The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War

The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War

by Stephen Kinzer


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A joint biography of John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles, who led the United States into an unseen war that decisively shaped today's world

During the 1950s, when the Cold War was at its peak, two immensely powerful brothers led the United States into a series of foreign adventures whose effects are still shaking the world.

John Foster Dulles was secretary of state while his brother, Allen Dulles, was director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In this book, Stephen Kinzer places their extraordinary lives against the background of American culture and history. He uses the framework of biography to ask: Why does the United States behave as it does in the world?

The Brothers explores hidden forces that shape the national psyche, from religious piety to Western movies-many of which are about a noble gunman who cleans up a lawless town by killing bad guys. This is how the Dulles brothers saw themselves, and how many Americans still see their country's role in the world.

Propelled by a quintessentially American set of fears and delusions, the Dulles brothers launched violent campaigns against foreign leaders they saw as threats to the United States. These campaigns helped push countries from Guatemala to the Congo into long spirals of violence, led the United States into the Vietnam War, and laid the foundation for decades of hostility between the United States and countries from Cuba to Iran.

The story of the Dulles brothers is the story of America. It illuminates and helps explain the modern history of the United States and the world.

A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2013

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250053121
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/07/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 129,238
Product dimensions: 5.46(w) x 8.29(h) x 1.14(d)

About the Author

Stephen Kinzer is the author of Reset, Overthrow, All the Shah's Men, and numerous other books. An award-winning foreign correspondent, he served as the New York Times's bureau chief in Turkey, Germany, and Nicaragua and as the Boston Globe's Latin America correspondent. He is a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, contributes to The New York Review of Books, and writes a column on world affairs for The Guardian. He lives in Boston.

Read an Excerpt

The Brothers

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

By Stephen Kinzer

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2013 Stephen Kinzer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-5352-8



Early every summer morning in the first years of the twentieth century, two small boys awoke as dawn broke over Lake Ontario. Their day began with a cold bath, the only kind their father allowed. After breakfast, they gathered with the rest of their family on the front porch for a Bible reading, sang a hymn or two, and knelt as their father led them in prayer. Their duty done, they raced to the shore, where their grandfather and uncle were waiting to take them out to stalk the wily small-mouth bass.

Never have a couple of catboats on any lake held three such generations. The old man with billowing sideburns had been America's thirty-second secretary of state. His son-in-law was on his way to becoming the forty-second. As for the two boys, they would ultimately outshine both of their illustrious fishing partners. The elder, John Foster Dulles, would become the fifty-second secretary of state and a commanding force in world politics. His brother, Allen, would also grow up to shape the fate of nations, but in secret ways no one could then imagine. Later in life he came to believe that his interest in espionage was shaped in part by the experience of "finding the fish, hooking the fish and playing the fish, [working] to draw him in and tire him until he's almost glad to be caught in the net."

Those morning fishing trips through the lakes and rivers of upstate New York, and the afternoons and evenings that followed, were a cascade of lessons in American history and global politics. They influenced the boys in ways they could not yet begin to fathom, making them part of the swirl of forces that would shape the United States when, half a century later, it entered its period of greatest prosperity but also most terrifying dread.

"Here in delightful surroundings we indulged ourselves not only in fishing, sailing and tennis, but in never-ending discussions on the great world issues which our country was then growing up to face," Allen later wrote. "These discussions were naturally given a certain weight and authority by the voice of a former secretary of state and a secretary-of-state-to-be. We children were at first the listeners and the learners, but as we grew up we became vigorous participants in international debates."

