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Who is John Foster Dulles?

January 14, 2012

John Foster Dulles


Michael A. Guhin, John Foster Dulles: A Statesman and His Times (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972).

Townsend Hoopes, The Devil and John Foster Dulles (Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1973).

Richard H. Immerman, ed. John Foster Dulles and the Diplomacy of the Cold War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).

Richard H. Immerman, John Foster Dulles: Piety, Pragmatism, and Power in US Foreign Policy (New York: Oxford University Press,1998).

Frederick W. Marks III, Power and Peace: The Diplomacy of John Foster Dulles (Westport: Praeger, 1993).

Ronald W. Pruessen, John Foster Dulles: The Road to Power (New York: Free Press/McMillan, 1982).

Mark G. Toulouse, The Transformation of John Foster Dulles: From Prophet of Realism to Priest of Nationalism (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1985).

Chris Tudda, The Truth Is Our Weapon: The Rhetorical Diplomacy of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006).

John Foster Dulles is a towering figure in American diplomacy. Not only did he serve as secretary of state under President Dwight Eisenhower, but he also had a full half century of experience in international politics and business. Dulles also came from a family with deep ties to policymaking within the United States. He shares a name with his grandfather, John Watson Foster, who was secretary of state under President Benjamin Harrison. His uncle, Robert Lansing, was secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson. Not to be outdone, Dulles’s younger brother Allen was also director of the Central Intelligence Agency. His sister, Eleanor, was a prolific writer and policy analyst. Their father, Allen Macy Dulles (not to be confused with his brother’s son, who shares the same name) was a prominent Presbyterian minister.

Coming from a diplomatic dynasty, John Foster Dulles would seem to be destined for a role in government; however, the major portion of his life was dedicated to the service of some of the largest and most powerful corporations. This role was fulfilled through his long career as the senior partner at the Wall Street law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell. Political experience and business went hand in hand for Dulles. He was present at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, was a major figure in Republican Party Politics during the 1940s, served as foreign policy adviser to the Truman administration, and was a particpant in the formulation of momentous matters such as the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, and the Japanese Peace Treaty at the end of World War II. Likewise, during his life he also served as legal counsel for some of the world’s largest banks: J.P. Morgan & Company, the National City Company; Kuhn, Loeb & Company, Dillon, Read & Company; Harris, Forbes & Company; Brown Brothers, Harriman; Goldman, Sachs; and the First National Banking Corporation, Schroeders, and the Bank for International Settlements, among others. Under his management, Sullivan & Cromwell also served the legal interests of major industrial businesses such as Ford Motor Company, General Motors, General Electric, International Business Machines, International Telephone and Telegraph, Standard Oil, and I.G. Farben.

Being at the locus of wealth and power makes Dulles a very interesting biographical subject. Numerous books have been written about him, and even more include Dulles as an important supporting character. For instance, Dulles is at the center of a historiographical controversy over whether he or Eisenhower had more influence over the direction of foreign policy during his years as secretary of state. Naturally, Dulles also shows up in the copious number of books written that concern the exploits of his younger brother as head of the CIA. Additionally, because Dulles was a major diplomatic personality during the onset of the Cold War, he makes appearances in a far larger volume of literature on that subject as well.

In order to approach a better understanding of this very significant and highly complex personality, this essay will consider eight relatively recent biographies of Dulles in an attempt to identify common themes, methodological differences, and frequently used sources. To make this essay manageable, there is a “first wave” of biographies that will not be considered here: These are John Robinson Beal’s John Foster Dulles: A Biography (1957), Mildred H. Comforts’ John Foster Dulles: Peacemaker (1960), and Louis Gerson’s John Foster Dulles. Making up for the absence of these books are Michael Guhin’s John Foster Dulles: A Statesman and His Times (1972) and Townsend Hoopes, The Devil and John Foster Dulles (1973), which capture the contrasting interpretations and scholarship of the earlier biographies. Dulles was then recast in the 1980s by Ronald Pruessen in John Foster Dulles: Road to Power (1982), followed by Mark Toulouse with The Transformation of John Foster Dulles (1985). The 1990s saw another handful of biographies. Diplomatic historian Richard H. Immerman edited a volume of essays collected in John Foster Dulles and the Diplomacy of the Cold War (1990) and then followed it up with his own study of the man in John Foster Dulles: Piety, Pragmatism, and Power in US Foreign Policy (1998). During this period, Frederick W. Marks III also published Power and Peace: The Diplomacy of John Foster Dulles (1993). The most recent edition to this large body of scholarship is represented in Chris Tudda’s The Truth Is Our Weapon: The Rhetorical Diplomacy of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles (2006).

