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To be Young, Rich and Ambassador to Paris in the ’50s

C. Douglas Dillon was a politician and diplomat who served as U.S. Ambassador to France in the critical post World War II period, 1953-1957, and later as Under Secretary of State and Treasury Secretary. Son of a wealthy investment banker, Dillon graduated from Groton and Harvard, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, returning to become president of his father’s Wall Street firm. He doubled its investments in six years. President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed C. Douglas Dillon to be Ambassador to France.

It was an exciting time to be in Paris. The city was undergoing massive reconstruction following the war. Christian Dior was reestablishing Parisian influence on world fashion, and writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus forged new forms of literature. But there was still wide-spread poverty, trauma from the war and pressure from the Soviet Union. During his tenure as ambassador, Ambassador Dillon had to contend with French backlash against the U.S. execution of convicted espionage conspirators Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, antagonism against the U.S. in response to the encroachment of communism, and rising Cold War tensions. Read more

New President, Bad Plan: the Bay of Pigs Fiasco

After Fidel Castro ousted Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista, expropriated American economic assets and developed links with the Soviet Union, President Eisenhower authorized the CIA in March 1960 to develop a plan to overthrow Castro. The agency trained and armed Cuban exiles to carry out the attack. Shortly after his inauguration, John F. Kennedy learned of the invasion plan, concluded that Fidel Castro was a Soviet client posing a threat to all of Latin America and, after consultations with his advisers, gave his consent in February 1961 for the CIA-planned amphibious assault.

Launched from Guatemala on April 17, 1961, the invasion force of 1,400 Cuban exiles known as Brigade 2506 landed at the beaches along the Bay of Pigs on the south coast of Cuba. They immediately came under fire. Cuban planes strafed the invaders, sank two escort ships, and destroyed half of the brigade’s air support. Over the next 24 hours, Castro ordered 20,000 troops to advance toward the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban air force continued to control the skies.

President Kennedy authorized six unmarked American fighter planes to help defend the brigade, but the B-26’s arrived late and were shot down by the Cubans. The invasion was crushed later that day. Castro’s military had counterattacked with surprising speed, sinking most of the supply ships, killing over a hundred of the exiles and capturing 1,200. Brigade 2506 was defeated within two days by Cuban armed forces under the direct command of Castro. The Cuban leader used the attack to solidify his power in Cuba and to justify more military assistance from the Soviet Union, including missiles and the construction of missile bases. Kennedy publicly accepted blame for the catastrophic outcome. Read more

Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship: The 1951 Treaty of Peace with Japan

The San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed by 48 nations on September 8, 1951, officially ended Japan’s position as an imperial power, provided compensation to those who had suffered in Japan during the Second World War, and terminated the Allied post-war occupation of Japan. The treaty’s seven chapters and preamble marked the end of hostilities between the signatories and provided the foundation for the strong U.S.-Japan political alliance and important bilateral military relationship still in place today. The treaty required Japan to give up all special rights and privileges in China and accept the decisions of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). Japan relinquished claim to Korea, Formosa and other territories and gave the U.S. control of the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa).

The agreement also provided for the revival of commercial treaties, including granting the Allied powers most-favored-nation (MFN) status. Other chapters regulated property claims, reparations and compensation, referred unresolved disputes to the International Court of Justice and defined the ratification process. Seven months after the signing of the treaty, Japan formally regained its sovereignty. Read more

China’s Fight for Tiny Islands — The Taiwan Straits Crises, 1954-58

Recent disagreements over Beijing’s claim to the South China Seas (in which a tribunal constituted under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea issued a non-binding decision in July 2016 in favor of the Philippines) in many ways is reminiscent of the potentially far more serious clashes over the Taiwan Straits, the first of which occurred shortly after the Korean War broke out.

Following the Chinese Civil War, tensions remained high between the Republic of China (ROC) and the Chinese Communist Party. In 1950 with the Communists victorious, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was created and established in mainland China. The ROC was forced to relocate to Taiwan and the outlying islands of Penghu, Quemoy, and Matsu. However, no armistice or peace treaty has ever been signed, thus the civil war never formally ended. People have used this for justification of the PRC’s attack and capture of islands under the ROC’s jurisdiction.

In early 1950, President Harry Truman stated that the United States would remain neutral in matters regarding the Taiwan Strait. However, the outbreak of the Korea War in mid-1950 complicated matters. Maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait became a high priority to the United States, as PRC occupation of Taiwan would pose a threat to the security of the region and U.S. forces fighting in Korea. Read more

How Did We Get Here? A Look Back at the Creation of the European Union

Welcome to Part I of our crash course on the formation of the European Union (EU). Each treaty signed between 1948 and 2007 brought Europe one step closer to today’s EU.

