Sumner Welles

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Candid and critical, a deft balance of public and private life, SUMNER WELLES: FDR’S GLOBAL STRATEGIST is all the more impressive because of its objectivity, given the fact that the subject was author Benjamin Welles’ father. The only disappointment is its almost complete neglect of the 1938 crisis which arose when Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized foreign oil holdings, putting America’s renunciation of Big Stick unilateralism to the test. Welles was ultimately driven from office by a scandal maliciously spread by jealous intriguers, including Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Ambassador William C. Bullitt. In fact, Welles’ apparent sexual propositioning of porters aboard a presidential train in September of 1940 became the central event in a life that, in the author’s words, “had truly been one of light and shadows.”

Welles’ self-destructive tendencies are explained as the result of blackouts brought on by acute alcoholism, fascination for the bisexual ambience of certain Latin American men of his acquaintance, and a haughty indifference to the risk of exposure that perhaps stemmed from his privileged pedigree and the emotional exhaustion of overwork. His resignation in 1943 was especially unfortunate in contributing to the absence of adequate postwar global planning and the subsequent hardening of Cold war attitudes within the Presidential inner circle which all but destroyed Welles’ vision of world peace based on self-policing regions stabilized by a strong United Nations.

Highly recommended for general audiences as well as students of international relations.