Notes on the History of Foreign Affairs (1994) by William P. Bundy, Editor, Foreign Affairs, 1972-84
These notes are built around an exhibit at the Firestone Library of Princeton University, in the fall of 1993, of materials relating to the Council on Foreign Relations and its magazine, Foreign Affairs. Drawing on materials in the Princeton libraries, relating to such alumni of the University as Woodrow Wilson, Hamilton Fish Armstrong, and Allen W. Dulles, this exhibit was a remarkable visual presentation of the Council’s history up to about 1960, with frequent references to Foreign Affairs and one bay devoted to developments after 1960. It showed highlights of a fascinating and unique story of private initiative seeking to enhance public understanding of foreign-policy issues and to convey useable thinking to successive American governments.
Speaking at the inauguration of that exhibit, I talked about the Council’s history, with appropriate emphasis on Foreign Affairs, but much also about other activities and projects carried out at the Council, seeking not to repeat but rather to embellish and give color and human touches to the contents of the exhibit; in effect, program notes. Since the exhibit was based largely on the papers of individuals no longer with us, it dealt mostly with the period from 1922 to about 1960, and my remarks focused on this period, with a short last section on the years since.
Let me stress at the outset a fundamental point: From the beginning, the Council has seen its function as giving running room to individual ideas and writing, and to discussion and debate. It has never, as a body, taken any position on foreign-policy problems. Its articulate members have never been more than a fraction of the whole, never claiming to speak in its name, and both the Council and the magazine have stressed from the first that divergent opinions were inevitable and to be welcomed.
It is appropriate that the story told in the exhibit started with Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton before he became president of the United States. His leadership, ideals, and eloquence had struck a deep chord with many Americans, and when he went in January 1919 to the Paris Peace Conference, he carried with him the fervent hopes not only of Americans but of most of the world that a just and lasting peace might emerge with an appropriate international organization to help achieve it.
Yet by that spring, in a story told most recently in the excellent one-volume biography by August Heckscher, those great hopes were already dim. So there grew up, among a dedicated core of the British and American delegations and supporting staffs, a strong feeling that however the conference turned out, there was a new and important need for private institutions to work steadily and unrelentingly to enlarge understanding of the problems in this field. Briefly, they had in mind a joint Anglo-American institution, but this idea soon evaporated in the face of the obvious practical difficulties, although there remains today a friendly feeling between the Council and Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs, called Chatham House after the wonderful mansion of William Pitt in which it still resides in London. Instead, the American group during 1920 and 1921 proceeded to set up in New York what became the Council on Foreign Relations. This drew its seventy-five original members mainly from two groups: academic and professional experts, mostly from universities, who had participated in the so-called Inquiry in Paris, seeking to develop the best possible factual basis and to offer advice and recommendations to Wilson, and public-minded businessmen and bankers with international exposure, almost all from New York itself. After some backing and filling, these two groups came together on the concept of a relatively small organization with its members actively participating in a program of meetings and group discussions designed to enlarge the understanding of those participating, but as often as possible to result in published output.
As the Council went into action, meetings presented no problem. From the first, its ability to assemble a serious and responsible audience, many of them with great experience, attracted leading speakers both from public life and from all the callings relevant to international affairs. A very early demonstration of this came when former French Premier Georges Clemenceau came to New York in the fall of 1922 and picked the Council as his venue for a major speech. Over the course of the next decade, many other senior figures followed suit, and the tradition of meetings continues to this day.
However, this was clearly not enough in the minds of the founders. They wished to reach out to a much wider audience than could simply attend meetings, so that setting up a quarterly magazine for serious individual essays quickly emerged as a central project, the head and cornerstone. To become its first editor, the Council’s directors turned to Professor Archibald Cary Coolidge of Harvard, an active member of the Inquiry before and during the Paris conference. Only within the last decade, Coolidge has at last got a superb biography, by Professor Robert Byrnes of Indiana. Somewhat austere in manner, he was the pioneer in America, before the turn of the century, of scholarship on Russia and Eastern Europe, indeed of international studies, generally. Director of Harvard’s Widener Library for a time, he was all his life a voracious traveler and inquisitor as well as a meticulous scholar of documents. At one point, in 1914, with an old Boston China trade fortune behind him, he repaid his hospitality debts in Germany, where he had taken his doctorate, by a formal dinner for 100 at the famous Adlon Hotel in Berlin. He also proclaimed that he would oppose any Harvard appointment relating to European history if the candidate did not have a working command of at least French, German, and Russian.
Then fifty-seven, he was persuaded to accept the editorship on a half-time basis, provided the Council would find a qualified younger man to work in New York full time and handle all the mechanical work of putting out a magazine, while also participating fully in the editing.
