This sprightly work tells the story of the Council on Foreign Relations, established in the aftermath of the First World War and now in its 75th year. Peter Grose, a managing editor and executive editor of Foreign Affairs from 1984 to 1993, locates the origins of the council in the Inquiry that Woodrow Wilson's envoy, Colonel House, with the journalist Walter Lippmann's aid, established for the benefit of the American peace delegation at Versailles. What had prompted the Inquiry in the first place -- the absence within the State Department of the detailed knowledge of European conditions that would be required for redrawing, as fairly as could be done, the map of the world -- led some Inquiry members, together with a select group of English citizens, to concur on the need for an organization that would "continue the inquiry" after the war. The plan for a joint Anglo-American enterprise miscarried, as both sides developed sober second thoughts; and there was a moment, on the American side, when physical exhaustion and spiritual depletion made the whole venture seem dauntingly problematic. But the project was revived, and the scholars -- badly in need of money, as always -- joined forces with a parallel undertaking of financiers and international lawyers. The council incorporated itself on July 29, 1921, with the first issue of its flagship journal, Foreign Affairs, rolling off the presses in September 1922. Its mission was not only to "inform" but also to "guide" American public opinion.
The need for information -- nay, for guidance -- was pressing. American domestic opinion was returning, with a vengeance, to the insular habits that had long characterized it. If the idea for the council had been conceived in the most cosmopolitan of firmaments, the new child saw its first light under a different sign. The Philadelphia Record's comment of 1928 -- "The American people don't give a hoot in a rainbarrel who controls north China" -- was expressive of that insularity. Against the attitude of smug indifference to
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