The twenty-fifth anniversary of Time magazine in 1948 coincided with Luce’s fiftieth birthday. Despite the lavish celebratory dinners and the generally positive coverage of these landmarks, both events seemed to hit him hard. His marriage was in disarray. His company was beset by troubles. His beloved China was slipping from his grasp and into the hands of the Communists. To his colleagues he seemed even more restless and impatient than usual—frustrated by his inability to shape events as he wished, overwhelmed with ideas for which he could find no adequate outlet.
Allen Grover, one of Luce’s closest associates, believed after spending several weeks traveling with him in Europe that Luce was “getting bored with his office job at Time,” that he felt that he had “nobody to talk to in the U.S., nobody of his intellectual level.” Grover continued:
Luce is a good man on the great issues…. But on the small issues, the personal relationships, he is a very bad man, thoughtless and arbitrary…. He has such intellectual arrogance that he does not believe anybody can tell him anything…. [H]e has so lost the art of conversational give and take that he has become a colossal bore…. Pleasant social conversation is just not in him anymore.
Billings, Grover’s partner in analyzing Luce’s state of mind, wrote of “the depth of [Luce’s] professional melancholy.” His conversations were “practically impossible to transcribe…. So much of his communication is by gesture and expression … nobody would believe it…. He says that it is no use talking to stupid people and most people are stupid. He is utterly arrogant in his manners; his tempers are sharp and awful…. We wondered if, for all his brilliance, he was going crazy.”1
Grover and Billings were not alone in their views. A Business Week reporter, interviewing Luce for a twenty-fifth-anniversary story on Time, recorded his impressions of their conversation:
I have never in all of my reasonably gregarious life sustained a conversation with anyone so incoherent…. All of his sentences, many of his words are broken … put together in a non-logical pattern…. His incoherence comes from the many ideas in his head racing to get out of his mouth and getting in each other’s way.
Stories abounded of Luce’s increasing distraction. Colleagues reported that at lunches and dinners, he would talk almost incessantly, shoveling food into his mouth as he did so, and then—at the end—having no memory of having eaten and asking indignantly why the meal had not yet been served. At one lunch he overlooked the meal he had ordered and unthinkingly ate only a platter of green beans that happened to be near his seat. When a soufflé was presented at Luce’s table at an opulent meal in Paris, he took a forkful and waved it over the dish interminably while his dismayed guests (and the chef) watched the soufflé collapse. He dressed expensively, but it was not usually noticeable. His secretary frequently called Luce’s home and had items delivered to his office because he so often wore unmatched shoes or socks.2
By 1950 Luce appeared to be considering alternative paths in life. Early that year Connecticut Republicans approached Clare to see if she would be a candidate for the U.S. Senate. She declined but suggested trying to recruit Harry. And for several weeks, despite his previous refusal in the 1940s, he thought seriously about running. He had a “definite interest,” Luce told the New York Times in January. “Several Republican leaders who seemed very much to want me have asked me to think about it, and I am thinking about it.” He discussed the possibility with his editorial staff, insisting that he was unlikely to run but talking at length about the attractions of doing so. He felt, he said, “like a Pentagon general of propaganda who had a chance to get up under fire on the front lines.” How could he say no? But at other times he claimed to be miserable at the prospect of entering politics. “I shouldn’t have gotten into this and it’s going to take a lot of coping for me to get out,” he complained. Part of what worried him was the prospect of running against his friend and Yale classmate, William Benton, who was up for reelection. But the real obstacle was his fear of giving up his magazines and the power they gave him—power that he rightly believed was greater than any he could wield in the Senate. Weary as he may have been with running the company, he could not give it up. Early in February he announced he would not enter the Senate race.3
In the late summer of 1950 he announced that he would take a year’s leave from Time Inc. “to collect his thoughts and travel.” Billings would run the company in his absence and would even move into Luce’s own, palatial office as a symbol of his new, if temporary, authority. But as with the Senate race, Luce wavered, even after he had announced his decision. “He just sits in his office, doing nothing and staring off into space,” Grover reported. “He seems in the depths of gloom: certainly the happy prospect of a year off hasn’t lifted his spirits…. [He] hates New York because he has been a personal failure here, has not established himself and Clare socially among New Yorkers. True! True!!” (Luce even talked at times, probably not very seriously, of moving the company out of the city—to Indiana, or Texas, or Westchester.) His longtime secretary, alarmed at his pending departure (and the disruption of her own routine as a result) began telling Billings what had once been carefully guarded secrets about Luce’s life and his marriage. “Clare has no friends, and neither does Harry,” she confided. Ed Thompson, the editor of Life, said that Luce was “very lonely.” Billings wrote that Luce’s “nerves are shot…. He’s in bad shape.” Once his sabbatical formally began, Luce continued to find excuses to return to the building, many of them connected to the roller-coaster course of the Korean War. Early in 1951 he abandoned the sabbatical altogether, moved back into his office, and tried to pretend nothing had changed.4
But things had changed. More than ever Luce felt isolated in his own company, unable to control the magazines as he wished and unable fully to articulate his own aspirations for them. As was often the case, he responded to frustration with travel—serious, purposeful, almost obsessive travel that would, he believed, help him understand the new postwar world that he still hoped to shape. “He seems to feel happily useful,” Billings told Grover, “only when he is on large tours of inquiry, shooting through the firmament like an inquisitive comet.” Luce took exhausting trips around the United States, calling on mayors, governors, business leaders, and what he liked to call “characters”: “my favorite College President … [a] rich, civilized land owner … a busy country doctor … the civic-leading Rotarian … three fine, salty female characters.” In the space of a few weeks, he visited Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Boise, Seattle, Portland. On a later trip he went to Cincinnati and to Dallas, Fort Worth, and Snyder, Texas, and then, on another, to Chicago, Anaconda, Butte, and (again) Seattle and Portland. These travels seemed at least temporarily to refresh him, and he wrote back to his editors with enthusiasm about the “new America” he was discovering. Even in the smallest, least lovely towns, he found inspiration: “The Americans of Butte, Montana … do a job—a whale of a job, and they seem to be doing their big job with a) a considerable amount of fair and friendly dealing with each other; and b) a belief in progress.”5
His trips outside the United States were even more frequent and more frantic. He often claimed that he did not want to spend his time meeting with important people, but in fact he did almost nothing else. The hapless Time Inc. correspondents in the cities he visited often spent nervous weeks organizing his meetings and events before confronting the tornado of his presence. “Our Mr. Luce … came and went, leaving us, among other things, completely limp and worn out,” one of his Time Inc. hosts wrote after a Luce sojourn in Brazil. It turned, she said, “into a mad whirl for all concerned and toward the end took on … gigantic proportions.” In the course of only a few days, he met with the president, a cardinal, the American ambassador (for a state dinner), ministers, business leaders, and one of the country’s biggest ranchers. In England he met with both Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee, the first Labour Party prime minister, and left encouraged that Britain was not in fact turning into a socialist society. After a trip to the Continent—where he visited Germany and Austria—he wrote ebulliently about the progress American reconstruction had made and noted that there was “more political vitality in Europe of a non-Communist or anti-Communist nature than I had supposed.” Grover, after reading Luce’s copious memos of his travels, warned his colleagues that “the Boss has rediscovered Europe.” Having made the rediscovery, Luce made repeated return visits. After a 1949 trip his office compiled a list of the people he had met—more than a hundred, among them the pope, the presidents or prime ministers of Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, and France, princes and princesses, statesmen, writers, and artists, Charles de Gaulle, Jean Monnet, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. After a trip around the “rim of Asia,” he compiled another such list of those he had spoken with “at serious length”: the presidents of South Korea, Nationalist China, and the Philippines, the emperor and prime minister of Vietnam, the prime minister of Japan, and more than a dozen other governors, ambassadors, and ministers. “After all these encounters,” Luce noted proudly, “I flew in 33 hours, 8,000 miles from Singapore to London to dine at 10 Downing Street with Winston Churchill.”6
When he journeyed to more remote places, in which the famous and powerful were rare, he became an avid travel writer, producing long personal accounts of the landscapes, the people, and the cultures he encountered. On a trip through the Middle East, during which he visited Iran and the lands along the southern border of the Soviet Union, he wrote of the exoticism of the region: the “endless void” of the Persian deserts, the crude construction techniques of railroads in Tabriz, the strange markets in Azerbaijan, the shapes of mountains, trees, orchards, the lives of border patrols, men riding donkeys. But when he arrived later in Beirut, he reverted to his usual tendency to admire what was most “American” about the rapidly changing world. He was dazzled by the modern, business-driven city and its “American-minded” people. Its Western universities (most prominent of them the American University in Beirut) were, he said, “wonderful advertisements of what we like to think of as the ‘best’ in American life.”7
Luce almost always considered the places he visited of enormous interest and importance, but he had a particular and somewhat gloomy fascination with the Arab world. The creation of Israel, he wrote, “was a shocking surprise to the Arabs and produced a reaction of bewildered disillusionment and hostility to the U.S. The Arabs are unable to explain the U.S. intervention except on the theory that America is literally ruled by the Jews.” U.S. support of Zionism had, Luce said, left “a trail of social injustice and the smell of injustice.” But always the optimist, he felt certain that “this bleeding can be stopped” if America would choose to act. “A Theodore Roosevelt, I believe, could settle this matter in a week.”8
