by Stephen Kinzer, 2014, St. Martin’s Griffin
This book traces the lives and careers of John Foster Dulles and his brother, Allen. It is interesting in that the author contrasts the personalities of each of them and shows how they reacted to various events during their careers.
In the case of John Foster Dulles, the book illustrated to me how someone who is so certain about his beliefs that he doesn’t seem to be able to synthesize information that runs counter to those beliefs. This level of certitude can lead to significant errors in judgment and, in the case of John Foster Dulles, to complicity in the deaths of 57,000 young American men and many, many more Asians. After painting the impact of this man, the author does indicate that the environment that John Foster Dulles lived and worked in may have had an impact on his decision making. I, on the other hand, would tend to find him fully accountable for his actions.
Does this mean that individuals like John Foster Dulles are evil? I don’t think so. It’s just a sad commentary on the state of human affairs that someone with his psychological makeup can exert such an influence and create such disastrous results.
The personality of Allen Dulles, on the other hand, seems to be just about the complete opposite of John Foster as he was a much more social person. Kinzer describes in detail how Allen’s personality and predispositions affected his decisions as head of the CIA.
The net result of reading this book was to make me angry that these individuals, through there mistaken assumptions, caused so many deaths and so much destruction. Their intentions were mostly honorable so they can’t be classified as evil individuals, but it is a testament to the power of ideology and certitude that can produce so much havoc in our world.