In the years after World War II, Georgetown s leafy streets were home to an unlikely group of Cold Warriors: a coterie of affluent, well-educated, and connected civilians who helped steer American strategy from the Marshall Plan through McCarthyism, Watergate, and the endgame of Vietnam. Read more...
In the years after World War II, Georgetown s leafy streets were home to an unlikely group of Cold Warriors: a coterie of affluent, well-educated, and connected civilians who helped steer American strategy from the Marshall Plan through McCarthyism, Watergate, and the endgame of Vietnam. The Georgetown set included Phil and Kay Graham, husband-and-wife publishers of The Washington Post; Joe and Stewart Alsop, odd-couple brothers who were among the country s premier political pundits; Frank Wisner, a driven, manic-depressive lawyer in charge of CIA covert operations; and a host of other diplomats, spies, and scholars responsible for crafting America s response to the Soviet Union from Truman to Reagan.
This was a smaller, cozier Washington utterly unlike today s capital where presidents made foreign policy in consultation with reporters and professors over martinis and hors d oeuvres, and columnists like the Alsops promoted those policies in the next day s newspapers. Together, they navigated the perilous years of the Cold War, yielding triumphs and tragedies with very real consequences for present-day America and the world.
Gregg Herken captures their successes and failures and gives us intimate portraits of these dedicated and talented, if deeply flawed, individuals. Throughout, he illuminates the drama of those years, bringing this remarkable roster of men and women and their world not only out into the open but vividly to life."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-09-15
- Reviewer: Staff
Cold War America was largely shaped by a close-knit group of individuals known as the “WASP ascendancy”: well-off, well-educated journalists, politicians, and socialites who lived in Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood. Herken (Brotherhood of the Bomb), professor emeritus of American diplomatic history at the University of California, goes into exacting detail in this excellent account, which focuses on the players themselves—their backgrounds, relationships, rivalries, scandals, and opinions on the policies and events that defined the era. Two principal players were the highborn brothers Joe and Stewart Alsop, whose newspaper column, “Matter of Fact,” appeared in more than a hundred newspapers across the United States. Joe’s dinners, dubbed “zoo parties,” served as alcohol-fueled salons for a tribe which regularly included such figures as George Kennan, Phil and Katherine Graham, and the CIA’s Frank Wisner. Herken covers, among a host of post-WWII milestones, the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, the founding of the CIA, McCarthyism, the Korean War, Vietnam, and Watergate. The skill with which he describes the players in Georgetown is not to be missed. Agent: Emma Patterson, Brandt & Hochman. (Nov.)
Behind the scenes in D.C.
During the years after World War II, a group of ambitious, idealistic, affluent and well-connected young people settled in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. Until at least 1975, their strong influence was felt, for good or ill, in virtually every aspect of government, especially foreign policy decisions, and in shaping public opinion on such issues as the founding of NATO, the military and covert actions of the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis and the war in Vietnam.
Historian Gregg Herken takes us inside this world in his meticulously researched and compellingly written The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington. At the center of the narrative is political and foreign affairs columnist Joseph Alsop, whose Sunday night supper parties became a Georgetown tradition. Vigorous discussions of issues dominated these gatherings. The guest list was nonpartisan and usually included members of Congress, foreign ambassadors, administration officials and, of course, Alsop’s well-connected friends and neighbors. These neighbors included Katharine and Phil Graham, publishers of The Washington Post; Frank Wisner and Allen Dulles, both deeply involved in covert activity; and diplomats Charles “Chip” Bohlen, David Bruce and Llewellyn Thompson. It was understood that any information from these gatherings could be used by Joe Alsop and his brother, Stewart, in their reporting. But it worked both ways: If a guest wished to leak information to the press, it was the perfect place to do so.
Senator John Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, were neighbors and occasional Alsop dinner guests. After the official events of JFK’s inauguration were over, the new president went to the Alsop home, without notifying the owner beforehand, where he stayed for two hours. When the Cuban missile crisis was developing, JFK went to a private party at the columnist’s home and stunned the host by confiding that there might be a nuclear war in the next five to 10 years. During the Watergate hearings, Alsop’s home became a kind of refuge for Henry Kissinger, who was having dinner there when President Nixon reached him by phone to give him advance word of his plans to resign. After Watergate, the Georgetown dinner party lost much of its drawing power.
Some of the people in this book have written their own memoirs or been the subjects of books by other writers. Herken works through this material to give us a balanced view of the mark they left on history. This compulsively readable group portrait of movers and shakers shows how major government decisions were influenced by an elite few during a dynamic period of national and world events.