Luce’s travels proved to be only intermittent distractions from the growing troubles facing his company in the dawning years of the Cold War. On August 3, 1948, Whittaker Chambers—no longer Time’s foreign editor but still a “special writer” for the magazine—testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and accused Alger Hiss, a former State Department official, of having been a member of the Communist Party in the 1930s. At first the accusation seemed wholly implausible. Hiss was a respected diplomat who had accompanied Franklin Roosevelt to Yalta, had helped draft the United Nations Charter, and was a friend and associate of Dean Acheson, soon to become secretary of state. Hiss heatedly denied the charges and insisted he had never met Chambers (although he later conceded that he might have known him under another name). Given the contrast between the smooth, sleek, well-dressed Hiss and the rumpled, overweight, agitated Chambers, many people doubted the charges. But dogged Republicans, chief among them the first-term representative Richard Nixon, continued to pursue the case and kept it alive. In October, Hiss sued Chambers for libel. Chambers responded by making a new and explosive accusation. Hiss, he said, had not just been a Communist but also a spy for the Soviet Union. To support his claim he presented several reels of microfilm, which he had hidden in a pumpkin in the garden of his Westminster, Maryland, farm. The “pumpkin papers” seemed to support Chambers’s story, and Hiss—although not yet without influential supporters—began his long, lonely years of prosecution, imprisonment, disgrace, and struggle for vindication that continued, unsuccessfully, for the rest of his life. (Classified Soviet documents released in the 1990s seemed to confirm Chambers’s claim that Hiss had participated in espionage.)9
The Hiss-Chambers controversy shook Time Inc. badly, but only after months of escalating pressure. The left-leaning writers and editors who had so despised Chambers a few years earlier were mostly gone, eased out by Luce’s increasing intolerance of them. The remaining staff, including Luce, admired Chambers, believed his story, and for a while sought to defend him. When Chambers offered to resign at the time of the first HUAC hearings, Luce replied, “Nonsense. Testifying is a simple patriotic duty.” He told his colleagues that “Chambers is an honest man and we must give him our faith.” Others at Time, among them Roy Larsen, were “deeply disturbed” about the reputational damage that Chambers’s continued presence might cost the company. Tom Matthews, who vacationed in Newport, Rhode Island, reported that people he met there were asking about Chambers: “Who’s this Communist who runs Time that just got arrested?” Billings, despite his belief that “the weight of credibility is now in Chambers’s favor,” worried that the case would be “an ordeal for us…. Has Time suffered a moral slip?”10
The October revelations of the “pumpkin papers” changed Luce’s view. In accusing Hiss of espionage, Chambers had implicated himself as well by admitting that he had been one of Hiss’s handlers. Luce was already becoming uneasy about defending Chambers as a result of the many gleeful attacks from such longtime enemies as Walter Winchell, Westbrook Pegler, and the Chicago Tribune, who accused him of “harboring a communist.” (“It’s our No. 1 public relations problem,” Billings wrote. “We are under constant, nagging attack for having Commnists in our midst.”) The Chambers case had become a “pain and embarrassment,” Luce complained. And so he seized on the unsurprising revelation of Chambers’s own role in espionage and used it as his reason for dismissing him. “Goddam it Whit,” he said during a brusque final meeting with Chambers in December, “you told me you had been a Communist, but Jesus, Whit, you didn’t tell me you had been a spy?” Chambers, who considered Luce’s astonishment to have been disingenuous, replied with characteristic melodrama: “You know, Harry, when you took me on, I began to have some hope for America. I despair for it now.”11
But the ghost of Chambers continued to haunt Time Inc. for years. The Hiss trial, and the huge attention it attracted, dragged on through 1949, and the controversy went on much longer, creating continuing awkward publicity for Time Inc. In the spring of 1950 Chambers began to show around the manuscript of his new book on the case, which he titled Witness. Luce tried to buy the serialization rights for Life, convinced (correctly) that the book would create a sensation. Some of his colleagues had doubts. “Chambers writes like an angel,” Billings said, “but I don’t know whether I believe him or not.” Luce offered Chambers sixty thousand dollars for the rights. But a few days later Chambers signed on with Life’s fading rival, the Saturday Evening Post, sparking speculation among the Time Inc. editors that an embittered Chambers was wreaking public revenge. Most damaging of all, however, was that the Chambers issue had raised accusations that Time Inc. had been weak in the then-raging battle against Communism.12
“Communism is the most monstrous cancer which ever attacked humanity,” Luce wrote the Time Paris correspondent in 1949, “and we shall do our best, however feeble, to combat it at all times and all places.” He was, like most other Americans, an adamant Cold Warrior in the battle against world Communism. But he was also a participant in the campaign to identify Communist influence within the United States. As early as 1946 Luce was berating his editors for being “such a bunch of softies that they aren’t able to fire anybody, especially if he’s a Communist sympathizer…. I don’t want any Communist sympathizers working for Time Inc.” And so Time Inc. began slowly (and mostly quietly) to purge at least a few employees who had, or seemed to have had, Communist connections or sympathies. Luce tried to prohibit using the word “leftist” in the magazines, because he considered it a respectable but misleading euphemism for Communism. He lashed out at his editors for not being tough enough in print on radicals. Paul Robeson, he complained in 1949, “has … displayed his full traitorous attitude to the U.S.,” but the Time Inc. publications had “never spelled it out.”13
Luce was particularly hostile to those responsible for what he considered the “great betrayal” of his time: the failure to prevent a Communist victory in China. Two of his principal targets were John Carter Vincent and Owen Lattimore, both of whom, Luce believed, had misled policy makers in ways that facilitated “China’s tragic disaster.” He stopped short (barely) of calling them Communists. But Time, reflecting Luce’s determination to drive them both out of any role in making policy, attacked them with a steady drumbeat of denunciations and innuendos.
Vincent was a career diplomat and the director of the State Department’s East Asia desk during the civil war in China. He was, Time said, in “a perfect position to exercise enormous influence over our policy in China,” and he had used that influence disastrously to press Chiang “into a coalition with the Chinese Communists.” While the magazine grudgingly conceded that Vincent might not have been a Communist, it insisted that he had been as damaging to the national interest as any Communist could be. He was, Timestated, “one of the chief architects of a policy that led to a triumph for Communism [in China] and a disaster for the U.S.” Because he had been charged by Truman’s own Loyalty Review Board with having expressed “studied praise of Chinese Communists and equally studied criticism of the Chiang Kai-shek government … there is reasonable doubt as to his loyalty.” Vincent left the foreign service in 1953, and Time made certain to report that the new secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, had accused him of “a failure to meet the standard which is demanded of a Foreign Service officer.”14
If anything, Luce had even more contempt for Owen Lattimore, an Asia scholar and a professor at Johns Hopkins University, whom Luce had once briefly recruited as an expert adviser to his magazines. His sense of personal betrayal may have intensified his hostility. In the aftermath of World War II, Lattimore, like Vincent, had advocated a coalition government of the Nationalists and Communists in China and had been harshly critical of Chiang Kai-shek and his regime. And so as with Vincent, Time avoided few opportunities to discredit him. The magazine portrayed Lattimore as a man enmeshed in “a powerful Communist web of propaganda and persuasion” that had a significant influence on policy. When congressional committees called Lattimore in to testify, Timenoted that the case against him was made up entirely of hearsay. But the magazine added that while Lattimore “had not been proved a Communist … he had not proved that he was not one.” That characterization mirrored Luce’s own private comments about Lattimore: “The important point it seems to me is that, whether or not Lattimore is a Communist, the damage which his ideas have done to our country’s cause is very great.”15
Even so, Luce’s attitude toward Communist subversion in America was more nuanced than that of many hard-core anti-Communists, as his reaction to Senator Joseph McCarthy made clear. A World War II veteran who ran for election in 1946 by egregiously exaggerating his war record and distorting his opponents’ positions, McCarthy neared the end of his first term in the Senate with no achievements of consequence. But in 1950, having rejected other strategies to bolster his reelection chances, he chose anti-Communism—an issue of relatively little interest to him in the past—and used it to create a personal crusade that made him for a time the most famous figure in the search for Communist influence within the United States. McCarthy attracted an enormous constituency of passionate supporters, who saw him as he liked to portray himself—a tough street fighter taking on a sinister and dangerous elite. But McCarthy’s recklessness also generated strong opposition, even from people who might otherwise have supported him.16
Luce was not opposed to exposing Communist influence in America, as his purging of his own company and his attacks on IPR, and on Vincent and Lattimore, made clear. But his broader interest in Communist ideas in America was an intellectual one, and he devoted most of his anti-Communist efforts to countering the arguments of the Left and making the case for his own more conservative liberalism. “I think we have a definite obligation to help the anti-totalitarian liberals find their proper signals in this day of the confusion of liberalism,” he wrote in 1947 in an admiring account of the anti-Stalinist magazine the New Leader. “How I cheer for [Sidney] Hook’s use of the word ‘muddle-heads.’” At the same time, however, he developed an early and very strong distaste for McCarthy. His dislike was partly cultural. McCarthy, was a crude and coarse man who embraced the kind of simplistic populism that Luce had always disdained. But he also disliked McCarthy because Luce believed that his excesses threatened to discredit more legitimate anti-Communist activities. The search for Communist infiltration of America “has become too much the … scapegoat of everything that’s wrong with us,” he wrote in 1950, as if his own attempted purge of Communists within Time Inc. had never happened. “The fact is that Communism is no longer a real issue, even indirectly, in America.” Just as Prohibition had taken the public’s mind off more serious problems in the 1920s, Luce felt, the fear of domestic Communism was doing the same in the 1950s. McCarthy’s focus on elite leaders and institutions threatened the world Luce himself inhabited. Luce also considered McCarthy a great distraction, drawing the public’s attention toward a minor issue (domestic subversion) and away from the most important challenge of the era (the struggle against the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism in the world). What the nation needed, Luce argued, was a coherent strategy for combating global Communism, not a witch hunt for subversives in America.17
