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Which Way America? Dulles Always Knew
The job ran in the family; both his uncle and grandfather were Secretaries of State. Home life in a parsonage taught him piety, and the law precision. The rigid views of a world divided between good and evil he worked out, apparently, himself. Private letters and new taped recollections help explain the shaping of the man who set our Cold War foreign policy
June 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 4
In the 1950’s, when Dulles had become the alleged brinkman and advocate of massive retaliation, many church leaders looked back in some confusion. Was this the same Dulles with whom they had worked so closely during the war years? Former associates became critics, and there was strain in old relationships. In 1958 Dulles was asked to give a major speech at the annual meeting of the National Council of Churches in Cleveland. In it he insisted that the United States could not and should not give diplomatic recognition to Red China. He had scarcely returned to Washington when the five hundred delegates, by a wide margin, endorsed a resolution that called for U.N. recognition of the Red Chinese. Ernest Gross, a friend of the Secretary and a church delegate at Cleveland, recalled:
It [the vote] was strong and bitter medicine to Mr. Dulles, because word came back almost at once to us that he really felt it a personal blow and a repudiation.
But these discords were still in the future in the immediate postwar period, when Dulles clearly emerged into national prominence as an authority on American foreign policy. In both the 1944 and 1948 election campaigns he was Thomas E. Dewey’s principal consultant on foreign affairs. Indeed, in 1948, on that historic occasion when Dewey (the Republican candidate) “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory,” it was widely assumed that Dulles would be the next Secretary of State. All of this caused no little embarrassment. At the time of the election Dulles was in Paris attending a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, and as the Israeli foreign minister, Abba Eban, recalled the circumstances:
At that time, in the early part of November and late October, everybody in Paris who talked to Dulles assumed that he was talking to the prospective Secretary of State, and all sorts of dinner parties and meetings were held on this assumption, which nobody questioned at the time. Dulles himself was inviting delegates and groups of delegates to have dinner, during which he would lay down future lines of policy. It fell to me to be invited on November 4, the day after the election, and the occasion had all the melancholy of a funeral …
Dulles’ stature was enhanced by his position as delegate at several U.N. General Assembly meetings. He became both an official and unofficial Republican adviser to the Department of State. He was asked to negotiate and carry through the Japanese Peace Treaty. The important aspect of the years from 1948 to 1952, however, was the change in his views toward the Soviet Union and his emergence as one of the architects of the postwar bipartisan foreign policy of containment and resistance. Dulles was relatively slow to emerge as a militant antiCommunist; throughout the late 1940’s he continued to express fears about the global spread of American commitments, worried about the fragmentation of the United Nations, and on occasion doubted whether the East-West split was irrevocable. On the very eve of Truman’s enunciation of the Truman Doctrine, Dulles wrote Joseph Barnes of the New York Herald Tribune :
I read with great interest your piece in today’s “Tribune.” I am in general agreement with it except that I do not feel that the Soviet ideological challenge “would prove embarrassing and costly to us even if it never produced a war.” My personal feeling is that, if the Soviet challenge does not produce a war, and I think it will not, it may prove to be a useful and invigorating thing. I do not know whether you are familiar with Toynbee’s story of History and his study of the rise and fall of civilizations in terms of “challenge and response.” Without periodic challenge it seems that civilizations decline and pass away.
In 1952 Dulles emerged as Eisenhower’s choice for Secretary of State. The two men, however, scarcely knew each other until the spring of that year, when a carefully planned meeting was arranged in Paris so that they could sound each other out and determine if they could work together. It had always been assumed by those who knew Dulles that, consciously or unconsciously, he had always sought the position of Secretary of State. Yet when the first overtures came from Dwight Eisenhower’s camp, Dulles had hesitations. His long-time partner, Eustace Seligman, remembered what happened when Lucius Clay, who handled the arrangements, first called:
I remember I went up to Foster’s room and asked if he could go over to Paris the next week and told him what it was about. Foster got another of our partners, Arthur Dean, and the three of us discussed it. And this is something that people I’ve told it to don’t believe. Foster said, “I don’t think I really want to become Secretary of State.” And the reason was, he didn’t want the administrative detail. He didn’t want the political business of having to go up to the Hill to persuade people. He said, “The job I would like to have would be head of the planning group—to plan foreign policy and not to have to worry about these other unimportant things.”