I was intrigued by the 2015 release of David Talbot’s The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government. But it also reminded me of a 2014 book I had been wanting to read titled The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinzer. Since the earlier book covered both important brothers — the younger Allen who was Director of Central Intelligence and the elder John Foster who was Secretary of State — I decided to go with Kinzer.
As it turned out, I was so fascinated by Kinzer’s discussion of the Dulleses that after finishing The Brothers, I dove right into Talbot’s The Devil’s Chessboard. I am so glad that I did. While there is some unavoidable overlap, reading the two books in quick succession is not at all redundant. In fact, they are such splendid complements of each other, that one almost wonders if the two authors coordinated.
Both books are essential reading to understand, not only these two fascinating figures, but the U.S. itself from the post-World War II era to today. The Dulles brothers rose to power at a pivotal moment in American history. The great nations of Europe and East Asia were devastated by the War and for the most part lay prostrate at the feet of the American collossus. Together John Foster and Allen seized the day and fastened the U.S. government upon the world as a hyperactive, ruthless empire committed to perpetual war. In doing so, they also helped fasten an equally hyperactive and ruthless garrison state upon the American people themselves.
This interventionism was framed under the rubric of the Cold War: an all-encompassing struggle pitting the “forces of freedom” against revolutionary communism and Soviet imperialism. In reality it was all about Washington’s own global hegemony, which was advanced especially for the sake of the elite corporate interests that the Dulles brothers had served all throughout their careers.
As the nation’s top diplomat, John Foster established implacable hostility toward the communist bloc as an unshakable tenet of U.S. foreign policy. And for him, even worse than the communists were the “neutralists” who “immorally” refrained from picking sides in the Cold War. These neutralists were even more of a threat because they threatened to defuse what he saw as a necessary conflict. Thus he framed the diverse anti-colonial independence movement sweeping the third world after World War II as little more than a communist plot.