So a second principal character came on stage, where he will remain for the rest of my remarks. Casting around, the Council’s leaders consulted Edwin F. Gay, one of the original directors and then the distinguished editor of the New York Evening Post. Gay strongly recommended a man who had been one of his reporters in Europe, Hamilton Fish Armstrong, whom Coolidge had encountered on one brief occasion, stoutly expounding a view at odds with official orthodoxy. A graduate of Princeton in 1916 and then only in his late twenties, Armstrong had spent the war years covering dangerous fronts, particularly in the Balkans, had wound up in uniform as acting military attache in Belgrade, been in Paris loosely attached to the American delegation, and then traveled extensively all over Europe as a war and peace reporter for the Evening Post. He had also been one of the juniors participating actively in the setting up of the Council.
At once, Ham Armstrong — I am not being colloquial or familiar, just using the label everyone came to use for a landmark figure — accepted the post and came back in June 1922, having already bagged two important articles by top European statesmen. As agreed, Coolidge remained in Boston, where he continued to teach at Harvard and conduct his scholarly work, while Armstrong ran the New York office, handling all the final publication problems. He was also responsible for the distinctive format of the magazine, the choice of a very special light blue paper cover (from a remarkable Italian papermaker), the logo of a man on a horse designed by his sister Margaret, and lettering by another sister, Helen. It was typical of the sense of style that Armstrong, son of a painter, Old New York and Hudson Valley to his fingertips, brought to this and all else throughout his life.
From the first, Foreign Affairs was a hands-on operation, no outside referees, the editors free to seek advice in any quarter (with an Editorial Advisory Board consulted individually to taste but rarely brought together in most editorships), but in the end totally responsible for all decisions on content. Directors of the Council, never exactly weak or without strong views, must frequently have been put off by the articles printed, but none has ever for a moment intervened, or so far as I know ever thought of doing so.
The modus operandi of the two editors was surely unique in the history of American magazines. They communicated not by telephone but by daily letters which, in those days, posted by five in the afternoon would reach the other before nine the following morning! (Comment on this is superfluous.) In the Armstrong papers, which are the centerpiece and highlight of Princeton’s Mudd Library collections — as they were of the exhibit on the Council and Foreign Affairs — a special feature is the full originals, mostly handwritten, of both men’s letters during the time they worked together. Although Coolidge’s papers were given to the Harvard library system, an exception was made for these letters in order to bring the whole file together in one place.
Very different in outward personality, the gregarious and lively Armstrong and the more staid and reserved Coolidge shared not only a thirst for travel and seeing things and people at first hand, but a wide range of interests, an obsessive concern for care and accuracy, openness of mind, and a passion for anonymity and letting authors speak as they themselves wished. They were, in short, great editors.
Armstrong’s own papers cover everything under the sun. As an old working reporter, he did daily long notes of what he had seen and done, he wrote and received letters from all corners of the country and the world, using the phone hardly at all as far as one can tell, and he edited and worked over articles with great intensity. (Many files on individual articles remain at the Council, in addition to those in the Princeton papers.) And in just about all that the Council itself set in motion, apart from Foreign Affairs, he was inspiration, gadfly, avid participant, and often recorder of how things came to be.
The initial issue, published in September 1922, had one other lasting trademark, legible 12-point type, at that time from the Caslon font the present editor, James Hoge, brought back in 1993 in a modern version. But of course, the contents were the real test. The lead article was by the elder statesman and ex-Secretary of State Elihu Root, a pithy essay on the theme that America was now a world power and desperately needed a much more informed public both to follow international matters and to work in government. This was a much more original and striking thought than it might seem today: The fact was that foreign policy, with rare exceptions, had depended heavily on presidents and the White House, operating with all too little regard to public opinion until they had to present a finished project to the Congress and the public. After the rejection of the League of Nations, it was obvious by 1922 that this method of policy-making was outmoded and almost bound to fail, although the lesson has had constantly to be relearned by later presidents, and equally obvious that a much more professional approach was needed within government, in the press, and in private quarters, generally.
Incidentally, Root was the first of eleven secretaries of state, past, present, or future at the time of writing, who have contributed articles to Foreign Affairs. In one issue, that of January 1963, there were in fact three such articles, two by past secretaries (Dean Acheson and Christian Herter), the third by Henry Kissinger, whose day was yet to come.
Other articles in that first issue were by senior European statesmen of the time, with one article by a rising New York lawyer named John Foster Dulles, pointing out the difficulties of the reparations situation. Coolidge himself contributed the first of many articles on Soviet matters, using various letter initials rather than his name, a device of course utterly transparent but reflecting a desire not to have the magazine appear as simply an outlet for its editors. He need not have worried.
Part of the effort of the two men, in the early years, went into putting the magazine on the map, not by a modern-style public-relations effort but simply by sending copies to influential people, who might then be induced to contribute or enlist others. Hence, via a friend from his days with Russian War Relief in Moscow during the war, Coolidge sent a copy of the issue to Karl Radek, Lenin’s brain trust, which Radek in due course returned, reporting that he had given it to Lenin to read, and that the latter had marked it up. That copy preserved today in a modest wooden case in the Council’s downstairs reception room is in fact heavily marked up, with individual comments in Radek’s writing and much sidelining in another hand, presumably Lenin’s. This sidelining is not, curiously, in the Coolidge article on Soviet policy, but in the Dulles assessment of Europe’s economic difficulties.
