Murphy's hitherto typical career took a dramatic turn when he was asked by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to be his representative to French North Africa, with the purpose of obtaining the defection of French forces from the collaborationist Vichy regime. Following this mission, Murphy was involved in the planning for the Allied invasion of North Africa in 1942. Following the German defeat of May 1945, he became a political advisor in Germany and later director of the Office for German and Austrian Affairs.
During 1949–1952 Murphy served as U.S. ambassador to Belgium and then in 1953 to Japan. He completed his government service as deputy undersecretary of state during 1954–1959. President Dwight D. Eisenhower called him out of retirement in 1960 to assess the turbulent situation in the newly independent Congo, and during the Eisenhower era Murphy became a top diplomatic troubleshooter for the U.S. government. In 1953, Eisenhower sent Murphy to Seoul, the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea), to convince Syngman Rhee to sign the armistice ending the Korean War. The following year, Murphy traveled to Belgrade to encourage Marshal Josip Broz Tito to reach an agreement with Italy over Trieste. During the 1956 Suez Crisis, Murphy was dispatched to London to evaluate the position of the British government.
Perhaps most significantly, during the American intervention in Lebanon in 1958, Murphy acted as a personal representative of President Eisenhower. Murphy established communications with all of the opposing factions, helped to ensure the safety of the 14,000 U.S. Marines in Beirut, and promoted a peaceful handover of power and an end to the crisis. Before returning to the United States, he visited Baghdad and Cairo in an effort to calm the tensions that had erupted in the Middle East during the tumultuous summer of 1958.
Following his retirement from government, Murphy served as the director of several companies, including Morgan Guaranty Trust Company and Corning Glass Works. He died in New York City on 9 January 1978.
Brent M. Geary
Murphy, Robert D. Diplomat among Warriors. New York: Doubleday, 1964.