The Uses of John Foster Dulles

The Devil and John Foster Dulles

by Townsend Hoopes
Little, Brown, 562 pp., $15.00

John Foster Dulles was sixty-five years old before he tasted real power. He had maintained, to that point, a sidling and dependent semi-fame, for no very good reason. From Wall Street he had vaguely advised—not well, but often: candidates, presidents, churches, countries. Author of two uplift books on peace. Presbyterian lay-divine at large. Dewey’s dim eminence. Right-wing internationalist Republican among Democrats—everybody’s favorite guy from the opposite camp. Few people liked him, including his children—his wife struck others as an oddity because she did. He had a Big Answer for the world’s still-unasked questions, and was always hurrying off to tell someone in power what it was.

He picked up an astonishing range of patrons, some of whom could not remember how they acquired this discomfiting client. He started with his grandfather (Benjamin Harrison’s Secretary of State) and his uncle (Wilson’s Secretary of State), latched onto Dewey and Vandenberg, crawled into favor with Acheson and Truman (who let him settle the Japanese treaty as a gesture to bipartisanship); then, with an apparent swerve, he combined Luce and Knowland with Dewey and Brownell to reach his greatest patron of all. Without ever becoming a household word, he was the thinking man’s fourth choice (as measured by a Saturday Review poll) for President in 1952—after Eisenhower, Taft, and Kefauver.

Dulles had no political “base” in the conventional sense, but a weird sprung architecture of supports—from church groups, career bureaucrats, Wall Street lawyers, UN supporters, and the China Lobby. At no other time in history could that ill-assorted combination produce clout; and even then he needed a few miracles thrown in—including that phenomenon, still only half-deciphered, called Eisenhower. After decades of shirttail-clutching for short rides, Dulles grabbed an authentic comet’s tail—grabbed it so hard that some men think the tail ended up wagging the comet.

Mr. Hoopes gives a very full, and usually fair, account of the man’s career, devoting over 400 of the book’s 550 pages to the last seven years of power under Eisenhower. While critical of Dulles, Hoopes clears him of some past charges (e.g., I. F. Stone’s claim that he deliberately provoked the Korean war, in collaboration with General MacArthur). Yet despite thorough research and rich narrative detail, Mr. Hoopes’s subject keeps fading out of the book’s pursuing spotlight. The more intense the focusing, the less visible Dulles becomes. Hoopes is reduced to a seesaw catechism of contradictory accusations—that Dulles was too rigid, and too opportunistic, as shiftily pious as a crooked parson; in thrall to an orthodoxy, yet simply a tactician; an Olympian infighter and creedless dogmatizer; too white when not too black, and never anything between.

Hoopes, while admitting the “revisionist” thesis that Eisenhower knew what he was up to after all, largely accepts the conventional picture of Dulles as just a fanatically religious anticommunist crusader. Yet his own evidence shows that Dulles began to take religion …

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.