John Foster Dulles Essay - Critical Essays

Dulles, John Foster


John Foster Dulles 1888-1959

American statesman.

The United States Secretary of State between the years 1953 and 1959, John Foster Dulles is remembered as a preeminent shaper of American foreign policy in the postwar era. Taking an incontrovertible stance against international communism, calling it a "moral evil," the Republican Dulles is considered one of the early architects of America's decades-long Cold War policy, which envisioned the United States as the protector of freedom and moral bulwark against the spread of Soviet-style communism in the second half of the twentieth century. As Secretary of State Dulles implemented President Dwight D. Eisenhower's "New Look" defense policy, a course of action that called for a shift away from conventional military parity and emphasized technological superiority and the stockpiling of nuclear arms in an effort to deter nuclear war. As a statesman Dulles is also typically associated with the terms "massive retaliation" and "brinkmanship," the former alluding to the U.S. threat of nuclear reprisal against its political and military opponents, the latter referring to Dulles's controversial willingness to steer the nation to the brink of war in order to achieve his diplomatic goals and ultimately ensure peace.

Biographical Information

Dulles was born in Washington, D.C., in 1888, the son of a Presbyterian minister. Both his maternal grandfather, John W. Foster, and his uncle, Robert Lansing, had been Secretaries of State. Dulles spent his childhood in Watertown, New York, and attended public schools until enrolling at Princeton University in 1904. In 1907 he traveled with his grandfather to the Second Hague Peace Conference, an experience that shifted his intentions of becoming a minister toward an interest in international politics. He graduated from Princeton in 1908, then studied for a time at the Sorbonne in Paris. He attended law school at Georgetown University, and upon obtaining his degree in 1911 began working for a New York law firm. Already known as a distinguished international lawyer, Dulles joined President Woodrow Wilson's staff in 1917 to negotiate the Versailles peace treaty at the close of World War I. In the ensuing years Dulles became actively involved in the pursuit of a lasting international peace and outlined his evolving political philosophy in his 1939 monograph War, Peace, and Change. In the 1940s Dulles became Republican presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey's foreign policy adviser. Additionally, Dulles, although a Republican, acted as adviser to the Democratic Truman administration. At the close of World War II in 1945, Dulles was appointed a U.S. delegate to the United Nations Conference in San Francisco and continued to serve as a delegate to the newly formed organization between 1946 and 1948, and again in 1950 following a brief appointment to the United States Senate. Dulles published his second book on international affairs War or Peace in 1950 and the next year assisted in negotiating the formal peace treaty with Japan. In 1953, shortly after Republican Eisenhower's landslide victory in the 1952 presidential election, Dulles was appointed U.S. Secretary of State.

As Secretary of State Dulles implemented his anticommunist foreign policies wherever possible. He responded to tensions between the Soviet Union and the governments of Warsaw Pact nations in Eastern Europe, including Poland, East Germany, and Hungary. In 1954, after the siege of the French fortress at Dien Bien Phu by communist Vietnamese forces, Dulles initiated the creation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) designed to contain the expansion of communism in that part of the world. In 1954 and 1955 Dulles negotiated with communist China over its bombing of the Nationalist-controlled islands of Quemoy and Matsu near Formosa (now Taiwan). Using the threat of nuclear retaliation, Dulles ordered communist China to cease its shelling of the islands—an interruption in hostilities that prevailed for several years until Soviet premier Nikita Krushchev countered Dulles's tactic with a promise to respond with his nation's own nuclear weapons. In 1956 Dulles supported a United Nations cease-fire in Egypt, thwarting a combined British, French, and Israeli attack on the government of Egyptian nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser over contested international rights to the Suez Canal. Attempting to check European colonialism and prevent a large-scale war between the West and the radical nationalist Nasser, Dulles emerged on the side of successful negotiators who sought to place the canal under the control of the United Nations. Diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1958, Dulles was compelled to resign his post as Secretary of State in April of 1959 due to severe illness. He died on 24 May 1959.

