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~Free E-pub ⚕ The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made ♌ A Captivating Blend Of Personal Biography And Public Drama, The Wise Men Introduces The Original Best And Brightest, Leaders Whose Outsized Personalities And Actions Brought Order To Postwar Chaos Averell Harriman, The Freewheeling Diplomat And Roosevelt S Special Envoy To Churchill And Stalin Dean Acheson, The Secretary Of State Who Was Responsible For The Truman Doctrine Than Truman And For The Marshall Plan Than General Marshall George Kennan, Self Cast Outsider And Intellectual Darling Of The Washington Elite Robert Lovett, Assistant Secretary Of War, Undersecretary Of State, And Secretary Of Defense Throughout The Formative Years Of The Cold War John McCloy, One Of The Nation S Most Influential Private Citizens And Charles Bohlen, Adroit Diplomat And Ambassador To The Soviet Union
Part American WWII history, part Cold War history, part biography, part discussion of the Establishment in mid 20th century America combine to form a well written account of several key players in U.S foreign policy from the 1930s 70s Isaacson and Thomas decide to focus on six men who they believe embody the views and actions of foreign affairs during and after WWII, and on into the Vietnam War era This book is now thirty years old, and was written right when two of the six men had just died and two others were still living, so the passage of time that so often helps us to better evaluate and judge the actions and motivations of those in high political office is somewhat missing But that does not dim the story nor many of the conclusions that the writers focus on Even with it being written in 1986, almost all of the events that are covered occurred decades before Dean AchesonAlong with Averell Harriman, Acheson does seem to be the main character in this book Perhaps because he was involved in so many important decisions, and held powerful positions both in the Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman administrations, this makes sense The authors treat Acheson and just about everyone fairly, making sure to point out the reasons why they think he deserves so much attention as well as his personality flaws that seriously hampered his authority as Secretary of State Acheson had a weakness for flattery and vanity, and often indulged in these vices, much to his friends chagrin at times Was he responsible for setting in motion the eventual tragedy of the Vietnam War just based on his almost sole focus on Europe and his belief that the Russians controlled all Communist countries Or did he help architect a winning strategy in an increasingly scary world full of nuclear threats abroad and witch hunts at home Averell HarrimanHarriman manages to come off as both a dedicated public servant, logging a staggering amount of miles in airplanes on trips around the world trips that never seemed to end, and a political opportunist who continually tried and often succeeded in injecting himself into important political matters and cozying up to world leaders This mixture of sacrifice to the public good along with personal gain would play muchcynically in today s world Harriman had numerous conflicts of interest due to his business dealings, yet paid no heed to such matters He never achieved the one position that he really wanted Secretary of State but he managed to have a lasting impact on American foreign policy.John McCloy Like Harriman, McCloy had conflicts of interest as well but he much less disposed to seek out government positions Instead, positions seemed to find him While I generally agree with most of the analysis provided by the authors, I do differ strongly on one point concerning McCloy Assistant Secretary of War during WWII, McCloy had a hand in implementing the horrible order to intern thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent War hysteria and over reactions led to this, and McCloy did nothing to stop it Actually, he further muddied the waters as everyone in a high government position punted the responsibility for making this appalling decision somewhere else The authors write, on page 197 Much of the fear was understandable, at least in those jittery times Forcibly targeting American citizens based solely on their race, and virtually imprisoning them for the duration of the war, was a black mark on everyone associated with the decision, and reflected poorly on the country, even if it was not looked at as so at that time Robert LovettLovett and McCloy were so often lumped together that at times throughout the first half of the book, it was difficult to distinguish between the two Like McCloy, Lovett typically did not seek out positions of power in the government He preferred to make money on Wall Street and work behind the scenes when he could But he became trusted adviser during the Truman years and also particularly to President Kennedy later on Notably, he avoided Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War like the plague Because of that, Lovett pretty much disappears in the last quarter of the book.George KennanA tortured soul, Kennan for a time was considered the leading authority on all things Russia He never seemed to be comfortable with himself always being on the outside at dinner parties, and being on the fringes of government, yet seeming to relish this self imposed isolation Kennan is commonly referred to as the mind behind the containment doctrine, yet as he aged he came to view the Soviet Union differently, preferring to push for peace when possible One interesting thing that the authors mention is Kennan s discovery of U.S minister s notes from the early 1800s, describing the Russian people even back then as being paranoid This helped to form Kennan s own image of the Soviet Union and how the U.S could best coexist with it Chip BohlenBohlen seems like he was thrown in as an extra He isof a supporting character here than a major player For long stretches, he is not in the narrative at all And even when he, it is usually as a counterbalance to Kennan Throughout the first half of the book, Henry Stimson seems to be featuredthan Bohlen Paul Nitze in the second half It would have been interesting