With the possible exception of John and Robert Kennedy, no two American brothers had greater roles in making their mark on the world that John Foster and Allen Dulles –respectively, U.S. secretary of state and director of the post-World War II Central Intelligence Agency throughout most of the 1950s.
Today, John Foster Dulles is primarily known for the Washington DC area airport named for him, while Allen faded into obscurity following the embarrassing failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion that forced him to quit as America’s top spymaster in 1961. But in their day, the Dulles brothers were the pivotal actors in sculpting and executing America’s response to the Soviet Union’s threat of achieving world communism during the Cold War.
Their role and influence upon the public arena is vividly brought to life in ”The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War” by Stephen Kinzer, onetime New York Times bureau chief in Turkey, Germany, and Nicaragua.
The author’s chronicle of their lives is controversial and provocative. Those who believe America went too far with its response to Soviet expansionism in the world more than sixty years ago will be delighted by Kinzer’s conclusion that the Dulles siblings, who oversaw both the “overt and covert” sides of U.S. foreign policy, directed “an arrangement fraught with danger.”
With CIA headquarters across the street from the State Department in Washington DC’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, John Foster and Allen Dulles often drove into work together, met and spoke as frequently as five times a day, and often saw each other for lunch over the weekends at their sister Eleanor’s Northern Virginia home.
“[T]heir minds had come to function as one,” writes Kinzer, “With a glance, a nod and a few words, without consulting anyone other than President Dwight Eisenhower the brothers could mobilize the full power of the United States anywhere in the world.” Securing Eisenhower’s okay on their endeavors was never a problem; John Foster Dulles spoke to him as many as ten times in one day and, on numerous late afternoons, the secretary of state and the president would sit down over drinks at the White House.
If there were any major differences between the brothers, it was how they lived their respective lives. Where straight-laced Presbyterian Foster went home nights to read and was devoted to wife Janet, Allen was a profligate womanizer whose lovers included Queen Fredericka of Greece, Clare Booth Luce (at the same time publisher-husband Henry was romancing Mary Bancroft, a past mistress of Allen and friend of his wife Clovis), and Countess Wally Toscanini Castelbarco, daughter of conductor Arturo Toscanini.
There are admirers hailing the Dulles’ as forerunners of Ronald Reagan, who finally fought the Cold War to a triumphant finish a generation after them. Such readers will, of course, sharply disagree with the author’s assessment, but there is still much in “The Brothers” for them to consider and think about. With a mastery of detail and language, the author captures both the spirit of the free and not-so-free parts of the world in the post-war era as well as many of the players who shaped it.
Groomed for Power
Grandsons of Benjamin Harrison’s secretary of state and nephews of Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of state, John Foster and Allen Dulles were practically raised to be “players” in the arena of public policy. As graduates of Princeton and later lawyers with the early Wall Street “super-firm” of Sullivan and Cromwell (where John Foster made managing partner in his 30s), the brothers were early members of the influential Council on Foreign Relations and moved on to divergent paths to power: Foster was an adviser on foreign policy to Republican presidential candidates Thomas E. Dewey and later Eisenhower, and Allen went into the covert Office of Strategic Services during World War II.
From there, they moved on to the roles in which they became, in Kinzer’s words, “uniquely powerful brothers [who] set in motion many of the processes that shape today’s world.”
By focusing on what he calls “six monsters,” the author believes that the Dulles brothers made fundamentally flawed decisions in efforts to destabilize the regimes of six important figures on the world stage. These include the covert activities that successfully overthrew Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran and restored the deposed Shah to power in 1953 and Guatemala’s left-leaning President Jacobo Arbenz a year later; the long-running U.S. effort to keep the charismatic communist Ho Chi Minh from ruling all of Vietnam, not just the North; the unsuccessful drive to undercut Indonesia’s flamboyant President Sukarno; the failure to oust Fidel Castro from power that began almost as soon as he assumed power in Cuba in 1959 (the year that John Foster Dulles died) and that ended in the Bay of Pigs fiasco that became Allen’s downfall, at the outset of the Kennedy administration; and, the coup in Congo that culminated in the 1961 death of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, who had sought Soviet aid in pursuit of independence for his country. At a meeting with Allen Dulles and other CIA officials on August 18, 1960, Eisenhower “circumlocutiously” approved a death warrant on Lumumba – “the first American president to give such an order [against a foreign leader], as far as is known,” concludes Kinzer.
The author makes a case that the Dulles-sculpted involvement in and execution of these events “shaped the world” and is key to understanding today’s upheaval in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Certainly, the ouster of Mossadegh—not a communist himself but certainly vulnerable to communist-backed overthrow – was a major factor in the ouster of the Shah in 1979 and the resulting anti-Americanism that pervades Iran today. Moreover, the rise of modern left-of-center leaders in Latin America who stir the pot of anti-Americanism can be traced to the CIA-crafted coup against Guatemala’s Arbenz in 1954. This was the first known occasion of the U.S. covertly deposing an elected leader of another country.
But, like so many others who condemn the policies that brought about these changes, the author looks at 1953 and 1954 from the prism of the early 21st Century and the knowledge of what happened in the previous six decades. Given the circumstances of the Cold War and the post-World War II history of the Soviet seizure of Eastern Europe and mainland China falling to the communists, the fears of Cold Warriors and the actions of the Dulles brothers at the time become more understandable.
Secretary of State John Foster Dulles himself said as much when he declared in a nationally-televised address on January 27, 1953 that “we have enemies who are plotting our destruction” and any American unaware of this is “like a soldier who’s asleep at his post.”
While taking aim at the actions of the Dulles brother in Iran, Guatemala, Southeast Asia and elsewhere, Kinzer points out that the U.S. never responded to pleas from striking East Berlin workers who were fired upon by communist troops in 1953, or to the Hungarians who briefly ousted their communist government in 1956, until Soviet tanks mowed them down.
“Deposing a government under Moscow’s direct control was not a realistic goal,” he writes, noting that the fear of nuclear reprisal was in the minds of the secretary of state and agency director, “Foster and Allen looked for other places to win victories.”
In telling the saga of the “the brothers,” the author also offers some fascinating vignettes that readers of all political leanings are sure to enjoy: how CIA helped boost devout Roman Catholic and physician Tom Dooley, who became an international symbol of the fight against the communist Viet Minh in the 1950s; CIA’s experimenting with mind-expanding drugs on convict-volunteers, among them future mob boss “Whitey” Bulger; Allen Dulles involving CIA with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Japan and a politician named Nobusuke Kishi, who later became prime minister (and whose grandson Shinzo Abe is prime minister today); and, upon receiving as a gift from Jacqueline Kennedy Ian Fleming’s “From Russia With Love,”Allen becoming a rabid fan of Fleming’s secret agent hero, James Bond.
He bought each book in the series, became acquainted with Fleming (who began to include CIA agents as characters in the Bond books) and, according to Kinzer, “even asked CIA technicians to try replicating some of the gadgets Bond used in his exploits.”
Today, the Dulles brothers’ foreign policy exploits are indeed remote. But Kinzer brings them and their post-World War II era vividly to life and, whether one likes or loathes his view of history’s judgment, the reader will indeed find the Dulles brothers were men of historical consequence.