Some themes are worth noting before delving into this diverse collection of texts. The first theme involves the acceptance or rejection of the revisionist challenge to the Eisenhower administration. As we will see, the various biographers acknowledge this historiographical debate over influence in policymaking during this period. The second theme also involves Dulles’s role as secretary of state. Many of the biographies focus on this period of his life, perceiving it as the most impactful. To a degree, this has to do with the vigorous field of diplomatic history, which churns out controversy and contention among its practitioners, as well as a great deal of scholarly material. Likewise, this has led some biographers to focus on other aspects of Dulles’s life in order to add dimension to the scholarship. This bifurcation is interesting because it has spurred some writers to argue that Dulles’s views changed dramatically in the last years of his life in public office. This has added a secondary itinerant theme for those that study his career in the Eisenhower administration versus other aspects of his life: Dulles’s religious convictions. This is also an aspect explored in a majority of the books reviewed here.

Michael Guhin’s John Foster Dulles: A Statesman and His Times falls into the category of texts that focus on Dulles’s life as secretary of state. Adapted from Guhin’s doctoral thesis at the University of London, the author himself was a Cold Warrior like his subject, working as an aide to Kissinger in the early 1970s when his book was published. Like many biographers before him, Guhin was attempting to make sense out of early Cold War policy formulations and utilized Dulles as a lens to study their development.

Guhin’s main argument strikes upon a common theme present in many of the texts on Dulles: That is, that the man, while a seemingly one-dimensional, hawkish anti-communist, was actually a complex and nuanced personality. This view portrays Dulles as a someone whose opinions were informed by a liftetime of experience in international business and diplomacy. Guhin contends that “an inaccurate image of Dulles continues to be commonly accepted in both academic communities and general publics at home and abroad” (2). This led the author to examine more closely Dulles’s writings, including those on his religious faith, to help produce a more detailed picture of his subject.

To that end, Guhin organizes his text around a loose thematic framework. The author makes prodigious use of the Dulles collections at Princeton University, with particular focus on personal correspondence, in order to tease out his subject’s complexity. Guhin singles out certain events, and Dulles’s role in them, to be utilized as a case studies. Because of Guhin’s focus on Dulles’s role in the Eisenhower administration, these sketches mainly involve diplomatic problems, such as the negotiations surrounding the Suez Crisis.

The picture that emerges is a man who consciously made broad hawkish statements in public, but was a tough-minded pragmatist in behind-the-scenes dealings with Congress, other diplomats, and foreign leaders. Guhin continually characterizes Dulles as calculating and complex, with a healthy respect for realism and pragamatic negotiation. This view is buttressed by Guhin’s constant referral to Dulles’s religious convictions as a primary roadmap for his morality. Guhin concludes that despite his underlying pragmatism, Dulles comes off as dogmatic and inflexible, conceding that “It can fairly be said that some of Dulles’ own rhetoric and style of presenting policies, as distinct from the actual content of the policies themselves, oftentimes…unintentionally served to encourage such an impression” (295).

Guhin’s portrait has led some reviewers to identify the author’s study as “revisionist,” although a closer inspection reveals Guhin’s affinity with Dulles, rather than sustained critique.1 Despite Guhin’s attempts to paint Dulles as an old-style liberal internationalist, the bellicose, moralizing side repeteadly emerges. Guhin’s attempt to “explain” this away reads more as apologizing than it does an acurate portrayal. This impression is only intensified by the authors choice to gloss over much of the rest of Dulles’s life beyond his role in the Eisenhower administration. Like earlier, more traditional biographies, Guhin descends into hagiographic territory, essentially excusing Dulles as a product of Cold War brinksmanship, rather than an archetect of it. Ultimately, it is difficult for the reader to come to a conclusion about Dulles in Guhin’s text, due to the frenetic change in topics and lack of concrete arrangement to support the author’s thesis.

In dramatic contrast to Guhin, Townsend Hoopes’s The Devil and John Foster Dulles is useful in providing a different impression of Dulles from the same period in the early 1970s. Hoopes also had an extensive career in government, working in the Department of Defense and later serving as co-chairman for the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). As far as his work on Dulles is concerned, Hoopes won a Bancroft Prize for the book under review. Hoopes’s experience working as under-secretary of the Air Force during the height of the Vietnam War left him critical of American Cold War strategy. This view inspired him to write and publish The Limits of Intervention (1969), which continues to be his most well known book. Like Guhin, Hoopes endeavored to take a closer look at the origins of the Cold War, which later brought him to study John Foster Dulles.