for Isaacson and Thomas to have explored further the time that Bohlen was detained in Japan during WWII and Kennan in Germany as well Overall an excellent review of the making of American foreign policy during the crucial period just after WWII and into the Vietnam era Chock full of personal anecdotes thanks to the authors being able to interview most of their subjects themselves, and in cases where that was not possible Acheson and Bohlen , many people who knew them intimately This time of bipartisanship is now a bygone era in foreign policy.Grade A This book focuses on the Wise men in Truman Administration who were architects of US policy for the cold war These men in addition pretty much molded cold war institutions and are the quintessential figures of the foreign policy establishment Their most important period is the early years of the cold war during the Truman presidency although their influence would still matter throughout the cold war and Kenan outlived the Soviet Union The book was written in the 1980s or the late stages of the Cold War under Reagan If it were written a decade later or now it may be a different book It is fairly sympathetic to this group of men who represented the cream of the old WASP ascendancy but even the most sympathetic will have mixed feelings about the way they handled the cold war In the early phases, all eyes were on Europe and the wise men were caught off guard by the events in Korea and probably didn t foresee that much of the cold war would be fought in dirty little proxy wars in what would be termed the third world It wasn t the twilight struggle in Europe it was a lot of ugly proxy wars in newly decolonized countries that would have lasting impacts for a large chunk of humanity Still, these men stopped WWIII and that is not nothing This book does a good job of describing these men and their background and times which they lived and shaped. A fascinating depiction of a world both ancient and modern, and that lies in sharp contrast to our current situation.First of all, one notes that this was written by the elite, about the elite The authors are both Harvard alumni, and most of the subjects went to Yale They served in government partly out of personal satisfaction, partly as noblesse oblige While the authors occasionally insert mild criticisms, this is almost a hagiography for six statesmen of the cold war Nevertheless, the book obviously took years of intense scholarship It offers a detailed picture of the development of American foreign policy over several decades In a way, the shared aristocracy and educational background of authors and subjects enables the writers to enter the mindset of Acheson et al, and fine writing enables readers to go there with them.Second, my own reflections as I read were immensely widened because I was reading Thucydides The Peloponnisian Wars simultaneously Yes, once again I coincidentally found myself tackling parallel books Wise men Russia and the United States, after long battles against a deadly mutual foe in WWI, try to expand the number and loyalty of their subject states They are countries with fundamentally different mentalities and governments The US has nuclear weapons and the USSR wants them The US assesses the strength and paranoia of their recent ally, and decides it must get tough Various statesmen offer opinions on how to deal with the Soviets, ranging from treaties and talk to arms buildups Great speeches and influential articles come forth Attempts at negotiation sometimes work, mostly fail Bluffs, backdowns, alliances, a proxy war that nears disaster but ends in stalemate A hero general takes a war into his own hands, disastrously McCarthy forever poisons American politics with lies, hysteria and fear mongering The US is lured into Vietnam, in part due to fear of appearing soft on Communism, and in a faraway country meets disaster The six patricians look on as protestors and presidents they can t abide change their world.Greece Athens and Sparta unite to defeat the Persians, then negotiate a peace treaty betwen themselves that lasts a few decades Sparta, eying Athens growing empire and vast naval advantage, decides it can t allow this to go on It rallies its own allies and initiates twenty six years of war Great speeches abound Statesmen urge opposing policies and strategies Allies and potential subject states are wooed, intimidated, defended Allies switch sides at the drop of a helmet Sparta builds up its naval capacity in part through its allies The Athenian Alcibiades is a five or six times traitor as he repeatedly switches sides, makes side deals with the enemy, and generally finds no action to low Athens is lured into a war of its allies in far away Sicily It depletes its treasury and almost its entire military force is destroyed Back in its own seas, fighting for its life, it agrees to give up its democracy for an oligarchy and contemplates an alliance with the Persians.Back to the Wise Men Isaacson and Thomas are very skilled at following the threads of six lives and keeping their men s personalities and actions distinct but related These men were loyal friends, who all had some eperience in dealing with the Soviets early in their careers Most served the State Department in some capacity there before World War II This gave them varying, but well founded, opinions on what the Soviet leadership might be up to in the subsequent decades Kennan is perhaps the most intriguing, as his early caution gave way to an earnest desire for peaceful co existence later Acheson is a key player throughout, although he was side lined in the fifties after running afoul of McCarthy Harriman is portrayed as the little boy with his hand in the air all the time eager to be called on to answer the question, serve as ambassador, negotiate with the Russians, be Secretary of State He is portrayed as a skillful negotiator, but never got his chance as Secretary Bohlen, Lovett, and McCloy I knew next to nothing about, but found they played essential roles in building air power, shaping and running the Marshall Plan, and generally advising on everything to president after president.The patrician aspect of the authorial enterprise becomes problematic as we enter the sixties There is no