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Harold Stassen: Eisenhower, the Cold War, and the Pursuit of Nuclear Disarmament

by Lawrence S. Kaplan

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Studies in Conflict, Diplomacy, and Peace
212 pages  Pubdate:   6 x 9  6 b&w photos

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Harold Stassen (1907–2001) garnered accolades as the thirty-one-year-old “boy wonder” governor of Minnesota and quickly assumed a national role as aide to Admiral William Halsey Jr. during World War II. When Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected in 1952, Stassen was named director of the Mutual Security Administration and then became the president’s special assistant for disarmament. In this position, Stassen had the power to profoundly shape the country’s foreign policy and became influential in early Cold War policy discussions about the limits and uses of conventional and nuclear weapons.

In this nuanced biography, Lawrence S. Kaplan demonstrates that Stassen’s role in Eisenhower’s White House deserves more analysis than it has received from scholars. Stassen came to Washington advocating the total elimination of nuclear weapons, but he quickly came to recognize that this would not happen. He refocused his efforts, working for greater international transparency and communication. The liberal internationalism that Stassen espoused became embedded in Cold War policy for decades, and he consistently provided a voice for peace in an increasingly hawkish national security establishment.

Stassen, in many ways, was his own worst enemy; his ambition and ego undermined his efforts and clouded his vision. His feuds with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles were legendary, and while Dulles often prevailed in the meeting room, Stassen’s vision of nuclear restraint was one that Eisenhower shared. Kaplan’s study provides a new perspective on nuclear disarmament during a critical period in US history and sheds light on Eisenhower’s approach to international relations.

Lawrence S. Kaplan is emeritus director of the Lyman L. Lemnitzer Center for NATO and European Studies at Kent State University and a former Professorial Lecturer in History at Georgetown University. He is the author or editor of more than two dozen books, including NATO Divided, NATO United: The Evolution of an Alliance; NATO 1948: The Birth of the Transatlantic Alliance; and The Conversion of Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg.

For those of us old enough to remember Harold Stassen as a quadrennial, seemingly hapless presidential candidate, Kaplan’s readable and enlightening book is an eye-opener. Based on impressive research, it shows Minnesota’s ‘boy wonder’ as a dedicated and stubbornly persistent promoter of nuclear disarmament in the Eisenhower years. -- George C. Herring, author of The American Century and Beyond: U.S. Foreign Relations,1893–2014

Harold Stassen gives readers a new window into President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration, a matter still subject to oversimplification. Lawrence S. Kaplan presents a good history of Eisenhower’s disarmament policy, offering fresh insight into both Stassen and the president he served. -- Justus D. Doenecke, author of Nothing Less than War: A New History of America’s Entry into World War I

Impressive. Kaplan evinces complete command of the secondary literature, has deftly mined primary sources, and has done yeoman’s work in sifting through archives. This book should endure for decades as the definitive work on Harold Stassen’s Cold War diplomacy. -- Yanek Mieczkowski, author of Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s

Lawrence  S. Kaplan has given us a great gift in his stellar book Harold Stassen: Eisenhower, the Cold War and the Pursuit of Nuclear Disarmament. This insightful volume tells the very important story of the quest to put an end to the post World War II nuclear race and the obstacles which were not overcome in the pursuit of that elusive goal. Stassen's noble effort, his conflict with John Foster Dulles and the desire of Dwight D. Eisenhower to achieve disarmament come together in this timely and important volume that offers us an important glimpse into what might have been. -- John Rothmann, coauthor of Harold E. Stassen the Life and Perennial Candidacy of the Progressive Republican