Unlike Guhin, Hoopes work more accurately represents the orthodox view, rather than a revisionist one. Hoopes is critical of nearly every policy intitative Dulles was involved in, from the crises of Quemoy-Matsu and Suez, to strategies involving Vietnam. In Hoopes’s view, despite his worldly experience, Dulles was an inflexible anti-communist, who developed a taste for political partisanship and imposed his moralistic view on his subordinates. Rather than possessing an ability to engage a multitude of perspectives, Hoopes portrays Dulles as possessing a firm worldview, but with a keen sense of tactics. Hoopes states, “ Dulles was far more a tactitician than a systematic strategist and planner, but also a tactitican who operated on a fixed moral or religious premises” (488). To that end, Hoopes lays his most grave criticism on Dulles’s influence over Eisenhower’s Vietnam strategy, which he argues left a lasting legacy on what would be the tragic consequences of American military involvement there. Hoopes argues that Dulles’s anti-communist brinksmanship set the tone for the following decade, concluding that his views were “embedded in the very bone structure of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s inaugural address” and policies (505).

In order to support his arguments, Hoopes makes use of the Dulles oral history project at Columbia University, which houses hundreds of recorded interviews. Beyond this, Hoopes also utilizes the Dulles collections at Princeton. Structurally, Hoopes builds a more chronological account of Dulles’s life, which he then uses to highlight particular thematic events that he believes capture his thinking. For instance, in an interview with fellow diplomat Oliver Franks, who worked with Dulles in the earlier part of his life in the mid 1920s, he stated that Dulles was “locked into his own structural process” (39). Hoopes makes good use of the sources to help tease out his subject’s views in this regard.

Although Hoopes presents a significantly wider view, the author still falls into the trap of magnifying Dulles’s State Department experience over the rest of his life. Dulles’s lengthy career as a corporate lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell are given very brief treatments, where a more detailed view might have been appropriate. Hoopes is one of the first biographers, for example, to deal with Dulles’s business arrangements with the Nazis, but only provides limited treatment of the subject matter. Instead, Hoopes presents this information under the larger, more common theme of Dulles’s religious convictions, which is an odd choice. Like other books reviewed in this essay, Hoopes holds that Dulles became more religious over time, which informed his self righteous anti-communism.

Furthermore, the clichéd view of Dulles at times seems overly simplistic. Just like with Guhin’s work, because we do not have a detailed background, we have no basis for the accuracy of whether Dulles actually did change his views over time, or remained rigidly dogmatic. The Devil and John Foster Dulles also seems to fall under the category of works that ascribe more influence to Dulles under the Eisenhower administration. Again, it is difficult to determine the veracity of this view, not only because of the author’s closeness to Vietnam policy and a professed desire to assign blame, but also because Hoopes does not reference the Eisenhower library collection to either support or contradict this view.

What is perhaps most dissappointing is Hoopes’s failure to tie Dulles’s career at Sullivan & Cromwell and the interests of some of its biggest clients, from J.P. Morgan to United Fruit, to the policy decisions he made later in his life. While Hoopes is not alone in this scholarly blind spot, not drawing the connection between corporate policy and diplomatic policy when studying a character who so thoroughly embodied it is a fairly significant ommission. Instead, we get an image that resembles the more typical one-dimensional Cold Warrior common to earlier descriptions of Dulles.

Thankfully, reassessments of Dulles continued to appear throught the following decades. In 1982, Ronald Pruessen published John Foster Dulles: The Road to Power, which significantly expanded the detail and scope of Dulles. Pruessen is a professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in globalization, particularly the relationships between private institutions and diplomatic history. As such, Pruessen is well suited to examine Dulles, who, as noted above, straddles both of these worlds. Indeed, Pruessen notes that “a strong econcomic strain has not usually been associated with Dulles, but…necessitates placing it alongside images of ideological impulses, religious proclivities, annd vigorous partisanship” (xiv). The author characterizes Dulles as a microcasm for political, ideological, and religious currents that have shaped U.S. history, with a special emphasis on economic preoccupations.

