Monday, January 28, 2019

The Wise Men

Averell Harriman, Dean Acheson, and George Kennan were names that I grew up with, reading daily newspapers and weekly news magazines from the late 1950s through the late 1960s. I learned of the other three men—Robert Lovett, John McCloy, and Chip Bohlen—from this careful and objective though laudatory history. Isaacson and Thomas had established impressive bibliographies of their own before this collaboration. I found it engaging and informative.

William Averell Harriman and Robert Abercrombie Lovett grew up together because Lovett’s father, Robert Scott Lovett, was the chief counsel for railroad magnate E. A. Harriman. John Jay McCloy, Jr. and George Frost Kennan grew up poor. Their hard work took them to the Ivy Leagues and thence to the halls of power. Dean Gooderham Acheson met Averell Harriman at Yale. Charles Eustis “Chip” Bohlen inherited the fine social graces of his almost wealthy family and those skills took him to the Foreign Service where he met George Kennan. It is easy to perceive the six as symbolic of, if not identical with the Establishment (page 26). The popular catch-phrase “The Establishment” was coined by John Kenneth Galbraith speaking to a convention of the Americans for Democratic Action in 1966. But the privileged collective had long before enjoyed opposition from both the left and the right, liberals and conservatives, going back to Jonathan Edwards and Andrew Jackson and forward to Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan (page 29). 
The Wise Men: Six Friends
and the World They Made 

by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas.
Touchstone/Simon and Schuster, 1986
We may try to make the best of our opportunities. That is a two-part engagement. Many were born to inherit great  opportunities. Not many made the most of them. Starting as children and continuing through their teenage years, Harriman and Lovett accompanied their fathers on inspection tours of the railroad. (When he reached the Pacific coast E. A Harriman saw no reason to stop, and took his family to Siberia. That fact would be a trump card played more than once when Averell Harriman was the U. S. Ambassador to the USSR.) The son of an Episcopalian bishop, Dean Acheson took it upon himself in 1911 to join a Grand Truck Pacific Railway work crew in northern Canada. Before the United States entered World War I, Acheson volunteered as a Navy ensign. Meanwhile, Bob Lovett was only in his freshman year at Yale in 1914 when he enlisted. He was graduated in absentia while serving in the Army Flying Squadron. (Thirty years later, he served as a War Department expert on air forces.) After his senior year at Yale, Chip Bohlen signed on a US Steel cargo ship as crewman. Later head of the World Bank, John McCloy first met the upper classes when he worked as a chore boy at resorts. Even the four who were born to wealth knew from personal experience the relationship between money and work. 

Each had their own political preferences. Most were Republicans by birth, but adapted themselves to serve the government through the long decades of Democratic Party ascendance from 1932 to 1980. They were internationalists who saw no profit in war and only losses in surrender. They were among the first to push US foreign policy out of isolation and into alliance with the United Kingdom and France. It is no surprise that Ivy Leaguers are Anglophiles, but, in addition Chip Bohlen’s mother was from Louisiana and he visited France as a child. (On the other side of the ledger, his father’s in-laws included the Krupps of Germany.) Individually and in concert, they were early to warn the world of Stalin and the USSR, even as their Yale and Harvard classmates were still enthralled with the “ten days that shook the world.” 

But it would be just as wrong to characterize them has “hardliners” as to brand them as “appeasers” which the radical right did, from the McCarthy era through the years of the John Birch Society, the Nixon presidency, and the Reagan Revolution. As bankers and lawyers—only Bohlen and Kennan were professional diplomats--they knew how to evaluate facts, measure risks, create and analyze logical arguments. They were willing to admit their mistakes, to cut their losses, to change course to avoid a collision. They knew that the world is not run by gentlemen, and “certainly the Kremlin was not.” (Page 327.) 

On February 22, 1946, while chargĂ© d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Kennan sent the 8000-word “Long Telegram” to Secretary of State George Marshall. It explained fully and succinctly the nature of the USSR and its relationship with the Western democracies.  Though it is discussed at some length (pages 352-356), it is never presented in full. You can find it online:
  • The Truman Library (here) where it is an image of a typewritten transcription
  • A modern typeface transcription at the Wilson Center (here)
  • A text-accessible PDF (here) from Nevada Technical Associates among other famous speeches.

“Marxist dogma, rendered even more truculent and intolerant by Lenin’s interpretation, became a perfect vehicle for sense of insecurity with which Bolsheviks, even more than previous Russian rulers, were afflicted. In this dogma, with its basic altruism of purpose, they found justification for their instinctive fear of outside world, for the dictatorship without which they did not know how to rule, for cruelties they did not dare not to inflict, for sacrifices they felt bound to demand. In the name of Marxism they sacrificed every single ethical value in their methods and tactics. Today they cannot dispense with it. It is fig leaf of their moral and intellectual respectability. Without it they would stand before history, at best, as only the last of that long succession of cruel and wasteful Russian rulers who have relentlessly forced country on to ever new heights of military power in order to guarantee external security of their internally weak regimes.” – The Long Telegram by George Kennan.

Successful in arguing for an immediate and full response in 1950 to North Korean aggression and its support from China, they nonetheless were less enthralled with McArthur’s posturing. Their experience in 1951 informed their opinions in 1965 when they pushed Pres. Johnson to increase US military action in Indo-China. But quickly, by 1966, they foresaw the inevitable American defeat ten years later. For that, they were vilified as defeatists. 

Yet, they continued to serve. Dean Acheson hated Richard Nixon, but honored the office of the Presidency as so few in that administration did. Acheson responded to President Nixon’s requests for advice and counsel. But Acheson had had the same relationship with President Roosevelt 40 years earlier. 

The choice of these six men as paradigms for the Establishment may be arbitrary. In their work, they formed friendships, alliances, and animosities with others of equal influence such as James Forrestal, Robert Oppenheimer, Lucius Clay, Harry Hopkins, and Paul Nitze. Their proteges included Henry Kissinger, Dean Rusk, and Robert McNamara who themselves were connected to still others, even to John Kenneth Galbraith. Thus, they were the Establishment and “the Architects of the American Century.” 


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.