Nicholas Katzenbach; Shaped '60S Policy

By Martin, Douglas | International Herald Tribune, May 11, 2012 | Go to article overview

Nicholas Katzenbach; Shaped '60S Policy


Martin, Douglas, International Herald Tribune


He was one of the ambitious, cerebral and often idealistic postwar figures who came to Washington from business and academia. His government service virtually encompassed the issues of the '60s.

Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, who helped shape the political history of the 1960s, facing down segregationists, riding herd on historic civil rights legislation and helping to map Vietnam War strategy as a central player in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, died on Tuesday night at his home in Skillman, New Jersey. He was 90.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Lydia.

Mr. Katzenbach was one of the "best and the brightest," David Halberstam's term for the likes of Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow and other ambitious, cerebral and often idealistic postwar policy makers who came to Washington from business and academia carrying golden credentials. Mr. Katzenbach, an attorney general under President Lyndon B. Johnson, was the son of a New Jersey State attorney general, a Rhodes scholar, a law professor at Yale and the University of Chicago, and a war hero.

His government service virtually encompassed the issues of the '60s. He advised President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis, negotiated the release of Cuban prisoners captured during the Bay of Pigs invasion and pushed for an independent commission to investigate the Kennedy assassination. He was Robert F. Kennedy's No.2 in the Justice Department and took on the pugnacious F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover over his wiretapping of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Before Congress, as an under secretary of state, he defended Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War.

"Few men have been so deeply involved in the critical issues of our time," Johnson wrote to him when Mr. Katzenbach resigned as under secretary on Nov. 8, 1968.

On Capitol Hill, Mr. Katzenbach, a devoted Democrat, cultivated the good will of Republican senators in 1964 to help pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which he also helped draft, ending a century of discrimination at the polls. …

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