As for an overriding argument, Pruessen contends that Dulles was far more complex than earlier representations have let on. Pruessen subtly chastises other writers for focusing intently on Dulles’s State Deparment experience: “Dulles was, after all, sixty-four years old when Dwight Eisenhower appointed him secretary of state…He would spend less than 10 percent of his life as the primary formulator of American foreign policy – after having spent 90 percent of it in many other roles” (xii-xiii). Pruessen envisioned a two-volume project in order to make this project workable; thus, Road to Power is the first part of a biography that concsciously avoids an analysis of Dulles as secretary of state and focuses on the remainder of his life. This allows the author to provide a more detailed view of Dulles’s early life and background, his career as a lawyer and businesseman, initial experiences in government and foreign policy during World War I, his formal political associations and religious activities, and his diplomatic experience during the Truman administration.

Unsurprisingly, Pruessen takes a chronological approach, providing a detailed narrative of Dulles’s life. Pruessen mines the Dulles collections at Princeton as well as the Columbia University Oral History Project. Beyond these, the author has also examined the State Department files at the National Archives extensively and demonstrates that he is also conversant in the secondary literature, as well. The only conspicuous absence in documentation are those at the Eisenhower libarary, though the author has made it clear that he is omitting this portion of Dulles’s career.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the text is his subject’s experience as an international lawyer during the middle years of his life. Pruessen is interested in multinational cartels, and describes at length some of these business arangements and how Dulles was involved. Without going deeply into detail, Pruessen lends credence to the view that Dulles did, in fact, facilitate the businesses of many companies operating within Nazi Germany. Several of the other works reviewed take at face value Dulles’s supposed disgust with the Hitler regime; however, Pruessen contends that there is stark distinction between his subject’s actions and his words in this regard. Other texts have picked up on the ground breaking research done by Pruessen on this subject, particularly Nancy Lisagor and Frank Lipsius’s study of Sullivan & Cromwell in A Law Unto Itself (1988).2

Beyond this tidbit, Pruessen reinforces the view of Dulles as a nuanced and complicated personality, qualifying his work as more overtly “revisionist.” The author demonstrates that Dulles’s views did change over time, and he was not as inflexible as earlier scholarship has suggested. That said, Pruessen is highly critical of Dulles, concluding that there was an inherent shallowness to his subject that increased as he approached the end of his years. Pruessen states, “The clear strengths of Dulles’s intellect deserve recognition. So do the weakenesses. If there was some breadth of experience and vision, if there was capacity for percipient analysis of significant issues, there were also serious limitations. They were in evidence at all stages of his life, but took their toll increasingly as time went on” (502). This gives some credence to the view present in other works that Dulles changed his opinions significantly by the time he became secretary of state. By 1952, Pruessen calls Dulles’s position as one obssessed with “intellectual brinksmanship” (508). Although Dulles had shown earlier more bipartisan impulses during the Truman administration, Pruessen argues that his growing hawkishness continued unabated.

It is clear that Pruessen extended the scope of scholarship on John Foster Dulles beyond either Guhin or Hoopes, though the framework is still limited. Unfortunately, this may have more to do with the fact that the second planned volume was never released, leaving Pruessen’s vision of Dulles incomplete. Pruessen’s work is also lengthy and repetitive at times, particularly when dealing with more abstract pronouncements about Dulles’s religiosity. Despite the author’s criticism, Pruessen also has admiration for his subject, though this reviewer considers his comparisons to John Quincy Adams an overstatement. By and large, Pruessen’s work was the most comprehensive to date, and set the standard for future research.

Not long after Pruessen, Mark Toulouse continued the theme of Dulles’s evolving views with The Transformation of John Foster Dulles in 1985. Toulouse is a specialist in the history of Christianity and pays special attention to Dulles’s religious convictions. Like several other authors, Toulouse contends that Dulles went through a significant change in philosophy in the years immediately prior to becoming secretary of state. The study itself is an interesting contrast to Pruessen’s work, as Toulouse focuses specifically on Dulles’s years in the Eisenhower administration.

Essentially, Toulouse is fixed almost exclusively on Dulles’s religious side, contending that diplomatic historians often do not pay enough attention to the faith of policymakers and how it informs their decisions. This religiosity, acording to Toulouse, is particularly true of Dulles, which the author argues is the prime motivator for the moralism in his policy formulations and his incresingly Manichean view of the Cold War. Toulouse states, “Dulles’s shift of his setting from formulating polices in primarily religious circles to formulating policies in primarily political circles, contributed to this transformation” (xxiii). In order to argue that Dulles’s views evolved, Toulouse spends a majority of the text analyzing Dulles’s writing and speeches. Toulouse contends that after 1945, Dulles experienced a religious awakening that transformed his concept of moral law.

