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John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War

Douglas Caddy

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Overt and Covert


The New York Times Book Revied

November 8, 2013


John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War

By Stephen Kinzer

Illustrated. 402 pp. Times Books/Henry Holt & Company. $30.


Anyone wanting to know why the United States is hated across much of the world need look no farther than this book. “The Brothers” is a riveting chronicle of government-sanctioned murder, casual elimination of “inconvenient” regimes, relentless prioritization of American corporate interests and cynical arrogance on the part of two men who were once among the most powerful in the world.

John Foster Dulles and his brother, Allen, were scions of the American establishment. Their grandfather John Watson Foster served as secretary of state, as had their uncle Robert Lansing. Both brothers were lawyers, partners in the immensely powerful firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, whose New York offices were for decades an important link between big business and American policy making.

John Foster Dulles served as secretary of state from 1953 to 1959; his brother ran the C.I.A. from 1953 to 1961. But their influence was felt long before these official appointments. In his detailed, well-­constructed and highly readable book, Stephen Kinzer, formerly a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and now a columnist for The Guardian, shows how the brothers drove America’s interventionist foreign policy.

Kinzer highlights John Foster Dulles’s central role in channeling funds from the United States to Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Indeed, his friendship with Hjalmar Schacht, the Reichsbank president and Hitler’s minister of economics, was crucial to the rebuilding of the German economy. Sullivan & Cromwell floated bonds for Krupp A. G., the arms manufacturer, and also worked for I. G. Farben, the chemicals conglomerate that later manufactured Zyklon B, the gas used to murder millions of Jews. Of course, the Dulles brothers’ law firm was hardly alone in its eagerness to do business with the Nazis — many on Wall Street and numerous American corporations, including Standard Oil and General Electric, had “interests” in Berlin. And Allen Dulles at least had qualms about operating in Nazi Germany, pushing through the closure of the Sullivan & Cromwell office there in 1935, a move his brother opposed.

Allen Dulles spent much of World War II working for the Office of Strategic Services, running the American intelligence operation out of the United States Embassy in Bern, Switzerland. His shadowy networks extended across Europe, and his assets included his old friend Thomas McKittrick, the American president of the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, a key point in the transnational money network that helped keep Germany in business during the war.

The O.S.S. was dissolved in 1945 by President Truman, but was soon reborn as the C.I.A. Kinzer notes that Truman did not support plots against foreign leaders but his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, had no such scruples. By 1953, with Allen Dulles running the C.I.A. and his brother in charge of the State Department, the interventionists’ dreams could come to fruition. Kinzer lists what he calls the “six monsters” that the Dulles brothers believed had to be brought down: Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Sukarno in Indonesia, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo and Fidel Castro in Cuba. Only two of these, Ho Chi Minh and Castro, were hard-core Communists. The rest were nationalist leaders seeking independence for their countries and a measure of control over their natural resources.

Ironically, Ho Chi Minh and Castro, strengthened perhaps by their Marxist faith, proved the most resilient. But the world still lives with the consequences of bringing down Mossadegh, who might have guided Iran, and thus world history, along a very different path. The 1953 C.I.A.-sponsored coup that brought Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to power was seared into Iran’s national consciousness, fueling a reservoir of fury that was released with the Islamic revolution of 1979.

The Iranian section of Kinzer’s book is especially strong. Here he calls attention to the cancellation by the Iranian Parliament of a contract for what was said to be “the largest overseas development project in modern history” with Overseas Consultants Inc., an American engineering conglomerate. But it seems likely that it was the Iranian Parliament’s vote to nationalize the oil industry that sealed Mossadegh’s fate. (Allen Dulles represented the J. Henry Schroder Banking Corporation, one of whose clients was the Anglo-­Iranian Oil Company.)

The Dulles brothers’ defenders argue that they and their legacy must be evaluated in the context of their era — the height of the Cold War, a time when the Soviet threat was real and growing, when Eastern Europe languished under Communist dictatorships sponsored by Moscow, and China had been “lost” to the Reds (although that term itself implies a curious claim of prior ownership). Moscow’s proxies were advancing in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

The brothers’ Manichaean worldview proved to be a poor tool for dealing with the complexities of the postcolonial era. Leaders like Lumumba and Mossadegh might well have been open to cooperation with the United States, seeing it as a natural ally for enemies of colonialism. However, for the Dulles brothers, and for much of the American government, threats to corporate interests were categorized as support for communism. “For us,” John Foster Dulles once explained, “there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who are Christians and support free enterprise, and there are the others.” Rejected by the United States, the new leaders turned to Moscow.

The brothers’ accomplishments in the geopolitical arena were not mirrored in their personal lives. Although Allen Dulles was a flagrant womanizer and John Foster remained devoted to his wife, they were, Kinzer observes, “strikingly similar in their relationships with their children. Both were distant, uncomfortable fathers.” John Foster’s three children were raised by nannies “and discouraged from intruding on their parents’ world.” Allen’s only son joined the Marines in a vain effort to impress his father, who “never found him ‘tough’ enough.” He was sent to Korea and almost died when shrapnel tore out part of his skull. He spent years being treated for his wounds. Allen’s older daughter suffered from depression throughout her life. Neither John Foster nor Allen attended the wedding of their “independent-­minded” sister, Eleanor, when she married a divorced older man who came from an Orthodox Jewish family.

There are also reminders in Kinzer’s book of dark events in the history of American intelligence. Sixty years ago, Frank Olson, a C.I.A. officer, was reported to have jumped to his death during mind-­control experiments “in which psychoactive drugs were administered to unknowing victims.” But last year, Kinzer reports, Olson’s family filed suit, claiming he had actually been murdered after visiting secret C.I.A. prisons in Europe. More detailed archival references here and elsewhere would have been useful. Although Kinzer provides a lengthy bibliography and extensive notes on books, articles and other materials available on the Internet, the references for the primary sources, which should detail archives, collections and precise file numbers, are meager.

Eventually, the United States government tired of Allen Dulles’s schemes. President Johnson privately complained that the C.I.A. had been running “a goddamn Murder Inc. in the Caribbean,” an entirely accurate assessment — except the beneficiaries were American corporations rather than organized crime. Nowadays, the Dulles brothers have faded from America’s collective memory. The bust of John Foster, once on view at the airport west of Washington that bears his name, has been relocated to a private conference room. Outside the world of intelligence aficionados, Allen Dulles is little known. Yet both these men shaped our modern world and America’s sense of its “exceptionalism.” They should be remembered, Kinzer argues, precisely because of their failures: “They are us. We are them.”

Adam LeBor’s latest nonfiction book is “Tower of Basel: The Shadowy History of the Secret Bank That Runs the World.”

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