As the United States struggled to build a strategy for dealing with Soviet Communism in the late 1940s and early 1950s, three broad groups competed to define the new paradigms of American foreign policy. The weakest, and most maligned, of these groups was the coalition of left-leaning liberals and those who were known as “Communist sympathizers” or “fellow travelers,” who continued to believe that a peaceful and cooperative relationship with the Soviet Union and the Communist world was possible and desirable. Their leader for a time was former vice president Henry A. Wallace, a harsh critic of the increasingly combative view that government leaders were taking toward the Soviet Union. In 1948 he helped create a new Progressive Party, whose principal goal was to defuse the Cold War. There were significant Communist influences in the party, but most of its supporters were what Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., called, in his 1948 book The Vital Center, “doughface liberals,” people who were not Communists but whom Schlesinger considered too weak and gullible to take a stand against the enemies of democracy.18
A second group argued that the United States had no choice but to confront Communism aggressively and forcefully, by war if necessary, so as to ensure its ultimate defeat. This was the position of Joseph McCarthy, but it had much broader support than that, mostly in the conservative wings of the Republican Party. For almost two decades this coalition’s view of the Cold War was best expressed in a phrase that became the title of a campaign tract used as late as Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign: “Why Not Victory?” Their goals were the “rollback” of Communism where it presently existed and a greater readiness to use nuclear weapons in battles with Communist nations. They were strongly opposed to the third, and dominant, American strategy of the Cold War era: “containment.”19
“Containment” emerged in response to the bewildered uncertainty that gripped the foreign-policy community in the last months of World War II and the first years of the tense and fragile peace. Its principal creator was a previously obscure American diplomat, George F. Kennan, who was stationed in Moscow in the 1940s. Kennan had a brilliant, astringent intellect that enabled him to discern patterns and strategies few others could easily see, and he helped transform American policy with a cable—known famously as “the long telegram”—that he sent to the State Department in February 1946, and with a subsequent article published anonymously in Foreign Affairs magazine. Kennan offered a rebuke to the Wallace “progressives,” who thought that the Soviet Union, if treated well, could become a “normal” nation capable of cooperating with the West. In contrast, Kennan saw the Soviet Union as a profoundly ideological nation fundamentally different from the United States. “At the bottom of the Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs,” he wrote in the abbreviated language of his telegram, “is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity…. Thus Soviet leaders are driven by necessities of their own past and present position to put forward a dogma which pictures the outside world as evil, hostile, and menacing.” Hence the militarism of the Soviet state and its fear of internal subversion and opposition. The Soviet Union, Kennan believed, was, in effect, a “conspiracy,” which sought to extend its power through duplicity and intrigue. It was
a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with [the] US there can be no permanent modus vivendi, that it is desirable and necessary that the internal harmony of our society be disrupted, our traditional way of life be destroyed, the international authority of our state be broken, if Soviet power is to be secure.20
Kennan’s assessment of the nature of the Soviet Union was largely consistent with that of the anti-Communist right. But his cautious, pragmatic prescription for how America should respond to Communism was very different. The Soviet Union, he argued, was opportunistic but also risk averse. When challenged by a superior power it was likely to retreat as long as its vital interests were not in danger. “In these circumstances,” he wrote, “it is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” At the same time the United States, through its own “spiritual vitality” in the world, could slowly help shape the future behavior of the Soviet Union. Once Russia could be made to feel “sterile and quixotic” in contrast to America, the “hopes and enthusiasm of Moscow’s supporters must wane” and “added strain” would be placed on Soviet foreign policy.21
Kennan’s views had a dramatic influence on the Truman administration, by providing both an explanation of Soviet behavior and a strategy for confronting it. A year after the Foreign Affairs article appeared, the president endorsed at least some of its central findings. In the face of Communist threats to Greece and Turkey, the president announced the “Truman doctrine,” which declared that the policy of the United States was “to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures”—not to confront the Soviet empire directly, not to attempt to liberate countries already within Moscow’s orbit, but to prevent Communism from spreading beyond its present borders. Containment—a policy that rejected both the hopeful view of a Soviet-American partnership and the combative call for an aggressive effort to destroy Soviet power—became the framework for the next half century of American foreign policy. (Kennan had not, in fact, advised resisting Communist expansion everywhere, but only into areas of “strategic interest” to the United States, by which he meant the great industrial powers, primarily Western Europe and Japan. Truman and his successors had a broader view of where to draw the line.)22
Luce was enthusiastic at first about what he considered Truman’s long-overdue commitment to a strategy to counter Soviet power, as illustrated by the president’s support of the struggles of Greece and Turkey against Communist threats. The president had finally abandoned what Luce considered the “confused” and “soft-headed” policies that had characterized Truman’s first years in office and had acknowledged the necessity to combat Soviet ambitions. Luce supported the Marshall Plan and its ambition to combat Communism in Europe by rebuilding the economies of Western Europe. And his magazines embraced the containment strategy with considerable zeal. “Communist imperialism must be contained,” Time declared in 1947, not long after Kennan’s article had appeared. “U.S. influence must expand to contain it.” Similar language emerged repeatedly in memos and meetings in the first years after the war. “The No. 1 issue: Soviet Communism,” Billings wrote of an editorial meeting with Luce. “We all quickly agreed it must be contained.” Luce began discussing tactics that would undermine Communism from within—exactly the kind of approach that Kennan had recommended. “The big new thing in U.S. policy,” he wrote in 1950, “should be to reach the people behind the Iron Curtain, to keep in touch with them, to handle the refugee problem on a big scale, etc.”23
But while Luce and his colleagues accepted some elements of the containment policy, they chafed at its restraints and more often than not sided with those who believed that the policy was too timid for the gravity of its time. Their dissent began with long-standing grievances: the failure to support Nationalist China adequately, the culpability of Marshall and Acheson in those decisions, and the absence of a “moral” basis for America’s foreign policy. “Marshall is a senile dodo, too conservative in this crisis,” Billings complained. “Acheson is the symbol of error and disaster,” Luce wrote. “He has no conviction that Communism can be stopped and pushed out of most of Asia in the foreseeable future.” And even more damningly, in 1948: “I charge Truman and Marshall with endangering the future of humanity by their incompetence.” Luce was slowly moving toward a different approach to the Cold War: the growing demand from the right for a policy that would do more than contain, that would, rather, “liberate the captive nations” and “roll back” the Iron Curtain.24
The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 elevated Luce’s anxiety about the global crisis. Would the conflict lead to an “all-out atomic” war, or “piece-meal?” he wondered. “Suppose they sink a U.S. carrier. What’ll we do?” His prediction was the use of atomic weapons against Russia. But the war also renewed his hopes for a significant shift in American foreign policy. As with most of his other international positions, his response to this new conflict was largely shaped by his preoccupation with China. Less than forty-eight hours after the war began, Luce was proposing an editorial for Life that would advocate a “reversal of Truman’s policy toward China,” reflecting his own view that “the defense of Formosa” (now the headquarters of the exiled Chiang and his followers) was “far more significant than the U.S. military participation in Korea.” On the whole, in the first months of the Korean conflict, Luce was uncharacteristically supportive of the Truman administration, admiring the president’s quick and forceful decision to resist the North Korean invasion, comforted by the presence of Douglas MacArthur as commander of the United Nations (in reality overwhelmingly American) forces there. “The reaction of the plain man seems to have been, ‘At last! It was the only thing to do,’” an exuberant Life editorial proclaimed. “Both the President and the plain man are to be congratulated: the President for the courage of the decision and the plain man for … good judgment on a very complicated matter.” In the first months of the war this confidence seemed fully rewarded by MacArthur’s dramatic military successes: the rapid reconquest of South Korea and the expansion of the war to the North, which Luce believed would ensure a reunification of the divided land under its anti-Communist (but far from democratic) leader Syngman Rhee. Luce was so confident of victory that, having once postponed his planned sabbatical, he left for a trip to the Middle East. Even the Truman administration, intoxicated by the prospect of victory, anxiously convinced themselves that MacArthur could be trusted to advance into the North without risk of widening the war.25