William Hyland, editor from 1984 to 1992, tells the story that, when he showed the issue in its case to Mikhail Gorbachev, speaking in 1989 at the Council, Gorby reacted quickly to the mention of Radek that “he was a traitor.” Stalin’s ghost lives on. So does Coolidge’s emphasis on articles about Russia. Over the next forty-five years as Armstrong proudly noted in his memoir, Peace and Counterpeace, the magazine printed no less that 248 such articles, surely far more than any other non-specialist publication in the West.
In that very first issue, the two editors laid down their credo in words that have been carried in every issue of the magazine since then. It was not to represent “any consensus of beliefs” (nor was it to be a house organ for work done at the Council). Sharp disagreements among contributors were fully expected, and “mere vagaries” to be avoided. In essence:
Foreign Affairs can do more to inform American public opinion by a broad hospitality to divergent ideas than it can by identifying itself with one school.
Whether the magazine has always lived up to this high ideal can of course be debated. But the original editors certainly worked hard in this direction. For example, though themselves dismayed by the defeat of the League of Nations, they had no hesitation in getting two leading opponents of the League and card-carrying isolationists, Senators Henry Cabot Lodge and William E. Borah, to write articles, in 1924 and 1934 respectively. When a few conservative senior members of the Council objected to an invitation to speak extended to another isolationist, Senator Smith Brookhart of Iowa, Armstrong boiled over, saying in effect, “How could you possibly combat a man’s arguments unless you understood them, and why should anybody be afraid of hearing from a different viewpoint?”
Privately, Coolidge favored American recognition of the Soviet Union, arguing that it was a reality unlikely soon to disappear, but his reserve led him never to make this argument directly, and to print opposing views. He himself always saw the Soviet system more in terms of Russian history than of the communist ideology, though he had no use for the latter and never fell for the fashionable glowing reports purveyed by the Webbs, H.G. Wells, or Lincoln Steffens. Basically, both he and Armstrong would today be called realists, with definite ideals but a firm sense of the constant need to judge acutely what was happening and why, and what it meant in action terms in the short and medium term.
From the first, true to its credo, the magazine showed itself hospitable to authors who might not have been considered in the mainstream. One of these, a personal friend of Armstrong, was the distinguished African-American intellectual W.E.B. DuBois, whose first of five Foreign Affairs articles, in 1925, defined the “Color Line” as the key problem of the twentieth century. Coolidge was delighted with this article, commenting (as Armstrong recalled in his memoir) that this was partly because it made him “squirm under the conclusions.” Other issues of race and colonialism were frequently covered.
Women authors were slow to appear, though several became prnt in the late 1930s (Dorothy Thompson) and after the Second World War (Barbara Ward Jackson, especially). From the first, while “high policy” was the focus of a plurality of the articles in the magazine, economics and trade had a large share, and such social issues as population became prnt from roughly 1944 on, largely through Professor Frank Notestein of Princeton.
A particular concern from the first, especially for the scholar Coolidge, was the Book Review section. To take charge of this, Coolidge, after some failed experiments, brought in a junior colleague from Harvard, who should be the third in our verbal portrait gallery.
William L. Langer, coming to Harvard from Roxbury via Boston Latin, then serving in the Army as an enlisted man, had become Coolidge’s prize student and de facto successor in the field of European history. Few who attended his lectures, as I did as a one-year graduate student, will forget his nasal twang, the meticulous preparation that caused his lectures to end on the very stroke of the next hour, or finding him at lunch afterward most often in the corner of a greasy spoon on Harvard Square. Genuinely shy, utterly concentrated, and not easy to approach or get to know, he was at bottom a warm and compassionate man, with reciprocated devotion to an army of one-time students and colleagues.
Langer transformed the Book Review section and set its shape for the next seventy years, as an attempt to note briefly but critically just about all the important books that appeared on international matters, initially in a wide range of languages. On that point, he shared Coolidge’s view and was famous for responding, when a student pleaded that he had not exd certain materials because they were in Czech, that the library did have Czech grammars and dictionaries!
Research confirms the legend of how Langer operated. A month before the reviews had to be in, the magazine’s office would assemble all the candidates for review—more than 100 at a time—pack them in a large crate and ship them to Langer in Cambridge. In two weeks or so, back would come the reviews, all done by him alone.
I hasten to add that by the late 1930s, this was no longer possible, and the review section was federalized into subject sections, edited at first by the managing editor and then by a separate book review editor. It has remained a keystone of the magazine, contributing to scholarship and to current opinion alike by combining breadth and, in most cases, brevity.
Early in its first decade, in a time that saw the launching of many New York-based magazines (notably Time and the New Yorker), Foreign Affairs was established and thriving. By 1927, the circulation had risen from an initial 1,500 or so to the respectable level of 11,000 copies. Then, in 1928, Coolidge died, too early and rather suddenly, and Armstrong took over the editorship, not missing a beat. In the fall of that year, he introduced paired articles presenting the viewpoints of the opposing political parties; the writer on the Democratic side was the then-governor of New York, Franklin Roosevelt.
