What are the main themes of the book The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinzer?

Expert Answers
jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kinzer's book is a biography of the brothers John Foster Dulles, who was Secretary of State from 1953-1959, and Allen Dulles, head of the CIA from 1953 to 1961. As Kinzer writes, "These uniquely powerful brothers set in motion many of the processes that shape today's world" (page 3). The theme of this book is that studying these brothers helps us understand the causes of wars and conflicts in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. 

Another of the themes of the book is the examination of the ideas that motivated the Dulles brothers in the actions they took during the Cold War. Kinzer defines these ideas as "American exceptionalism," the idea that the U.S. can act in ways other countries can't because America is more virtuous. Another belief the brothers ascribed to was the idea that America is more powerful than other countries and therefore can decide to overthrow these governments. They also believed that the U.S. had to promote Christianity and capitalism abroad. 

Another theme is that the brothers' tale is also, as Kinzer writes, "the story of America" (page 3). They operated against a backdrop of fear and paranoia during the Cold War. As Kinzer writes, "the nation was gripped by a fear that Soviet Communism was winning victories around the world while the United States was standing still or losing" (page 87). The CIA that Allen Dulles led was formed against this backdrop, and the CIA became "an advocate of covert operations" (page 103) in countries such as Guatemala and Iran. These types of operations would form part of the core of what Allen Dulles supported. He and his brother believed in fighting the specter of communism wherever it appeared, and this hysteria motivated a lot of the actions the CIA took at the time. These beliefs, carried out by the Dulles brothers, led the U.S. into the conflict in Vietnam (page 179), as well into other conflicts.