Luce’s return from his aborted sabbatical in November 1950 coincided with the sudden and mostly unpredicted invasion of North Korea by the Chinese army—an intervention that MacArthur had predicted could be easily thwarted and would result in a “bloodbath” that would destroy the enemy’s forces. Instead the Chinese routed the Americans, drove them out of North Korea, and again moved deep into the South. Luce, like many others, was deeply shaken. His first, and continuing, reaction was once again to blame Truman and “that bastard Acheson,” not MacArthur, who had badly miscalculated the strength of the Chinese. It was the “worst defeat the U.S. had ever suffered … the abyss of disaster,” Time reported. “The United States,” Luce wrote privately, had “made a complete fool of itself” in its failure to provide enough air support to permit MacArthur to stop the Chinese. He even reproached his friend, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett, by asking him to respond to “a most serious charge concerning the inadequacy of the air build-up, for which you have a large measure of responsibility.” Luce visited John Foster Dulles, then an assistant to Acheson and a man whose views of foreign policy he greatly respected; and he was shocked to hear the panicked (and misinformed) Dulles say that the American forces had been surrounded and that “it is the only army we have. And the question is: shall we ask for terms?” But the disaster only strengthened Luce’s belief that the war must be won—and even expanded—no matter the cost. The alternative would be “the loss of Asia to Communism…. No Asian could evermore put any stock in the promise that had given him hope against Communism.” This new war, Time wrote grimly, “would have to be begun in the knowledge that Russia might come in too, which would lead to the atomic horrors of World War III.”26
Luce was grimly ebullient about this expanded war and saw in it, at last, the great opportunity to destroy the Chinese army and, eventually, the Mao regime. “The US should prepare the Nationalist Chinese to return to the Mainland,” Life wrote exultantly in September. In a January 1951 editorial the magazine went further, proclaiming that there was “no choice but to acknowledge the existence of war with Red China and to set about its defeat.” Undeterred by the possibility of war with the Soviet Union, Luce asked his editors: “Are we—the U.S.—in favor of the liberation of all peoples from the Communist yoke?” Speaking as if Time Inc. were itself a nation-state with its own foreign policy, Luce answered his own question with emphatic language. The company’s goal was “‘to beat the bejesus out of Stalinism’—or, more pompously, to liquidate the Soviet Communist Power System.” After a rambling editors’ meeting, Billings wrote that “Luce wants the Big War…. He’s good and belligerent…. I suspect he’d be glad to war on USSR tomorrow.” At one point Luce speculated about the wisdom of “plastering Russia with 500 (or 1000) A bombs.” And in a rebuke to the Realpolitik of the Truman administration, he argued that “the struggle between Freedom and Communism is, at bottom a moral issue … a religious issue.” What no one has a right to say, he added, “is that we can live peaceably and happily with this prodigious evil.”27
By early 1951 MacArthur had stabilized the line of battle and was beginning to push the Chinese forces north. By March his forces had once again retaken Seoul and were moving toward the southern border of North Korea. Luce quickly regained his earlier enthusiasm for the war. “The destruction anticipated the first week of December just did not occur,” he said with relief. “MacArthur did not blunder in North Korea and his army did not suffer a great defeat.” “Confusion” was no longer the “key word,” he claimed. “We are now serious about rearming. Things are not as bad as the press says and never were!”28
Almost immediately, however, a global debate began on how aggressive the American strategy in Korea should now be. To Truman and Acheson and, at least equally important, to America’s European allies, another expansion of the conflict into North Korea and the likely extension of fighting into China would risk a new world war that could engage not just the Chinese but the Soviets. “If we go it alone in Asia,” Truman said at the time, “we may destroy the unity of the free nations against aggression. Our European allies are nearer to Russia than we are. They are in far greater danger…. I do not propose to strip this country of its allies in the face of Soviet danger.” To MacArthur, however, all the concerns and reservations about an extended conflict with the Chinese seemed like the kind of political meddling that many military leaders throughout history have consistently resented. But unlike other unhappy generals, MacArthur could not help venting his frustrations in public—in press briefings, in conversations with civilians, and in public letters. As his frustrations grew, so did his indiscretions. When asked why South Koreans eager to fight were being turned away, MacArthur attributed it to “basic political decisions beyond my authority” (even though he himself was responsible for the policy). A Hong Kong news agency reported that the general had said that “United Nations forces were circumscribed by a web of artificial conditions … in a war without a definite objective.” And in early April 1951, in response to a letter from House Republican Leader Joe Martin complaining about the “cheapness” of the war effort, MacArthur wrote back: “It seems strangely difficult for some to realize that here in Asia is where the Communist conspirators have elected to make their play for global conquest…. As you point out, we must win. There is no substitute for victory.” Luce and MacArthur had no experience with and even less patience for the concept of “limited war,” and neither had any inhibitions about saying so. “Either get out of Korea entirely or fight the Chinese Reds in their homeland where it would hurt them,” Luce argued. A failure to pursue the enemy across the 54th parallel, he believed, would be a form of “appeasement.”29
Truman, on the other hand, considered MacArthur’s statements a form of insubordination. On April 11, 1951, to the dismay and contempt of millions, Truman recalled MacArthur from his command of the UN forces in Korea and effectively ended his long military career. Luce spared no effort to use the event as a club against the Truman administration and the State Department. “MacArthur as Commander had not only a right but a duty to express his convictions about military strategy,” he argued. Time offered a scathing denunciation of the president’s policy that well exceeded even the magazine’s normal level of polemicism:
The drama of MacArthur’s removal and homecoming … has brought [Truman’s] foreign policy into the open. This policy … denies to the U.S. the efficient use of its power, guarantees to the enemy the initiative he now has, promises that the U.S. will always fight on the enemy’s terms. The policy invites the enemy, World communism, to involve the U.S. in scores of futile little wars…. Up to now, World War III has been prevented by the fact that the U.S. is stronger than Communism. The new policy almost certainly brings World War III closer because it throws away a large part of U.S. strength.
Not surprisingly Time laid the blame on Luce’s most-hated bête noire: “It was Secretary Acheson’s view which prevailed with the President: do nothing to widen the war; let the Communists keep the initiative.”30
Two weeks after MacArthur’s dismissal, Luce paid him a visit in the suite the general was temporarily occupying in the Waldorf-Astoria. Meeting the famous and powerful was by now a routine part of Luce’s life, and yet he was still susceptible to what he considered true greatness. And in the spring of 1951 no one seemed greater to Luce than MacArthur. “I stepped into the drawing room, and there was the Great Man alone in the big room, sunlight streaming from windows on three sides,” he wrote in a “private” memo after the visit. “I was amazed at the sight of the man…. He looked healthy … handsome … and more vigorous than any public man I know.” MacArthur naturally defended himself, adamantly denied that he had been insubordinate, and talked of his concerns about the army he had left behind. To Luce’s obvious delight MacArthur blamed his dismissal on the State Department, which he believed was running the war “down almost to daily detail.” The secretary of state, he charged, “has taken over the function of a Prime Minister.” Luce noted that this dubious claim was “an example of how MacArthur never fails to come up with an original and stimulating notion, completely out of the commonplace mold of the tiresome editorial writers.” MacArthur tried to appear aloof, with no cares about himself. The “great outpouring” of support (“more than human”) was “not primarily for anything I have done.” But his anger was clearly visible. The government’s attempt to silence his dissent on the war was, he insisted, a short step from a government effort to silence the press. “You will be next,” he warned Luce. “By insidious ways already beginning, the Press will be put under wraps. You must fight, you must fight now for your freedom.”31
In the aftermath of this visit Luce added MacArthur to the pantheon of those he considered truly great men: among them Theodore Roosevelt (whom he had never met), Wendell Willkie, Chiang Kai-shek, and Winston Churchill. Almost immediately he began lobbying his editors to choose MacArthur as Time’s next Man of the Year, even though by late fall, the pendulum of public opinion was already swinging away from him. “He won the Korean War,” Luce implausibly argued (at a moment when the war still had almost three years to go). MacArthur had made “one of the speeches which will ‘go down’ at least in American history.” And, Luce added, the “Old Soldier has not ‘faded away.’” On the contrary he was a leading candidate for president—and one of very few Americans “who have a big popular following.” His editors eventually overruled him and chose instead Mohammed Mossadegh, the new prime minister of Iran, who was already beginning to nationalize the nation’s oil reserves (an action that would lead to his CIA-assisted overthrow in 1953). MacArthur, Luce’s editors argued, was no longer the big news. What they almost certainly also thought was that any MacArthur article would be shaped by what Billings called “his excitement and enthusiasm for the Great Man,” an example of “Luce’s boyish susceptibility to Greatness.”32
But Luce’s adulation of MacArthur, which continued intermittently through much of the rest of his life, was not simply a product of starstruck infatuation. It was also because he thought MacArthur represented the best and perhaps last chance for the fulfillment of Luce’s great dream—a strong American commitment to a non-Communist Asia and to the liberation of China. He wrote of his hopes in a Life editorial even before his eventful meeting with the general. MacArthur
has a great role—a role of greatness—to play in this country now…. He was ousted for no petty reason but because he chose to challenge the whole drift of events and the dominant attitudes of the Government of the United States and of the United Nations…. [He] is today the only man of the West who has in Asia not only immense prestige but also the devoted loyalty of millions and millions of Asians…. How do they think of him? As imperialist? Conqueror? No—as liberator and friend.
