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
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 http://bit.ly/2NQXOs2.
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.