e-book Henry L. Stimson: The First Wise Man (Biographies in American Foreign Policy)

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Henry Stimson - Andover, Yale Skull and Bones , Harvard Law, cofounder of a major Wall Street law firm that still bears his name - carried as if in his veins some of the prominent strains of the American character. As a brilliant corporate lawyer, he was Yankee shrewd.

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And in his unabashed nationalism and aspirations for American world leadership, he was cut from the same cloth as his early hero and friend, Theodore Roosevelt. His faults, which Hodgson examines without flinching, were not idiosyncratic other than a short-fuse temper so much as the shortcomings of his time and class. For all his personal uprightness, he didn't resonate with the deepest American aspirations for democracy and social justice.

His views toward Jews and blacks, though not purposefully racist, were all too consistent with the stereotypes held by his social class. In what Hodgson identifies as probably the most shameful episode in Stimson's life, the secretary of war allowed the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor with hardly a qualm, or even a thought. Yet Stimson was unquestionably a noble American patriot and one of the most farsighted men of his day on the great issues of war and peace.

More clearly than nearly all his contemporaries, he recognized the dangers of American isolationism and did more than perhaps anyone else in the years before World War II to sound the call for a reluctant United States to don the mantle of world leadership. The culminating event in Stimson's public service was the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan. Perhaps Hodgson's most impressive achievement is his careful and balanced account of the development of the bomb and the strategic, political, and moral issues it raised.

Stimson, like nearly everyone else involved with the Manhattan Project, regarded the bomb as a military weapon that should be used to shorten the war as soon as it was ready. Yet in his waning days in office - 78 years old, exhausted, and in poor health - Stimson called for international control of nuclear power to avoid an arms race.


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