Back in the aftermath of World War II, a group of European countries decided that the Dunkirk Treaty of 1947, which the UK and France signed against a possible rebirth of German aggression, needed an additional “mutual defense clause” and so came up with the Treaty of Brussels (1948). That “mutual defense clause” turned out to be the basis upon which the 1954 Paris Conference established the Western European Union (WEU).

In the meantime, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was implemented as the first international organization based on the principles of supranationalism (i.e., a system where negotiated power is delegated to an authority by governments of member states). Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg signed the 1951 Treaty of Paris. Read more

We Don’t Give a Dam — The Feud Over Financing the Aswan High Dam

Egypt’s agriculture has always depended on the water of the Nile; the river’s perennial floods, while critical in replenishing the fertile soil, constantly threatened to wash away a season’s harvest. The Aswan High Dam was built to regulate the river’s flooding as well as to create hydroelectric power and a reservoir for irrigation. Its planning and financing in the 1950s played a major role in American-Egyptian diplomatic relations, and was in part responsible for precipitating the Suez Crisis in 1956. (Photo: Corbis)

Following the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952, new president Gamal Abdel Nasser viewed a new, larger dam as politically and economically vital for Egypt. The United States, looking to counter Soviet influence in the Middle East, offered to finance the construction of a dam as well as provide arms shipments to Egypt, on the condition that the weapons be used only defensively and that the U.S. supervise all training. Read more

Cleaning up America’s Backyard: The Overthrow of Guatemala’s Arbenz

The Central Intelligence Agency launched a covert operation on June 18, 1954 to overthrow the left-leaning government in Guatemala. The coup, code-named Operation PBSUCCESS, deposed Guatemalan President Jacobo Árbenz Guzman, ended the Guatemalan Revolution and installed the military dictatorship of Carlos Castillo Armas. Armas would be the first in a series of U.S.-backed strongmen to rule Guatemala.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized the CIA to carry out Operation PBSUCCESS in response to growing concerns over the spread of Communism in what was considered “America’s backyard.” Árbenz permitted the Guatemalan Communist Party to operate openly and his land reform program threatened U.S. commercial interests, in particular those of the United Fruit Company. Read more

Stop the MADness — Arms Control and Disarmament

The end of World War II ushered in an era of intense arms competition between the Soviet Union and the United States. Both sides produced nuclear armaments and other weapons of mass destruction at increasing rates as the bipolar world order evolved, finally achieving a state known as “mutually assured destruction” or MAD. President Eisenhower initiated efforts to control the proliferation of arsenals, which ultimately led to the Arms Control and Disarmament Act, enacted September 26, 1961.

This legislation, passed by 87th Congress and signed by President John F. Kennedy, established the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA).  ACDA was designed to conduct, coordinate, and support research of the formulation for the arms control and disarmament policy, manage and prepare U.S. participation in international negotiations for arms control and disarmament and coordinate information to the public on arms control policy. Read more

The U-2 Spy Plane Incident

On May 1, 1960, an America U-2 spy plane was shot down in Soviet airspace, causing great embarrassment to the United States, which had tried to conceal its surveillance efforts from the USSR. In 1957, the U.S. had established a secret intelligence facility in Pakistan in order to send U-2 spy planes into Soviet airspace and secretly sent the spy plane into Soviet territory.

Upon release of the news, the United States initially covered up the story by claiming the U-2 was a NASA aircraft that had gone missing north of Turkey. However, President Eisenhower had to eventually admit the mistake after the Soviets produced the missing U-2, the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, and pictures of Soviet bases that the spy plane had captured. Read more

The “Lavender Scare”: Homosexuals at the State Department

In the 1950s and 60s, security within the U.S. government, including the State Department, was on high alert for internal risks, particularly Communists and what were considered to be sexual deviants—homosexuals and promiscuous individuals. Investigating homosexuality became a core function of the Department’s Office of Security, which ferreted out more people for homosexuality than for being a Communist.

In 1950, a subcommittee chaired by Maryland Senator Millard Tydings convened to investigate Joseph McCarthy’s notorious list of “205 known communists.” Tydings worked to discredit McCarthy’s claim, but, in the process, the subcommittee concluded that the State Department was overrun with “sexual perverts,” part of the so-called “Lavender Scare.”  Read more