William Bullitt was an American diplomat, journalist, and novelist. Although in his youth he was considered something of a radical, he later became an outspoken anti-communist.
William Christian Bullitt, the son of William Christian Bullitt, Sr. and Louisa Horowitz Bullitt, was born in Philadelphia on 25th January, 1891. His father was an executive with the Norfolk and Western Railroad and an investor in coal mines in Virginia.
Bullitt refused to go the elite boarding school of Gorton: "Every Gorton fellow I know is a snob" and instead attended the local Delancey School. He entered Yale University in 1908 and along with his friend, Cole Porter, was active in the Dramatic Association. He was said to have impressed his classmates with the "formidable intellect and the boundless energy he brought to almost every activity he took up." Bullitt also attended Harvard Law School but he "had almost no affinity and very little liking for the law" dropped out on the death of his father.
Bullitt started as a writer in Roosevelt’s campaign headquarters and was FDR’s obvious choice as ambassador to Moscow after the US announced recognition of the USSR on 18 Nov 1933. Although “a fine ambassador” in the expert opinion of a close associate, Bullitt resigned in the summer of 1936. He was frustrated by Stalin’s refusal to honor quid pro quo promises and by Roosevelt’s unwillingness to counter with a hard line. Bullitt presented his credentials as ambassador to Paris on 13 Oct 1936. Although ideally qualified for the post at a critical time, he could do little more than send perceptive reports on Hitler’s march to war. After the Germans swept over France in May-June 1940, Bullitt remained briefly in Paris with a small staff during the first fortnight of the German occupation (14-30 June 40). He caught up with the Petain government at Clermont-Ferrand as it moved to Vichy, not presenting his credentials but sending Washington valuable daily reports from nearby La Bourboule. Having been told he would be succeeded in France by Anthony Biddfu. and appointed secretary of the navy, the ambassador left Robert MURPHY as charge d’affairs and on 11 July 40 went with a small staff via Barcelona and Madrid to Lisbon. The party flew into New York on 20 July 1940.
Bullitt quickly sensed that his close relations with FDR had been undermined (O. H. Bullitt, ed, xi-xii). The secretary of the navy post went to Frank Knox, and Bullitt was a special ambassador while hoping for an important assignment. The final break with the president resulted from a long vendetta between the ambassador and Sumner WELLES. Bullitt had tried to convince the president in a talk on 23 Apr 1941, that the homosexual Welles should be removed from the State Department as a threat to national security and to the administration. The president declined to act then but by early 1942 was convinced that Bullitt was spreading malicious gossip about his archenemy Welles and had leaked official reports. Bullitt vehemently denied this but was told by FDR that he was persona non grata. Deprived of his long personal association with the president, and finding that his recommendations as special ambassador were falling on deaf ears, Bullitt submitted his resignation on 20 Apr 1942 but it was not accepted until 22 June 1942.
This closed the door to further government service, even active military duty. So Bullitt turned to the French and was immediately welcomed. With the rank of commandant (major) from 6 June 44. he joined de Lattre’s staff in Algiers and remained through the final drive into Germany despite permanent damage to his left leg and hip from a car accident in Alsace. Returning to the States on 20 July 1945, he had no further public service. The war injury left him barely able to walk in later life. Bullitt died 16 Feb 1967 in Paris.
There are many books by and about Bullitt. Younger brother Orville edited one that provides valuable insight into the diplomat’s life and career: For the President. Personal and Secret, Correspondence Between Franklin D. Roosevelt and William C. Bullitt (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972).
Bullitt died in Neuilly, France on February 15, 1967, and is buried in Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Denied a commission in the US Armed Forces by Roosevelt, Bullitt joined the Free French Forces. Roosevelt suggested to Bullitt that he run for Mayor of Philadelphia as a Democrat in 1943, but Roosevelt secretly told the Democratic leaders there "Cut his throat." Bullitt was defeated.
Between 1941 and 1945 Bullitt wrote volumes of stories and social commentary on the dangers of fascism and communism. In the post-war years he became a militant anti-Communist.
In the August 24, 1954, issue of Look, in his article "Should We Support an Attack on Red China?", he proposed an immediate attack on Communist China and asserted that the United States should "reply to the next Communist aggression by dropping bombs on the Soviet Union."