MacArthur would, Luce predicted, lead the United States out of “the passive, helpless and hopeless position” into which Truman and Acheson had maneuvered America. “Can any man rise to the greatness our perils demand?” he asked. “[In] the dreary landscape of our time,” only MacArthur “seems to have been shaped by greatness.”33
• • •
MacArthur did not become a serious presidential candidate in 1952 as Luce had once hoped. Instead, as he himself had publicly predicted in his speech to Congress but had probably not really expected, he began slowly to “fade away.” Luce never lost his deep admiration for “the great man,” but his principal goal—especially now that the Korean War had failed to produce the results in Asia he had hoped for—was to defeat the Democratic administration in the 1952 elections and bring back a Republican government for the first time in twenty years. “I felt that it was of paramount importance to the United States that a Republican should be put in the White House,” he explained years later of his position in 1952. “It had been 20 years since there had been a Republican Administration.” Americans, he argued, “should have the experience of living under a Republican Administration and discovering that they were not thereby reduced to selling apples on street corners.” It did not take him long to switch his loyalty to another popular general: Dwight D. Eisenhower.34
Ever since Wendell Willkie’s death, Luce had been searching for a candidate whom he could unreservedly admire. He had supported Dewey in 1944 and 1948, but he had never really liked the man or had any significant relationship with him. He was friendly with Robert Taft, senator from Ohio and son of a former president. But Taft was too conservative and too isolationist for Luce to feel comfortable with him. Eisenhower was different. He was famous, popular, and, even without being particularly articulate, charismatic. His policy views were largely unknown, which allowed Luce (and many others) to imagine whatever positions he liked. “Luce is dazzled by Eisenhower’s glamour…. He is deeply in love with his candidacy,” Billings wrote after a lunch with his boss. Luce was an early and generous contributor to Eisenhower’s campaign. But much more important, he mobilized his editorial staff to support it, showing a partisanship that was at times greater even than the favoritism the Time Inc. publications had shown toward Willkie in 1940. In the first issue of 1952 Life ran an effusive story making “The Case for Ike,” who had not yet agreed to run. Eisenhower later, flatteringly, told Luce that the article had been “one of the factors” that had persuaded him to announce his candidacy (an announcement that also included his first declaration of membership in the Republican Party). Life itself took credit for being the “starters’ gun” for the campaign. Once Eisenhower’s candidacy was official, Luce accelerated his strong public support for him. He actively recruited two of his most important writers and editors to take leaves to work for the campaign. Emmet John Hughes and C. D. Jackson became Eisenhower speechwriters. (Luce was less encouraging to Eric Hodgins, who wanted to work for the Democratic candidate, Adlai Stevenson, but grudgingly agreed to let him go as well.)35
During the Republican convention, Time pointedly argued that Eisenhower had a better chance of winning the general election than did Taft. The magazine identified critical states whose votes were still in flux, where Eisenhower would be particularly helpful to local candidates. The Timereportage accused the Taft campaign of “stealing delegates” and actively supported an effort to award disputed seats to Eisenhower. Particularly helpful to the Republicans was the publication of Time a day early to allow the Eisenhower campaign to distribute it widely to the delegates. “You were a veritable tower of strength,” Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., Eisenhower’s campaign manager, wrote to Luce after the convention, and “played a tremendous part in laying the basis of public opinion” for Eisenhower’s victory. “One of the lasting satisfactions of this adventure,” Lodge added, “has been the fact that you and I have worked so closely for this great cause.” During the campaign Luce himself, for the first time since the Willkie campaign, began writing speeches and memos and funneling them to Eisenhower through Jackson and Hughes. Eisenhower seldom used them but always remembered to thank him, a flattery that spurred Luce onward to even greater efforts. He even occasionally sat on the platform during Eisenhower rallies and joined the candidate on his campaign train, things he had never done even when Willkie was running. It was not just his loyalty to the party that drove his efforts. It was his enthusiasm for Eisenhower and the prospect of a close relationship to a president of the United States for the first time.36
Luce’s blatant partisanship triggered a significant backlash within his own company, greater than the one he had encountered during the Willkie campaign. Even some colleagues who shared his politics felt uncomfortable with how one-sided they believed the coverage of the election was, although only a few dared to say so publicly. “Time’s political bias for Eisenhower is bringing in a deluge of protest letters,” Billings noted, and editors were “moaning and groaning” over the company’s stance. “Is Time a Republican magazine?” T. S. Matthews, the pro-Stevenson editor of Time, asked. “Open partisanship would certainly be better than surreptitious. Though best of all, I think, would be to be openly non-partisan…. How can Time possibly hope to attain and maintain a real integrity if it’s partisanly concerned with getting somebody elected?” At one point a group of Time Inc. researchers (all women) tried to raise money to run an advertisement denouncing the magazine’s “Ike slant.” After a few days of pressure (and perhaps threats from above), “cooler heads … prevailed among the Stevenson girls.” But the bitterness among the many Stevenson supporters in Time Inc. continued to grow until Luce finally accepted Matthews’s advice and invited the entire editorial staff to a large dinner at which Luce hoped to “introduce himself” to his employees. His speech—long, rambling, at times unintelligible—was nevertheless a revealing event for many members of the staff who had rarely if ever seen him. But it did nothing to placate the anger of those who resented Time’s political position. He made clear that he supported Eisenhower and said bluntly that as the leader of the company he had the right to present the news however he thought best. “I am your boss,” he unrepentantly announced. “I guess that means I can fire any of you.”37
Luce continued to insist that Time was not a “Republican” magazine and that the institution did not favor any particular candidate. But he barred Matthews from handling a cover story on Eisenhower shortly before the election and edited it himself. Eisenhower, Luce wrote, “has picked up more real political experience than many politicians … get in a lifetime…. Ike is in top form, with a new self-assurance and gusto.” The rebuke, and the partisan character of the story, helped Matthews to decide to resign.38
Despite his enthusiastic public support of Eisenhower, Luce remained uneasy about the candidate’s ability to pursue the policies Luce hoped he would advance. “I think Ike is a good man—an extraordinarily good man,” he wrote before the Republican convention. “My difficulty as to Ike lies in the area of ‘great issues.’” Those issues were, of course, “how to cope with Soviet Communism,” how to discredit the Truman-Acheson foreign policy, and how to ensure that the new president would pay sufficient attention to Asia. “The question,” he wrote his editors, “is whether there is any validity to my reservations about Ike, and whether, if so, then there is any editorial duty to utter them.” Without expressing his doubts openly Luce tried to put indirect pressure on Eisenhower through his relationship with John Foster Dulles, who was widely believed to be Eisenhower’s likely choice as secretary of state. Dulles eagerly responded with an article entitled, “A Policy of Boldness,” which expressed the hard-line foreign-policy views that had become a hallmark of the campaign (and that would be largely ignored after the election). It was in this article that Dulles first outlined what became a famous and controversial set of policies that seemed to repudiate much of the restraint that the containment policy had ensured. He called for the “liberation of the captive nations,” for striking back against enemies “where it hurts, by means of our own choosing,” and for using atomic bombs as “effective political weapons.” (Dulles also wrote the foreign-policy plank for the 1952 Republican convention, echoing many of the ideas he had expressed in Life.) Luce happily called it “the embryo of a united Republican foreign policy.” But he was far from confident that Eisenhower himself would abide by these principles, and he was worried that the candidate would be discouraged from boldness by “timid advisors.” “In my judgment,” Luce wrote not long before the election, “Ike wins or loses the election in the next few days, depending upon what he says on this Foreign Policy issue.” Would Eisenhower continue to embrace the “do-nothing” containment policy? he wondered. “The U.S. has to take the most out-and-out stand against Communism,” whether or not it antagonized America’s allies and whether or not it ran greater risks than the Truman administration believed were wise.39
Eisenhower did little to allay Luce’s worries in the last weeks of his campaign. The candidate did not focus much on foreign policy. Instead he continued to rely on his sunny personality and his vague suggestions of undefined change. His most important campaign promise was his pledge to “go to Korea,” as if a brief visit to the front would itself transform the character of the war. But the effectiveness of this tactic underscored the enormous advantage Eisenhower’s military experience made in a campaign in which Cold War issues were in the forefront of public opinion. Voters seemed to trust him to handle foreign policy whether or not he gave them any clues as to what that foreign policy would be. Even Luce, who had badgered Eisenhower for weeks to take stronger positions, forgot about his concerns in the elation of the growing strength of the Republican campaign. And when Eisenhower finally won by a substantial margin, bringing a Republican Congress with him, Luce felt in some ways as though the triumph was his as well. “Victory, its wonderful,” he wired to colleagues and friends.40
In many ways Eisenhower’s presidency met, and at times even exceeded, Luce’s expectations. Luce had never had much of a relationship with previous presidents. Eisenhower showered him with attention. Luce in turn lavished praise on the man he still called “Ike,” both in his private communications with the president and in his magazines. Within weeks of the election he had lunch with Eisenhower to talk about Asia, exchanged friendly letters with him, boasted to colleagues about Ike’s tips on golf, “marveled at [Ike’s] knowledgeability.” His one disappointment came when Eisenhower turned down an invitation to dinner at Luce’s home, but Luce remained undeterred. And Eisenhower in turn made great efforts to keep Luce in his camp. Republican leaders courted him elaborately during his trip to Washington for the inauguration, and he received the first of many invitations to the Eisenhower White House only a few weeks later. “We must give a full presentation of Ike in color photos,” the bedazzled Luce wrote the editors of Life late in 1953, “at least four pages of Ike, Ike, Ike, to make the point [of Eisenhower’s extraordinary “physical vitality”] unmistakable and unforgettable.” Eisenhower’s first, unremarkable State of the Union address a few weeks after the inauguration was, Luce proclaimed, “brilliant.” A rumor circulated that Eisenhower was considering appointing Luce secretary of state, a flattering gesture even though both men knew that Dulles was the president’s choice. “Some discussion of the plain fact that we are now regarded as Eisenhower’s mouthpiece,” Billings worried a few weeks into the new presidency. “Perhaps we have cheered a little too loud this first month.”41
Luce’s elation at Eisenhower’s election—“a pink cloud of delight,” one colleague wrote; “a date to see Eisenhower affects him like strong liquor,” another commented—helped mute his growing concerns about the new administration’s foreign policy. He grumbled occasionally about Eisenhower’s passivity. “What’s wrong with Ike?” he asked in an editorial meeting in June 1953. “Things are certainly going badly and he doesn’t seem able to pull them together into a ‘favorable situation.’” But he mostly kept his concerns to himself, even as the war in Korea moved in a direction that deeply disappointed him. Luce had clearly hoped that the election of Eisenhower would reverse the Truman-Acheson decision to limit war aims in Korea and preserve the prewar status quo. But Eisenhower and Dulles did not change Truman’s course, and the Korean War ended in July 1953 with the partition still intact and, more important to Luce, the “‘foot draggers’ in the Pentagon” still in place. Luce was “all for making some ringing ‘Wilsonian’ declarations,” Billings wrote after an editors’ meeting. “The net of the lunch was to knock down most of Luce’s hopeful and unrealistic notions about the Eisenhower Administration.” But Luce did not abandon those notions. He told himself that Eisenhower had entered office too late to change the course of the Korean War, and that over time the administration’s foreign policy would become more assertive and principled. He was encouraged in this hope by John Foster Dulles.42
Luce had a closer, and longer, relationship with Dulles than he had with Eisenhower. They were not intimate friends, but their relationship was pleasant and mutually useful. After a lunch with Dulles early in 1953, before Eisenhower’s inauguration, he wrote that he “could hardly contain myself for excitement because Dulles was unfolding a policy of action which comported entirely with my own views,” a policy that would take a more aggressive stand against Korea than the Truman administration had done and that would recognize the importance of “launching Chiang Kai-shek against the mainland.” Dulles “would not settle Korea on the present terms” and would favor a line “north of Pyongyang,” which would give South Korea 90 percent of the country. But these were not the views of Eisenhower, as both men soon realized.
