John Foster Dulles and “Deep Faith”?

Stephen Kinzer on John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s secretary of State, in Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq:

[Kinzer’s resume list of Dulle’s influential contacts and experiences that led Dulles to develop what a biographer called “a rather simplistic” view of the world, including a] “particular interest in the commercial and financial facets of internatinal relations and a particular attentiveness to what he thought were the economic imperatives of American foreign policy….Economic preoccupations were often a dominant and initiating force in his world view and thought
—Overthrow, p. 113

This “economic preoccupation” is juxtaposed with Kinzer’s identifying of Dulle’s “faith-based” approach, which is where I began to be really critical of Kinzer’s narrative. IN fact, I’m not sure Kinzer really identifies this confluence of “faith” and “economics” as a juxtaposition at all. He writes as if this is a “natural” web of cause and effect. He goes on to describe the “leadership” of Dulles:

…..negotiated utility concessions in Mexico and Panama for the American & Foreign Power Company. His clients built ports in Brazil, dug mines in Peru, and drilled for oil in Colombia. They ranged from International Nickel Company, one of the world’s largest resource cartels, to the National Railroad Company of Haiti, which owned a single Sixty five mile stretch of track north of Port au Prince.

Dulles was especially interested in Germany, which he visited regularly during the 1920s and 1930s. According to the most exhaustive book a out Sullivan & Cromwell, the firm “thrived on its cartels and collusion with the new Nazi regime,” and Dulles spent much of 1934 “publicly supporting Hitler,” leaving his partners “shocked that he could so easily disregard law and international treaties to justify Nazi repression.” When asked during this period how he dealt with German clients who were Jewish, he replied that he had simply decided “to keep away from them. ” Finally, facing a revolt by his partners, he agreed in 1935 to close the firm’s Berlin office, later backdating the decision to a year earlier.

Soon after World War 11 ended, Dulles found in Communism the evil he had been so slow to find in Nazism. His epiphany came when he read Stalin’s Problems of Leninism, which he found gripping. Several times he compared it to Hitler’s Mein Kampf as a blueprint for world domination.

In the spring of 1949, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York appointed Dulles to fill a vacant seat in the United States Senate. When Dulles ran for a full term that November, he decked his campaign car with a banner proclaiming him “Enemy of the Reds!” His patrician style and evident unfamiliarity with the lives of ordinary people, however, made him an unappealing candidate, and he lost to Herbert Lehman, a liberal Democrat. This experience convinced him that if he wished to exert political influence, he should pursue appointive rather than elective office.

Law and politics were not Dulles’s only passions. Throughout his life he was also moved by deep Christian faith. It was an integral part of his character, and from it grew the intensity of his anti Communist zeal. He cannot be understood apart from it.

Dulles’s paternal grandfather was a missionary who spent years preaching in India. The young man’s father was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Watertown, New York, on the shore of Lake Ontario. As a child, Dulles attended three church services on Sunday and several others on weekdays. Every week he was expected to memorize two verses from a hymn and ten verses from Psalms or the New Testament.
—-Overthrow , p. 114

The bold is my emphasis. Here is where I found myself challenging the use of any kind of endearing term to describe this “faith” of Dulles. This perilous mixture of political and economic influence with the “manifest destiny theology” and “anti-communist zeal” of fundamentalistic, nationalistic “hybrids” of Christianity is what gives me pause. There is nothing “deep” about it. Piety in these cases is a poor indicator of depth. In fact, the cultural blinders which allow such a compromise and prevent the recognition of such AS compromise, is more an indicator of a lack of depth; an all-too easily acceptable identification of “American values” with “faith” and Christianity.

Kinzer seems to have a rather simplitic view of the God and Politics factor here. Of course, I don’t know where Kinzer would be expected to get such a distance from which to analyze this problem embodies so well in John Foster Dulles (at least to my satisfaction). I also noticed the same ignorance in Ron Suskind in The One Percent Doctine when he uses the term “faith-based” almost as an implied neccessary ingredient to the kind of insanity that pervades the White House, particularly in Bush, and used this term on more than one occasion with the same sort of “nuff said” type of brevity, leaving us to “fill in the blanks” with the same sort of “lunacy of faith” assumptions.

This is a plague of the church in the age of empire (which is always, really). The motivations to “make faith acceptable” so that various forms of power can be achieved is an age-old temptation. What Hauerwas identifies as “Christendom” is the result, where culture and politics and faith get mixed, confused, conflated, and attributes get confused as to their sources. In John Foster Dulles, we have a tremendous irony represented. Eisenhower is the author of the warning about the “military industrial complex” , and yet he hired this man, Dulles, whose sphere of influence and wordview was destined to push the United States in just that sort of direction of which Eisenhower was warning us. The “faith” factor in Dulles was of the variety that usually serves to buttress the energy and drive with a “missional” aspect, strengthening the “political motives” with “meaning and values”. What we see today in the Religous Right is actually old news. It goes all the way back to Columbus and beyond, carrying along the “convert the heathen” overlays to the justifications for taking what we want from whomever we want.


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I am a Web developer with a background in theology, sociology and communications. I love to read, watch movies, sports, and am looking for authentic church.

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