Which Way America? Dulles Always Knew

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Whether it was a strength or a weakness, the “lawyer’s mind” of Dulles can readily be detected in many of his policies. SEATO, for example, was deliberately designed to meet a series of constitutional, political, and legal problems far more than it was intended to be simply a military alliance on the NATO model. Richard Bissell, deputy director of the CIA , insisted that it was a lawyer’s and not a soldier’s concept. Recalling the occasion when Dulles first discussed the idea for SEATO , Bissell emphasized that the Secretary had placed great stress upon the factors that had prevented American intervention in Indochina when the French position collapsed in 1954 and also had made it clear that he did not expect the nations of Southeast Asia to provide any appreciable military power or political stability to the proposed treaty:

Dulles made a great deal of the fact that the circumstances which had tied our hands at the time of Dien Bien Phu and [prevented] a possible direct military intervention, were in part the lack of a position in international law which would justify an intervention and in part a domestic constitutional problem. … Dulles argued at the meeting … that an appropriate regional treaty in Southeast Asia would have, in effect, made possible the overcoming of these legal obstacles to military intervention in the area should we ever be faced with a situation in which that might be necessary. In the first place, as a treaty it would have been debated in the Congress and ratified by the Senate. Therefore, in its domestic aspect, this would be a legislative action with a legislative history that would clearly augment Presidential powers to react quickly. …

Internationally the point was more obvious that if a government in the area required our assistance, the treaty would provide a recognized … legal basis for rendering such assistance.

But if colleagues saw the lawyer dominant, many also saw the Presbyterian moralist rampant. He was, to them, the churchman in politics whose religious rejection of “atheistic communism” made him identify the Soviets and their allies with the forces of evil. Roscoe Drummond, the New York Herald Tribune ’s man in Washington, noted the prevailing view among the press corps that “Dulles wrapped his temporal views in theological clothes in a way that made him seem smug and moralistic.” Even his friends noted the same quality. To James Hagerty, the President’s press secretary:

Dulles was a tough old boy. … He was a Roundhead, a Puritan, and I’m quite sure that in the Cromwell era his ancestors were chopping down the Cavaliers in the name of their religious beliefs.

Christian Herter made the same point, but in different language:

I think that you have to give some allowance to the fact that Foster was essentially a very religious person, and 1 think that the very thought of communism, and the ungodliness of communism … was something he felt very deeply inside.

A senior American diplomat, the late George V. Alien, long remembered an evening when he was a guest in the Dulles home. During the after-dinner conversation, Alien made a few unflattering comments about the democratic leadership provided by Syngman Rhee and Chiang Kaishek. Dulles leaned forward in his chair, and, as Alien recalled it, his eyes were blinking:

Well, I’ll tell you this. No matter what you say about them, these t wo gentlemen are modern-day equivalents of the founders of the church. They are Christian gentlemen who have suffered for their faith. They have been steadfast and have upheld the faith …

At meeting in the State Department, someone once made a Biblical reference. The Secretary waved his finger and, as Robert Murphy recalled, said, “I want it understood that I know more about the Bible than anybody else in this Department.” Gérard Smith had a firsthand experience with that knowledge. He was on a transatlantic flight with Dulles and working on a speech that the Secretary was to deliver concerning the state of NATO. Unwisely, as it turned out, Smith decided to include a Biblical quotation, “When a strong man is armed, his castle is in peace”:

I handed Dulles the manuscript, and he called me to the back of the plane and said, “Where did you get this quote?” And I told him, and he said, “Well, is there a Bible aboard?” And I dug into the reference books and found a Bible, and pointed out the passage. He looked and looked at it.

Finally, the next day he called me in and said—he knew that I was a Roman Catholic—“What do your theologians say is the meaning of that passage? … My sense of it is that this is a reference to Satan.”

So I called up someone learned in the New Testament and recited it to him—“When a strong man is armed, his castle is in peace.” I said, “Who does this refer to?” He replied, “Why, Satan, of course. … Look at the next line, for it says, ‘But when a stronger man comes, he overcomes him’—and that’s the reference to Christ.”