In 1932, the book reviews were collected into a hardback volume, a custom that continued for three more decades and finally culminated in a massive Foreign Affairs Fifty-Year Bibliography (1972) picking the still-significant books published over this period and reevaluating them at length. This was a project to which Ham Armstrong was particularly dedicated, and is another of his monuments.
But of course, by 1933 the world itself was in terrible trouble, with the Depression, the rise of Hitler, and the consolidation of Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union. It was natural that the idealism of the first decade of Foreign Affairs, with no less than thirty articles dealing with the work of the League of Nations and thirty-two on disarmament problems, should give way to steadily growing concern and resolve over the threat, especially from Nazi Germany.
Armstrong himself was in the forefront of this transformation. Always following European politics closely, he managed to be in Germany in the spring of 1933 and interviewed a large number of people, including a long monologue from Adolf Hitler himself. On his return, he wrote a short book about his impressions, which were dire. Summing these up in his memoir, he wrote:
I questioned most pessimistically both the hope that Hitler, armed, would draw back from the ultimate test of wills and the thesis of many that his reign would prove to be only a flash in the pan. A people had in sober and awful truth disappeared.
These impressions grew rapidly to the conviction that Germany, once rearmed, would be a tremendous threat to the peace of Europe and to the U.S. itself.
By this time, Armstrong had renewed a friendship from Princeton days with Leading Character No. 4, Allen W. Dulles, who had tried the Foreign Service and wound up a lawyer in New York. Later much criticized for decisions in his last years as head of the CIA and as a member of the Warren Commission, the Allen Dulles of the 1930s and 1940s, and also of the 1950s when I had the honor to work under him on the national estimates side of the Agency, was in key respects like Armstrong: gregarious, wide-ranging, open to new ideas and people, and nonpartisan. That he was of his time in believing that in the face of a Stalinist Soviet Union (and before that Hitler’s Germany), it was moral and necessary to use clandestine methods will not, I hope, preclude a fair judgment of his life and service.
At any rate, Allen Dulles was an extremely active leader in the affairs of the Council from the late 1920s into the 1930s and again in the early postwar period before he went into the CIA at the time of the Korean War. Between 1927 and 1947, he wrote eleven articles for Foreign Affairs. His papers are also at Princeton and a priceless source for the Council and Foreign Affairs as well as myriad official subjects.
In the late 1930s, Armstrong and Allen Dulles wrote together a book called Can America Stay Neutral? It was a short argument centered on the issue of neutrality and, as the title suggests, contending in effect that this was rapidly becoming an untenable position for the United States in the face of Hitler’s policies. Over the next three years, the magazine came as close as it ever did to becoming a confirmed advocate for a particular school of thought: interventionism in the developing European war that broke out formally in September 1939. Few isolationist articles appeared in Foreign Affairs, and there was a drumfire of strong articles about the dangers of Hitler, notably by the famous columnist Dorothy Thompson.
Concurrently, as the research of the German scholar Michael Wala has shown, a great many individuals who were Council members were also leading figures in interventionist organizations, first the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies and then, beginning in early 1941, the Fight for Freedom committee, urging that the United States become directly and militarily involved in the war against Germany and be prepared to fight militaristic Japan. Armstrong himself never joined either of these organizations, but his recent collaborator Allen Dulles was a conspicuous member of the Fight for Freedom committee, and those who knew Armstrong had little doubt where his sympathies lay. As we shall see in a moment, however, his main activity once the war began in Europe in September 1939 was in another direction.
In the period of the 1930s, the Council itself substantially expanded both its range of publications and its outreach beyond New York City. Beginning in the late 1920s, and regularly through the ‘30s, the Council published a Political Handbook of the World, compiled primarily by the executive director of this period, Walter Mallory. This gave full current details of governments and key figures throughout the world, and was for many years a leading reference source for journalists and others.
A second important series of publications was the institution of immediate annual reviews of the past year, again initiated in the late ‘20s but brought to new pitch in the ‘30s. By then, the annual surveys brought out by Chatham House in London, written by the great historian Arnold Toynbee, had achieved special distinction, and the Council’s effort was in this general direction. In the early ‘30s, three of the early annual reviews were written personally by the famous editor and columnist Walter Lippmann, and the task was carried on until it was interrupted by the war.
In the eventful years after the war, these annual reviews, under the title of The United States and World Affairs, were produced extraordinarily rapidly after the end of the year, in parallel with volumes containing key public documents during the year. The volumes were written for several years by John Campbell, another of the Council’s leading intellectual figures. Then the effort passed to Richard Stebbins until it was suspended after 1970, as just too hard to produce in timely fashion. (From 1978 until 1993, a special issue of Foreign Affairs, on “America and the World,” filled part of the gap.) Campbell, like Stebbins a pupil of Langer, was for more than forty years a pillar of the Studies Program and a reviewer of books on multiple subjects for Foreign Affairs in the general section, on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and especially on the Middle East, where his range and objectivity were particularly evident.
