Acheson and Empire: The British Accent in American Foreign Policy

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Acheson and Empire offers a compelling reassessment of Dean Acheson's policies toward the former colonial world during his period as secretary of state from 1949 to 1953. John T. McNay argues that Acheson inherited through his own personal history a way of understanding the world that encouraged imperial-style international relationships. This worldview represented a well-developed belief system rooted in his Ulster Protestant heritage that remained consistent throughout his life.

By exploring relationships of the United States with Britain and countries formerly or then controlled by Britain, such as India, Ireland, Iran, and Egypt, McNay shows the significance of Acheson's beliefs. McNay argues that Acheson's support of existing imperial relationships was so steadfast that it often led other nations to perceive that the United States was nothing more than a front for British interests. He believes this approach to foreign policy damaged American relations with emerging countries and misled the British regarding possibilities of an Anglo-American partnership.

Acheson and Empire contends that the widely accepted view of Acheson as a foreign policy realist is misleading and that historians should acknowledge that his affinity for the British Empire went beyond his clothing and mannerisms. McNay maintains that the widely accepted view of Acheson as one of a group of "wise men" who shaped the Cold War world by basing their decisions on cold calculation of American interests should be reconsidered.

Drawing from extensive research in archival sources, including the Truman Library, the National Archives, the Public Record Office in London, and Acheson's personal papers at Yale, Acheson and Empire offers a fresh look at Dean Acheson that runs counter to previous biographies and many histories of the Cold War.

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Editorial Reviews

Andrew Cockburn
John McNay's Acheson and Empire: The British accent in American Foreign Policy comes therefore as a welcome palliative to the prevailing hagiography...It is certainly bracing to come across such citations and appreciate how deeply this man, who did so much to shape the second half of the 20th century, was rooted in the Victorian era."
Washington Monthly
John McNay (Univ. of Cincinnati) presents a revisionist view of the realist Dean Acheson to explain his role as Truman's Secretary of State in the early Cold War. Infused with psychological insights and family history, the author ascribes Acheson's pro-British and pro-French sensibilities to his admiration of Cardinal Richelieu as the steward of France's destiny. In short, Acheson applied the "imperial paradigm" to US foreign policy in the Cold War with the USSR, to issues of independence in Egypt, Iran, India, South Africa, and Ireland, and to the Korean War. For contrast and comparison, see I.F. Stone, The Truman Era (1953); David Brinkley, Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years (CH, Mar'93); and Gaddis Smith, Dean Acheson (CH, Nov'72). McNay goes beyond many aspects of these earlier studies to show a consistent vision of empire in Acheson's thought even after he left the State Department, especially in the US's China policy and the war in Vietnam. Highly recommended for general readers and upper-division undergraduate collections and above. S. Prisco III Stevens Institute of Technology
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826213440
  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Publication date: 7/20/2001
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

John T. McNay is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Cincinnati.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Champion of Empire 11
2 The Special Relationship 39
3 Bonds of Loyalty 61
4 The Ulster Connection 81
5 The Kashmir Connection 101
6 The Iran Connection 129
7 The Egypt Connection 158
8 Epilogue 193
Bibliography 203
Index 217
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