Dewey, Hoover, Churchill, and Grand Strategy, 1950-53

Dewey, Hoover, Churchill, and Grand Strategy, 1950-53

“Dewey, Hoover and Churchill” is excerpt­ed from an arti­cle for the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. For the com­plete text, click here. The lat­est vol­ume 20 of The Churchill Doc­u­ments, Nomandy and Beyond: May-Decem­ber 1944, is avail­able for $60 from the Hills­dale Col­lege Bookstore.

A great joy of read­ing The Churchill Doc­u­ments is their trove of his­tor­i­cal side­lights. Vol­ume 22 (August 1945—September 1951, due late 2018) cov­ers the ear­ly Cold War: the “Iron Cur­tain,” the Mar­shall Plan, Berlin Air­lift and Kore­an War. It reminds us of the polit­i­cal bat­tles swirling around the Anglo-Amer­i­can “spe­cial rela­tion­ship.” The issues seem very clear in hind­sight. Sev­en decades ago, the future was unknow­able. Take Gov­er­nor Dewey and the ques­tion of America’s com­mit­ment to world security.

The Dewey Lament

Thomas E. Dewey, 1904-1971. (

In late 1950, Churchill received a let­ter from twice-unsuc­cess­ful pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Thomas E. Dewey. The New York gov­er­nor took issue with his fel­low Repub­li­can, for­mer Pres­i­dent Her­bert Hoover:

I have hes­i­tat­ed for a long time about bur­den­ing you with this [but] I am tak­ing the lib­er­ty of impos­ing upon you…. Mr. Hoover made a speech night before last, the impli­ca­tions of which are appalling to me. The press reports today it has had wide and unhap­py reper­cus­sions in Great Britain and on the Continent.

I am still not quite sure why I ran again [for pres­i­dent in 1948] but in any event, hav­ing no ambi­tions or expec­ta­tions of hav­ing any oth­er office I am free to pros­e­lyte to the lim­it of my capac­i­ty for the point of view expressed in my speech and intend to do so. [Churchill, a lover of con­cise Eng­lish, must have blanched at that.]

If you find any spot on the hori­zon more cheer­ful than I do, I should appre­ci­ate hear­ing of it. The world is filled with gloom and almost in extrem­is.1

Not “another man or dollar…”

Prob­a­bly a lot of peo­ple beside Dewey won­dered why he had run again (he had lost to FDR in 1944).  But to me, the sur­prise was to find Dewey, a for­mer Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, tak­ing issue with Hoover the last Repub­li­can pres­i­dent. They cer­tain­ly didn’t like each oth­er. Hoover report­ed­ly said Dewey had “no inner reser­voir of knowl­edge on which to draw for his think­ing…. A man couldn’t wear a mus­tache like that with­out hav­ing it affect his mind.”

I asked Pro­fes­sor George Nash, Hoover’s biog­ra­ph­er, what Dewey was refer­ring to. Dr. Nash referred us to Hoover’s broad­cast of 20 Decem­ber 1950, the text of which he sent. He also helped us com­pose a foot­note to Dewey’s note to Churchill:

On Decem­ber 20, Hoover gave a speech to advo­cate a West­ern-hemi­sphere-ori­ent­ed “Gibral­tar” geopo­lit­i­cal strat­e­gy, a buildup of Amer­i­can air and naval forces, but not of its army, focused on defend­ing the West­ern Hemi­sphere and the free island nations on the Pacif­ic and Atlantic rims, like Tai­wan and the UK “if she wish­es to coop­er­ate.” Hoover would also refuse to send “anoth­er man or dol­lar” to con­ti­nen­tal Europe for its defense until​ the non-​com­mu­nist nations there strength­ened their own mil­i­tary forces. His advice (denounced by his crit­ics as iso­la­tion­ist) dif­fered from Pres­i­dent Tru­man’s plan, announced just the day before, to send more U.S. troops to west­ern Europe to assist in NATO’s defense prepa­ra­tions.2

“Some great common bond…”

As World War II had wound down, America’s atti­tude toward the post­war defense of Europe was a major con­cern of Churchill’s. The Churchill Doc­u­ments con­tain many exam­ples of this. 3 Churchill’s wor­ries con­tin­ued after Roosevelt’s death. What would be the atti­tude of the new pres­i­dent? In May 1945 Churchill wrote Tru­man, ask­ing for a “stand­still order” on the move­ments of U.S. forces. Tru­man replied, “I must not have any avoid­able inter­fer­ence with the rede­ploy­ment of Amer­i­can forces to the Pacif­ic.”4