quarter given to LBJ He is portrayed as a bellicose low class grotesque who single mindely rejects the growing sentiment among not just the students in the streets but even these creators of the cold war that it is time to withdraw No doubt there is a great deal of truth to this, but there is no credit given for Johnson s other accomplishments or his complex character.A small problem, in an engaging, well written, and very educational book. This book works on two levels On one, it is an excellent biography of six men dedicated to public service who were involved in American diplomacy during a critical time in the nation s history WWII the early Cold War On another it explains how the powerful ideas containment, anti communism guiding American foreign policy during the Cold War were formed and the force that these ideas took on beyond the control of their creators This is the best book I ve read about the Cold War Other books might focus on the theories and implementation of Cold War strategy John Gaddis excellent Strategies of Containment A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War for example , but by focusing on six men who were in the thick of it, this book gave me a better understanding of how and why these strategies were formed. True statesmen who served in both Democratic and Republican administrations We need people like this in government today. This is a fascinating collective biography of six major, interrelated figures in the American establishment from the 1930s into the 1960s Some might think of this as another Best and Brightest, set earlier in time But Halberstam s use of that term was ironic here, the authors are not speaking ironically when they refer to the six as the original brightest and best Page 19 The beginning lays out what follows Isaacson and Thomas observe that Page 19 Six friends Their lives intertwined from childhood and schooldays, from their early days on Wall Street and in government Now they were to be destined to be at the forefront of a remarkable transformation of American policy They Page 19 .knew that America would have to assume the burden of a global role And, say the authors, their Page 19 .outsized personalities and forceful actions brought order to the postwar chaos and left a legacy that dominates American policy to this day Those are some powerful statements Does the book back these up To a considerable extent, yes But these six can hardly be said to have been the orchestrators They were surely players, but to say that they were the architects of the American century the title of the chapter in which these quotations are embedded is too strong a statement Who were those among this sextet George Kennan, Dean Acheson, Charles Chip Bohlen, Robert Lovett, Averell Harriman, and John McCloy From their youth, they were trained to expect doing large things For instance, Harriman took over his father s economic empire and grew it Later in his life, he was elected as governor of New York only to be defeated by Nelson Rockefeller after serving one term The story shows the interconnections among them Harriman coached Acheson in rowing at Yale, for instance As they matured, they sought careers in business Later, all became interested in public service under the FDR Administration The book chronicles their achievements and some failures in considerable detail from FDR s term on The friction that flared among some from time to time is also discussed They played major roles in the Truman Administration Later, when Lyndon Johnson tried to dissect what to do in Vietnam, he held a number of meetings, in which many of the wise men participated Given Halberstam s discussion of the best and brightest who got the country into Vietnam and couldn t figure out how to succeed there, the wise men were opposed and raised their questions with Johnson Then, their final years and their fates I think that there could be a somewhatcritical cast to the work, but it does a great job of portraying these eminent players in American politics If there has been an establishment, they were surely part of that in their time I think that the authors may overestimate their impact, but they surely made a difference. I purchased this book when it was published in 1986, but never read it because I was unsure about reading a book about the Groton Yale crowd who became the U.S foreign policy establishment s Wise Men I was not interested in reading about the prep school Ivy League world that these men emerged from, and, as expected the book began with a thorough description of that world However, if one gets through the first hundred pages, with its crew races and polo games, then the reader gets a superb view of how much this group of men helped to shape the foreign policy of the United States in the middle half of the 20th century Familiar stories are retold, but through the lens of the story of these men, whose names are so familiar, yet whose full stories are not usually fully explored The subject matter raises some interesting questions was it wise to have at the center of American foreign policy so many men whose backgrounds were so similar to each other Was the country better served by these very well educated and very affluent men than the people we get today in the upper echelons of power, whose motivations are often self serving and political Did these men help to create the Cold War or did they provide for us the strategy that won it or both My only complaint about the book is that it tends to skip over the events like the Bay of Pigs where their imprint was not felt, even if those events had a profound impact on subsequent foreign policy decisions and crises The bottom line is that, for these men, their particular political party affiliation and that of whoever was President at the time did not matter as much as serving their country They truly possessed the quality of civic virtue that our Founders felt would be essential to the success of the republic, and which seems to be in short supply today. This is the story of what became known as the American Establishment Establishment was a term that originated in England to describe a circle of powerful men Richard Rovere has proposed that the two parties in this country are really either