Kinzer’s The Brothers is an excellent source of information concerning the development of U.S. foreign policy during the Twentieth Century.
The Brothers:—John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War. Stephen Kinzer. St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 2013.
Stephen Kinzer is a masterful storyteller, creating an historical record that is readily accessible to all levels of readers. Besides writing history—or more importantly, rewriting history correctly—he is able to draw out the personal characteristics of the people involved, creating lively anecdotal stories that carry the reader through the overall narrative.
His book, The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret War, delves into the personal beliefs and perspectives of the Dulles brothers and those associated with them. From that he creates a picture of the nature of U.S. foreign policy as shaped by and being embodied by the brothers and the various Presidents and other corporate and political wheeler and dealers they interacted with over a span of fifty years:
“If they were shortsighted, open to violence, and blind to the subtle realities of the world, it was because these qualities help define American foreign policy and the United States itself…..they embodied the national ethos….They were pure products of the United States.”
The historical narrative is clearly presented, the ties to corporations, their employment with powerful law firms, the power they gained within the political system such that after the Second World War they became the two most powerful figures in U.S. politics and foreign affairs. Apart from the basic historical record, the most intriguing aspect is the different natures of the brothers, and the basic similarity that few people gave very much credence to their abilities for deep thought.
They came from a relatively rigid Christian upbringing. John Foster retained the dourness of that upbringing through his life, while his younger brother Allen proved to be a dilettante and womanizer. Their concept of freedom “was above all economic: a country whose leaders respected private enterprise and welcomed multinational business was a free country.” The other component of freedom was religion, “Countries that encouraged religious devotion, and that were led by men on good terms with Christian clerics, were to them free countries….These two criteria…they conjured an explanation of why they condemned some dictatorships but not others.”
This doctrinaire system of thought did not allow for much in the way of critical thinking skills. Sir Alexander Cadogan, Britain’s undersecretary to the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, “wrote in his diary, “J.F.D. the wooliest type of useless pontificating American….Heaven help us!” Eden himself “considered Foster a narrow minded ideologue…always ready to go on a rampage….Churchill agreed. After one of their meetings he remarked, “Foster Dulles is the only case I know of a bull who carries his own china shop around with him.”
It was not just the British. American political scientist Ole Holsti found that Foster dealt with “discrepant information” by “discrediting the source” and “reinterpreting the new information so as to be consistent with his belief system; searching for other information. The advice of subordinates was neither actively sought nor, when tendered, was it often of great weight.” Arthur Schlesinger Jr. said that Allen “was a frivolous man” who would “make these decisions which involved people’s lives, and never would really think them through.”
From a privileged upbringing with many family contacts in both the political and corporate world, the brothers had little trouble maneuvering through the intricacies of the global power structures they encountered. They were steeped in the ethos of pioneers and missionaries,” and “spent decades promoting the business and strategic interests of the United States….they were vessels of American history.”
That history spans half a century. It starts with the Versailles peace talks and ends only with the death of Foster in 1959 and the senescence and increasing senility of Allen during that same time period. Its major impact occurred after World War II, with John Foster becoming Secretary of State with President Eisenhower, while Allen worked himself into founding leader of the FBI.
From both these positions, one of great public power (wielded with much secrecy) and the other with great covert power, they steered the course of U.S. history through the early days of the Cold War. Their rabid anti-communism, combining their religious and corporate beliefs, shaped the world as we know it today.
Kinzer leads the reader through the “Six Monsters”, the foreign leaders who became the most public targets of the Eisenhower/Dulles administration: Mossadegh (Iran), Jacabo Arbenz (Guatemala), Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam), Sukarno (Indonesia ), Patrice Lumumba (Congo), and Castro (Cuba). The ongoing repercussions and blowback from these actions continue to shape our world today.
The last three of these had other impacts. UN Secretary Dag Hammarskjold was involved with Sukarno and Lumumba, and was killed by CIA backed covert action in the Congo. The assassination of John F. Kennedy has several possible claimants, of which his interactions with Sukarno and Castro are the most telling. Significantly, Allen Dulles was appointed to the Warren Commission by President Johnson as it had “some foreign complications, CIA, and other things.” Allen “systematically used his influence to keep the commission safely within bounds, the importance of which only he could appreciate.”
Kinzer’s The Brothers is an excellent source of information concerning the development of U.S. foreign policy during the Twentieth Century. A reader will develop a much stronger understanding of our current geopolitical crisis with this as a background source. It provides not just the historical data behind the events, but more importantly it examines the mindset of the U.S. administration and the people who are both shaped by it and are shaping it:
“The story of the Dulles brothers is the story of America. It illuminates and helps explain the modern history of the United States and the world.”
(1) See The Incubus of Intervention—Conflicting Indonesian Strategies of John F. Kennedy and Allen Dulles. Greg Poulgrain. Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, Selangor, Malaysia. (Click here to read Jim Miles’ review of Incubus of Intervention.)