In 1954 Luce launched a “reappraisal” of how the magazines should portray the world. A Life article, “Policy for Survival,” would, he hoped, become a “Spur-to-Action” to the president. For weeks memos flowed from his office to the editors of all three magazines, followed by lunches and meetings and arguments without end. Few of Luce’s colleagues would challenge him directly, but many of them were at least partially resistant to the dark and even brutal quality of his view of the world. “We estimate that the climactic crisis of the 20th Century is at hand,” Luce wrote ominously. It would require fighting “throughout and beyond” any conflict, as opposed to settling for half a loaf as in Korea. It meant taking “the offensive in Asia, seeking and using every opportunity to limit, reduce, undermine and destroy Armed Communism in Asia.” American leadership, he claimed, “is in a decline, neutralism and appeasement are growing among our allies, communism is gaining among the masses, and the Kremlin is coming daily closer to … the domination of the world.” The only policy that “will not carry the big nuclear risk is a policy of constant appeasement, or slow surrender…. In short: Pacifism.” The three pillars of a successful foreign policy, he argued, would be “the attainment of atomic supremacy,” the “liberation of China” through a “rollback of the Iron Curtain with tactical atomic weapons,” and a reaffirmation of “the historic American stand in world politics of being for governments of free people, for free people, by free people everywhere.”43
Like many such impassioned interventions, Luce’s muscular new policy found little support even within Time Inc., let alone in the administration he was trying to influence. He did not promote it for long. Instead he tried to persuade himself that Eisenhower and Dulles were following something close to his own course, even if quietly. Dulles, he wrote, “is the champion of the proposition that politics (including international politics) has something to do with morals and that morals have something to do with God…. We must surely support [him] as vigorously as we can in this effort to establish a moral basis for our world politics.” Luce must certainly have recognized that Eisenhower had no such inclinations. The president was concerned more about the economic cost of an aggressive military posture than about its morality, and he—with Dulles’s perhaps-grudging support—created a foreign policy that differed relatively little from that of Truman and Acheson. Eisenhower did not attempt to “liberate” the captive nations; he mostly resisted defending countries and regions that were not of high strategic interest to the United States; and he refused to take active steps to “liberate” China. Dulles tried to compensate for Eisenhower’s restraint with a largely rhetorical policy of his own, which he announced in Life in January 1956: “brinkmanship”—the willingness to use nuclear weapons against Communist aggression rather than rely on the expensive and difficult ground wars that Eisenhower opposed. The article created a firestorm of criticism from those who saw Dulles’s piece as a recipe for nuclear war. But Time eagerly supported the policy and offered a litany of foreign-policy successes that it claimed had been the result of Dulles’s supposed strength: “The fears and feelings of U.S. allies … must be balanced [against] the necessity of keeping before the world’s mind the central fact of the peace: Communist aggression has been deterred only by the willingness and the ability of the free world to go to war rather than cringe before the threats.” In reality there was little evidence to suggest that the president had any real willingness to go to war, and even less evidence that the promise of “brinkmanship” (a promise never actually delivered) had any significant impact on policy or its results.44
Luce’s effort to promote an alternative to containment found a new target not long after the cease-fire in Korea: a war in Vietnam that had begun almost as soon as World War II ended. The conflict pitted the former French colonial rulers against a strong independence movement led by Ho Chi Minh, a Communist educated in Paris and Moscow and a fervent Vietnamese nationalist. During and after World War II, Ho led a growing nationalist movement known as the Vietminh. The Vietminh had opposed the Japanese during World War II. (Most of the French evacuated when the war began, and the few who stayed mostly collaborated with the Japanese.) Only a little more than a year after the Japanese withdrawal, the French bureaucracy and military moved back into Vietnam and tried to regain control of the country, which the Vietminh had already declared an independent nation under their rule. By 1950 the French and the Vietminh were engaged in an open war, which dragged on for almost four years.
Watching this spectacle from afar, Luce was once again excited at the prospect of a confrontation with Communists in Asia. He hoped that with American help the war might drive out the Communists and reunite Vietnam. But he hoped even more that the conflict might also spread to Vietnam’s northern neighbor, China, opening up another opportunity for Chiang Kai-shek’s forces to resume their war against the Communists. As early as 1947 Time was describing Vietnam as “the sickest part of ailing Asia today,” an observation accompanied by a strong warning from William Bullitt in Life of the danger of “Soviet control.” Luce soon latched onto Gen. Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, the commander of French forces, whom he now saw as Vietnam’s MacArthur, and whom he invited to New York in hopes of strengthening American support for Indochina. “It makes me proud to think that I have been of some service to you and to our common cause,” he wrote de Lattre after one such visit. Luce himself visited Vietnam late in 1952 and, while critical of the French for their “lack of moral seriousness,” remained convinced that “the war can be won.” And if the Chinese were to intervene, he added provocatively, “it will be quite as convenient for us to destroy Chinese Communist armies in Indo-China as anywhere else.”45
Vietnam was, to Luce, another test of the willingness and ability of the United States to protect Asia from Communism. “There must be no more talk of a ‘hopeless war,’” he ordered his editors. When his star photographer-reporter David Douglas Duncan published an article in Life in August 1953 in which he correctly declared that the French had already effectively lost the war, Luce, as usual unaware of what appeared in his magazines until after it was published, put him on the “inactive list” and accused him of exercising a “seductive power over managing editors” and of having an “emotional attitude towards the French.” He then began a campaign of damage control in response to strong criticism from the French and from many American supporters of Vietnam.46
But Duncan soon proved to be the prescient one. Six months after his reviled article in Life appeared, the French army in Vietnam was hopelessly surrounded in an indefensible corner of North Vietnam, Dien Bien Phu. A frenzied debate began in Washington over what the United States should do. Hard-liners within the administration—among them Vice President Richard Nixon—advocated U.S. military intervention against the Vietminh and even considered the use of atomic weapons. Luce, of course, was not privy to these secret deliberations, although he would likely have sided with the “no substitute for victory” mentality that shaped such views. But Eisenhower was not persuaded. The French surrendered and abandoned Indochina, which left the United States now the principal Western benefactor of Vietnam. Eisenhower settled for a negotiated partition of the country that, as in Korea, established a Communist north and a non-Communist south. Part of the peace agreement, hammered out at an international conference in Geneva, included a provision for elections to reunify the country within a few years.
Luce was dismayed by the “loss” of North Vietnam. He began to cultivate politicians and scholars who were part of the American Friends of Vietnam, which others soon began to call the “Vietnam lobby.” And unsurprisingly Luce began to encourage his magazines to portray North Vietnam as a grim and oppressive police state awash in propaganda. It was, in the words of a 1954 Time article, a “land of compulsory joy.” Time gave particular attention to one such piece of propaganda: a Vietminh announcement that “the Viet Nam revolution is an integral part of the world revolution led by the Soviet Union.” And it noted that the “articulate” among the nearly half a million refugees who moved from the north to the south after the partition claimed that “the Viet Minh has destroyed the customs and friendlinesses of the past, and has spat upon family ties and religion.” What should be done? “In the Asia of victorious Ho Chi Minh and his big brother Mao, there are millions marooned upon desolate sandbars: the act of rescue, if these Asians this late are considered worth saving, will take power, humanity and a steely nerve.”47
And yet despite all the presumed parallels between the “loss” of North Vietnam and the “loss” of China, Luce was on the whole surprisingly restrained in his response to what he considered the disaster of the Vietminh’s victory. He retained a lifelong contempt for the men he believed had abandoned China—especially Dean Acheson and Harry Truman (whom Luce once called a “vulgar little babbitt”). But he continued to admire and support the men who effectively abandoned North Vietnam—Eisenhower and Dulles. That was partly because Vietnam was not China, not the land of his birth and of his continuing preoccupation. But it was also because his stake in the success of a Republican government, and in his personal relationship with Eisenhower, outweighed his disappointment with the outcome of the Vietnam conflict. Decisions he would have pilloried mercilessly under Truman he quietly accepted under Eisenhower. More than that, he gradually pulled back from his aggressive prescription for American foreign policy and turned instead toward a campaign that, on the surface at least, appeared to be an example of the kind of soft idealism that he might once have scorned.48
Throughout the 1950s, and indeed throughout the remainder of his life, Luce developed a strong and growing commitment to what he liked to call “the rule of law.” His interest in the law was unusual among the great causes he had championed in the past in that it produced little controversy. Virtually no one could object to a defense of the law. But Luce’s reasons for this commitment were not as simple as they sometimes sounded. They were, in fact, a reflection of some of his deepest and most contested convictions.49
Among the first visible clues to Luce’s controversial view of the law was a speech he gave at a convocation at Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 1951 to mark the opening of a new legal center. At first Luce had been reluctant to participate. He had never studied law himself (with the exception of the summer when he was an undergraduate at Yale in which he took some law-school courses), and he had no particular expertise in any legal field. To prepare for the speech he browsed through some legal journals in search of inspiration, and he came across an article by a legal scholar, Harold MacKinnon. It attacked the jurisprudence of one of the giants of American law, Oliver Wendell Holmes, who had sat on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1902 to 1932. It might be too much to say that Luce’s subsequent interest in the law was the result of the serendipitous discovery of MacKinnon’s argument. But many of his activities on behalf of the law in the coming years reflected this first, powerful encounter with the legacy of Holmes.50
The problem with Holmes, Luce believed, was exactly what Holmes’s admirers most valued: his unromantic pragmatism, his brusque rejection of fixed belief. To Luce, Holmes’s legal philosophy was “agnostic, materialistic.” What had Holmes believed? “He believed, most importantly, that there is no ultimate truth anywhere to be believed in.” Luce, on the other hand, believed that the law—and most other areas of human existence—had no meaning without being rooted in some kind of universal truth. For Luce that truth was “natural law,” and the belief that “we live in a moral universe,” and that the law must “conform to a moral order which is universal in time and space.” Without the “immutability and unity of truth,” not only the law but all of society would be rudderless, would “stand for nothing.” To Luce, although not to all critics of pragmatism, the only real alternative to materialism was faith. “Freedom is real because man is created by God in the ‘image’ of God. Man carries within him something that the merely animal does not have, the divine spark.” And so when Luce talked of the “rule of law,” he was not simply talking about statutes and precedents. He was evoking the long history of belief in God’s active presence in the world, and the existence of a universal set of truths derived from that presence.51
Luce’s new interest in the law was also intimately connected to his intense (and often thwarted) effort to combat Communism. Having failed to persuade three presidents to launch an aggressive military and political assault against Communism, he began to tie the great contest between America and the Soviet Union to the law. The Soviet Union, he argued, “stood for nothing” and honored no principles. Soviet laws were meaningless because, like Holmes’s philosophy, they had no basis in morality or faith. But a true regime of laws, Luce believed, could transform the Communist world, or at least reveal its emptiness to other nations. “A great global inquiry into law would expose the evils of the Soviet system,” he argued. American law, if it could “mean something which is written somewhere in the hearts of all men,” could represent “the principles by which we exist as a nation” and could become a powerful tool in the battle against Communism. It could “harness together our vast military might and our political and ideal purposes.”52
What had begun as some random browsing in legal texts turned quickly into a preoccupation and a crusade. Luce began to seek invitations to give speeches on the law almost anywhere he could find an audience—at meetings of the American Bar Association, the Connecticut Bar Association, the Indiana Bar Association, the Missouri Bar Association, the Shelby, Tennessee, Bar Association, St. Louis University. But even as the sites of his speeches appeared to become more and more provincial, the content of his thinking was becoming more and more global. International law, he came to believe, could be the great force that would spread democracy and capitalism into a benighted world. It would be the tool by which the goals of the “American Century” might still be realized, the vehicle that would allow the United States to achieve its great mission in the world.53