In another direction, the Council’s directors became persuaded in the late 1930s that it would serve a public purpose to set up smaller organizations modeled on the Council in as many communities as possible around the country. Organized initially by Francis P. Miller, the result was the establishment, using funds supplied by the Carnegie Corporation, of an initial thirteen Committees on Foreign Relations in cities ranging from Portland, Oregon, to Houston to Denver and Des Moines. The rule was that each local committee should be entirely self-governing, seeking to enlist a broad spectrum of the occupations and interests in the community and its surrounding area. The Council simply undertook to cooperate closely with the committees in supplying attractive speakers, including members of the Council’s own staff.
From the first, this loose federal structure worked extraordinarily well. The committees took hold and in a quiet way became forces within their communities for wider understanding of international affairs. In time, the original 13 were steadily expanded so that today there are thirty-seven, which also send delegates to a lively annual conference at the Council’s headquarters in New York. In my experience from several tours, the local committees have always maintained the same breadth of viewpoint and outlook that the Council itself has sought in its membership, and with that a high measure of open mindedness.
Thus, the 1930s found the Council steadily expanding its range of activity, both in terms of publications and in reaching out beyond its own boundaries. The Council’s studies staff, under Percy Bidwell for twenty years and then Philip E. Mosely of the Russian Institute at Columbia, also expanded its activities and refined the technique of bringing together groups of experts leavened with laymen, sometimes just for discussion and enlightenment, often to produce reports by a designated author, which were circulated at least to Council members and on a few occasions published.
It was this study-group technique and experience that was brought to bear as the Second World War broke out in the fall of 1939, in the Council’s most ambitious study undertaking.
This was the War and Peace Project, initiated in late 1939 and active right through to the end of the war in 1945. Like so much else in the Council’s history, the idea of such a project appears to have been that of Ham Armstrong himself. In a sense, it went back to the Council’s own roots, in the deep discontent felt by the participants in the Inquiry of 1917-19 about the inadequate depth of knowledge and understanding that had been available to President Wilson and to the American government generally in that postwar period.
At any rate, literally within a week of the outbreak of war in early September 1939, Armstrong and his strong right hand, Walter Mallory, were in Washington offering to put the Council’s organizational skills and ability to select good people to work for the government. Four study groups were formed and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to assess how the war might develop, where it would leave the world, and especially the United States, and what analyses would be useful for contingency planning.
In December 1939, the State Department, which in those simpler days had literally no planning or research units or capacity and no money to pay for them anyway, latched on to the offer and set up liaison with the study groups. These set to work, meeting once a month in New York, with at first six or so members each, later more, on economic, financial, security, and territorial problems, with an additional group formed later to discuss peace aims.
Two years later, of course, the United States did go to war and cooperation intensified. Several of the secretaries of the groups went to work directly for State. But the impetus came all along from the participants, who churned out a stream of papers, eventually something like 700. Those on economic matters highlighted the fundamental importance of economic cooperation between the United States and Britain, and the territorial group expanded its reach to include issues of possible future boundaries, trusteeships, and population trends. The fifth group, on possible peace aims, made a particular point of extensive research on the views and problems of occupied countries, through their governments-in-exile.
It has been wisely said that no contingency plans are ever adopted as written, but that the exercise is often invaluable in flagging the questions that must be faced. So it was for this extraordinary exercise, I am sure. In personal terms, its effect was enormous: Participants stayed in touch with government, all sorts of links were formed that unearthed later talent, and some of the participants, including Armstrong, wound up going to the historic San Francisco conference of 1945. In terms of direct collaboration with government, I suppose it was the furthest north, not only for the Council but for any private organization at any time in American history.
One other individual who bulks large in the Council’s history played a big role in the War and Peace Project. A workhorse on the economic study group, William Diebold went on to become a charter member of the select guild of world-class economists, reviewer of economic books in Foreign Affairs, writer himself of several, and constant goad and guide to the Council’s varied projects in his field.
Thus galvanized, the study-group method was used extensively in the postwar period, it being obvious to all that the United Nations could not assure peace and that profound instability remained. In the turbulent postwar years, the Council teemed with study and discussion groups—twenty-seven in the first five postwar years, by Michael Wala’s count. Many of the study groups dealt with the problems of Europe, including one chaired by Dwight Eisenhower, then president of Columbia, but Japan and the U.N. family of institutions came in for a full share.
In all probability, these groups made at least general contributions to the framework of thinking that underlay the Marshall Plan and NATO, although I do not believe that anything organized by the Council played any significant role in framing the plan itself. Three of the original key figures in putting it together, Dean Acheson, Will Clayton, and George Kennan, were members of the Council, as were many who worked in it, but Acheson, Clayton, and Kennan were not at this time involved in Council activities.
