Iran’s Crisis of Legitimacy
An Embattled Regime Faces Mass Protests—and an Ailing Supreme Leader
Few men are privileged to say that they were "present at the creation," to borrow Dean Acheson's felicitous phrase. John J. McCloy could make that claim with great pride, for he was assistant secretary of war during World War II, and he was one of a small circle of FDR's trusted advisers who were aware of the Manhattan Project. Thus, at a critical moment, John McCloy was in a position to change world history.
It was June 18, 1945, at the White House. President Truman was canvassing the views of his senior advisers on the prospect of invading Japan; various views were offered and just before the meeting broke up Harry Truman said, "We haven't heard from you, McCloy, and no one leaves this meeting without standing up and being counted." John McCloy proceeded to stand up and be counted: we ought to have our heads examined if we do not seek a political end to the war before an invasion, he said. We have two instruments to use: first, we could assure the Japanese that they could retain their emperor. Second, he said, we could warn them of the existence of the atomic bomb-a subject that was virtually taboo even in this restricted company. Truman was impressed, and sympathetic to the point about the emperor. He assigned McCloy and Secretary of War Henry Stimson to work out a plan, but history turned in a different direction-toward Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The point is not whether Mr. McCloy was right, but that he stands as an example of the bold and candid counsel provided by that heroic generation of men and women who served their country in peace and war, and served so wisely after Pearl Harbor. Indeed, Mr. McCloy served in various capacities and he was quick to remind us that he began as an artillery officer in World War I. Among his many accomplishments was his service as High Commissioner for Germany after World War II, when he and Konrad Adenauer carefully nurtured the young Federal Republic back into the European family. Later, in 1961, he began another career, this time advising successive presidents as the chairman of the presidential advisory committee on arms control and disarmament-known in Washington simply as the McCloy Committee.
It was in this assignment that he negotiated one of the seminal documents of the era: the U.S.-Soviet Joint Statement of Agreed Principles of arms control and disarmament, adopted in September 1961. Painstakingly hammered out by Mr. McCloy with the ever-difficult Valerian Zorin (and invariably referred to as the McCloy-Zorin principles), these principles were a road map to the future. They led to the first serious arms control agreement, the test ban treaty of 1963. One has to conclude that having witnessed the very dawn of the atomic era, John McCloy was determined to make certain that these awesome weapons would never be used again. Writing of this project for Foreign Affairs, he concluded:
One can reasonably assume that both the leaders and the peoples of the Soviet Union and the United States are convinced of the necessity of avoiding a nuclear war. . . . The leaders of each country have facts available to them which bear conclusive evidence that "victory" in a serious thermonuclear exchange is a highly questionable concept.
It must have been gratifying to have this very point endorsed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev over twenty years later.
John McCloy was a great friend of the Council on Foreign Relations, where he served in several distinguished capacities, including as the Council's chairman (1953-70) and on the Foreign Affairs editorial board (1953-89). No doubt many members of the Council could relate charming anecdotes of his dry wit and courtly graciousness. But few remembrances could exceed the tribute paid by his president. At the end of World War II, Mr. Truman summoned him to the White House for a ceremony marking the Japanese surrender; referring to the debate on the invasion of Japan, President Truman said to John McCloy, "No one helped me more than you."
A fitting epitaph for a great American. We shall miss him.
William G. Hyland