To Churchill’s relief, Tru­man adopt­ed a robust atti­tude toward Sovi­et aggres­sion. The Pres­i­dent tac­it­ly (though not pub­licly) approved of Churchill’s force­ful 1946 mes­sage about the Iron Curtin. He respond­ed vig­or­ous­ly to com­mu­nist chal­lenges in Greece and Turkey. When the Rus­sians seemed to hes­i­tate in with­draw­ing troops from Iran, Tru­man sent a naval task force led by the bat­tle­ship Mis­souri into Sea of Mar­mara.6

In 1948, Stal­in threat­ened to cut off Allied access to Berlin. Tru­man and Prime Min­is­ter Attlee defied him with the Berlin Air­lift. In the House of Com­mons, a jubi­lant Churchill con­grat­u­lat­ed Labour with gus­to.7 He even hoped for “some great com­mon bond of union, like we had in 1940.”8 It was typ­i­cal of Churchill’s life­long pref­er­ence for coali­tions at times of crisis.

“We cannot buy [Europe] with money…”

Hoover was not propos­ing Amer­i­can iso­la­tion. He want­ed Amer­i­ca armed to the teeth, able to repulse any chal­lenge. Like Churchill, he voiced “the need to pre­serve West­ern Civ­i­liza­tion on the Con­ti­nent of Europe [and] our cul­tur­al and reli­gious ties to it.”9

They diverged in two crit­i­cal areas. The first was the atom­ic bomb, which the Sovi­ets had by then acquired. Hoover said the bomb was “a far less dom­i­nant weapon than it was once thought to be.”10 Churchill dif­fered pro­found­ly. “It may well be,” he had declared in 1946, “that in a few years this awful agency of destruc­tion will be wide­spread, and the cat­a­stro­phe fol­low­ing from its use by sev­er­al war­ring nations will not only bring to an end all that we call civ­i­liza­tion but may pos­si­bly dis­in­te­grate the globe itself.”11

Hoover also balked at help­ing a Europe that refused to help itself. “The test is whether they have the spir­i­tu­al force, the will, and accep­tance of uni­ty among them by their own voli­tion. Amer­i­ca can­not cre­ate their spir­i­tu­al forces; we can­not buy them with mon­ey.” Churchill was doing his best to cre­ate uni­ty of pur­pose and col­lab­o­ra­tion, but this view was anath­e­ma to him. With the best spir­i­tu­al will and uni­ty, he declared again and again in those years, Europe could not defend itself. It was America’s oblig­a­tion to do every­thing to help.

Oth­er­wise, how­ev­er, the Hoover and Churchill the­ses run par­al­lel. Hoover like Churchill favored peace through strength. He advo­cat­ed a joint naval and air strat­e­gy, a uni­ty of minds between the Unit­ed States and the British Empire and Com­mon­wealth. That is what Churchill had worked for most of his life.

“I would denounce such a plan scathingly”

Churchill’s 1950 reply to Dewey was brief: “It is a com­fort to me that you felt Hoover’s speech was ‘appalling.’ I think that your own dec­la­ra­tions are of far more con­se­quence.”12 But two years lat­er Eisen­how­er was elect­ed. And Eisen­how­er, like Hoover, seemed betimes to regard the atom­ic bomb as just anoth­er weapon.

Odd­ly or iron­i­cal­ly, Dewey now pro­posed a defense pos­ture much like Hoover’s. He and Churchill met in New York in Jan­u­ary 1953, before Eisen­how­er took office. They were joined by John Fos­ter Dulles, about to become Eisenhower’s Sec­re­tary of State.

The details of that meet­ing will appear in the final vol­ume 23 of The Churchill Doc­u­ments. We already know much of it from Nev­er Despair 1945-1965, Mar­tin Gilbert’s final Churchill bio­graph­ic vol­ume. On 7 Jan­u­ary Churchill cabled his For­eign Min­is­ter Antho­ny Eden and Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer R.A. But­ler:

Dewey pro­posed a scheme for a Pacif­ic Treaty between all Pacif­ic pow­ers includ­ing the Philip­pines, For­mosa [Tai­wan], and the like, exclud­ing (repeat exclud­ing) Great Britain. I said I would denounce such a plan scathing­ly. Dulles then gave a long account of the nego­ti­a­tions lead­ing up to the Anzus Treaty, and how the Labour Gov­ern­ment had made no objec­tion to it at all.