Certainly, among the membership of the Council, sympathy and support for these undertakings was the predominant view. When the European Recovery Program was launched by Secretary of State George Marshall in June 1947, there were rapidly created, with full government cooperation, a number of citizens’ organizations to support the undertaking. The most prnt of these, the Committee for the Marshall Plan (CMP), had a large number of Council members in its makeup. In accordance with its founding principles, the Council itself never took a position on these matters, but then, as in the last period before the outbreak of the Second World War, there was a very strong sentiment among individual Council members and this was reflected in their actions.
Between the spring of 1947 and the spring of 1948, there was undoubtedly a sea change in popular and congressional attitudes toward the plan, so that whereas large poll majorities were at first opposed, Congress finally accepted and fully funded the Marshall Plan in the spring of 1948. What active Council members did was further the idea and help its dissemination to the American people at large, always an important function the Council had aspired to fulfill. In any case, I believe almost every school of history has recognized that the Marshall Plan was at once the most generous and the wisest single move by the United States in the postwar era.
In that same eventful spring of 1947, the country found a rationale for its basic policy toward the Soviet Union through an article published in Foreign Affairs. The story of George Kennan’s “X” article has long since passed into history. The sequence ran from James Forrestal asking Kennan to set down his view of the Soviet Union anew, following the general lines he had spelled out in a famous “long telegram” of February 1946; Kennan writing such a paper and delivering its essence at a Council meeting; George Franklin, the Council’s executive director, calling the session at once to the attention of Ham Armstrong; and Armstrong quickly arranging to publish in the July 1947 issue the resulting article, reluctantly accepting the very temporary anonymity of the author, who had just taken on the policy planning role at State. That July 1947 issue remains a collector’s item, and the reprints of the article are by a considerable margin still at the top of the Council’s circulation of reprints, with demand continuing at a steady rate.
One other project of the 1940s deserves mention here, although it was not covered in the Princeton exhibit. In 1945, the Council’s Committee on Studies felt that there was a great need for the most authoritative and balanced account possible of the diplomatic background behind the entry of the United States into the Second World War, and of its wartime diplomacy. They had in mind, I am sure, not only the usual need for good history of a crucial period, but the memory of the endless and disruptive controversies of the late 1920s and 1930s over how the United States got into the First World War, controversies that lacked a common base of authoritative information and did much to paralyze American policy in the 1930s. Moreover, they sensed that whatever the biases and special interests that might have played a part in 1917, the story was different for the years from 1937 through to 1941 and then to the end of the war.
William Langer, just back at Harvard after serving in the estimating and analytic side of the Office of Strategic Services and still the dean of diplomatic historians, with a high reputation for thoroughness and integrity, was the natural choice for the assignment, which he accepted for what was thought at first to be a four-year job. But since Langer was recalled to government service in 1950 to set up an Office of National Estimates in the CIA, the twin volumes were not published until 1953, and even then could not fully cover the actual war years.
The Council’s understandings with the State Department, approved at the top, deserve special mention here. Langer and his colleagues were to have access to any and all relevant documents, subject to two conditions. One, naturally imposed by government, was that any document he wished to use should be cleared for security, a condition that, with the war over, could be interpreted with considerable flexibility. The second, on which he and the Council insisted, was that any document he did refer to (in what became massive footnotes) should, upon the publication of the study, be declassified and made fully available to other historians.
I pause over this second condition, which was, I think, introduced for the first time in the Langer project. Later, Dean Acheson, in writing his memoirs, insisted on an identical condition for any document he used and cited. Although presidential memoirs have always been a law unto themselves, it seems to me unfortunate that secretaries of state and national security advisers have not always followed the Langer/Acheson precedent.
The two volumes produced under the Langer project are still, I believe, the standard reference on the subject, generally accepted as honest and full. And there has never been a repeat of the bitter controversy of the 1930s, apart from a natural level of criticism and revisionism about FDR’s pre-war policies. I would say that the Langer project was a major and largely unsung public service.
In the Eisenhower administration, two longtime active members, John Foster and Allen Dulles, were in senior positions as secretary of state and director of central intelligence, respectively. Moreover, as just noted, Eisenhower himself when he was at Columbia had taken an interest in the Council and chaired one study group before he was recalled to duty to command NATO. Thus his administration was, I suppose, an apogee in terms of truly active Council members being in senior positions in government.
Yet it is striking that this by no means prevented the Council from sponsoring projects that became critical of the Eisenhower administration’s policies. This was notably true on the central issue of debate within government and in the public during this period, the question of nuclear weapons and national policy.
It was at a Council meeting, in January 1954, that Secretary Dulles first gave a full description of what came to be called the doctrine of “Massive Retaliation,” holding the threat of nuclear weapons or wider hostilities as a deterrent to expansive or aggressive action by Communists or others. Thereafter, this speech was reworked into an article in Foreign Affairs, which remains the authoritative explanation of the policy.
