Today the Weekend Reader brings you The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by veteran New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer. In this dual biography, Kinzer details the life of the very influential Dulles brothers; one as secretary of state and the other as director of the CIA during the Cold War. John Foster and Allen Dulles influenced the United States and the world in ways that persist today. It was their vision for the United States that has shaped our national ideology, and continues to do so.
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Dawn had not yet broken over Manhattan when the door to 60 Morningside Drive swung open. Two men emerged, slipped into a waiting Cadillac limousine, and sped away. They drove through the darkness to Mitchel Air Force Base on Long Island. A guard waved them in. They made their way toward a runway where a Constellation airliner was waiting. The driver, a Secret Service agent, pulled to a stop, jumped out, and opened the rear door. President-elect Dwight Eisenhower stepped into the morning light.
On that Saturday, November 29, 1952, Eisenhower was setting out to redeem his most electrifying campaign promise: “I shall go to Korea.” This homespun pledge helped propel him to the presidency. News of Communist victories in Korea was sending shock waves through the United States. Eisenhower had vanquished Nazi armies in Europe. Voters hoped that if he went to Korea, America could win there too.
A fragile cease-fire had taken hold in Korea. Eisenhower arrived carrying the first piece of official advice he received from John Foster Dulles, his secretary-of-state-to-be. Dulles urged him to renounce the cease-fire, send armies across the demilitarized zone, and not rest “until we have shown, before all of Asia, our clear superiority by giving the Chinese one hell of a licking.” After three days of meetings with diplomats and field commanders, Eisenhower decided to do the opposite: accept the cease-fire and agree to end the war in a stalemate. A new offensive, he concluded, would cost many lives and risk a wider war with no certain outcome.
General Douglas MacArthur, the revered former American commander in Korea, was outraged. So were many Republicans in Congress. Some grumbled that if President Truman had accepted such a truce, he would have been impeached. Eisenhower’s popularity and unique military credentials, however, made it impossible for anyone to challenge him.
The carnage of World War II had given Eisenhower a visceral understanding of war’s costs. He was determined not to send American troops back to fight on foreign soil. The risk of retaliation was too great and the price of war too high. Nor could Eisenhower realistically hope to overthrow any of the world’s ten Communist governments, which ruled the Soviet Union, China, and eight countries in Eastern Europe. Yet despite these limitations, he was determined to strike back against what seemed to be Communism’s global advance. He wanted to fight, but in a different way.
Many historians have observed that, as Stephen Ambrose put it, “Eisenhower and Dulles continued the policy of containment. There was no basic difference between their foreign policy and that of Truman and Acheson.” Eisenhower, though, combined the mind-set of a warrior with a sober understanding of the devastation that full-scale warfare brings. That led him to covert action. With the Dulles brothers as his right and left arms, he led the United States into a secret global conflict that raged throughout his presidency.
In the secrecy-shrouded 1950s and for long afterward, the scope of this unseen war remained obscure. Truths about it have emerged slowly, episodically, in isolated pieces over the course of decades. Woven back together in their original sequence, they tell an illuminating tale.
Truman used the CIA to carry out covert operations, but drew the line at plotting against foreign leaders. That line evaporated when he left office. Eisenhower wished to wage a new kind of war. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles plotted it. His brother, Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, waged it.
“The White House and this administration have an intense interest in every aspect of covert action,” Allen told his men soon after taking office.
Since Eisenhower never admitted ordering plots against foreign leaders, it is impossible to be certain why he favored them. Revelations since his death, however, make two things clear.
First, historians now know that covert operations were far more important during World War II than outsiders understood at the time. Spectacularly effective ones, including the breaking of German codes, remained secret for decades. As the Allied commander, Eisenhower was of course privy to all of them. Understanding the role they played in winning the war must have left him with a deep appreciation for what covert action can achieve.
Eisenhower would also have seen covert action as humanitarian. It was a way to fight high-stakes battles at low cost. Never foreseeing the long-term effects these operations might have, he imagined them as almost bloodless.