Major Works

Dulles's literary corpus consists primarily of two political monographs and several essays which explore the subject of international relations and the state of foreign policy from the early World War II era to the time of his death in 1959. In his first book, War, Peace, and Change, Dulles enumerated his political philosophy—based in large part upon a Wilsonian belief in the necessity of a worldwide community of nations to mediate foreign policy and promote international peace and understanding. Such later essays as "A Righteous Faith for a Just and Durable Peace" (1942) and The Six Pillars of Peace (1943) emphasize Dulles's belief in the moral foundations of foreign policy, whereas "Thoughts on Soviet Foreign Policy and What to Do About It" (1946) makes explicit his strongly anticommunist views and his goals to counter Soviet expansion throughout the world. In his second book, War or Peace, Dulles evaluated the early stages of Cold War foreign policy and specifically attacked President Harry S Truman's policy of "containment" toward the Soviet Union, arguing that such a strategy is insufficient to combat the growing menace of communism.

Critical Reception

Both during and after his tenure as U.S. Secretary of State Dulles was regarded as a controversial figure in international politics. His reputation among European leaders suffered in large part from his unbending anticommunism and unwillingness to negotiate with the Soviet Union, a policy that historians observe fueled the Cold War in the 1950s. After Dulles's death, scholars have noted, U.S. policies shifted somewhat away from the Secretary's often dogmatic and moralistic pronouncements, emphasizing both military disarmament and improved relations with the Soviet Union, communist China, and the Third World. In more recent years, historians have also attempted to reevaluate the simplified and to a degree stereotypical portrayal of Dulles as single-minded in his Christianity, Republicanism, and hatred of communism. Commentators have since offered more balanced appraisals of the private and public Dulles. Likewise, many critics have examined Dulles's relationship with President Eisenhower in an attempt to uncover the true extent to which Dulles may be said to have dominated U. S. foreign policy during the Eisenhower administration.

Principal Works

The Panama Canal Controversy between Great Britain and the United States (essay) 1913

"As Seen by a Layman" [published in periodical Religion in Life] (essay) 1938

War, Peace, and Change (political treatise) 1939

"Churches' Contribution toward a Warless World" [published in periodical Religion in Life] (essay) 1940

"A Righteous Faith for a Just and Durable Peace" [published in periodical Life] essay) 1942

The Six Pillars of Peace (essay) 1943

"Thoughts on Soviet Foreign Policy and What to Do About It" [published in periodical Life] (essay) 1946

"Moral Force in World Affairs" [published in periodical Presbyterian Life](essay) 1948

War or Peace (political treatise) 1950

"A Diplomat and His Faith" [published in periodical Christian Century] (essay) 1952

"A Policy of Boldness" [published in periodical Life] (essay) 1952

"Policy for Security and Peace" [published in periodical Foreign Affairs](essay) 1954


William T. R. Fox (essay date 1950)

SOURCE: Review of War or Peace, in American Political Science Review, Vol. XLIV, No. 3, September, 1950, pp. 751-53.

[In the following review, Fox summarizes the argument of Dulles's War or Peace, calling it "a sensible book which ought to be widely read."]

There is still a group which believes that peace is inevitable and security assured if we do the one right thing; that otherwise all is lost. What this one right thing is—create a world federation or an Atlantic Union, support the United Nations more fervently, or swear off power politics—the dwindling group is not agreed upon. Mr. Dulles makes short shrift of it (p. 204).


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Basil Rauch (essay date 1950)

SOURCE: Review of War or Peace, in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 65, No. 4, 1950, pp. 592-54.

[In the following review, Rauch calls War or Peace a "primer for Everyman" that asserts "the primacy of moral issues in international affairs," but nevertheless observes that the work occasionally fails to surmount Republican partisanism.]

This book suggests comparisons with Wendell Willkie's famous One World. In both, Republican leaders better than any Democrats stated for the whole public the form and content of evolving United States foreign policy. But Willkie's book was a rapt vision of utopia; John Foster Dulles' book is a sober redemption of...

(The entire section is 930 words.)

Theodore Rapp (essay date 1951)

SOURCE: Review of War or Peace, in The South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 50, No. 1, January, 1951, pp. 124-26.