Almost at once, the Council’s Studies Committee decided that the subject needed the best examination it could have if problems of security and classification could be overcome. A substantial group of relevant experts was brought together and shortly concluded that, at the level of broad policy, nuclear weapons could indeed be assessed without serious security problems. For the important role of secretary of this group, responsible for guiding its flow and writing up a full report, Armstrong and George Franklin were responsible for selecting a young Harvard professor, recommended by Arthur Schlesinger, McGeorge Bundy, and William Yandell Elliott, whose images ranged from liberal to hard-line. The result was the emergence of Henry Kissinger as an important figure on the national stage.
Coming into the project after it was already well under way, he progressively took charge and turned it in effect into an operation in support of his own writing of a book, which at most fitted roughly the emerging trend of thought within the group itself. Kissinger came down to work at the Council in the 1955-56 academic year, and the following year produced NuclearWeapons and Foreign Policy, which reached the best-seller lists for several months and attracted enormous attention. That the analysis was brilliant was generally agreed, but as time went on there came to be greater skepticism about the validity of the most striking conclusion, that there was such a thing as a “limited nuclear war” for which the United States should have the capability and the will.
Half a dozen years later, in a book stemming from another Council group on the security of Western Europe, Kissinger was to reverse field and conclude that there was no feasible firebreak in the real world once the use of nuclear weapons had been initiated, hence no realistic possibility of a “limited” nuclear conflict. Yet beyond doubt his initial publication, and the work of the study group, greatly furthered serious discussion of these vital issues.
Naturally enough, Kissinger at this point became a Council regular, publishing no less than twelve articles in Foreign Affairs in the period up to his entry into government in 1969. Almost equally prolific was another Harvard-trained outstanding academic, Zbigniew Brzezinski, with eight articles in this general period of the ’50s and the ’60s.
In this decade, there were again many senior officials who had been active members of the Council, notably Dean Rusk and McGeorge Bundy, while John Kennedy had written for Foreign Affairs in the 1950s. Indeed, Michael Wala tells me that one sociologist’s numerical study of the backgrounds of selected senior officials finds a higher proportion of these to have been Council members under Kennedy and Johnson than under Eisenhower (40 percent under Eisenhower, 42 percent under Kennedy, and a high of 57 percent under Johnson). To me, such unweighted head counts seem a very rough measure at best, and I record my personal impression, from service in all three administrations, that the degree of what might be called Council-consciousness was in fact considerably less under Kennedy and Johnson than it had been under Eisenhower. Certainly neither JFK nor LBJ gave any sign of paying heed to the Council.
A highlight of this decade, in Council terms, was a pair of large-scale study projects, with multiple publications, one directed at the future of Western Europe, the other at the then largely ignored problem of China. The U.S. relationship with China had been frozen for years, and the general picture in many minds was one of implacable and enduring hostility, making any thaw difficult to visualize in the foreseeable future.
Led by a former government servant with extensive Asian experience, Robert Blum, the Council’s China project started from the premise that this prognosis was not immutable, and that in any case China needed to be studied much more thoroughly than was being done from the standpoint of its policy-relevant aspects. As he got under way, Blum enlisted not only China experts but others following public opinion. Indeed, perhaps the most important of the volumes that came out of the project was the very first, an analysis of American public opinion toward China by a first-class newspaper man, Arch Steele. Somewhat to the surprise of both the Studies Committee and many readers, Steele’s book concluded that hostile feeling toward “Communist China” was by no means as strong or widespread as the political world had tended to assume, that a great many Americans were even ignorant that the regime in China was Communist, and that in any case there was not much left of the extreme feelings aroused when the Communist regime took over in 1948-49 and again when Chinese troops intervened to devastating effect in the Korean War in late 1950.
Thus, the Steele book in itself made a significant contribution. It was followed by other volumes of analysis of China that brought it, so to speak, into the real and discussable world to an extent that had not been the case in the 1950s.
The final volume of the series, published in 1967, was started by Blum, who unfortunately died, and brought to completion by a younger Sinologist, already distinguished, A. Doak Barnett. This volume ended on a very strong note, that it was terribly important for the United States to have regularized relations with China and that this should be sought and brought about just as soon as the turbulence in China and its potentially aggressive behavior seemed to calm down, this being the acute period of the Cultural Revolution. While the effect of such writings is impossible to calibrate, it would be my impression that the Council’s China series exerted a very important underlying influence in making China a subject of serious discussion and in moving toward a more realistic policy toward it.
I pause here to note another Council-related publication around which a considerable mythology has grown up, namely an article by Richard Nixon, published in Foreign Affairs in October 1967, to which he and others were later to point as clearly foreshadowing the Kissinger visit of 1971 and the general opening to China at that time. On close examination, this myth has no real basis. In the article, as a whole, a perfectly solid and respectable analysis of the situation in East Asia at the time, the discussion of China is overwhelmingly in terms of the threat it presented and the need for new groupings to contain China, with only one very late paragraph suggesting that of course China could not be left out of touch indefinitely. In relation to the Blum/ Barnett volume, this was hardly in the same forward-looking mode, but rather still in that of the 1950s. Although the seventieth anniversary issue of Foreign Affairs itself was to say in 1992 that the Nixon article created “a sensation,” examination of the response to it in the public press shows nothing of the sort.
