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Imperial Brotherhood

Imperial Brotherhood: Gender and the Making of Cold War Foreign Policy

Robert D. Dean
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk4zg
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  • Book Info
    Imperial Brotherhood
    Book Description:

    This provocative book begins with a question about the Vietnam War. How is it, asks Robert D. Dean, that American policymakers—men who prided themselves on "hardheaded pragmatism" and shunned "fuzzy idealism"—could have committed the nation to such a ruinous, costly, and protracted war? The answer, he argues, lies not simply in the imperatives of anticommunist ideology or in any reasonable calculation of national interest. At least as decisive in determining the form and content of American Cold War foreign policy were the common background and shared values of its makers, especially their deeply ingrained sense of upperclass masculinity. Dean begins by examining the institutions that shaped the members of the U.S. foreign policy establishment—allmale prep schools, Ivy League universities, collegiate secret societies, and exclusive men's clubs—that instilled stoic ideals of competition, duty, and loyalty. Service in elite military units during World War II further reinforced this pattern of socialization, eventually creating an "imperial brotherhood" imbued with a common global vision. More than that, according to Dean, the commitment to toughminded masculinity shared by these men encouraged the pursuit of policies that were aggressively interventionist abroad and intolerant of dissent at home. Applying his gendered analysis to the McCarthy era, Dean reveals how the purge of suspected homosexuals in the State Department not only paralleled the repression of the political left, but also reflected a bitter contest for power between the foreign policy elite and provincial Congressional conservatives. He then shows how issues of manliness similarly influenced the politics and policies of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Just as programs like the Peace Corps were grounded in ideals of masculine heroism, decisions about intervention in Vietnam were inextricably bound up with ideas about male strength and power. In the end, Dean makes a persuasive case that these elite constructions of male identity fundamentally shaped the course of American foreign policy during the early decades of the Cold War.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-080-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
    R. D. D.
  4. INTRODUCTION CULTURE, GENDER, AND FOREIGN POLICY REASON
    (pp. 1-8)

    I began this book seeking to answer a riddle presented by the American military intervention in Southeast Asia during the Kennedy and Johnson years. It has since grown into a more extensive and discursive meditation on the ramifications of culture, class, and gender as factors in U.S. Cold War foreign policy. Nonetheless, the central puzzle remains at the heart of the project: how did highly educated men, who prided themselves on their hard-headed pragmatism, men who shunned “fuzzy-minded” idealism, lead the United States into a prolonged, futile, and destructive war in Vietnam and Southeast Asia? The magnitude of the disaster...

  5. ONE THE FOREIGN POLICY “ESTABLISHMENT”
    (pp. 9-16)

    In mid-October 1962, as the first photographic confirmation of Soviet ballistic missiles in Cuba reached the White House, President Kennedy began secretly to assemble an executive committee of the National Security Council (or “ExComm”) to advise him on possible responses to the emerging crisis. Kennedy faced a grave situation that seemingly threatened the balance of power upon which U.S. leadership of the Western coalition was founded. Even if the Soviet nuclear missiles didn’t increase the real military danger facing the United States, as some around him argued, Kennedy and his advisers believed that the public revelation of their presence would...

  6. TWO THE REPRODUCTION OF IMPERIAL MANHOOD
    (pp. 17-36)

    The men who made American foreign policy during the 1960s were products of a cultural milieu and a system of education that took form in the late nineteenth century. A pattern of upper-class masculine socialization that solidified between roughly 1885 and World War I retained its central attributes at least until the onset of World War II. In many respects its assumptions went largely unchallenged until the upheavals of the 1960s spread to all-male boarding schools, Ivy League universities, and racially segregated elite metropolitan men’s clubs. Central to this pattern was a concatenation of sex-segregated institutions that prepared and certified...

  7. THREE HEROISM, BODIES, AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF ELITE MASCULINITY
    (pp. 37-62)

    Heroism in war occupied a central place in the imagination of manhood for the men of the high-level national security bureaucracy under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Most of the men who filled the high-level posts were veterans of World War II who had served in elite volunteer military units of one kind or another. Both Kennedy and Johnson were themselves decorated for service during World War II, and according to biographers, both considered courage to be the virtue that takes precedence over all others.¹

    Arthur Schlesinger Jr., court historian of the Kennedy administration and longtime advocate of “heroic leadership,” noted...

