Dean Gooderham Acheson Biography
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Dean Gooderham Acheson (April 11, 1893–October 12, 1971) was
a United States Secretary of State under President Harry S. Truman.
Although he developed anti-Communist views early in his political
career, Acheson defended state department employees accused during
Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist investigations. Acheson
persuaded Truman to dispatch aid to French forces in Indochina,
but later counseled President Lyndon B. Johnson to negotiate for
peace with the Viet Minh.
Dean Acheson was born in Middletown, Connecticut. After being
educated at Yale University (1912-15), where he became a member
of the prestigious secret society, Scroll and Key, and Harvard
Law School (1915-18) he became private secretary to the Supreme
Court Justice, Louis Brandeis (1919-21).
A supporter of the Democratic Party, Acheson worked for a law
firm in Washington, DC before Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed
him as Under Secretary of the Treasury in 1933. During the Second
World War Acheson served as Assistant Secretary in the United
States Department of State.
In 1945 Harry S. Truman selected Acheson as his Under Secretary
of State. Over the next two years Acheson played an important
role in devising both the Truman Doctrine and the European Recovery
Program (ERP). Acheson believed that the best way to halt the
spread of communism was by working with progressive forces in
those countries in danger of revolution. After becoming Secretary
of State in 1949, Acheson and George Marshall, Secretary of Defense,
came under increasing attack from right-wing politicians who considered
the two men to be soft on communism.
On February 9, 1950, Joseph McCarthy made a speech in Wheeling,
West Virginia where he attacked Acheson as "a pompous diplomat
in striped pants". He claimed that he had a list of 205 people
in the State Department known to be members of the American Communist
Party. McCarthy went on to argue that some of these people were
passing secret information to the Soviet Union. He added: "The
reason why we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not
because the enemy has sent men to invade our shores, but rather
because of the traitorous actions of those who have had all the
benefits that the wealthiest nation on earth has had to offer
- the finest homes, the finest college educations, and the finest
jobs in Government we can give."
McCarthy had obtained his information from his friend, J. Edgar
Hoover, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
William Sullivan, one of Hoover's agents, later admitted that:
"We were the ones who made the McCarthy hearings possible. We
fed McCarthy all the material he was using."
Acheson also upset the right-wing when he took the side of Harry
S. Truman in his dispute with General Douglas MacArthur over the
Korean War. Acheson and Truman wanted to limit the war to Korea
whereas MacArthur called for the extension of the war to China.
Joe McCarthy once again led the attack on Acheson: "With half
a million Communists in Korea killing American men, Acheson says,
'Now let's be calm, let's do nothing'. It is like advising a man
whose family is being killed not to take hasty action for fear
he might alienate the affection of the murderers."
In April 1951, Harry S. Truman removed General Douglas MacArthur
from his command of the United Nations forces in Korea. McCarthy
called for Truman to be impeached and suggested that the president
was drunk when he made the decision to fire MacArthur: "Truman
is surrounded by the Jessups, the Achesons, the old Hiss crowd.
Most of the tragic things are done at 1.30 and 2 o'clock in the
morning when they've had time to get the President cheerful."
Acheson was the main target of McCarthy's anger as he believed
Harry S. Truman was "essentially just as loyal as the average
American". However, Truman was president "in name only because
the Acheson group has almost hypnotic powers over him. We must
impeach Acheson, the heart of the octopus."
Harry S. Truman decided not to stand for president in 1952 and
Acheson's close friend, Adlai Stevenson, was chosen as the Democratic
Party candidate for the 1952 election. It was one of the dirtiest
in history with Richard Nixon, the Republican vice-presidential
candidate, leading the attack on Stevenson. Speaking in Indiana,
Nixon described Stevenson as a man with a "Ph.D. from Dean Acheson's
cowardly college of Communist containment."
Dwight D. Eisenhower and Nixon's campaign was a great success
and in November they easily defeated Adlai Stevenson by 33,936,252
votes to 27,314,922. Disillusioned by the smear campaign, Acheson
returned to his private law practice. He also wrote several books
on politics including Power and Diplomacy (1958), Morning and
Noon (1965), Present at the Creation (1970) and The Korean War
(1971). Dean Acheson passed away at Sandy Spring, Maryland at
the age of 78.
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