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Vol. LXII, No. 35
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
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John Foster Dulles, Class of 1908, Honored in “From Diploma to Diplomat”

Ellen Gilbert

Among the medals, citations, publications, diplomatic passports, NATO cufflinks, UN pins, pens, caricatures, stamps, and other memorabilia on display in Seeley W. Mudd Manuscript Library’s new exhibit about the life of John Foster Dulles (Princeton ’08), there is a photograph of Mr. Dulles in India placing a floral wreath on Gandhi’s tomb.

On a May 1953 world-wide tour, the then-secretary of state had recently met with India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was among the first world leaders to recognize the People’s Republic of China. Mr. Nehru feared that the Korean War would spread throughout all of Asia, according to the caption, and Mr. Dulles tried to reassure Mr. Nehru by telling him that, while an armistice to end the war was being negotiated, if the talks failed, “the U.S. was prepared to drop nuclear weapons and expand the conflict.” The Indian prime minister relayed this to the Chinese, the caption goes on to say, which “led to the end of the negotiations’ stalemate and the ceasefire agreement signed in July 1953.”

While Mr. Dulles’s personality has sometimes been described with word-plays on his name (“Winston Churchill reportedly said there were three kinds of U.S. secretaries of state: ‘dull, duller and Dulles,’” according to exhibit curator Adriane Hanson), the person who emerges from this exhibit was vital, energetic, and deeply concerned with achieving world peace. “If anything happened to Foster, where could I find a man able to replace him?” asked President Dwight D. Eisenhower, under whom Mr. Dulles served as secretary of state from 1953 until 1959.

The exhibition, entitled “John Foster Dulles: From Diploma to Diplomat,” celebrates the centennial of Mr. Dulles’s graduation from Princeton University in 1908. It begins with his work while still a Princeton student as secretary-clerk of the China delegation at the Second Hague Peace Conference in 1907, and culminates with his years as secretary of state. His tenure was marked by a close working relationship with the president, staunch anti-Communism, and numerous mutual defense treaties, notably the Baghdad Pact and SEATO.

Ms. Hanson, who is also a project archivist at the Mudd Library, reports that the John Foster Dulles Papers is probably the most heavily used collection at the library, with almost every major figure of his time represented in its large correspondence file. She and assistant Pete Asch were, she said, “challenged” in choosing from among the hundreds of feet of material available in the collection, which was donated by Mr. Dulles, along with funds for their care.

“The emphasis on Mr. Dulles’s life has typically been on his tenure as President Eisenhower’s secretary of state,” Ms. Hanson observed. “We wanted to look at his whole career.”

Mr. Dulles entered Princeton University at the age of sixteen, the youngest member of his class. He intended to become a pastor, like his father, and was, by all accounts, a serious student who became class valedictorian. Princeton’s then-President Woodrow Wilson spoke at Mr. Dulles’s graduation; ten years later the two met again when Mr. Dulles worked with U.S. President Wilson at the Versailles conference marking the end of World War I. Mr. Dulles’s transition from future clergyman to lawyer and budding diplomat may be attributed, in part, to a $600 Chancellor Green Fellowship he received from Princeton, enabling him to spend a year at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he studied with the Nobel prize-winning philosopher Henri Bergson and took classes in international law.

Following his involvement in studies on fostering world peace during the 1940s, Mr. Dulles served as the U.S. representative to the United Nations and negotiated several treaties for President Harry S.Truman, including the Japanese Peace Treaty of 1951 which formally ended World War II. As Mr. Eisenhower’s secretary of state, Mr. Dulles ushered in a period of hard-line diplomacy that shaped both the country’s relationship with the Soviet Union and overall Cold War doctrine.

In his final years, Mr. Dulles concerned himself with ongoing world conflicts in Berlin, the Middle East, and China/Taiwan. In what would be his last international trip as secretary of state, Mr. Dulles traveled to Europe in 1958 to reassure Chancellor Konrad Adenauer that the United States would maintain its commitment to West Germany. Although he resigned as secretary of state in April of 1959 after being diagnosed with cancer, he was retained by President Eisenhower as a special advisor with full cabinet rank up until the time of his death in May of 1959.

A small related exhibit in the lobby of the Mudd Manuscript Library documents Mr. Dulles’s service as a junior senator from New York from July to November 1949, including campaign materials, photographs, and his appointment letter, signed by Governor Thomas E. Dewey.

Perhaps the most amusing item in the whole exhibit is a 1957 phonograph record of comedienne Carol Burnett singing “I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles.” The song was originally heard on Jack Paar’s television show, and it launched Ms. Burnett’s career. “The first time I saw him was at the U.N.,” sings the smitten Ms. Burnett, who goes on to wonder, “Who are you to John Foster Dulles?” as her heart responds, “his slave.” When asked, after a Meet the Press conference at the time about the young lady who sang about him, Mr. Dulles diplomatically responded, “I make it a policy never to discuss matters of the heart in public.”

“John Foster Dulles: From Diploma to Diplomat” is open to the public without charge from 8:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. Starting in September, the library is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and, starting in mid-September, evening hours until 7:45 Wednesdays. The exhibit will run through Friday, January 30.

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