Toulouse’s text is organized in a somewhat chronological sequence. Although other authors have focued on Dulles’s religious upbringing in detail, Toulouse spends a majority of the text exploring Dulles’s faith after 1937. In fact, all but the introductory and concluding chapters deal with Dulles’s activities within the Federal Council of Churches. Within these chapters, Toulouse primarily consults Dulles’s own writings. The text also includes a very short selected bibliography and a longer one of primary sources, almost all from the Dulles collection at Princeton.

Despite its academic trappings, Toulouse’s text is openly polemical. The forward by Akira Iryie leaves this reviewer to wonder if Iryie actually read the text, or was simply lending support to a former student when he was a professor at the University of Chicago. From the outset, the tone of the book is partisan, as Toulouse spends more space in the text writing in admiration of Ronald Reagan than actually writing about John Foster Dulles. Repeatedly, Toulouse makes simplistic and value laden judgements without much citation of secondary literature. This choice to omit or ignore earlier history is particularly problematic in the context of Toulouse’s vigorous attack on diplomatic historians in general in his introduction. Ironically, in place of demonstrating his own understanding of the diplomatic context of the period, Toulouse fills his text with metaphors which confuse, rather than enlighten. For example, Toulouse writes about Dulles’s view of the League of Nations: “Dulles, for his part, could not see the good in simply chopping gaway the sickest branches (Germany, Italy, and Japan) of a diseased and contagious tree while leaving the roots and trunk (an international system committed to the maintenance of the status quo) intact” (127).

Not only is the text almost completely bereft of any criticism of Dulles’s bellicose sabre rattling, but Toulouse replaces contrary evidence with shallow platitudes that further undermine the author’s argument. Toulouse is clearly aware of other studies of Dulles but utilizes them only when he agrees with their assessments. Among other sections, this is clearly apparent in Toulouse’s very brief discussion of Dulles’s views on Nazism. Toulouse writes, “Hitler stood for everything he opposed…He knew that Germany’s actions constituted a great evil, an evil that could not safely be ignored” (103-4). It was not as if Pruessen was the only individual to write about Dulles’s problematic, extensive businesss relationships with Nazi Germany. There were defenses written for Dulles in the religious tracts that Toulouse used to write his book. Toulouse cites Pruessen several times, but completely avoids doing so in the context of Dulles’s employment.

Toulouse’s text is a frustrating read. Beyond the ommissions, simplifications, and sometimes blatant cheerleading of the most hawkish aspects of American Cold War ideology, Toulouse’s argument comes off as somewhat incoherent. At times it seems he is arguing that Dulles became more religious and moralistic later in life, and at others he argues that in a new role as secretary of state, he had to put aside his religiosity and promote policy from a realist perspective. Toulouse’s book is also more than a bit disorganized. Headings that do not match the subject matter interrupt the text at irregular intervals, and his narrative meanders from writings about Dulles to the politics of Toulouse’s time in 1985 without much of a transition. Any use of the scholarship in The Transformation of John Foster Dulles beyond an examination of Dulles’s writing on religion is compromised by the polemical nature of the work.

Fortunately, scholarship on Dulles was beginning to yield a more diverse range of opinions as the century came to a close. In 1990, the well known diplomatic historian Richard Immerman facilitated the production of a collection of essays on Dulles. This was appropriately sponsored by Princeton University Press as one of the chief stewards of documentation on the famous polarizing personality. Although it is difficult to judge a work with such a large diversity of opinions, the scholarship is served well by those with extensive knowledge of diplomatic history, such as John Lewis Gaddis and Richard Immerman, as well as by individuals like Ronald Pruessen who have already demonstrated a nuanced understanding of Dulles.

Four general themes can be discerned from the essays. First, most of the authors, whether overtly or not, have taken the revisionist view of the Eisenhower administration into account and place Dulles as key in the formulation of policy, but not the ultimate decision maker. This they leave to Eisenhower himself. Second, the scholars also tend to agree that Dulles is a more complex character than earlier accounts, particularly in his views when he held office. The third theme is a bit more contentious, which involves an assesment of Dulles’s policies as secretary of state. Gaddis is the most positive, while Stephen G. Rabe is the most critical. Most of the other essays fall between these two extremes. The fourth theme involves the bifurcation between scholars that study Dulles’s life before he was secretary of state, and those that focus on his years in the Eisenhower administration.