I explained our point of view. Dewey, who is thor­ough­ly friend­ly, then said that if I object­ed so strong­ly, he would let his baby, i.e. the Pacif­ic Treaty, die. In fact I could con­sid­er it dead. On the spur of the moment he said that an alter­na­tive plan might be for the Unit­ed King­dom and the Unit­ed States to make a joint dec­la­ra­tion (com­pa­ra­ble to our guar­an­tee to Poland in 1939) that if Com­mu­nist Chi­na attempt­ed to occu­py Indo-Chi­na, Bur­ma or any oth­er coun­tries in the Pacif­ic Area, we and the Amer­i­cans would declare war.13

“Great Slab of a Face”

Jock Colville and Christo­pher Soames, respec­tive­ly Churchill’s pri­vate and par­lia­men­tary pri­vate sec­re­taries, were present dur­ing this chilly inter­view. Dewey sug­gest­ed that Churchill “could cast a spell on all Amer­i­can states­men and that if he were direct­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the eco­nom­ic talks, the fears of the peo­ple and of Con­gress would be aroused to such an extent that the suc­cess of the talks would be endan­gered.” Colville continued:

Win­ston took this very rea­son­able state­ment ill, but Christo­pher and I both took pains to assure Dulles after­wards that we thought he was absolute­ly right. Irri­tat­ed by this, Win­ston let fly at Dewey after din­ner and worked him­self into a fury over cer­tain Pacif­ic Ocean ques­tions. Christo­pher and I again applied soft soap sub­se­quent­ly. We told Dewey that a sharp debate was the PM’s idea of a pleas­ant evening…. But…Winston was real­ly worked up and, as he went to bed, said some very harsh things about the Repub­li­can Par­ty in gen­er­al and Dulles in par­tic­u­lar…. He said he would have no more to do with Dulles whose “great slab of a face” he dis­liked and dis­trust­ed.14

So it was that Thomas Dewey reversed him­self, but Churchill’s views remained con­sis­tent. He went away with grave doubts about Fos­ter Dulles, who would con­firm his mis­giv­ings by his atti­tude toward a Sovi­et sum­mit at the Bermu­da Con­fer­ence with Eisen­how­er the fol­low­ing December.

“I tell you all this,” Churchill con­clud­ed in his cable to Eden and But­ler, “to show you the rough weath­er that may well lie ahead in deal­ing with the Repub­li­can Par­ty who have been twen­ty years out of office; and I feel very sure we should not expect ear­ly favourable results. Much patience will be need­ed.”15

And that indeed is anoth­er story—one that The Churchill Doc­u­ments 1951-1965 shall relate.


1 Lar­ry P. Arnn & Mar­tin Gilbert, eds., The Churchill Doc­u­ments, vol. 22, August 1945-Octo­ber 1951 (Hills­dale Col­lege Press, forthcoming).

2 See Her­bert Hoover, “Our Nation­al Poli­cies in This Cri­sis,” Broad­cast on 20 Decem­ber 1950, in Address­es Upon the Amer­i­can Road 1950-1955 (Stan­ford, Calif.: Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1955), 3-10. Online at

3 Lar­ry P. Arnn & Mar­tin Gilbert, eds., The Churchill Doc­u­ments, vol. 21, The Shad­ows of Vic­to­ry, Jan­u­ary-July 1945 (Hills­dale Col­lege Press, forth­com­ing, Octo­ber 2018.)

4 WSC to Tru­man, 12 May 1945; Tru­man to WSC, 21 May 1945, ibid.

N.B. Mate­r­i­al referred to in foot­note 5 is omit­ted in this excerpt.

6 Churchill to Attlee and Bevin, 7 March 1946, in The Churchill Doc­u­ments, vol. 22.

7 Win­ston S. Churchill, “For­eign Affairs,” House of Com­mons, 10 Decem­ber 1948, in The Churchill Doc­u­ments, vol. 22.

8 Churchill, speech at Leeds, 4 Feb­ru­ary 1950, in The Churchill Doc­u­ments, vol. 22.

9 Hoover, “Our Nation­al Poli­cies,” 4.

10 Hoover, ibid., 5.

11 Win­ston S. Churchill, Zurich, 19 Sep­tem­ber 1946, in Richard M. Lang­worth, ed., Churchill By Him­self (Lon­don: Ebury Press, 2012), 315.

12 Churchill to Thomas Dewey, 30 Jan­u­ary 1951, in The Churchill Doc­u­ments, vol. 22.

13 Mar­tin Gilbert, Win­ston S. Churchill, vol. 8, Nev­er Despair 1945-1965 (Hills­dale, Mich.: Hills­dale Col­lege Press, 2013), 791.

14 John Colville, The Fringes of Pow­er: Down­ing Street Diaries 1940-1955, 2 vols. Sevenoaks, Kent: Scep­tre Pub­lish­ing, 1986-87, II 320. Note: It is wide­ly report­ed, but with­out attri­bu­tion, that Churchill also said Dulles was “the only bull who car­ries his chi­na shop with him.”

15 Gilbert, Nev­er Despair, 791.

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