“He was a great admirer of covert operations,” one veteran CIA officer recalled decades later. “He’s the reason we got caught up in so many of them. He had experienced war and saw that covert operations were the alternative. And of course in those days, you had this notion of plausible deniability. You could really believe no one would ever know what you had done. If somebody said, ‘Mr. President, I don’t understand why you authorized that operation against Arbenz,’ he would look you in the face and say, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ That’s the way things were done in those days.”
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, many Americans projected the worst images of their World War II enemies, including the Nazi campaign of mass murder, onto Soviet Communism. Americans were told, and came to believe, that Soviet leaders were actively plotting to overrun the world; that they would use any means to ensure victory; that their victory would mean the end of civilization and meaningful life; and that therefore they must be resisted by every means, no matter how distasteful.
John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles personified this worldview. They crystallized the Cold War paradigm. Everything in their background prepared them for this role. The forces that shaped them are quintessential strains in the American character.
First was missionary Christianity. “I see the destiny of America embodied in the first Puritan who landed on those shores, just as the human race was represented by the first man,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This destiny reached apotheosis in the Dulles brothers. They were raised in a parsonage and taught from childhood that the world is an eternal battleground between righteousness and evil. Their father was a master of apologetics, the discipline of explaining and defending religious belief. They assimilated what the sociologist Max Weber described as two fundamental Calvinist tenets: that Christians are “weapons in the hands of God and executors of His providential will” and that “God’s glory demanded that the reprobate be compelled to submit to the law of the Church.”
The second force that shaped the brothers was American history. They could only have been awed by its upward arc. Their grandfather John Watson Foster had helped tame the frontier and campaigned for Abraham Lincoln; they spread American power to every corner of the globe. In their belief that the United States knew what was best for the world, as in their missionary Christianity, they reflected dominant strains in the society that produced them.
As adults, Foster and Allen were shaped by a third force: decades of work defending the interests of America’s biggest multinational corporations. Although not plutocrats themselves, they spent their lives serving plutocrats. They were among the visionaries who developed the idea of corporate globalism—what they and other founders of the Council on Foreign Relations called “liberal internationalism.” Their life’s work was turning American money and power into global money and power. They deeply believed, or made themselves believe, that what benefited them and their clients would benefit everyone.
Both brothers were moved by compulsive activism, a conviction that they were instruments of destiny, and a reflexive sense of loyalty to the business elite that had made them rich.
Foster and Allen shared much in the years before they assumed high office, but their paths diverged in one important way. Foster spent his entire life devoted to a single cause: promoting American economic and political power in the world. He became famous and lived comfortably in the global elite.
Allen also earned a handsome living by brokering international deals for his Sullivan & Cromwell clients, and had no more sympathy than Foster for those who challenged the ruling world order. Yet unlike his older brother, he found Wall Street unfulfilling. He began lusting for adventure as a young man and never stopped. At the CIA he hired restless souls like himself: sons of privilege who graduated from elite schools, went to work for law firms or investment banks, left their jobs to do clandestine work for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, rebelled against the boredom of routine when the war ended, and during the 1950s found—or made—a covert war to fight. By temperament, training, and inclination, Allen was ideally suited to enforce Foster’s threats.
These two brothers were triumphs of cultural and political evolution. In the United States, pioneers had subdued wildness, redemptive religion had become ingrained in national culture, and concentrated economic power had produced great fortunes. Foster and Allen, more than any other Americans of their age, were heirs to this legacy.
Because Eisenhower made clear—despite his campaign rhetoric—that he would not approve “rollback” campaigns aimed at overthrowing established Communist regimes, Foster and Allen had to find other enemies. For years they had been warning about stooges in poor countries who served Moscow while posing as patriots, nationalists, or anti-colonialists. These would be their targets.
In his famous Independence Day speech to the House of Representatives on July 4, 1821, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams proclaimed that the United States “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” The Dulles brothers, however, did. Six impassioned visionaries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America became the monsters they went abroad to destroy. Their campaigns against these six were momentous battles in the global war the United States waged secretly during the 1950s.
This war comprises a hidden chapter of American history. It shaped the world—and still does.
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Excerpted from The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinzer, published October 1, 2013 by Times Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright © 2013 by Stephen Kinzer. All rights reserved.