Study Guide

As I Saw It

by Dean Rusk

As I Saw It Summary

Summary (Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Reversing his long-standing decision not to write his memoirs, Dean Rusk has produced a combined autobiography and memoir. The book’s genesis is unusual, as it was told to his son Richard, who provides a foreword as well as general introductions to each of the book’s major divisions, and edited by Professor Daniel S. Papp of the Georgia Institute of Technology. Although the book was Richard Rusk’s idea, the collaboration was the result of Dean Rusk’s failing eyesight, which made it necessary for him to tape his comments for later editing. Because he had left all of his official papers with the government, Rusk had no access to them except for the ones printed elsewhere, such as the “Pentagon Papers” in 1971. Richard Rusk admits polishing and changing numerous sentences in the tapes, and the tapes themselves have been preserved at the University of Georgia, where, doubtless, a future scholar will examine them for any discrepancies or alterations.

Richard Rusk informs the reader that the book represents an effort to reconcile the spirits of a father and son separated by their differences over the Vietnam War, an opportunity for each to understand and accept the position of the other. If that was the goal, then the effort may have produced enlightenment and understanding, but, as Richard acknowledges, it produced no change of opinion on his father’s part. It may have produced within the son a better understanding of what his father attempted. The book hardly represents an attempt at self- exoneration or at self-justification, however, for Rusk is willing to let history judge his performance. The book’s primary value is that it offers a firsthand account of the experiences of a major world leader during the Cold War period and his reflections on those experiences.

Of the seven major sections, three (approximately one-half of the text) cover Rusk’s experience as secretary of state under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. One additional section is largely concerned with his work in the State Department under his mentor, General George C. Marshall, and later under Dean Acheson; yet another deals with his reflections on making and implementing foreign policy. The first section narrates his early life and education, and a final section recounts his experience as an endowed professor of international law at the University of Georgia. Even when writing about his early life in Georgia and his education at Davidson College and Oxford, Rusk is inclined to center upon subjects with bearing on his diplomatic career. The book is, in essence, the testimony of a professional diplomat.

Rusk’s rise from an obscure and impoverished background came about through his energy, ambition, and native intelligence. Born of Irish-German parents, he showed academic promise in high school and at Davidson College earned a Phi Beta Kappa key and a Rhodes scholarship. As a Rhodes scholar at St. John’s College, Oxford, during the early 1930’s, he was able to observe Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and the British reaction to it. After a brief career as a professor and dean of Mills College, he served in World War II in the China- Burma-India theater, where he became acquainted with the logistical and political problems of waging war in Asia. His military experience also enhanced his knowledge of Third World nations and spurred his inclination, as president of the Rockefeller Foundation, to increase foundation support for underdeveloped areas of the world. From the standpoint of foreign policy, it demonstrated to him the price of indecision and ambiguity at the top levels of government. An American policy vacuum regarding the return of colonial authority to Asia encouraged its allies to reimpose colonial control and contributed to the armed conflicts that ensued. His experiences in Asia further influenced his willingness as secretary of state to give more attention to Third World nations than his Eurocentric predecessors. A colonel at the war’s end, he was assigned first to the army’s intelligence division and then to the State Department under General Marshall.

Like many other distinguished public servants, Rusk became a protege’ of General Marshall, whom British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the architect of victory during World War II and President Harry S. Truman declared the greatest living American. Rusk declares, without any qualification, “They both were right.” Marshall, who possessed a self-effacing but entirely self-assured manner, stood for simple ideals such as honor; magnanimity, service to the nation, and self-control. His influence on Rusk emerges in numerous ways throughout the book. Once at a dinner, Jacqueline Kennedy remarked to Rusk that she found it interesting that her husband called him “Mr. Secretary.” Rusk does not record his reply; instead, he recalls the view of General Marshall that men who make important policy decisions should not have their judgments clouded by personal relationships.

Rusk became secretary of state under Kennedy and served through the Johnson presidency as well. Far from regarding the Kennedy years as Camelot, he...

(The entire section is 2091 words.)