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John Foster Dulles, Illness, Masculinity and US Foreign Relations, 1953–1961

Sewell, Bevan

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In the last two decades, scholars have increasingly looked to understand the way that socially constructed norms and values have influenced the course of international diplomacy. Yet while much work has been produced on areas such as gender, far less has been written on the way that perceptions of illness affected the way that leading policymakers saw themselves, their allies, and their respective roles in the world. This article, by focusing on former US secretary of state John Foster Dulles, looks at the influence that perceptions of illness had on US foreign relations during the 1950s. First, it argues that US perceptions of British and French weakness – as typified by the ill-health being suffered by those nations’ respective leaders – shaped American responses to the diplomatic crisis that erupted over the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Second, it highlights the substantial changes that took place in US policy when first President Eisenhower, and then subsequently Secretary Dulles, were stricken down by severe illness. In doing so it demonstrates how a better understanding of the relationship between illness, emotions and masculinity can help historians to better understand the course of Cold War foreign relations.


Sewell, B. (2017). John Foster Dulles, Illness, Masculinity and US Foreign Relations, 1953–1961. International History Review, 39(4), 713-747.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 1, 2016
Online Publication Date Sep 16, 2016
Publication Date Aug 8, 2017
Deposit Date Oct 18, 2016
Publicly Available Date Oct 18, 2016
Journal The International History Review
Print ISSN 0707-5332
Electronic ISSN 1949-6540
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 39
Issue 4
Pages 713-747
Keywords Cold war, Anglo-American relations, illness, masculinity
Public URL
Publisher URL
Contract Date Oct 18, 2016


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