populist or establishment, not conservative or liberal The American Establishment were Atlanticists Their similar schooling gave them an appreciation for Western European values and the perceived benefit of a traditional Europe They were instrumental in shepherding the Marshall Plan through a hostile Congress They felt a cosmopolitan duty to preserve the culture and civilization of the West.This was to become a problem many years later as Asia became the focus of U.S concern Francophile Acheson was fundamental in recommending support for France in its futile attempt to preserve the colonial empire Acheson s efforts resulted in an avalanche of U.S funding, ultimately supplying France with farthan we spent on them during the entire Marshall Plan The establishment is profiled through the careers of Robert Lovett, John McCloy, Averell Harriman, Charles Bohlen, George Kennan, and Dean Acheson They were all intelligent, educated at elite private schools, and most came from wealthy families The six were not ideologues, preferring to adopt a pragmatic outlook, holding moderate views and they believed in consensus Unfortunately, their sensible world view was translated bysimplistic minds in the fifties into being soft on communism They were not highly visible to the public except when McCarthy made them targets , but preferred to persuade leaders privately and intellectually They were fervent capitalists which made McCarthy s charges against them ludicrous They believed in a strong link between free trade, free markets and free minds.Isaacson and Thomas fill the book with marvelous anecdotes and they describe the unique characteristics of the six lucidly and with humor For example, Dean Acheson resigned as Under Secretary of the Treasury under FDR in a dispute over whether the United States could legally buy gold at a price higher than that set by Congress The authors explain differences among the six this way Acheson s friend Harriman would never have gone to the mat over a matter of principle with a President, he would likely have sidled away from the conflict to work on problems that he would be left to solve on his own Lovett would probably have worked out some compromise, making any mountainous dispute seem suddenly like a small bump So, too, would have John McCloy, the legal workhorse like Bohlen, he would have been willing to go along Kennan would no doubt have agonized about resignation only to become lost in philosophical brooding I had for many years vastly misunderstood George Kennan s role in the development of the cold war The famous X article, which provided the foundation for containment, was misinterpreted to create the underpinning for Nitze s NSC 68 and development of the arms race Kennan was really arguing for a non military, less aggressive stance Ironically, Nitze, icon of the modern American military was adamantly opposed to U.S entry into Vietnam because he was aware of the limited resources of the United States Prophetic indeed.We may owe current European unity to the efforts of John McCloy who, as High Commissioner of Germany, and its virtual czar, was an exceptionally sincere and honest broker among the war torn nations of Europe His word was taken with equal faith in all the capitals and he laid the foundation for the economic miracle that was to take place There is a new biography of McCloy out recently it s on my list By the late seventies and early eighties the Establishment was out of favor It was blamed for the cold war, Vietnam, and assorted other blunders but its replacement, the self centered, undisciplined, partisan, non professional politicians diplomats of the Reagan Nixon era has historians and revisionists yearning for the old order which had been, at least, consistent, selfless, and devoted to the national interest There was a foreign policy consensus back then, and its disintegration during Vietnam is one of the great disasters of our history, said Henry Kissinger You need an Establishment Society needs it You can t have all these assaults on national policy so that every time you change presidents you end up changing direction These men were responsible for building a coalition that resulted in 40 years of Pax Americana They were public servants, not public figures, and did not have to read the newspapers to know where they stood.In their sense of duty and shared wisdom, they found the force to shape the world. The Wise Men Six Friends and The World They Made, is an extraordinary, thought provoking, and captivating look at the six men, most of whom were graduates of the famous Groton school and later graduates of Yale, Harvard, and Princeton who helped shape American foreign policy for way over fifty years Often working in the private sector as bankers, Wall Street Insiders, and Railroad Tycoons they immediately responded to the call whenever their government and president sought their advice and council Taking government jobs as Secretary of State, Ambassadors, Secretary of War, and National Security Advisor Working for Presidents FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, and Ronald Reagan They differed in political philosophy, some leaning left while others leaned right yet together they were the chief architectures of the Marshal Plan, convincing President Truman about the importance of rebuilding Western Europe after World War 2, despite Congressional and public reluctance to the idea, keeping lines of communication open with the Soviet Union, despite its aggressive takeover of Eastern Europe, building the alliance that came to be called NATO, and which was a major deterrant to Soviet aggression and fighting Communism wherever it spread leading us into two unpopular wars in Korea and Vietnam.The six men, Averell Harriman, Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Robert Lovett, John McCloy and Charles Bohlen are hardly household names, even to individuals who think of themselves as knowledgable about American history, but their contributions to American greatness and America s status as a World Power is undeniable and as a nation we should be thankful for their unselfish duty to country even if at times their philosophy and policies lead us down the wrong path.A must read Highly recommend.