The first American member of this extraordinary Scots-Irish family, Joseph Dulles, fled Ireland in 1778 to escape anti-Protestant repression, made his way to South Carolina, and became a prosperous, slave-owning planter. His family was pious and inclined to the clergy. One of his sons, Joseph Heatly Dulles, served as an officer of three Presbyterian churches in Philadelphia. That officer's son, John Welsh Dulles, "a delicate boy," went to Yale to study medicine but felt called to missionary work instead. At the age of twenty-six he set off to preach the gospel in India, famously traveling for 132 days aboard a tempest-tossed ship to reach Madras. Five years later, health problems forced him to return home to Philadelphia, where he took a job directing missionary campaigns for the American Sunday School Union. He wrote a religious manual for Union soldiers in the Civil War, traveled in the Holy Land, and published two books with strongly Christian themes, Life in India and The Ride Through Palestine.

Two of John Welsh Dulles's three sons followed him into the clergy. Reverend Joseph H. Dulles III directed the library of Princeton Theological Seminary for nearly half a century. His brother Reverend Allen Macy Dulles was a preacher and theologian whose two sons became secretary of state and director of central intelligence.

One of the most cosmopolitan young American women of her generation, Edith Foster, met Allen Macy Dulles in 1881, when both were touring Paris. Edith, just eighteen, was living a Gilded Age fairy tale. Her extravagantly bewhiskered father was John Watson Foster, an eminent lawyer, diplomat, and pillar of the Republican Party. Foster had a fascination with children, and after his only son and one of his daughters died in childhood, he lavished attention on the two daughters who survived. He took Edith and her younger sister, Eleanor, with him when he was named minister to Mexico, and the family lived there for seven years. Then they moved to St. Petersburg, where Foster was minister to the court of Czar Alexander II, emancipator of the Russian serfs. The girls grew up in elegant diplomatic circles, riding horseback in Mexico City's Chapultepec Park, dancing at grand balls with Russian princes, and touring European capitals alongside their doting father. Edith's blossoming romance with Reverend Dulles was interrupted when her father was named minister to Spain. For the next year and a half the young clergyman waited patiently while she enjoyed life among Spanish aristocrats, making a special friend of the infanta. When the family returned home in the summer of 1885, Edith found her suitor as ardent as ever. They were married the following January.

The couple settled in Watertown, a haven for New York millionaires on the shore of Lake Ontario, where Reverend Dulles was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. When Edith became pregnant, she moved to Washington for a few months to enjoy the comfort of her father's three-story mansion. On February 25, 1888, she gave birth there to her first child and named him after her father: John Foster Dulles. Five years later, on April 7, 1893, came a second son, Allen Welsh Dulles. There were also three girls, and all developed a strong sense of family solidarity.

The boys grew up swimming, sailing, hunting, and fishing, but neither was especially strong or athletic. Foster, as the older brother was called then and throughout his life, survived a severe fever as an infant and at the age of thirteen caught typhus, nearly died, and for many months was too weak to walk and had to be carried wherever he went. Allen, whom the family called Allie, was born with a clubfoot, which was then considered a source of shame, but was operated on secretly as soon as doctors considered him old enough and came to walk almost normally.

Religiosity permeated the Dulles household. Morning rituals were only part of their piety. Each Sunday the boys attended three church services, carrying pencil and paper so they could take notes on their father's sermons. Afterward the family would discuss and analyze them. On many evenings they gathered for religious reading: stories about missionaries, articles from the Herald & Presbyter, and devotional classics like Pilgrim's Progress and Paradise Lost. Home life was shaped by contests to see who could recite the longest Bible passage, and by singing hymns.

Foster, whose favorite hymn was "Work for the Night Is Coming," felt the impact of this environment most deeply. According to his mother's diary, by the age of two he was fascinated with prayers and "always says Amen very heartily"; at four he was a fully attentive Sunday School pupil; at five he displayed a "lovely devotional spirit"; and he celebrated turning seven by memorizing seven psalms.

Missionaries on home leave were frequent guests at the Dulles household. Many told captivating stories of their efforts to convert unbelievers in lands from Syria to China. Their commitment to spreading the Gospel was held up as fulfillment of a divine ideal.

