In This Review

Henry R. Luce: A Political Portrait of the Man Who Created the American Century
Henry R. Luce: A Political Portrait of the Man Who Created the American Century
By Robert E. Herzstein
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994, 495 pp.

For anyone who likes political gossip, intrigue and manipulation; for anyone who is interested in the history of journalism and the mass media; for any student of American foreign policy; for anyone who enjoys reading about World War II, this is a fabulous book. Herzstein a history professor at the University of South Carolina, has done a job that a team of researchers at Time would envy. His findings, deft writing style and considerable skill as a storyteller combine to produce a book that is wonderful fun if you liked Luce and hated F.D.R.

Henry Luce, born in China the son of a missionary, had a mission summed up in his famous prediction/proclamation/description of the American Century. He wanted the United States to emerge from World War II strong enough to spread Christianity and American capitalism and democracy around the world. He was a practical businessman, founder of three great magazines and the ultimate do-gooder. His dream did not come true, and by the 1950s he regretted the phrase.

As one who molded foreign policy and as a reformer he nevertheless had an impact. Herzstein points out that in 1950 the American people embraced policies, supported through the years by Time, Inc. that would have seemed outlandish to them ten years earlier, and that therefore Luce could take some pride in partisan support for a huge, permanent military establishment; for seemingly eternal alliances in Europe and Asia; for global intervention in the affairs of far-off peoples; for the dispatch of foreign aid to developing countries; and for the export of food to a myriad of hungry nations. The title is misleading. This is not a biography, nor a full-fledged portrait of Luce in politics, and Luce did not create the American Century, he just named it. The book is about the war between F.D.R. and Luce. They had titanic clashes, sometimes over trivial things, sometimes over the most fundamental policies.

Before Pearl Harbor, Luce was pushing Roosevelt to get into the war; during the war, Luce was pushing Roosevelt to do more for China. There were many other issues that divided them. In most cases, Herzstein is on Luce's side. He almost gives the impression that Luce was barely able to win the war because of F.D.R.'s interference. Then he catches himself and reminds the reader that while Time, Life and Fortune obviously played a major role in the formation of public opinion, they were hardly running the country.

Herzstein goes into great detail about F.D.R.s refusal to allow Luce to go to China during the war. F.D.R.'s motives were petty but the consequences, Herzstein speculates, were massive. Because reporter Theodore White did not have the chance to show Luce around Chiang's China so that he could see the rot and corruption for himself, Luce remained wedded to Chiang as China's only hope. Because of Luce's misperception of Chiang, he clung to policies toward China that were inappropriate to the situation and culminated in disaster. For Luce there could be no American Century without a free China. Indeed, Herzstein notes that Luce's commitments, in order of importance to him, were Christianity, the American mission to the world, China, journalism and the Republican Party.