Some 580 pp. on the life of John Foster Dulles (1888-1959) before he became Eisenhower's Secretary of State might seem...



Some 580 pp. on the life of John Foster Dulles (1888-1959) before he became Eisenhower's Secretary of State might seem excessive--but in this first of two projected volumes, Univ. of Toronto historian Preussen accomplishes something unusual and intensely interesting: a study of the intellectual development of a narrow mind. To be precise: a portrait of the future Cold War diplomat as an international business lawyer, a Protestant moralist, and a Republican schemer. We hear briefly of the upstate N.Y. parsonage childhood--punctuated by trips to Europe--and of ""predictable"" Princeton, where Foster shone academically and studied with Woodrow Wilson. We hear slightly more, by way of influences, about the two Secretary of State forebears: grandfather John Watson Foster, in whose Washington home his young namesake first met foreign and US dignitaries; and uncle Robert Lansing, who gave the fledgling Sullivan & Cromwell attorney strategic WW I posts. But Preusser dismisses, for want of evidence, the idea that Dulles yearned to be Secretary of State in turn. Still, the Versailles experience was crucial. As ""legal adviser"" to the American economic experts (Baruch, Lamont, et al.), Dulles came to equate American economic interests--preeminently, in a stable Europe--with the good of the world. . . and bolshevism with the enemy. But it will be another of Preuaser's points-of-difference that Dulles did not subsequently fret over communism (even into the immediate post-WW II period). He did pursue the other strain--returning to Sullivan & Cromwell and, through the 1920s, representing US corporations and major banking houses abroad. (Preusser's legwork pays off in astonishing lists of involvements.) in 1926 he became Sullivan & Cromwell's senior and managing partner; he was also a regular of the Council on Foreign Relations, a contributor to Foreign Affairs and other publications. Might his ""internationalism,"" then, have led to involvement with bedrock issues of war and peace? Only ""international economic affairs"" were a constant concern. Might he have seen through the equation of ""interest"" and ""ideals""? ""Perhaps because of his own personal security and success, his was not a mind scarred deeply by confusion or doubt."" The Depression, and the rise of the fascist states, did prompt some ruminating about ""dynamic"" and ""static"" nations--and the need for ""economic fluidity"" to forestall conflict: ""interstate commerce,"" on the American model. On the touchy subject of Dulles' (firmly denied) service to Nazi clients, Preusser points to his involvement with cartels, deems ""the spirit if not the letter of the critiques. . . correct."" But neither was Dulles pro-Axis or isolationist: his opposition to intervention was ""even-handed"" and ""conditional."" Then: ""If fighting was going to take place. . . . What reforms could be sought that would make the future more peaceful and economically secure?"" So began Dulles' involvement with the church-backed Commission on a Just and Durable Peace, or ""Dulles Commission""--occasion for lofty rhetoric and heady new prominence. So began, too, an involvement with Republican politics--via a young attorney, tapped for Sullivan & Cromwell, named Tom Dewey, whose senior foreign affairs adviser he became. . . and for whom, in the 1944 campaign, ""he was quite prepared to bend the truth"" on Communists-in-government. After scrutinizing Dulles' '45-46 ambivalence, Preusser will ask if his subsequent hardline anti-Communism was altogether sincere. He will examine the bipartisan missions for Truman--through the Japanese Peace Treaty. And he will conclude that Dulles' ""clear strengths of mind"" increasingly disclosed ""serious limitations"" in practice--not unlike those of TR and Wilson. A rich, lucid, fluently written study, from primary sources--with major foreign-policy implications, as well.

Pub Date: May 1, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1982