[In the following review, Rapp argues that Dulles's general thoughts on sustaining world peace and containing communist expansion as outlined in War or Peace are "more important than his specific recommendations."]

Mr. John Foster Dulles believes that a Third World War, though probable, is not inevitable and that an intelligent American foreign policy still has at least a good chance of keeping the peace. As in Britain, our foreign policy is bipartisan, not because of any love lost among the politicians, but because of what Stalin would call the...

(The entire section is 932 words.)

John Foster Dulles (essay date 1953)

SOURCE: "Morals and Power," in The Puritan Ethic in United States Foreign Policy, edited by David L. Larson, D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1966, pp. 139-44.

[In the following essay, originally delivered as an address before the National War College at Washington in 1953, Dulles outlines the mechanisms of Soviet power and ideology, which, he contends, may be defeated by the "supremacy of moral law."]

Since I have been secretary of state, I have been to Europe, the Near East, and South Asia. Before that, in connection with negotiating the Japanese peace treaty, I had an excellent chance to get a firsthand look at our foreign representatives in Japan, Korea, and other...

(The entire section is 2033 words.)

Richard M. Nixon (essay date 1959)

SOURCE: "An Appreciation of John Foster Dulles," in Great Readings from "Life," Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1960, pp. 433-36.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1959, Nixon honors Dulles for his firmness, integrity, and skill in negotiating foreign policy as United States Secretary of State.]

I have had the privilege of knowing and working with John Foster Dulles since the time I first met him in 1948. And it was my great fortune that since the fall of 1955 the association between us was particularly close.

In a city where a political leader learns that the number of his friends goes up and down with his standing in the public...

(The entire section is 1078 words.)

Hans J. Morgenthau (essay date 1961)

SOURCE: "John Foster Dulles," in An Uncertain Tradition: American Secretaries of State in the Twentieth Century, edited by Norman A. Graebner, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1961, pp. 189-308.

[In the following essay, Morgenthau examines Dulles's role as Secretary of State in relation to several factors, including Congress, the President, and general public opinion. Overall, Morgenthau argues that Dulles's work was essentially a continuation of his predecessors' foreign policies, and was aimed at maintaining the status quo while appearing to be innovative.]

A contemporary American Secretary of State must perform two basic and difficult tasks: he must defend and...

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Gordon A. Craig (essay date 1964)

SOURCE: "John Foster Dulles and American Statecraft," in War, Politics, and Diplomacy: Selected Essays, Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, 1966, pp. 262-80.

[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture in 1964, Craig surveys Dulles's qualifications and tenure as secretary of state. While acknowledging Dulles's faults, such as occasional lapses of precision or tact, Craig emphasizes his successes and particularly grants him "credit for the recovery of western unity and will."]

It may be that some of what follows will arouse disagreement, for my subject makes this almost inevitable. Let me begin, therefore, with a statement that would be hard to contest:...

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R. D. Challener and John Fenton (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: "Which Way America?: Dulles Always Knew," in American Heritage, Vol. 22, June, 1971, pp. 13, 84-93.

[In the following essay, Challener and Fenton use Dulles's correspondence and the taped recollections of his friends and colleagues to present a more complicated view of Dulles than the common stereotype of him as a one-dimensional, Christian anti-communist.]

About a dozen years ago Carol Burnett's nightclub repertoire included a number, "I Made a Fool of Myself over John Foster Dulles." In 1971, in an era of massive discontent with American foreign policy, Miss Burnett would be unwise to restore it to her program. For even though the song is pure camp, some...

(The entire section is 8787 words.)

John M. Mulder (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: "The Moral World of John Foster Dulles: A Presbyterian Layman and International Affairs," in Journal of Presbyterian History, Vol. 49, No. 2, Summer, 1971, pp. 157-82.

[In the following essay, Mulder investigates the religious and moral sources of Dulles's approach to international affairs.]

In his three roles as lawyer, churchman, and Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles revealed himself as a complex personality. To many there seemed to be a private Dulles—warm, cordial, flexible, knowledgeable, and articulate, as well as a public Dulles—austere, aloof, rigid, moralistic, and self-righteous. This paper is an attempt to probe something of the enigma which...