The unifying impression, if one can be articulated, is that Dulles was a subtle thinker, but still succumbed to hawkishness as America’s chief diplomat. Gaddis explores the “transformation” thesis of Dulles and sees him adjusting his views once head of the State Department. George C. Herring credits Dulles as a master of tactical strategy in his dealing with Dien Bien Phu. Nancy Bernkopf Tucker teases out the nuanced side of Dulles’s “Two Chinas” policy. Wm. Roger Louis argues that both tactical genius and hypocrisy guided Dulles’s approach during the Suez Crisis. Stephen Rabe rips Dulles for imperialist policies in Latin America, but concedes that Dulles laid the groundwork for strategy that extended well beyond his lifetime. In each example, the bellicose nature of the Eisenhower adminstration’s Cold War orientation is obvious, but Dulles’s responses no longer appear as uniform.

Immerman does a decent job of corralling the work into a coherent whole. In the opening he notes that Dulles’s “rehetoric haunts is reputation” arguing for a need to analyze the man’s actions more closely (3). Additionally, Immerman argues that an “archivally based reassessment of Dulles is evident” (9). This reviewer strongly agrees with both of these sentiments. In conclusion, Immerman is equally as lucid; he notes, “Dulles was no Dr. Strangelove. However, he appeared so: to the Washington community, to the attentive public, to allied leaders. Even those with whom he worked closely in the State Deparment suspected him of being too much the nuclear enthusiast” (271). Immerman notes, as many of the essayists do, that Dulles was more nuanced and strategic; this leads the editor to call for further study of achival materials that are still out of reach to researchers. Again, this reviewer agrees.

It is a shame that Frederick Marks III was not a contributor to the above collection of essays, as it might have preempted the release of another controversial work akin to Toulouse’s hagiographic account. From the beginning of Marks’s Power and Peace, Dulles is portrayed as an incorruptable Cold Warrior. Marks writes, “John Foster Dulles had been in the van of a world-wide coalition against communism…During the final words of benediction, pronounced over the remains of the man regarded by virtually all listeners as a fallen hero” (ix). Marks is not shy about deifying Dulles, and represents himself as a staunch critic of earlier, less than savory accounts. Marks clearly states his central contention: “[Marks] seeks to redress a long-standing imbalance in historical works dealing with the period under review. Dulles has never received as much recognition as he deserves” (1).

As far as the structural arrangement of the text, Marks is not interested in Dulles’s early life, utilizing the majority of the book to examine his career as secretary of state almost exclusively. To that end, most of Mark’s chapters are designed around what he views as incorrect conclusions resulting from earlier scholarship on the reactions to various crises and policy formulations. In this regard, Marks’s pays special attention to coup in Guatemala in 1954 as a centerpiece for his argument.

Marks contends that Dulles should be lauded for a “peace record” rather than hawkishness. Overarching themes of Dulles negotiating peace in Korea and avoiding war in Vietnam and Berlin pervade the text. Marks again invokes the “complexity” theme, using it to argue that Dulles deserves chief credit for the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization, the Austrian State Treaty, and bringing West Germany into NATO. Some contortions are more difficult for Marks, who also attempts to credit Dulles with the overthrow of Iran’s Mohammed Mossadegh and Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz, while still trying to attribute these events to the citizens of their respective countries, rather than the CIA.

In order to support his arguments, Marks has displayed an impressive array of source materials. Not only does he include archival documentation present in earlier studies, such as the collections at Princeton and the Oral History Project at Columbia, Marks has also included sources from Britain, China, and Guatemala. Unfortunately, Marks does so in a less than transparent fashion, with ponderously long end notes that confuse, rather than signify what sources he is pointing to. A scholar attempting to piece together documentation correlating to specific arguments would have likely have to redo Marks’s research, rather than verify it.

Ultimately, Marks goes against the grain of much of the scholarship presented in this essay. He seeks to place Dulles as the ultimate arbiter of policy in the Eisenhower administration. He also endeavors to rewrite the history of US policy in Korea, the events of the Suez crisis, and of the CIA led coups in Guatemala and Iran. This revisionism is particularly stark in the case of Guatemala, where Marks produces interviews of Guatemalans to argue that the CIA was not involved in overthrowing the popularly elected president Arbenz Guzmán. Conspiciously, Marks avoids mentioning that Dulles had been the lawyer of the United Fruit Company, who had a substantial interest in Guatemala, for many years. Considering the massive footnotes in other sections, Marks’s terse dismissals of CIA involvement and Dulles’s obvious conflicts of interest are highly suspect.