Luce was always eager to tap the knowledge of scholars and intellectuals, and his interest in the law helped him develop a long and rewarding relationship with the aging William Ernest Hocking, a philosopher who had taught for many years at Harvard before retiring in 1943. Hocking was attractive to Luce because of their shared belief in the role of faith in the laws of the world, and also because of Hocking’s conviction that philosophy was not just an academic pursuit but also a tool for shaping public affairs. As a young man Hocking had been a disciple of William James, the great Harvard philosopher who helped build the concept of “pragmatism” into a robust theory that shaped the worldview of much of a generation. But Hocking gradually returned to a form of idealism. Although he never wholly repudiated pragmatism, he qualified his commitment to it, beginning with his influential 1912 book The Meaning of God in Human Experience. It argued for the importance of faith in human affairs—not a faith dictated by Scripture or theological institutions, and not a faith derived from revelation, but rather a faith rooted in human experience—and especially in those affirming aspects of human experience that he believed reflected God’s invisible presence. Luce’s faith was somewhat more formal, and certainly less examined, than Hocking’s. But Hocking was, Luce believed, a valuable and confirming ally in the battle against materialism and in the struggle to draw faith into the public world. In the early 1950s Luce began requesting Hocking’s “guidance” as he developed his new interest in the law. He was still somewhat insecure about his plunge into the field, and he uncharacteristically expressed doubt and vulnerability. “Perhaps even I have overrated The Law,” he worried. He feared that he had been “guilty” of “not caring enough about ‘the people.’” And he asked Hocking for suggestions of “a little reading on the law as the necessary basis of the good society … a ‘refresher’ on a course I never took!” Hocking responded with a rambling list of suggested readings, words of encouragement, and scattered observations on the relationship between law and theology. But Luce was not really asking for advice on how to educate himself. He was seeking for ammunition in his already settled view of the role the law must play. Hocking, in the end, served more as a cheerleader of Luce’s efforts than as a true mentor. Rather than test Luce’s beliefs, he offered such encouraging but unilluminating notes as “in your notable speech on law, you justly criticised our foreign policy for giving too little attention to Law.” But Hocking’s approval was important to Luce, and their relationship helped give him confidence in the course he was pursuing.54
But Luce’s sights were set higher than Hocking, and higher than the various bar associations to which he presented his new commitment to the law. His real goal was to draw national and world leaders into his orbit and to persuade them to embrace his own emerging beliefs. He began a far-flung correspondence with university presidents, members of Congress, and foreign leaders. But most of all he set out to influence the Eisenhower administration. Having failed to persuade the president and the secretary of state to take a more aggressive military position in Asia, he sought to draw them into a commitment to law as the basis of foreign policy. It turned out to be a difficult task, particularly when he was dealing with Dulles. To Dulles the “rule of law” was a pleasant aspiration with no practical role in the struggle against Communism. He never explicitly rejected Luce’s ideas. “You can’t have security without law,” Dulles said supportively (and vaguely) in a 1957 meeting. But he went on to remind Luce of how difficult extending law into international relations would be. “The World Court is unemployed,” he noted. “There are lots of arbitration agreements lying around but they are never used…. Between us and the Communists is an unbridgeable gulf in the matter of Law.” On another occasion he warned that “there is still a strong reluctance on the part of nations … to submit their disputes to abitrament [sic] of justice.” And later still Dulles wrote discouragingly, “I am touching on the subject of international law in my address at the UN. But there are so many other matters of greater interest and greater urgency that I fear it will not make much impression.”55
To promote his ideas more effectively, he helped organize a committee of “petitioners” that included Charles Rhyne, president of the American Bar Association, Ross Malone, its president-elect, and Erwin Griswold, the former dean of Harvard Law School and former solicitor general of the United States. Together they urged Dulles to deliver the “main address at the Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association” in August 1958, to appoint a “Presidential Commission” to “advance the cause of world peace through law,” and most of all to embrace a “hopeful interest in the subject.” The group met with Dulles in July and encountered a notable lack of enthusiasm. “Mr. Dulles’s reaction, to begin with, was negative,” Luce recorded. “He had been trying to do all this before his visitors were born.” People would “think it was a shortcut to peace whereas actually implementing these world-law proposals could take 100 years.”56
Luce continued to hope for Dulles’s support, and Dulles periodically encouraged him. Every now and then Dulles included in a speech or a public document a reference to the importance of the law; and although it was almost never accompanied by any concrete policy or action, it helped prevent any serious strains in the relationship. Eisenhower, who had only slightly more commitment to the value of international law than Dulles did, also made rhetorical gestures to Luce and his colleagues—gestures that Luce eagerly embraced no matter how modest they were. During the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 Eisenhower denounced the “lawlessness” of the Soviet Union’s invasion of a theoretically sovereign nation. Luce was exultant. “You took this occasion to hold up the banner of Law as it has not been held up in a generation,” he wrote the president. But Eisenhower’s public embraces of the “rule of law” were rare; and although he was less inclined than Dulles to express his reservations, he too had doubts about the viability of Luce’s cause. Everyone agreed, Eisenhower wrote, that “a great world-wide push to enthrone law over force” would help settle “the world’s differences.” But beyond this broad principle, the president continued (echoing Dulles), “I am most uncertain of the meaning you intend to convey….[I]t is manifest that the world is not yet ready to adopt and observe the principles of international law.” The promotion of law, Eisenhower added, should not be the task of government but should be “largely a private one carried on through the Bar Associations.” And so he spurned a proposal from Luce and Rhyne to create a “presidential commission on the rule of law.” Instead Eisenhower gave encouragement to an initiative that moved the issue of law out of the White House and into academia—an initiative sparked by the departure from the administration of one of Eisenhower’s most influential aides, Arthur Larson.57
Larson was chief speechwriter to the president, a position he used to help articulate a moderate vision of public policy that came to be known as “modern Republicanism.” But by 1958 the president’s interest in moderation was fading, and Larson began looking for a position outside government. Rhyne, a trustee of Duke University, proposed (with Luce’s eager support) the creation there of a center for international law, which Rhyne invited Larson to lead. Larson resigned from the White House (carrying with him the nominal position of “consultant” to the president on “the advancement of the rule of law”). Luce was pleased that the movement for what he now called “world peace through law” was represented by a significant institution, and he supported Larson’s efforts to bring more publicity to the cause, which Larson did very effectively. During his directorship of the Duke center, Larson attracted an impressive array of public officials and international leaders to speak or participate in conferences (Luce among them); he published articles and books on international law; and he helped raise the profile of international law and its possible value to global politics. But the creation of Larson’s center was also an excuse for the administration to marginalize this inconvenient movement, in which Eisenhower and Dulles had little real faith.58
Among the most important concrete proposals to emerge from Luce’s efforts was the repeal of the so-called Connally Amendment, a provision in the 1945 treaty by which the United States had joined the International Court of Justice. The Democratic senator Tom Connally of Texas, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had opposed any transfer of sovereignty to an international organization, and as a result of his amendment, the treaty gave the court no jurisdiction over “domestic” issues within the United States. The American government would alone decide what was “domestic” and what was not. To Luce and other champions of international law, the amendment was a major obstacle to what Larson called the “world rule of law,” and the Duke center worked strenuously on behalf of its repeal—but to no avail. In the end Luce’s quixotic crusade produced no new laws and no new policy, although it did contribute to making international law more a part of the nation’s public discourse. He continued to hope for a revolution through law for years. “The year 1965,” he wrote fifteen years after he began his efforts, “could be the year the Rule of Law idea really surfaces into public consciousness.”59
Luce’s commitment to Eisenhower—and his willingness to overlook disagreements with him—was greatly strengthened by the president’s decision to name Clare the American ambassador to Italy early in 1953. For Eisenhower the appointment was a way to repay a Republican stalwart (Clare) and an important supporter (Harry) and to cement his relationship with a powerful media empire. It undoubtedly helped Clare’s case that she was a famous convert to Catholicism and thus an appropriate liaison with the Vatican.* For Harry the appointment made possible a richer and more direct engagement with affairs of state than he had ever had before, while at the same time allowing him to remain in control of his magazines. In the four years in which Clare was ambassador, Harry spent almost half of his time in Rome, working partly in a Time Inc. office he had created for himself in the city, and partly in the embassy, where he was an unofficial adviser to Clare and an active participant in almost all public events.60
Clare’s appointment to Italy was not universally popular, in the United States or in Italy, and it encountered some resistance from the State Department. Clare believed that Dulles himself was opposed to her candidacy. Harry constantly reassured her that everything would work out, even as he was quietly battling the obstacles that still stood in her way. Clare, in the meantime, became more and more agitated, convinced that there was a conspiracy to deny her the job, and fearful of the humiliation if—after extensive press coverage—the nomination was withdrawn. At the same time, as she often was in times of stress, she became preoccupied with her age (fifty in 1953). “I feel so old these days,” she wrote in her diary in a low moment in January. “I no longer feel that the clothes enhance my beauty, rather they conceal the fact it is—as it must—wasting away.” But her despair did not last long. Early in February the president announced Clare’s nomination. The Senate confirmed it in early March, and Clare—after a round of lavish farewell parties—arrived in Rome in late April, accompanied by Harry and a retinue of friends and relatives.61
Harry stayed with Clare in the embassy (in separate bedrooms as always) for her first seven weeks in Rome before he returned to New York. But he came back regularly for long periods of time—on average twenty weeks a year over the four years of her term. It was a rare period of peace and commitment in their marriage. “My deepest concern was always HRL’s togetherness with me on this!” she wrote in February 1953. “I now feel the deepest faith in his loyalty, and his sympathy and aid!” The ambassadorship brought them into a genuine partnership, something that had eluded them during the first eighteen years of their marriage. It was Harry who had negotiated with the president and the State Department for Clare’s assignment to Rome. He had declined on her behalf offers that she be appointed secretary of labor or ambassador to Mexico. He donated five thousand dollars a month to the embassy to facilitate Clare’s entertaining, and paid for extensive renovations to the ambassador’s elegant but decaying residence. He brought his assistant Kip Finch to Rome with his family to serve his and Clare’s needs. When Harry was in Rome he was omnipresent in the life of the embassy—a constant prod to the foreign-service officers to show the deference they owed the ambassador, a stickler for protocol, and a host at lunches and meetings that Clare could not attend. He was, one colleague said, “an extraordinarily good ‘ambassador’s wife.’” While Clare entertained dinner guests before the huge living room fireplace in the ambassador’s residence, “he circled the outer fringes of the party making sure everyone else had a drink, had seen the Rouaults and the Churchills” (paintings that had once hung in their apartment in New York). In no other setting in his life had he been so solicitous a host.62
But Luce was far more than an attentive and supportive husband. As always his personal reconciliation with Clare was closely tied up with the opportunities her new position offered them both to exercise power and influence, which were much enhanced by the somewhat exaggerated belief of Italian leaders that the Luces had an “intimate friendship” with President Eisenhower. Allen Grover, Harry’s jaded and somewhat disillusioned deputy, described him as
obsessed with the subject of foreign policy and his direct influence on it. Nothing else interests him. He regards his position as “unique” for exerting pressure—Clare in Rome, C. D. Jackson [his once and future employee] in the White House, and his magazines to press his points. He fancies he is molding the destiny of the U.S., in the world.