(The entire section is 9326 words.)

Ole R. Holsti (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: "Will the Real Dulles Please Stand Up," in International Journal, Vol. 30, No. 1, Winter, 1974-75, pp. 34-44.

[In the following essay, Holsti evaluates the largely negative assessment of Dulles presented in Townsend Hoopes's The Devil and John Foster Dulles, as well as other contemporary accounts, by comparing Dulles's record as secretary of state to that of Henry Kissinger.]

Townsend Hoopes' The Devil and John Foster Dulles is the latest addition to a growing literature on the late secretary of state. From this bibliography the interested reader can select a wide variety of interpretations. At the most favourable end of the scale we find a...

(The entire section is 3710 words.)

Richard H. Immerman (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "Eisenhower and Dulles: Who Made the Decisions?," in Political Psychology, Vol. 1, No. 2, Autumn, 1979, pp. 21-37.

[In the following essay, Immerman puts forth evidence which questions the conventional view that Dulles dominated the president in his foreign policy decision-making during the Eisenhower administration.]

Studies of American foreign policy during the Eisenhower administration have produced several continuing controversies. Probably the most heated debate revolves around the influence of Eisenhower's secretary of state, John Foster Dulles. As the title of Ole R. Holsti's article, "Will the Real Dulles Please Stand Up," succinctly reminds us,...

(The entire section is 9585 words.)

George C. Herring and Richard H. Immerman (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: "Eisenhower, Dulles, and Dienbienphu: 'The Day We Didn't Go to War' Revisited," in Journal of American History, Vol. 71, No. 2, September, 1984, pp. 343-63.

[In the following essay, Herring and Immerman suggest that Dulles and Eisenhower had offered "a massive air strike to relieve the Vietminh siege of the French fortress at Dienbienphu" in 1954, thus bringing the United States close to war in Southeast Asia a decade before large-scale U.S. military involvement in Vietnam began.]

America's role in the Dienbienphu crisis of 1954 has been a source of persisting confusion and controversy. In a Washington Post story of June 7, 1954, subsequently expanded...

(The entire section is 8349 words.)

Roger Dingman (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: "John Foster Dulles and the Creation of the South-East Asia Treaty Organization in 1954," in International History Review, Vol. 11, No. 3, August, 1989, pp. 457-77.

[In the following essay, Dingman discusses the successes and limitations of Dulles's involvement in the creation of SEATO, an organization that Dulles largely envisioned as designed to check possible communist aggression in Southeast Asia.]

When John Foster Dulles resigned as secretary of state in 1959, newspapers provided readers with the statistics of his statesmanship. The record was impressive: he had travelled nearly half a million miles on more than a hundred visits to forty-six countries on...

(The entire section is 7411 words.)

Ronald W. Pruessen (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: "John Foster Dulles and the Predicaments of Power," in John Foster Dulles and the Diplomacy of the Cold War, edited by Richard H. Immerman, Princeton University Press, 1990, pp. 23-45.

[In the following essay, Pruessen undertakes a survey of Dulles's actions and policymaking as U. S. Secretary of State. Pruessen maintains that Dulles's intellectual achievements far outnumbered his practical ones, and that his diplomatic endeavors in Europe proved much more successful than those in Asia, the Middle East, or Latin America.]

Exiled for twenty years from the White House, Republicans were straining at the bit in 1952. John Foster Dulles was certainly among them: he...

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Further Reading


Beal, John Robinson. John Foster Dulles: A Biography. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957, 33lp.

Biography of Dulles focusing on his life and efforts to maintain world peace while serving as Secretary of State.

Pruessen, Ronald W. John Foster Dulles: The Road to Power. New York: The Free Press, 1982, 575 p.

Offers a "careful examination" of Dulles's entire life in order to trace his personal development and discern the experiences that later shaped his foreign policy decision making.

Stang, Alan. The Actor: The True Story of John Foster Dulles Secretary of State, 1953-1959. Boston: Western...

(The entire section is 565 words.)