"The Brothers" by Stephen Kinzer, review by Carl Caton

Many of the Baby Boom generation, especially those born before 1950, remember the early years of the Cold War as a time of fear and seemingly unceasing confrontation between the west and the forces of “godless communism”, primarily the USSR, but also it's acolytes China and Cuba. The common wisdom of the time was that if the west allowed any expansion, anywhere, of communism, the surrounding countries, like dominoes, would also fall, one by one, until the goal of communist world domination was met.

In his new book The Brothers, Stephen Kinzer makes a convincing argument that two American brothers, John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles, were in large measure responsible for promoting that dogma. And worse, they were in positions to both benefit personally and to direct activities that not only heightened global Cold War tensions but also earned the United States, among a number of countries, enmity and dishonor, the effects of which are still being dealt with today.

The subtitle of Kinzer's book is John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War. The secret war refers to the brothers' long-running combination of overt and covert activities aimed at preventing or overthrowing Communist governments in various parts of the world.

The Dulles brothers, born five years apart, were raised in a strongly Calvinist and traditionally Presbyterian home. John Foster, the elder brother, lived a life outwardly true to that upbringing, and was reserved, moralistic and monagamous. His younger brother was gregarious and a serial philanderer, all the while married to his only wife. Both brothers believed strongly in the idea that America should be robustly pro-business, Protestant, and Republican. In their early careers, ably detailed by Kinzer, both brothers managed to become wealthy and influential, and were intertwined in governmental and business circles. By the end of World War II, they had each made themselves well-known and respected, Foster in international affairs and diplomacy, Allen in clandestine, intelligence affairs.

The brothers were brought into the government by President Eisenhower, who appointed Foster Secretary of State and Allen as the first director of the CIA. In those positions, the Dulles brothers, working together and often without oversight, set out, among other things, to overthrow the governments of Iran, Guatemala, Viet Nam, Indonesia, Congo, and Cuba. Initially successful in arranging a coup that deposed Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh, the brothers paved the way for the return of the exiled Shah. Mossadegh was perceived by the Dulles brothers as leaning toward the USSR, while the Shah was solidly pro-western. This “success” resulted, years later, in the Iranian hostage crisis and the enduring hostility to the US of the radical Iranian Mullahs.

Buoyed by the Iranian victory, the brothers embarked on later efforts to depose the leaders of  the remaining five countries. The later campaigns were marked by partial successes (Congo and Guatemala) and outright failure (Viet Nam and Cuba). Allen Dulles was almost single-handedly responsible for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba early in the Kennedy administration.

Kinzer's book is a well-written and strongly persuasive argument that the Cold War, while not caused by the Dulles brothers, was made significantly worse by their missionary zeal and wrong-headed anti-Communism. As Kinzer points out, never before (or since) have the overt (State Department) and covert (CIA) functions of the US government been simultaneously directed by members of the same family. Readers interested in the Cold War will benefit from The Brothers.

The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War Cover Image
ISBN: 9780805094978
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Times Books - October 2013

Share this