the US decision to defend South Korea against invasion by North Korea. However, he advised President Kennedy against the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.
Early career Rusk was born in Cherokee County, Georgia, the son of a Presbyterian minister, and studied politics at Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar. He taught political science on his return to the USA, before military service during the World War II, where he was involved in intelligence and guerrilla operations in Burma (now Myanmar). He joined the US State Department after the war and progressed to becoming assistant secretary for Far Eastern affairs 1950–51. In 1952, when the Republican general Dwight Eisenhower was elected president, Rusk left the State Department to become president of the internationalist Rockefeller Foundation.
A hawk Despite criticism from peace campaigners, Rusk never wavered in his advocacy of a firm interventionist line in Vietnam in an effort to halt the perceived spread of communism. Having been appointed secretary of state by Kennedy, he continued in that office under Lyndon Johnson, before retiring in 1969 to teach international law at the University of Georgia. Liberal on social issues but hawkish and internationalist on external matters, Rusk was an archetypal ‘defence Democrat’.
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