These were highlights of the Council’s study effort, in a decade that of course went from minor to major turbulence, over the Vietnam War.
I would say, as one who came to the Council infrequently but for well-remembered meetings on the subject, that predominant opinion within the Council went from accepting to questioning to critical to sharply critical in the period from 1965 to 1968. This was surely the progression in the mind of Ham Armstrong himself, who after printing several generally supportive articles, published in July 1969 a strong article by Clark Clifford urging early withdrawal, and then in his own final issue in 1972 deplored in intense and emotional terms the effect of the war on the reputation of the United States abroad as well as on domestic feeling. No more heartfelt article has ever appeared in the magazine.
In short, the Council was, for a time, riven and shaken. If there was an upside, it lay in a significant measure of rethinking, reflected in a decision to admit women as members (about in tune with what several universities were then doing), a new project to bring in younger “term” members initiated in 1970, a greater emphasis on the Council’s Washington office, which under Alton Frye was to develop into a major activity, and in 1971 the switch to a full-time paid president of the Council, rather than the elder statesmen who had served in that role without pay in previous periods.
In this period, the Council’s range of studies and other activities has been far too broad to summarize briefly, except to note that one major undertaking begun in 1973, the so-called 1980s Project, was in its own way a repeat of the experience of the 1920s, when the Council’s output had focused heavily on possible international organizations and efforts. In the wake of the Vietnam War, it appeared that a similar turn might be the direction that policy and popular concerns could and should take, and the 1980s Project produced a considerable inventory of thoughtful and far-reaching ideas. However, the country shortly fell back into its Cold War mode, and the project never had much chance of practical application.
As for Foreign Affairs, where I was editor from 1972 to 1984, articles on oil and energy policy issues prior to the 1973 Middle East War and the first oil crisis, by Walter Levy and James Akins, sounded an alarm little heeded. When the crisis broke, Foreign Affairs gave it a consistent high priority, along with many articles on its financial and economic consequences, but again with little impact on the slow and ill-directed national response. In general, economic issues were much more to the fore in the 1970s and early 1980s, a time that hardly saw American leadership and policy remotely at the level of the Marshall Plan.
From the mid-1980s on, the magazine’s emphasis moved back to political and strategic issues, under William Hyland, an editor with great experience in these areas. And now, with James Hoge’s broad experience at the helm, a wider range of articles and a new format respond to the varied problems that have replaced the simplifying influence of the Cold War on policy debate.
Still, the magazine remains true to its credo, publishing authors of widely divergent views, searching for unifying themes and principles in an era where these are especially hard to find. In an intensely competitive milieu, its audience has grown steadily, the present circulation of nearly 110,000 far exceeding that of any other publication dealing largely with foreign policy, broadly interpreted.
In sum, as they approach their seventy-fifth year, the Council, its Studies Program, and Foreign Affairs are still at the forefront of serious discussion of the world and of the role of the United States in it. Less than for almost any other institution of its age in our society would the founders be surprised at what was going on and being attempted in the organization they created.
Armstrong, Hamilton Fish. Peace and Counterpeace: From Wilson to Hitler; Memoirs of H.F.A. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.
Armstrong, Hamilton Fish, and Allen W. Dulles. Can We Be Neutral? New York: Harper & Brothers for Council on Foreign Relations, 1936.
The Challenge to Isolation, 1937-1940. New York: For Council on Foreign Relations, 1952.
Blum, Robert. The United States and China in World Affairs. Edited by Doak Barnett. New York: McGraw-Hill, for Council on Foreign Relations, 1966. (A volume in the United States and China in World Affairs series.)
Byrnes, Robert. Awakening American Education to the World: The Role of Archibald Cary Coolidge, 1866- 1928. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982.
Hyland, William G., “Foreign Affairs at 70,” Foreign Affairs, Fall 1992, pp. 171-193.
Langer, William L. and Everett Gleason. The Undeclared War, 1940-1941. New York: Harper, for Council on Foreign Relations, 1952.
Perloff, James. The Shadows of Power: The Council on Foreign Relations and the American Decline. Appleton, Wis.: Western Islands, 1989.
Santoro, Carlo Maria. Diffidence and Ambition: The Intellectual Sources of United States Foreign Policy. Boulder: Westview Press, 1992.
Schulzinger, Robert D. The Wise Men of Foreign Affairs: The History of the Council on Foreign Relations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.
Shepardson, Whitney H. Early History of the Council on Foreign Relations. Stamford, Conn.: The Overbrook Press, 1960.
Shoup, Laurence H. and William Minter. Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977.
Steele, A.T. The American People and China. New York: McGraw-Hill, for Council on Foreign Relations, 1966. (A volume in the United States and China in World Affairs series.)
Wala, Michael. The Council on Foreign Relations and American Foreign Policy in the Early Cold War. Providence, R.I.: Berghahn Books: 1994.
Copyright © 1994 William P. Bundy