Marks’s work invited a chorus of criticisms from other scholars. Immerman took issue with his depiction of the Guatemala Coup, of which he had specific expertise in, and Stephen Ambrose needled Marks’s on his characterization of power dynamics within the Eisenhower administration.3 Anna K. Nelson also chastised Marks for delving into hagiographic territory noting, “Unfortunately, in his effort to prove his point, Marksweakens his case by not allowing Dulles a single policy error.”4 Considering the vehemence in which Marks insists on his heroic narrative of Dulles, accusations of a less than scholarly approach appear justified.

Immerman subsequently added to the growing body of scholarship on Dulles in 1998, producing a volume for the Biographies in American Foreign Policy series. This book was released in tandem with a lengthy study of the Eisenhower administration, Waging Peace (1998), bringing substantial contextual weight to the field. In stating his objective in this particular text, Immerman argues that Dulles left an “impressive yet contradictory legacy” that still necessitated unraveling (196). As noted earlier, Immerman subscribes to the overriding theme of complexity in describing Dulles, and as evidenced from the subtitle of this book, piety and pragmatism continue to be a lens into which this controversial personality can be studied.

As with Pruessen’s Road to Power, Immerman’s work appears, on the surface, to be more of a traditional biography. It is arranged chronologically, though it is also is more compact than the former work. An opening chapter examines Dulles’s early life, but the remainder of the book involves his position as secretary of state. Thus, the book is really more of a thematic examination of various policies during the Eisenhower administration, rather than a true biography.

Immerman’s major contribution here, though it is not clear if this is a reaction to Marks or not, is to resestablish the primacy of Eisenhower in the relationship between he and Dulles, as the major historiographical trend. The author is good a detailing the complexity of the arrangement, but he ultimately falls on the side of the President. The reader is treated to a study of this power dynamic in chapters specific to the New Look defense procurments and strategy involving Dien Bien Phu, as well as formulating Latin America policy.

Unsurprisingly, Immerman’s depth of knowledge is much more specific to the Eisenhower administration than Dulles himself. Much of the source material presented is a foray into Eisenhower scholarship, rather than a deep analysis of materials on Dulles. That said, there is virtue in brevity, and the text is good at quickly getting to the heart of various policy crises without getting too bogged down in minutia. Additionally, there is a very useful bibliographic essay at the end of the book, which is essential reading for Dulles scholars.

Immerman’s view of Dulles is mixed; he buys into the general postivist idea of the U.S. as a beacon of freedom in the Cold War, without giving Dulles, or Eisenhower, too much credit. The author keeps a scholarly distance between himself and his subjects, unlike Toulouse and Marks. Immerman concludes, “Dulles left an impressive yet controdictory legacy. He has been legitimately criticized for exaggerating the Communist threat…Dulles demonstrated a sophisticated and enlightened understanding of the problems inherent in an international system…however, he promoted policies [as secretary of state] antithetical to those he had previously advocated” (196). Moving into a new century of scholarship, Immerman appears to be articulating an updated, mainstream view of Dulles.

In the light of current scholarship, Chris Tudda’s The Truth is Our Weapon looms large. Tudda’s book is adapted from a 2002 dissertation at American University and is more representative of recent trends in diplomatic scholarship. In this case, Tudda utilizes the “cultural turn” evident in other segments of historical analysis to produce a close examination of rhetoric and discourse. Utilizing this methodology, Tudda builds upon earlier works that explore similar themes, but is more explicitly systematic.

Tudda’s research is not built entirely around John Foster Dulles; rather, it is a comparison between the rhetoric and policy of the Eisenhower administration more generally. While this necessarily involves Dulles, there is less material on the individual and more on the adminstration he served. Like several other scholars’ work reviewed here, Tudda concludes that the legacy of the Eisenhower administration is mixed. Tudda notes, “The evidence suggests that the administration failed to understand the power of words in a climate of insecurity brought about by the Cold War. Their confidential decision to ease world tensions failed because Eisenhower and Dulles could not reconcile this with their determination to pursue rhetorical diplomacy” (15). In this regard, Tudda’s choice to utilize textual analysis in examining the rhetoric of Dulles and Eisenhower is useful in building a more nuanced portrayal of the diplomacy of the era.

Structually, Tudda organizes his text in a more abstract thematic arrangement. Rather than a chronological account of foreign policy, the author jumps between different crises and responses to marshall evidence for his argument, rather than producing an overarching representation of the period. Three case studies emerge: the formulation of the European Defense Community Treaty, Cold War policy toward the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, and the Berlin Crisis of 1958-9. In order to engage these subjects, Tudda utilizes the sources typical to these fields, including those in the Dulles collection at Princeton and the Eisenhower library. Other sources of documentary evidence are less obvious, such as those from the newer Cold War International History Project and the Macmillan papers from the British Public Records Office.

