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Dean Rusk

(1909—1994)


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(b. Cherokee County, Georgia, 9 Feb. 1909; d. Athens, Georgia, 20 Dec. 1994)

US; Secretary of State 1961–9 Educated at Davidson College in North Carolina, Rusk was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and taught government at Mills College in California 1934–40. After wartime service he embarked upon a career in the State Department, rising to the post of Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs in 1949. In 1952 he left the State Department to become president of the Rockefeller Foundation. Following the election of 1960, President Kennedy appointed him Secretary of State, a post which he held throughout the entire administrations of Kennedy and of President Johnson.

He took a strongly anti-Communist position. As Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs at the time of the Communist victory in China, he was virulently opposed to the Chinese Communists. Although critical of General Douglas MacArthur, he supported the invasion of North Korea led by MacArthur's United Nations forces in October 1950 in an attempt to overthrow the North Korean Communist regime.

As Secretary of State he was a consistent supporter of American involvement in the war in Vietnam. He argued that the lessons of appeasement in the 1930s taught that there must be no appeasement of the Communists in Vietnam, whom he viewed as puppets of the Chinese and Soviet Communists in the relentless forward drive of international Communism in its aim of world domination. In his general conduct of foreign policy, he played a quiet, diplomatically professional role. He was criticized by some of Kennedy's advisers for lack of imagination and an overly low-key style, and it was rumoured that Kennedy intended to replace him as Secretary of State after the 1964 election. Following Kennedy's assassination in 1963 and his succession by President Johnson, he became increasingly influential. As a fellow southerner, he was much closer to Johnson then he had been to Kennedy, some of whose advisers had derided him. Moreover, since Johnson lacked experience in foreign policy and was interested mainly in domestic affairs, the President relied on him for advice on foreign policy to a much greater extent than Kennedy, whose main interest had lain in foreign affairs. He supported the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam throughout Johnson's presidency and sought to reassure the President that this would eventually lead to success.

As an intellectual in politics with a courteous professional manner he won wide respect. Rigidities of thinking from the 1930s and 1940s, however, led him to dogmatic adherence to a disastrous policy in Vietnam, of which he was one of the principal architects. He left Washington in 1969, returning to an academic career in Georgia. With the assistance of his son Richard Rusk he wrote his memoirs, As I Saw It (1990).

Subjects: Warfare and Defence.


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