Herken (Emeritus, Modern American Diplomatic History/Univ. of California, Santa Cruz, Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence and Edward Teller, 2002, etc.) takes a rather clever idea promising titillating gossip among neighbors Joseph Alsop, Phil Graham and John F. Kennedy during the 1950s and ’60s and amplifies it into a spiraling delineation of the official American response to the perceived Soviet threat.
Anti-Soviet crusading journalist Alsop was one of the first of the “WASP ascendancy” to inhabit the stylish, old political village of Georgetown on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. Returning from World War II (where he enlisted in the U.S. effort to bolster Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists) with a vigorous anti-communist bent, Alsop started a long-running, influential column with his younger brother, Stewart, in the New York Herald Tribune, assiduously cultivating political connections—e.g., with Georgetown neighbors Phil and Katharine Graham, publishers of the Washington Post. Alsop’s Sunday dinners were notorious for loud, boisterous and somewhat terrifying political discussions; from these, he would glean his next column. Other Harvard alumni who shaped the alarmist anti-Soviet tone of the postwar era and served as Alsop’s sources were Charles “Chip” Bohlen and George Kennan, both of whom served as ambassador to the Soviet Union and both of whom, along with former OSS officers Frank Wisner and Allen Dulles, would be instrumental in setting up the U.S. covert operations program. Tracing the thread of Alsop’s columns through these harrowing years, including his early denouncement of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Herken helps guide readers through the intimate murk of espionage detail, moving from events in North Korea to Berlin to Cuba. Alsop’s vehement, unrepentant support of the Vietnam War and President Richard Nixon, however, threw him out of sync with a new American generation.
An intricate study of the personalities that shaped U.S. Cold War policy.