Biography for Dean Acheson
As U.S. secretary of state from 1949 to 1953, Dean Acheson helped create the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), engineered the 1951 peace treaty with Japan, and implemented President Harry Truman's policies in Korea. Born on April 11, 1893 in Middletown, Connecticut, Dean Gooderham Acheson attended Groton School and graduated from Yale University in 1915. He earned his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1918 after briefly serving in the U.S. Navy during World War I. From 1919 to 1921, Acheson was Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis' private secretary. Except for a brief stint as U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt's undersecretary of the treasury in 1933, Acheson practiced corporate and international law from 1921 to 1941. Appointed by Roosevelt as assistant secretary of state in 1941, Acheson helped secure congressional passage of the Lend-Lease Act and later of the Bretton Woods Agreements (1944). The latter, made at an international conference, set up international banking funds and revaluated European currencies following World War II. As undersecretary of state from 1945 to 1947, Acheson played a vital role in the formulation of the Truman Doctrine in 1947, which pledged the United States to the worldwide containment of communism. He also worked closely with George Marshall in devising the Marshall Plan (1947), a massive economic aid program designed to promote the recovery of the European economies and thus thwart the appeal of communism. In 1949, U.S. president Truman selected Acheson as the new secretary of state. Acheson's two greatest accomplishments involved the creation of NATO, a military alliance of 10 (eventually 14) European nations, Canada, and the United States designed to prevent the expansion of Soviet power in Europe, and the conclusion of a peace treaty with Japan in 1951. Although a staunch opponent of communism who believed that it was "economically fatal to a free society and to human rights and fundamental freedom," Acheson, like his mentor Marshall, became the target of Republican critics, who virulently and unfairly attacked him for "losing" China to the communists. His critics assailed him for encouraging the communist North Koreans to invade South Korea in 1950, thereby involving the United States in a costly and inconclusive four-year war. He also came under fire for his defense of Alger Hiss, a U.S. State Department official accused of spying for the communists. Part of what made him politically vulnerable to those charges was the perception of many "mainstream" Americans that he belonged to an eastern establishment whose internationalism, elitism, and New Deal liberalism were out of step with basic American values. After leaving office at the end of the Truman administration, Acheson returned to his law practice, wrote books on international diplomacy, and served as an unofficial policy adviser to U.S. presidents. Acheson died on October 12, 1971.