"We did not think of these people in terms of foreign policy, but we did grow to understand the life, the poverty, the superstitions, and the eager hopefulness of those with whom the missionaries dealt," the boys' younger sister Eleanor later wrote. "Foster gained much from these contacts, some of which he renewed in later life.... There was something unique that left an indelible mark on all of us—not only a deep faith in central religious truths, but also a sense of the obligation of such a faith toward each other and toward those distant people who were striving to gain new light and freedom."

Edith considered her boys too special to be left to public schools, and arranged for them to be given extra tutoring from live-in governesses and at a private academy. When Foster was fifteen, she took him on a grand tour of Europe; Allie joined them later. She did much to open their eyes to the world's possibilities. For all her influence, though, most of what they learned as they grew up came from two formidable men.

Reverend Dulles was a vigorous Presbyterian and a product of missionary tradition. He was austere and demanding, but also scholarly, wise, and devoted to his family. His fervent belief in Christianity, and in the need for missionary work to spread its essential truths, blended easily into a conviction that America's destiny was to go forth and raise up the world's benighted masses.

"Its strengths, I think, lie in the feeling that you are given a certain task to perform," one member of the Dulles clan later wrote of this Calvinist approach to life. "Its weakness lies in the reverse of that, that you may make the mistake of feeling that you are God's spokesman."

The other towering figure of the Dulles brothers' youth, "Grandfather Foster," gave them a quite different but strikingly complementary set of interests, perspectives, and values. During summers on Lake Ontario as the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth, and later at his manse in Washington, he mesmerized them with tales from his tumultuous life: moving westward, clearing land, subduing nature and hostile natives, starting a business, joining with ambitious men, and finding a path to wealth and power. He had lived a classic pioneer life in the age of manifest destiny, embodying the archetypal story of a brave man who sets off to tame wild lands and illuminate dark places. America was to him a nation blessed by Providence, powerful to the point of invincibility, whose people were destined to spread, civilize, and command. He transmitted this belief to his grandsons. From him they also learned how profitable it can be to ingratiate oneself with men of wealth and influence.

"Grandfather Foster" grew up on the Indiana frontier, became editor of his hometown newspaper, and used it to promote the Republican Party. His diplomatic posts were rewards for helping to elect Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James A. Garfield. In 1892 another Republican president, Benjamin Harrison, appointed him secretary of state. He served just eight months because Harrison failed to win re-election.

History remembers John Watson Foster's brief term as secretary of state for a singular accomplishment. In 1893 he helped direct the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. President Harrison had discreetly encouraged white settlers in Hawaii to rebel against Queen Liliuokalani, and when they did, Secretary of State Foster endorsed the landing of American troops at Honolulu to support them. The settlers proclaimed themselves Hawaii's new government, the United States quickly recognized their regime, and the monarchy was no more.

"The native inhabitants had proved themselves incapable of maintaining a respectable and responsible government," Foster later wrote, "and lacked the energy or will to improve the advantages which Providence had given them."

This made John Watson Foster the first American secretary of state to participate in the overthrow of a foreign government. Others would follow—including, more than a half century later, his grandson.

After leaving office, "Grandfather Foster" considered returning to his Indiana law practice, but after hearing another Indiana lawyer recount a long legal battle over a hog, he decided to stay in Washington. He set out not to become a lawyer like others, but to invent a new profession: broker for corporations seeking favors in Washington and chances to expand abroad. It was an idea that fit the era. American farmers and manufacturers had so effectively mastered the techniques of mass production that they were producing far more than the United States could consume. They needed foreign markets to fend off ruin. Many also coveted resources from overseas. This required a muscular, assertive foreign policy that would force weaker countries to trade with Americans on terms Americans considered fair. With a career of diplomatic service behind him, capped by a term as secretary of state, and with deep ties to the Republican Party, John Watson Foster was ideally placed to help these American businesses. Corporations hired him to promote their interests in Washington and in foreign capitals. He was counsel to several foreign legations. The White House sent him on diplomatic missions. He negotiated trade agreements with eight countries and brokered a treaty with Britain and Russia regulating fur seal hunting in the Bering Sea.

