Courtesy Reuters

To Better Order the Universe: Recalling Dean Acheson

In This Review

Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World

By James Chace
Simon & Schuster, 1998
512 pp. $30.00
Purchase

I first met Dean Acheson in the week of the Bay of Pigs at what he rather charitably described as "a meeting of intellectuals" in Bologna, Italy. The occasion, rather than the attendance, is described on page 389 of Chace's authoritative and reasonably succinct biography of the 51st secretary -- of state. For me, then a relatively young backbench Labour member of the British Parliament, Acheson trailed clouds of glory, not only for the assured authority of his personality, but for his record as perhaps the key member of a team of architects -- the others were Harry Truman, George Marshall, Ernest Bevin, Robert Schuman, and Jean Monnet -- who built a Western world that was first a secure bastion and then a lighthouse that sent out a beam of attraction that was eventually to destroy the menace of the Soviet empire. Acheson was not an unduly modest man, but when he called his 1969 memoirs Present at the Creation, it was an understatement.

I last saw him in December 1970 at a Washington dinner party given by the late author Douglass Cater and his wife, now the stepmother-in-law of the king of Jordan. By this time Acheson, who toward the end of his secretaryship of state had been bitterly denounced not merely as a liberal but almost as a crypto-communist by Senator Joseph McCarthy (and indeed by Richard Nixon), had by a supreme irony come to embrace some views of which the deplorable senator, had he been alive and with the intelligence to understand Acheson's typically taut and sophisticated expression of them, might well have been proud. Acheson considered the South African and Rhodesian regimes among the best in the world, and Chancellor Willy Brandt with his dangerous Ostpolitik an agent of communism, a ludicrous mantle which Acheson himself had once been forced to wear with a mixture of pain and pride.

If these views pointed to a faltering of Acheson's judgment in the last year of his life, this was not accompanied

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