Luce and his Time Inc. staff handled much of the embassy’s correspondence (including a large amount that was addressed to him almost as if he were himself the ambassador). And he wrote regularly to Eisenhower and Dulles with accounts of Clare’s successes. Harry also had a quasi-diplomatic life of his own in Italy. He traveled extensively, had meetings with ministers and provincial officials and leading industrialists—meetings not unlike those he had always conducted while traveling abroad, but much enhanced by his connection to the American Embassy. He was, Billings noted, “on the top clouds of Rome.”63
At the heart of Clare’s ambassadorship was the inevitable preoccupation with Communism that she shared with her husband—and with the State Department. Italy was among the Western European nations with a strong Communist Party that had at least some prospect of winning control of the government. Clare, encouraged by the foreign-service officers in the embassy, ignored the tradition of ambassadors not intervening in the politics of the countries in which they served. Instead, she became a staunch, and often strident, critic of the Italian Left. She was also critical of the dominant Christian Democratic Party for the weakness of its leaders and for its failure to adopt “a vigorous anti-communist attitude.” It was, as one historian noted, an “ambitious attempt … to drastically transform Italy’s political landscape.”64
In the several national elections during her time in Italy, she openly warned voters that the United States would withhold its financial aid to the country should the Communists win. “If the Italian people should fall unhappy victim to the wiles of totalitarianism … of the Right or the Left,” she threatened during a 1953 parliamentary campaign, “there would follow, logically and tragically, grave consequences” for the “intimate and warm” friendship between America and Italy. Skeptical of what she considered the wobbly leadership of Alcide de Gasperi, who had served as prime minister since the end of World War II, she actively supported the right-wing Christian Democrat Giuseppe Pella, whose “political virility” she admired. (Pella defeated de Gasperi in August 1953 only to be defeated himself five months later.) Discouraged, she began trying on her own to mobilize anti-Communist leaders—not just politicians but also industrialists, intellectuals, journalists, and others. She exhorted companies to purge their work forces of Communists and threatened them with a freeze on American aid should they fail to do so. Fiat, Italy’s largest industrial corporation and a significant recipient of U.S. support, responded by creating a blacklist of “undesirable employees” who were dismissed or suspended because of their leftist politics. There was frequent and often outraged criticism from many quarters of Italian politics and from the Italian press about what they considered Clare’s inappropriate interference in the nation’s affairs. But she was not, in fact, a renegade, although her great fame and visibility helped make it appear so. She was taking steps that were entirely consistent with the Eisenhower-Dulles foreign policy and its strong commitment to combating Communism through nonmilitary means in Europe. It was also a reflection of Harry’s own aggressive internationalism, which contributed much to Clare’s controversial initiatives.65
Clare’s life in the American Embassy in Rome was even more intensely busy than it had been in New York and Washington. Most politically appointed ambassadors left the real work to the career foreign-service officials and spent their time largely on ceremonial duties. Clare, however, took the diplomatic work seriously, spending hours every day at her desk laboring through cables and correspondence and meeting constantly with starstruck and somewhat puzzled subordinates unaccustomed to direct contact with the ambassador.66
Clare was a healthy woman who lived an active life well into her eighties, but she was also something of a hypochondriac who retreated to her bed frequently with undiagnosable ailments. Such incidents occurred particularly frequently and severely in Rome. Her illnesses drew Harry closer to her for a time. On many evenings they would sit together in her bedroom reading to each other, playing highly competitive games of Scrabble, and enjoying a kind of domesticity they had rarely experienced in the United States. Clare later told her secretary that the “years in Rome were the happiest of their married life.” Harry periodically rushed to Italy to take her on long, restorative cruises in the Mediterranean or to quiet resorts in France or Greece. Her recovery after these absences reinforced the belief of some of her doctors and friends that her ailments were in some way self-inflicted, products of stress and exhaustion. Late in 1954 she began to have serious dental problems that she and others feared might be the result of poisoning. Finally the embassy announced that staff members had discovered that Clare’s bed lay below a ceiling whose flaking lead-based paint had gradually been exposing her to low levels of arsenic. This alleged discovery was widely publicized, including in the pages of Time, but there were claims at the time that the story was apocryphal, that Clare’s real problem was a viral infection that coincided with age-related dental problems and that the lead-paint story was a cover for extensive cosmetic dentistry that required her to spend months in New York. As she moved into her mid-fifties, she had become ever more concerned about maintaining her beauty, which she correctly realized was one of her most important assets in the high-stakes, male-dominated world of politics and diplomacy.67
By late 1956 Clare was becoming restless with her life in Italy. She was discouraged by the continuing weakness of the anti-Communist Right in the nation’s politics, bored with the daily routine of the embassy, and eager for a larger place on the public stage. She urged Eisenhower to let her leave Rome to campaign for him in 1956. When rumors began to spread that the president was planning to replace Nixon as his vice presidential running mate, Clare began lobbying implausibly to succeed him. She sent out feelers about running for a Senate seat in Connecticut, but there was little enthusiasm in the state Republican Party for the idea. She was also mentioned as a possible secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, but nothing came of that either. She finally resigned her ambassadorship early in 1958.
But she remained a prominent candidate for another diplomatic post: She hoped for London, to no avail. Finally in 1959 Eisenhower asked her to serve as ambassador to Brazil—a post she found much less attractive than Italy but that she halfheartedly agreed to accept. There was considerable criticism of the appointment, some of it rooted in Latin American resentment of Time Inc.’s coverage of the region. She also inherited the anger of some Democratic members of Congress who had run afoul of Harry’s strong support of Eisenhower. At one point Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, who had recently changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat to the great dismay of Time, gave a long and scathing speech opposing Clare’s nomination. Nevertheless she was easily confirmed. Harry encouraged her to go and promised to spend as much time with her in Rio as he had in Rome. But she continued to waver—both because of her lukewarm interest in the position and because of her fear it would have required her to oversee the end of American aid to Brazil, which would inevitably lead to criticism and failure. Friends reported that Clare was looking for a way out, and deliberately or not, she soon found one. She released a statement to the press shortly after the confirmation (over the advice of her advisers and without consulting Harry) that “I am grateful for the overwhelming vote of confirmation in the Senate. We must now wait until the dust settles. My difficulties of course go some years back and began when Senator Wayne Morse was kicked in the head by a horse.” After a small firestorm of criticism in the Senate, she turned down the appointment, citing the “extraordinarily ugly charges” made against her and the likelihood of “a continuing harassment of my mission.”68
For Clare the Brazil fiasco marked the end of her political career. She returned to New York, tried to get back to writing, made occasional speeches, and remained a sought-after celebrity in the social world. But she never regained the prominence she had once had. For Luce, however, the late 1950s had a different meaning. The experience had reinvigorated him and given him new enthusiasm about the future. No longer wholly preoccupied with the Cold War, he began to focus on what he considered the great success of the United States and the transformation of American life. He also began seeking not just power, but happiness.
*The ambassadorship to Italy was also the ambassadorship to the Vatican until 1974.