Books and Men April 1960

Suez in Retrospect: Anthony Eden's Memoirs

As foreign affairs reporter for the Washington Post, Chalmers M. Roberts has covered many of the conferences at critical periods in our recent history and has been in a position to study closely the fluctuations in Anglo-American relationships. We have therefore turned to him for on appraisal of Sir Anthony Eden's new book, Full Circle, recently published by Houghton Mifflin.

On the afternoon of November 6, 1956, presidential election day in the United States, President Eisenhower "telephoned to me when I was in my room in the House of Commons. He was vigorous and in good spirits. He was delighted by our order to cease fire and commented that we had got what we had set out to do; the fighting was over and had not spread." The phone conversation took place on the new transatlantic cable. "The President commented on its remarkable clarity and encouraged me to keep in touch by this means and telephone to him at any time. There seemed no doubt at that moment that friendship between our two countries could be quickly reanimated." Thus writes Anthony Eden in his memoirs, Full Circle (Houghton Muffin, $6.95). At long last he saw a glimmer of hope that the frustrations in Anglo-American relations which followed Nasser's seizure of the Suez Canal and the Anglo-French Israeli attack on Egypt might be ended.

Next day Eden followed up the Eisenhower suggestion. He called the President. "I told him I thought it important that we should meet and have a full discussion on the situation. He agreed and asked me what date I had in mind. I said the sooner the better and suggested that M. Mollet and I might fly over that evening. The President authorized Eden to extend the invitation to Premier Guy Mollet in Paris and Mollet agreed.

But it was not to be. An hour later the President phoned back to express some doubts. A second Eisenhower call that evening brought the excuse that the President "would be much taken up in the days ahead in consultations with the leaders of Congress." Eden kept trying, but Eisenhower continued to withhold the invitation.

Eden, in telling this story for the first time, does not speculate on why Eisenhower changed his mind. But there is no doubt of his suspicions as to who was responsible—John Foster Dulles. The late Secretary of State was Eden's béte noire. Thus Full Circle is often an account of the unhappy Eden-Dulles relationship, in the years 1953 to 1955, when Eden was Foreign Secretary under Winston Churchill, and until January, 1957, when he was Prime Minister and Dulles remained the power behind Eisenhower. In a larger sense, however, the book is a demonstration of how important are human relations in world affairs. True enough, great events occurring beyond the control of both Eden and Dulles dominated the scene in these years. But the ability of the two men to shape the course of these events was very great indeed: The tragedy here demonstrated is that they worked at opposite purposes, often with a resultant weakening of Anglo-American relationships and to the permanent injury of the Western world in the continuing East-West conflict.

To Eden, Dulles was "a preacher in a world of politics." To Eden, he "seemed sometimes to have little regard for the consequence of his words." Dulles' "cynicism toward allies destroys true partnership. It leaves only the choice of parting, or a master and vassal relationship in foreign policy." Though Eden does not say so, Dulles had no love for him, and on occasion was foolish enough to let it be known in ways that soon got back to Eden. Nor was their often strained relationship a result only of the long Suez affair. It began, as Eden writes, back in 1952, when Eden was Foreign Secretary and Dulles was Harry Truman's special envoy for the Japanese peace treaty. Dulles had agreed with Herbert Morrison, the Labor Foreign Secretary, that neither would pressure the Japanese to recognize Red China or Nationalist China. But in 1952 Dulles and the Japanese published, without prior word to Eden, a Japanese announcement that Japan would recognize the Nationalists. Eden says that Dulles and the then Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, explained that if Japan did not do so, the China Lobby in America might prevent ratification of the treaty. It was this sort of double-dealing, as Eden saw it, which was to plague the Eden-Dulles relationship to the end.

Full Circle is not an autobiography. Rather, it is an ex parte account of Eden's conduct of major foreign policy, and occasional domestic issues, with emphasis on the 1956 Suez crisis and the 1954 Indochina affair. Totally lacking is the Churchillian sweep-of-history approach. The writing is pedestrian, often dull, and the explanations on occasion are disingenuous. There are few documents—chiefly Eden's own minutes and some messages he sent Eisenhower—and very little of what he tells was not generally known. Nonetheless, Full Circle adds an important account in contemporary history.

As the foreign affairs reporter for the Washington Post, I spent many months following the course of both the Indochina and Suez affairs. Eden's Indochina account, especially those parts involving the American efforts under Dulles' leadership to bring about allied intervention in the war with the Communists, is in accord with the known facts. It is largely confirmatory. Here, for the first time, a major participant in the events tells the story of Dulles' desire to strike militarily and the willingness of Admiral Radford, then chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, to bomb Communist airfields in mainland China if the Chinese countered a United States intervention by intervening themselves.

Here is confirmation that there was an American plan for a naval air strike to save the then beseiged fortress of Dien Bien Phu on April 28 and that the President was willing to go to Congress a few days in advance to ask for sanction. The whole effort collapsed because the British, led by Eden, refused to have any part in it. After the publication in the Times of London of this section of the Eden book, Eisenhower told a press conference that Eden had mistaken Dulles' actions, that Dulles had been talking only of "possibilities that might . . . be considered as proposals, when they were not meant [as] that at all." But this, too, is disingenuous. The record is clear and includes Dulles' own account in his famous "brink of war" interview in Life magazine in 1956.

The quarrel with Eden's history centers on his account of Suez. It is not, however, a matter of commission but of omission. Eden's reason for sending British armed forces into Egypt along with the French after the Israeli strike across Sinai, the reason he announced in the House of Commons, was to "separate the belligerents and to guarantee freedom of transit through the canal by the ships of all nations." This was, in fact, only a device to strike at Nasser in hopes of bringing him down. But Eden is stuck with the explanation, because at the time he flatly denied any connivance with Israel. He now remains silent on a critical part of the story. This is what happened when Eden, his Foreign Secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, Mollet, and his Foreign Secretary, Christian Pineau, met alone in Paris on October 16. Eden contends that the four men "reviewed alternatives" and that the British asked the French to tell the Israelis, because "our relations with Israel were not close or intimate," that "an attack on Jordan would have to be resisted by us." As it turned out, the talk of art Israeli attack on Jordan helped to confuse Washington and served as a cover for the strike at Egypt.

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