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Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the Modern World.

Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the Modern World. By James Chace. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998. Pp. 512. $30.00.)

Dean Acheson's career is filled with controversy, but James Chace clearly indicates that he should be considered one of the most influential and successful policy makers in the history of American foreign relations. Postwar economic reconstruction, the formation of NATO, the reintegration of Western Europe, and the signing of the Japanese peace treaty are all attributed to Acheson's efforts. As Secretary of State, Acheson laid the groundwork for America's subsequent Cold War victory. Chace maintains that Acheson "was not merely present at the creation, he was the prime architect of that creation" (442).

Chace addresses several historiographical issues and presents a balanced account of Acheson's career. He exonerates Acheson's China policy and implies that Acheson adopted a realist stance towards Mao. Acheson concluded that inevitable differences would eventually drive a wedge between the Soviet Union and communist China and lead to the emergence of an Asian Tito. This approach, however, was undermined by the relentless accusations of the China bloc and Joseph McCarthy that Acheson was a Communist.

Acheson is often also attacked for omitting South Korea from the American defense perimeter during his National Press Club speech in February 1950. Critics argue that Acheson's statement triggered the Korean War. Yet Chace reminds us that, in the same speech, Acheson stated that the United States had "a direct responsibility" for Korea (222). He contends that "a far more serious indication to Beijing and Moscow that the United States was not prepared to back up the South Korea regime" was sent by the House of Representatives when they failed to pass the Korean aid hill (269). Chace, however, criticized Acheson's refusal to seek congressional approval for the war and claimed that Acheson's approach provided the ideological foundation for America's policy of global intervention in the periphery.

Chace's discussion of Acheson's role in Vietnam sheds light on the problems that plagued American Cold War foreign policy. Placing the issue squarely within the context of the European question, Chace concluded that Acheson was forced to acquiesce to French demands in Indochina in exchange for France's approval of Germany's role in NATO. Like many of his generation, however, Acheson subscribed to the Munich analogy and associated any form of withdrawal from Southeast Asia as a form of appeasement. He believed that the lessons learned in South Korea could be readily applied to Vietnam. During several meetings with both Kennedy and Johnson, Acheson proposed escalation and a renewed commitment to winning the war. He finally turned against the war after the Tet offensive in 1968.

This book is extremely valuable for anyone interested in twentieth-century America. Chace's use of newly mined sources from the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and the People's Republic of China indicates that Acheson perceptively understood the true nature of Stalin's agenda and created a system that eventually eliminated the Soviet empire. Whether or not he is "the most important figure in American foreign policy since John Quincy Adams" remains questionable (12).

Robert D. Ubriaco Jr. Illinois Wesleyan University

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Ubriaco, Robert D. Jr.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2000
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