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Digital Archive International History Declassified

Biographies

Clark Clifford

Clark Clifford was President Johnson's Secretary of Defense from 1968-1969, and was frequently consulted by President Kennedy and President Carter.

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Biography

b. December 25, 1906- d. October 10, 1998

Served as President Johnson’s Secretary of Defense from 1968-1969, and was frequently consulted by President Kennedy, and later by President Carter.

Clark Clifford was born in 1904 in Fort Scott, Kansas. He attended college and law school at Washington University, and practiced law in St. Louis, Missouri between 1928 and 1943.

He served as a Navy officer from 1944 to 1946 and was a major player in the formation of the National Security Act of 1947. He then returned to practicing law, but continued to consult the White House, and took on an even greater role as an unofficial counselor to the President when Johnson took office.

In 1968 he replaced Robert McNamara as Johnson’s Secretary of Defense. He stressed that the US should aim to ensure the self-determination of South Vietnam. He was opposed to ending the bombing of North Vietnam, which Johnson later announced in 1968 in an effort to stimulate peace talks. Eventually, Clifford came to share McNamara’s views on the war in Vietnam: the US should gradually disengage.

In Washington he was widely respected for the work he did in his short term as Secretary of Defense. When the Johnson administration ended, Clifford returned to practicing law. However, he continued to advise the White House when he was called upon, as happened under President Carter.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor for his work with Johnson and his service to the US government.