John Foster Dulles
Article abstract: As secretary of state from 1953 to 1959, a period marked by major crises in Asia and Europe, Dulles advocated a policy of firmly countering Soviet and Chinese Communist advances; in doing so, he enunciated a diplomatic doctrine that had great influence in the Cold War era.
Born in his parents’ home in Washington, D.C., on February 25, 1888, John Foster Dulles was the first son of Allen Macy Dulles, a Presbyterian minister of modest means, and Edith Foster Dulles, who came from a family of prominent business and political figures. The boy’s given names were taken from his maternal grandfather, John Watson Foster, an experienced diplomat who became secretary of state under President Benjamin Harrison. Another son and three daughters were later born to the Dulles family, two of whom, Allen and Eleanor, later became well-known for government work and authorship. When the family moved to upstate New York, young Dulles was educated in local schools, including Watertown High School; he read widely in literary classics but was also a budding outdoorsman, spending his summers fishing and sailing. In 1903, with his mother and his sister Margaret, Dulles spent some time in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he acquired a knowledge of French; the following year, at the age of sixteen, he entered Princeton University.
He performed creditably in his schoolwork; an important interlude came in 1907, when, at the invitation of John Watson Foster, who was then a special counsel to the Chinese delegation, Dulles served as a general secretary to the Second Hague Peace Conference. He returned to Princeton and was graduated second in the class of 1908. His bachelor’s thesis earned for him a fellowship to support a year’s study at the Sorbonne in Paris; he took courses in international law and, at this point, evidently decided upon a legal career instead of entering the ministry. Dulles spent two years at the law school of George Washington University, in Washington, D.C. He had great powers of concentration and a remarkably retentive memory; seemingly with slight effort he was able to complete his coursework a year early, in 1911.
Dulles returned to his father’s home, and while he was there, he renewed his acquaintanceship with Janet Avery, who had visited Paris while he was at the Sorbonne. When he took his bar examination, Dulles, working rapidly, answered many of the questions and then left early; he caught a train to meet Janet for a canoeing date. It was there that he proposed marriage to her. He learned later that he had been admitted to the practice of law. With the assistance of John Watson Foster, Dulles obtained a clerk’s position at the reputable and established firm of Sullivan and Cromwell in New York. In 1912, Dulles and Janet Avery were married; for many years he was to value her companionship and advice and to find her supportive during troubled periods of his career. During the six years that followed, two sons and one daughter were born to them.
With his knowledge of international law, Dulles was given several Latin American assignments; early in 1917, he was entrusted with a mission to Central America involving the defense of the Panama Canal. During World War I, he received a commission in the Army General Staff and served with the War Trade Board in Washington; he was rejected for combat duty because of his poor eyesight. Later, with his maternal uncle, Secretary of State Robert Lansing, he accompanied the American delegation to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. As chief counsel on reparations and other financial matters, Dulles vigorously opposed the Allies’ demands on Germany. His warning that burdensome reparations would produce further instability and international turmoil went unheeded. Upon his return to private practice, Dulles took on a number of international cases; on several occasions, he was called back to Washington to assist in the government’s negotiation of foreign loans.
Dulles was a burly, strongly built man with a somewhat ponderous, deliberate manner. He had broad oval features, a wide mouth, and a blunt, protruding nose. His strong, heavy jaw, heavy eyebrows, and penetrating blue eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses gave an impression of firm determination. Even in his impromptu speeches, Dulles spoke incisively and in a well-organized manner, but his voice was often described as flat, and he had a tendency to slur some consonants.
As his professional career developed, Dulles, as a Presbyterian elder, remained active in church work. In 1940, he became chairman of the Commission on a Just and Durable Peace, an organization created under the auspices of the Federal Council of Churches. He acted as well as an adviser to Thomas E. Dewey when the Republican governor of New York ran for president in 1944. Dulles’ experience in foreign policy was also appreciated by the Democratic Administration in power; he was made a State Department adviser to the San Francisco Conference of 1945, which led to the foundation of the United Nations. He served on several other diplomatic assignments; he also entered politics again when, in 1949, he was appointed to the seat of a retiring senator from New York. He lost the ensuing by-election, and then was called back to the State Department. In one of the major achievements of his career, Dulles, in 1951, concluded negotiations which, while circumventing the Soviet Union and Communist China, led to a formal peace treaty with Japan and widened the United States’ security arrangements in the Pacific.
In 1952, Dulles served as an adviser to Dwight D. Eisenhower in his campaign for the presidency; his own views were expressed in articles calling for “a policy of boldness” and the “rollback” of Soviet power in Europe. In a press interview, Dulles stated his belief that the United States should “go to the brink of war” to reverse Communist advances, and the phrase “brinkmanship” was widely used to describe his views on foreign policy. Upon Eisenhower’s victory in the election, Dulles was made secretary of state; forthwith he concerned himself with negotiations to end three years of conflict in Korea. Dulles issued veiled warnings about the bombing of...
(The entire section is 2571 words.)