Articles_up Books_up
Leaving Others to Tell the Tale View other pieces in "The New York Times"
By Mark Danner July 17, 1988

Dean Rusk in the Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson Years
By Thomas J. Schoenbaum
Illustrated. 592 pp.
New York: Simon & Schuster. $22.95

History, it's said, is written by the winners; but perhaps it's truer to say it belongs to the least reticent. Dean Rusk, on becoming Secretary of State, vowed never to write his memoirs. ''He regarded it as a matter of integrity not to 'kiss and tell,' '' Thomas J. Schoenbaum said in a telephone interview. ''And he would remind people of that - including Kennedy and Johnson - so they would speak freely.'' So Mr. Rusk's story has largely been written by others, often people with interests of their own. Referring to Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Theodore Sorensen, chroniclers of the Kennedy Administration, Mr. Schoenbaum said: ''Rusk saw no reason to discuss foreign policy when they were in the room because he regarded them as essentially speechwriters - who should be 'off with the secretaries.' '' There has come down to us, then, a picture of a man who, in the face of momentous events, said little or nothing. ''The Cuban missile crisis is a key example. People don't say bad things about Rusk; they just don't say much.'' Only he knows what counsel he gave the President, ''but he is not one to exaggerate; if anything you have to get him to admit he took a larger role.''

Mr. Schoenbaum, a colleague of Mr. Rusk on the University of Georgia law faculty, had ''hundreds of hours'' of interviews with him and unprecedented access to his personal papers. He has worked to describe that larger role - to draw out the story of a man who vowed not to tell it.


© 2021 Mark Danner