  8. FOUR “LAVENDER LADS” AND THE FOREIGN POLICY ESTABLISHMENT
    (pp. 63-96)

    Victorious over the Axis powers, the imperial brotherhood of the Truman foreign policy bureaucracy undertook the next heroic task. Men such as Robert Lovett, Dean Acheson, James Forrestal, Averell Harriman, John J. McCloy, George Kennan, Charles Bohlen, Paul Nitze, and others began forming a new global imperial alliance under U.S. leadership, in opposition to the Soviet Union. They helped create a “national security state” dedicated to the containment of communism and the expansion of a corporate capitalist world economic order. To mobilize domestic support for expensive foreign policy and military initiatives, Truman’s policymakers used alarmist rhetoric to persuade the American...

  9. FIVE THE SEXUAL INQUISITION AND THE IMPERIAL BROTHERHOOD
    (pp. 97-146)

    Eisenhower’s new Republican administration, despite the presence of many foreign policy “internationalists,” failed for a long while to do anything to check McCarthy. Despite an apparently reckless and scatter-shot quality to his charges, Joe McCarthy waged a systematic campaign against the eastern patrician foreign policy establishment. McCarthy, always willing to operate as the front man for more cautious Republican conservatives, also raised the specter of the lavender threat in the spring of 1950. He and his allies fulminated in public about “moral perverts” infesting the government; behind the scenes they tracked down every rumor of “perversion” and sexual malfeasance that...

  10. SIX LAVENDER-BAITING AND THE PERSISTENCE OF THE SEXUAL INQUISITION
    (pp. 147-168)

    Senator Joe McCarthy didn’t confine himself to blackmailing John J. McCloy’s former proconsular officials. Eventually he turned on McCloy himself. McCloy—a former Wall Street lawyer, assistant secretary of war, head of the World Bank, and high commissioner of Germany who was then head of the Chase National Bank of New York—had also recently been named president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He made a perfect target, symbolic of the “establishment,” connected as he was to the world of international finance and high imperial politics. McCarthy publicly accused McCloy of once issuing an order for “the destruction of...

  11. SEVEN JOHN F. KENNEDY AND THE DOMESTIC POLITICS OF FOREIGN POLICY
    (pp. 169-200)

    John f. kennedy’s career was premised on an “ideology of masculinity”; he used this ideology to justify his claim to presidential power. Employing culturally resonant images, Kennedy constructed an aristocratic persona embodying the virtues of the stoic warrior-intellectual. He projected an image of youth, “vigor,” moral courage, and “toughness.” Kennedy both shared and exploited popular fears that equated a perceived “crisis” of American masculinity with the decline of American power abroad, using them to frame his presidential campaign and his programs while in office. The United States, Kennedy asserted, had “gone soft—physically, mentally, spiritually soft.” During eight years of...

  12. EIGHT MANHOOD, THE IMPERIAL BROTHERHOOD, AND THE VIETNAM WAR
    (pp. 201-240)

    Presidents Kennedy and Johnson each inherited the crisis of Vietnam from their predecessors. The South Vietnamese state, essentially a creation of the United States in the wake of the defeat of French colonialism in 1954, faced a long-term nationalist insurgency largely organized by Vietnamese communists. Each president believed he had only a very restricted set of permissible “options” available to attempt to rectify the problem. Each president took office amid dire predictions from their advisers that barring immediate action to forestall collapse, they could expect the imminent “loss” of the South Vietnamese client regime. Such a collapse fell outside the...

  13. AFTERWORD
    (pp. 241-244)

    The u.s. intervention in Vietnam was the product of a long and complex history. The social construction of masculinity among the elites who managed America’s postcolonial empire must be accounted for in the effort to fully understand that history. How decision makers understood threats, and which responses they considered legitimate or even conceivable, followed in significant measure from ideologies of manhood, class, and culture. Gender ideologies can be seen from a functionalist perspective as cultural mechanisms that help ensure that the material conditions of survival are met: the prescriptions of “manliness” compel men to defend their society against internal and...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 245-306)
  15. REFERENCES
    (pp. 307-322)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 323-330)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 331-332)