Americana: Dean Acheson


ACHESON, DEAN
(1893-1971)
Dean Acheson was secretary of state from 1949 to 1953, a controversial lifelong Democrat, Mr. Acheson broke away from the early New Deal policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt when that president took the United States off the gold standard. He returned to government when World War II began and served in various high-level positions in the Department of State.
During the beginning of the Cold War, Acheson was part of the higher echelon within the Secretary of State administration as under secretary and in
charge of a White House briefing of congressional leaders in what became known as the Truman Doctrine. Mr. Acheson pointed out the
urgency of supporting Greece and Turkey that Great Britain had previously done. Acheson clearly pointed out that the Soviet communists
were poised at the intersection of three continents ready to control the Mediterranean region and on into Africa, westward into Europe and
eastward into the Middle East.
At the conclusion of his presentation, Republican senator Arthur Vandenberg, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told President Harry Truman he would support the plan if the bill was brought before the Congress in those terms. Despite this, Acheson soon became the target of Republican criticism of Truman’s foreign policies.
Disgusted with criticism of American commitment in Europe, Acheson described his opponents as re-examinists. They reminded him, he said, of the farmer who pulled out his crops every morning to see how they were growing. It was also a reaction to the two setbacks that occurred in 1949: the Soviets developing the atomic bomb and the loss of China to communist led forces. Mr. Acheson didn’t help matter much when he made the statement that he would not turn his back on Alger Hiss, convicted of perjury in the connection with charges that he passed documents to Soviet agents in the 1930s. This statement and other remarks and actions brought attention to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy who suspected Acheson of being a protector of card-carrying communists within the Department of State and described him as this pompous diplomat in striped pants with a phony British accent.
Dean Acheson survived the attacks and with time became an admired figure among Washington conservatives. He wrote his memoirs published with the title of Present at the Creation, describing his tenure when the Cold War had begun. His defense of American foreign policy in the 1960s and his criticism of Third World nations put him at odds with liberal critics of the Vietnam War. He once stated that he was never much in sympathy with revolutionaries. Yet it was he who had advised President Lyndon B. Johnson in March of 1968 to find a way out of the war. He stated that it was the Joint Chiefs of Staff who had been leading the country down the primrose path with overly optimistic predictions. His controversial statements continued throughout his life and defended President Richard Nixon against media attacks. He insisted that the national press must stop destroying presidents.
[See also: Anticommunism; Cold War; Truman Doctrine, Hiss, Alger]
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