Originally Published September 2012
In March of 1968, the United States was mired in the war in Vietnam. General William Westmoreland, commander of American forces in Vietnam, asked President Johnson for an additional 206,000 troops. Several Johnson Administration insiders led by Duluth-native Townsend Hoopes, then Under Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, convinced Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford that the war was unwinnable and that the U.S. should reverse its Vietnam policy. Clifford convinced Johnson, who refused the general’s request for more troops, and thus began the long winding down of U.S. involvement in the war, which would finally end in 1973.
Townsend Walter Hoopes II was born in Duluth on April 28, 1922. His father, Henry Townsend Hoopes, was also a Duluth native, born on February 14, 1897. His grandfather and namesake, Townsend Walter Hoopes I, who came to Duluth from Pennsylvania in 1882, was an early Duluth real estate developer.
Townsend Hoopes I moved to Duluth as an associate of Luther Mendenhall, also from Pennsylvania, who along with his partners had purchased the franchise for the Duluth street railway in 1882. Mendenhall appointed Townsend manager of the Duluth Street railway Company, and put him in charge of constructing the system. The street railway started operating on Superior Street as a one-horse, narrow-gauge line in 1883. In 1889 and 1890, it underwent conversion to an electric railway and was expanding along with the growth of the city. Hoopes was then the company’s secretary/treasurer. Later he and Mendenhall started Mendenhall & Hoopes, a real estate and insurance firm. Hoopes was also among the investors who financed the Spalding Hotel and helped developed the Duluth Dry Goods Company, the Duluth Shoe Company, and the Seager Drug Company (later Northern Drug Co.). The Hoopes family lived in a large house at 2206 Woodland Avenue. Townsend I died in Duluth on June 6, 1937.
Henry Townsend Hoopes, Townsend II’s father, worked in the shipping industry. While in Duluth, he was involved with shipbuilding with the McDougall-Duluth Shipbuilding Co. He left Duluth in 1927 for Detroit, when Townsend II was just five years old, and three years later moved on to Buffalo, New York, to take a job as president of the Great Lakes Transit Corporation. He was commonly credited with building a fleet of Great Lakes steamships following World War I. He died at the age of 47 on June 14, 1944.
Known as Tim, Townshend Hoopes II attended public and private schools in Detroit and Buffalo and in 1940 graduated from the Phillips Academy at Andover in Massachusetts. On October 20, 1943, he married Marion Schmidt in Derby, New York. Three days later he graduated from Yale, where he had been captain of the football team. Three days after that he reported to Parris Island for duty with the Marine Corps. Townsend served as a second lieutenant in the Fifth Marine Division, taking part in the attack on Iwo Jima and in the occupation of Japan.
After the war Hoopes returned to Buffalo and worked for about a year as a reporter and editorial writer for a local newspaper. He moved to Washington D.C. in 1947 to take a job as assistant to Representative Walter Gresham Andrews of New York. From 1948 to 1953, Hoopes worked in several Defense Department jobs, including as an assistant for National Security Council Affairs. In 1953, he decided to leave government service and worked in New York at an investment firm and later as a management consultant, often advising the federal government on military and foreign affairs.
In 1965 Hoopes returned to the Defense Department as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs and was soon promoted to Principal Deputy for International Security Affairs. In 1967, after an August 17 hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, he was named Under Secretary of the U.S. Air Force.
Hoopes had questioned the administration’s policy toward Vietnam since 1965 but it wasn’t in his area of responsibility. With his appointment as Under Secretary of the Air Force, though, he was involved in the Vietnam War on a daily basis. It was then, he says in an interview for Contemporary Authors in 1981, that “my skepticism deepened and hardened, and when I began arguing the need to stop the escalation and negotiate out.” He helped convince Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford of the wisdom of de-escalation, and Clifford moved President Johnson, who did not want to be the first president to lose a war, to announce on March 31, 1968, that the U.S. would drastically reduce bombing and propose peace talks. Johnson also announced that he would not seek re-election.
Hoopes left government service again in 1969. He briefly returned to consulting work, but in 1973 was named president of the Association of American Publishers and stayed in that position until 1986. He was also a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, co-chairman of Americans for SALT, and a senior fellow of Washington College in Maryland. Hoopes authored several books after his government service, beginning in 1969 with The Limits of Intervention, a memoir and history of the Johnson administration’s changing Vietnam policy. He also wrote The Devil and John Foster Dulles (1973) and, with his second wife Ann, Eye Power: improved self-awareness, vitality, and mental efficiency through visual training (1979), a special interest of his wife’s. Hoopes also co-authored two books with historian Douglas Brinkley: Driven Patriot: the life and times of James Forrestal (1992), and FDR and the Creation of the U.N. (1997).
Townsend Hoopes II died on September 20, 2004.