Tudda’s scholarship helps reveal the essence of these diplomatic interactions. In engaging textual analysis of various speeches and policy pronouncements, it becomes clear that the use of rhetoric is perhaps just as essential in managing perception within international politics as action itself. While this is certainly a well known feature of recent politics, Tudda is good at demonstrating that this was still a new idea in the mid-twentieth century. Tudda contends, “Dulles and Eisenhower relied on bellicose rhetoric in order to push their vision of a new dynamic foreign policy, [but] they failed to understand their words could be so powerful” (79). Tudda also provides examples of successful uses of rhetoric. As far as the European Defense Community Treaty (EDC) is concerned, Tudda’s tight analysis suggests that Dulles’s threats to withdraw U.S. troops from Western Europe had the desired effect of muting criticism of rearming West Germany.

While it is difficult to provide full treatment of the often esoteric examinations here, Tudda is generally successful at providing evidence for his arguments. Among other works reviewed here, the book is more explicit in its use of textual analysis in order to get at the contradictions evident in the Eisenhower administration that have bedeviled previous scholars. Obviously, the examination of Dulles himself is quite limited, and the scholarship is specialized to a degree that limits a more broad view of the period. The organization of the various themes will also be unclear to non-specialists, limiting the work’s audience.

In sum, how can one evaluate such a diverse and varied collection of scholarship? A few observations are immediately apparent. As noted earlier, some themes continue to play a powerful role in the studies of Dulles. He emerges as a strategist, tactitican, complex, nuanced, and difficult to read. Textual analysis has pulled forward contradictory impulses informed by both pragmatism and piety. His religious, diplomatic, and business backgrounds continually come up as common themes. Meanwhile, his forceful rhetoric has shaped perceptions of the Eisenhower administration, which only have more recently been revised to produce a more heterogenous portrayal. Other themes have yet to reach resolution; it is, for instance, still unclear to what degree Dulles actually altered his views as secretary of state versus other roles he played earlier in his life.

Some works do appear more useful than others. Both the Marks and Toulouse books evidence a deep-seated partisanship that limits their usefulness as scholarly texts. Other books, such as the collection of essays edited by Immerman are good for demonstrating a diversity of opinion and showcasing the variety of sources available. As far as a detailed picture of Dulles’s entire life is concerned, the work by Pruessen remains the standard. Authors seeking to examine the man beyond his role in the Eisenhower adminstration are well served by this path breaking work.

Important questions about Dulles remain. Although examinations of rhetoric are useful, what about the influence of business clients? Other than Pruessen, most of the authors take for granted the relationship between multinational corporations and diplomatic policy. Relative to this subject, Dulles embodies one of the most prominent examples of this phenomenon. How much should scholars be concerned with the connection between entities that exist only to enhance their bottom line and interests of momentous topics such as national security, self determination of indiginous populations, and competing visions of governance? All of these issues are explored, but not from the perspective of the businesses. How much was United Fruit involved in Dulles’s policy positions on Guatemala? How about Standard Oil and Suez? These questions remain to be answered by future scholarship. This is partially a problem of sources. Despite the usefulness of the collections at Princeton and Columbia, what sort of materials exist elsewhere? For instance, if the vaults of Sullivan & Cromwell were to be thrown open, what new insights might be gained into Dulles’s thinking? This remains to be seen.

1 John A. DeNovo, Review of “John Foster Dulles: A Statesman and His Times” by Michael A. Guhin, Middle East Journal, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Winter, 1974), 80-81.

2 Nancy Lisagor and Frank Lipsius, A Law Unto Itself: The Untold Story of the Law Firm Sullivan & Cromwell (New York: William & Morrow, 1988).

3 Richard H. Immerman, Review of Power and Peace: The Diplomacy of John Foster Dulles by Frederick W. Marks, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 109, No. 1 (Spring, 1994), 178-179. See also Stephen E. Ambrose, Review of Power and Peace: The Diplomacy of John Foster Dulles by Frederick W. Marks, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 73, No. 2 (Mar. – Apr., 1994), 153.

4 Anna Kasten Nelson, Review of Power and Peace: The Diplomacy of John Foster Dulles by Frederick W. Marks III, The American Historical Reivew, Vol. 100, No. 1 (Feb., 1995), 265-6.

  1. ivabigun permalink

    I am a heathen but I thank God for people like you whose scholarship cuts through the manure pile foisted on the public as information and news.

  2. Thanks for all your work. Very enlightening.

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