Sumner Welles: FDR's Global Strategist

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9780312174408: Sumner Welles: FDR's Global Strategist

In 1915, Sumner Welles, the son of an aristocratic family, began to work for the US State Department. Welles quickly showed an aptitude for the delicate job of international negotiation. His early successes in Japan later brought him to the attention of FDR who brought him into his administration as Under-Secretary of State. While Welles provided FDR with invaluable information about Europe and Japan, his main achievement was the development of US relations with Latin America. His bright career, however, was not to last. In 1940, FDR and his cabinet traveled to the funeral of William Bankhead, Speaker of the House. Welles traveled with them and, on the return journey, he propositioned a black Pullman car porter, allowing an aspect of his life that was heretofore hidden, to emerge. The scandal was made public and Welles resigned in 1943, thereby ending his career. This life of Sumner Welles is candidly written, for the first time, by his son, Benjamin Welles. Anyone interested in the accomplishments of this great man, the history of his time and the presidency of FDR, will want to read this beautifully written book.

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Review:

Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles was one of the rising stars of FDR's administration. The president viewed Welles as indispensable, referring to him as "the only man in the State Department who really knew what was going on." And yet, at the height of World War II, he was forced to resign, as scheming colleagues (including Secretary Cordell Hull) spread rumors about Welles's alleged sexual solicitation of a male train porter in 1940.

Something happened on that train; Roosevelt believed that the rumors were true, but, valuing Welles's expertise, he refused to cut his lifelong friend loose until the situation became politically impossible to ignore. This biography, written by Welles's eldest son, is understandably circumspect, concluding that a combination of exhaustion, wartime stress, and heavy drinking "let the bisexual nature latent in his nature burst their bonds." After his retreat into private life, Welles fell into the clutches of his valet, "a psychopathic bisexual ... whose hard drinking and turbulent influence hastened Welles's rush to self-destruction." (Shades of Harold Pinter!) Drawing extensively upon his father's papers, the author does an admirable job of rehabilitating Welles's reputation as a brilliant executor of American foreign policy, and skillfully portrays the cutthroat competition among members of the Roosevelt team, a competition in which he finally could not bring himself to take part.

About the Author:

Benjamin Welles is a retired journalist who lives in Washington, D.C. He was a foreign and national correspondent for The New York Times for 35 years.

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Welles, Benjamin
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