This visionary protolobbyist thrived on his ability to shape American foreign policy to the benefit of well-paying clients. Both of his grandsons would do the same.

In order to be near his daughter and her boys, "Grandfather Foster" bought a home at Henderson Harbor, near Watertown. Soon afterward, another eminent figure entered their remarkable family. Edith's sister, Eleanor, married a dapper lawyer and diplomat named Robert Lansing, whose family had deep roots in Watertown. Lansing and "Grandfather Foster" had many interests in common, among them fishing, Washington intrigue, and global politics. The old man welcomed Lansing into the clan, and the boys came to adore their "Uncle Bert." This was the foursome that set out onto the choppy waters of Lake Ontario every summer morning.

"Grandfather Foster" was infatuated with the boys and decided that spending summers with them was not enough. He arranged to "borrow" them for the winter months at his red brick mansion near Dupont Circle in Washington. There they lived amid exotic art objects from China and other faraway lands, studied under private tutors, and were attended by liveried servants directed by a majordomo one member of the clan remembered as "Madison, the graying colored butler." Best of all, they had the chance to sit through dinners with a dazzling parade of America's political and business mandarins.

Foster was first "borrowed" when he was just five years old, and soon after arriving made his first visit to the White House, as a guest at a birthday party for one of President Harrison's grandchildren. Allie began his visits a few years later. During their childhood and early teens, both brothers came to feel at ease in the most rarefied circles. They dined with ambassadors, senators, cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court justices, and other grand figures including William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Andrew Carnegie, and Woodrow Wilson. Although they were too young to join dinner-table discussions of world events, they paid close attention. From these long evenings they absorbed not only the precepts, ideas, and perceptions that shaped America's ruling class, but also its style, vocabulary, and attitudes.

"The women with their sequins and plumes and the men with their decorations and sashes were dashing and romantic," their sister Eleanor later recalled. "Altogether, the teas and dinners had a dignity and graciousness that make modern cocktail parties seem chaotic by comparison."

Even at this early stage of life, Allie showed extraordinary curiosity about other people. In Watertown he had made a hobby of observing his father's habits and making notes about them. He was only seven years old when his grandfather "borrowed" him for the first time, but he was fascinated by the lively debate that shaped dinner conversations. After the guests departed, the future spymaster would sit in his bedroom and write reports of what he had heard, summarizing the opinions of the statesmen whose company he had just left and seeking to analyze their characters.

"I was an avid listener," he later recalled.

During that first winter in Washington, Allie developed a fascination with the Boer War, and he poured out his passion in a six-thousand-word essay asserting that "the Boers want peace but England has to have the gold and so she goes around fighting all the little countries." His grandfather was so impressed that he paid to have the essay privately printed, complete with spelling errors, and Allie became a published author at the age of eight. His older brother was unimpressed, sniffing that Allie's anticolonial ideas were "wrong-headed and infantile."

That view may have been correct, but in pronouncing it, Foster showed a judgmental harshness that never softened. From early childhood he was solemn, disciplined, and reserved, but also sharply self-righteous. He never lost his temper or complained, but disdained those who fell short of his standards. Memorizing long Bible passages—he could recite the book of John by heart—was one of his favorite pastimes.


Excerpted from The Brothers by Stephen Kinzer. Copyright © 2013 Stephen Kinzer. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1. Unmentionable Happenings 7
2. The Taint of My Environment 37
3. Dull, Duller, Dulles 63
4. That Fella from Wall Street 86

5. A Whirling Dervish with a College Education 119
6. The Most Forthright Pro-Communist 147
7. A Matchless Interplay of Ruthlessness and Guile 175
8. The Self-Intoxicated President 216
9. The Tall, Goateed Radical 247
10. The Bearded Strongman 284
11. A Face of God 311
Notes 329
Bibliography 368
Acknowledgments 383
Index 385

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