Ohio History Journal

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Book Reviews

Book Reviews



The Cautious Diplomat: Charles E. Bohlen and the Soviet Union, 1929-1969.

By T. Michael Ruddy. (Kent: The Kent State University Press, 1986. xii +

219p.; notes, bibliography, index. $27.00.)

In this first book, T. Michael Ruddy gives us both a useful sketch of the

career of one of the most important American foreign service officials of the

middle third of the twentieth century and a sense of the Cold War as he saw it.

A product of the Ivy League establishment, Charles Bohlen was among the

first generation of trained Soviet specialists produced by the State Department.

(His most famous contemporary, George F. Kennan, was a lifelong friend and

occasional intellectual antagonist.) His attitude toward the USSR was that of a

pragmatic centrist who envisioned Soviet policy as determined by a blend of

ideology and self-interest. He never abandoned his hope that patient diplomacy

could produce some degree of accommodation between the two powers,

struggling with varying degrees of success against soft-minded optimists at one

extreme and hard-line Cold Warriors at the other.

Quickly establishing himself as a highly esteemed foreign service figure, he

was instrumental in the diplomatic education of Averell Harriman, then a close

friend of Harry Hopkins and unofficial liaison between the White House and

the State Department during World War II. In the Truman era, he was deeply

involved in the formulation and implementation of the containment doctrine.

Eisenhower's personal choice as ambassador to the Soviet Union despite the

misgivings of John Foster Dulles and the open opposition of Senator Joe

McCarthy, he spent four years in Moscow, followed by a two-year "exile" as

ambassador to the Philippines, before returning to Washington. Under the brief

tenure of the Republican Christian Herter and the eight-year term of Dean

Rusk, he became an increasingly important and widely admired diplomat,

spending five years as ambassador to France and a year as Undersecretary of

State before his retirement in 1969.

More a doer and less a thinker than Kennan, he accepted the foreign service

officer's role as a subordinate who worked within broad policies determined at

higher levels. Consequently, Ruddy is at times troubled by his subject's

"caution" in pressing his personal opinions upon his superiors and by what

seems to be his occasional trimming, as when he softened his strongly negative

feelings toward the Dulles-Eisenhower liberation policy. The author finds

Bohlen's influence on the shaping of American foreign policy difficult to

evaluate, but concludes that as a diplomat he was a professional's professional.

Professor Ruddy's portrayal of Bohlen is not as lively as that delivered by

Evan Thomas and Walter Isaacson in their recent book The Wise Men (1986),

nor does it possess substantially more depth. Bohlen's own autobiography,

Witness to History (1963), provides a fuller and highly readable account of his

career. Nonetheless, the author's conclusions are sound, if unexceptional and

not terribly revealing. This is a solid introduction to the life of one of the

makers of modern American diplomacy.


Ohio University                                  Alonzo L. Hamby