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  • The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret Cold War by Stephen Kinzer
  • John Prados
Stephen Kinzer, The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret Cold War. New York: Times Books, 2013. 402 pp. $30.00.

During the high Cold War no power was more central to global affairs than the United States. That was the day of the Eisenhower administration, and no figures were more important to President Dwight D. Eisenhower than John Foster Dulles, his secretary of state; and Allen Welsh Dulles, his director of central intelligence. The two men, brothers in fact and in mission, were central to Cold War history for nearly a decade. In The Brothers Stephen Kinzer sets out to craft a joint biography of these two characters.

And characters they were. “Foster,” as the president familiarly called him, was a Bible-toting lawyer, a fire-breathing Cold Warrior, and a major architect of the Japanese Peace Treaty of 1951. A stalwart of the Republican Party, he latched early on to Eisenhower, advised him in the campaign of 1952, and emerged with the top U.S. diplomatic job, one previously held both by his uncle and by his grandfather. Allen, a lawyer too—the brothers had both worked for the same Wall Street law firm—was more openly associated with diplomacy but more craftily connected with the secret world of spies. Allen had been by turns the Office of Strategic Services chief in Switzerland during World War II, an agitator for the creation of a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), an efficiency expert enlisted by President Harry Truman to check up on CIA progress, and then the agency’s chief of operations—all before Dwight Eisenhower made him the top boss. When Ike—he, too, had a nickname—summoned his own efficiency experts to check up on the agency, they warned him against the dangers of having two brothers in these high places and recommended he replace Allen Dulles at CIA. Eisenhower rejected the advice. The rest is history.

The Brothers is more than a joint biography of John and Allen Dulles. Kinzer, many of whose major works concern events of the Eisenhower era, here takes the Dulles brothers as premier U.S. operatives and weaves a story of the times around them. The panorama of 1950s crises flies by—the Philippines, Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam, Lebanon, Indonesia, the Congo, Cuba (the victory of M-26), and finally the Bay of Pigs—in a fast-paced and dramatic fashion. Kinzer has a good eye for color and captures the spirit of the two men well. [End Page 255]

But the book works best as a glimpse into the world of the CIA director Dulles, not so much his elder brother the top diplomat. After a time the reader realizes that some of the big-ticket shows of the decade are not there or have flashed past in a trice. Depending on how you count them, there were two (or three) China crises during the Eisenhower years (Taiwan Straits, Off-Shore Islands/Ta Chen), an on-again off-again confrontation over Berlin, uprisings and confrontations in Eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary) in 1956, and the simultaneous Suez showdown. Foster held the wheel at State during most of these. Because John Foster Dulles died in the spring of 1959, you might argue that he missed much of Berlin but not the rest. Kinzer’s gaze remains focused on events that featured CIA covert operations. Although this has a certain romance, it also robs Foster of his main stage—and equally it deprives the intelligence track of a narrative reporting on what Allen’s agency said and did during these important events. Allen Dulles fancied himself the “Great White Case Officer,” but the CIA’s bread and butter was its analyses. Not just its crisis reporting but the great intelligence disputes of the Eisenhower era—the Bomber Gap and the Missile Gap—are missing from this story. One more element is noticeably absent: the closeness of the Dulles brothers and their simultaneous participation at the top levels of Ike’s national security apparatus begs for some attention to the question of whether Allen’s...


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pp. 255-256
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