The story

Henry R. Luce

Henry R. Luce

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Born in China on April 3, 1898, Henry R. In 1918, he served briefly with the Yale Student Army Training Corps at Camp Jackson, South Carolina, where he earned a commission as second lieutenant.

Henry Luce graduated from Yale University in 1920, studied at Oxford, and became a reporter for the Chicago Daily News. In 1923, Luce founded Time magazine with Briton Hadden as business manager, but after the latter's sudden death in 1929, Luce took over his position. Making a success of his first magazine, he went on found Fortune in 1930, Life in 1936, and Sports Illustrated in 1954. In addition to the titles he started, Luce acquired Architectural Forum and House and Home. All of these were ventures of Time, Inc. Luce served as chairman of Time, Inc. and as editor in chief of each of the magazines.Believing in Republicanism, anticommunism, and internationalism, he pressed his beliefs on the magazines' writing staffs and compelled them to express his personal views in their articles. At one point, he ran five cover stories on Benito Mussolini, to promote Fascism. Later, he used his magazines to advocate for Wendell Willkie and Dwight D. Eisenhower, among others.Time and Life became the "gold standard" of weekly magazines. The New Yorker, possibly out of jealousy, once ran a cartoon showing one editor of Life asking another, "Is it OK to call our subscribers readers?" Life has ceased publication, but the other three that Luce founded are still going strong.Henry R. Luce was perhaps the most influential magazine publisher in the United States since S.S. McClure. He died in Phoenix, Arizona, on February 28, 1967.

Henry R. Luce - History

A man of missionary zeal and limitless curiosity, Henry Robinson Luce deeply influenced American journalism between 1923, when he and the late Briton Hadden founded Time The Weekly Newsmagazine, and 1964, when he retired as head of one of the world&aposs largest and richest publishing empires.

Mr. Luce created the modern news magazine, fostered the development of group journalism, restyled pictorial reporting, encouraged a crisp and adjective-studded style of writing and initiated the concept of covering business as a continuing magazine story.

In the process, the tall, lean man with heavy eyebrows grew to be one of the nation&aposs wealthiest men, rose to a position of vast and pervasive economic, political and social influence and helped shape the reading habits, political attitudes and cultural tastes of millions. Nonetheless, he tried to remain inconspicuous as a public figure. In private his manner of living was notably inconspicuous.

"We tell the truth as we see it," Mr. Luce once explained when his magazines took sides on controversies. And he was accustomed to urge his editors to make a judgment. He believed that objectivity was impossible. "Show me a man who claims he is objective," he told an interviewer, "and I&aposll show you a man with illusions."

To a remarkable extent during the peak of his total involvement with his magazines--Time, Fortune, Life and Sports Illustrated--the judgments and opinions that were printed reflected the focus of Mr. Luce&aposs own views--and these encompassed virtually every facet of human endeavor.

He was a stanch Republican, a defender of big business and free enterprise, a foe of big labor, a steadfast supporter of Chiang Kai-shek, an advocate of aggressive opposition to world Communism. He was also an Anglophile, but he believed that "the 20th century must be to a significant degree the American century."

Admired and Criticized

As with many who achieve eminence, Mr. Luce was lauded by those he benefited he was cursed by those who felt injured by him and, sometimes, even by those men whose careers he had made.

Virtually no one viewed him temperately, yet admirer and critic respected his business accomplishments, his ingenious brain, his insatiable curiosity, his editorial prescience. For example, he anticipated an American appetite for tersely packaged news, for the photojournalism of Life magazine and for the easy-to-grasp pictorial essay on such topics as "The World We Live In," "The World&aposs Great Religions" and "The Human Body."

Mr. Luce was not gregarious, especially convivial or given to mixing with those he considered his intellectual inferiors. "He lived well above the tree line on Olympus," one of his editors remarked.

After his formal retirement, however, Mr. Luce tried hard to unbend, but his fund of small talk was usually exhausted after a few moments of pleasantries.

Attempting to explain the difference between the dour Mr. Luce and the puckish Time magazine, a friend said:

"Time is a side of Luce called forth by the magic of the written word."

The Luce enterprises, which had an annual revenue of $503-million in 1966, were started on an $86,000 shoestring in 1923 by Mr. Luce and Mr. Hadden. The two, schoolmates at Hotchkiss and Yale, had for a long time discussed the idea of getting out a weekly magazine capsulizing the news for readers who wanted a condensed account of events.

"People in America are, for the most part, poorly informed," the prospectus for Time declared. This attitude, and its implication that something ought to be done about it, was one of the keys to Mr. Luce&aposs conception of himself as an evangel. It was an attitude ingrained from earliest childhood, as was his tendency to evaluate many issues in moral terms.

He was born April 3, 1898, in Tengchow, China, the son of the Rev. Dr. Henry Winters Luce, a poor but socially well-connected Presbyterian clergyman and teacher, and Elizabeth Root Luce, a former Young Women&aposs Christian Association worker. Harry, as the boy was known throughout his life, was the first of four children.

Serious minded and precocious, Harry Luce learned Chinese before he spoke English and composed sermons for boyhood diversion. The household was run on Spartan lines, even though Mrs. Cyrus H. McCormick, widow of the millionaire inventor, was a family friend and benefactor.

The son adored the father, a filial piety to which students of the editor-publisher traced his religious impulses, him moralities and his zealous approach to life. The son also developed a vigorous attachment to things Chinese, and all his life he regarded himself as an expert on China.

After attending a strict British boarding school at Chefoo, where caning was the practice, Harry came to the United States at 15 to attend Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn., on a scholarship.

He amassed a top academic record, wrote verse, edited the school&aposs literary monthly and became assistant managing editor of the weekly paper. Most fateful of all, he became friendly with young Briton Hadden, the paper&aposs managing editor.

Shared Journalistic Interest

The youths shared a deep interest in journalism and a judgment that too many people were ignorant of the world about them and ought to be enlightened.

The young men went to Yale, where both were editors of The Daily News. They graduated in 1920, with time out for military service in World War I. Mr. Luce, a Phi Beta Kappa, was voted "most brilliant"" in the class and Mr. Hadden "most likely to succeed."

After brief study at Oxford, Mr. Luce returned to the United States and went to work for The Chicago Daily News as a legman for Ben Hecht. He migrated from Chicago to Baltimore for a reporter&aposs job on The News, where he was reunited with Mr. Hadden.

In their spare time, the youthful reporters, developed plans for a weekly news magazine, at first to be titled Facts, but then called Time, and put together the prospectus, which pledged that the publication would have "a prejudice against the rising cost of government faith in the things which money cannot buy, a respect for the old, particularly in manners."

The prospectus also told how the new magazine would differ from Literary Digest, then the reigning newslike weekly. "The Digest, in giving both sides of a question, gives little or no hint as to which side it considers to be right," Mr. Luce and Mr. Hadden said. "Time gives both sides, but clearly indicates which side it believes to have the stronger position."

Mr. Luce and Mr. Hadden quit their Baltimore jobs in early 1922 to sell stock and get their publication under way. The task took a year, with 72 investors, mostly from Wall Street, chipping in $86,000 toward their $100,000 goal.

The first issue, dated March 3, 1923, divided the week&aposs news into 22 departments in 28 pages. Eighteen persons were listed on the first masthead, 11 of them Yale alumni. The circulation manager was a Harvard man, Roy E. Larsen, who is now chairman of the executive committee of Time, Inc. He and Mr. Luce and Mr. Hadden paid themselves $40 a week.

The articles in the first issues were recast chiefly from The New York Times by nimble writers. By the flip of a coin, it was decided at the outset of Time that Mr. Luce would manage its business affairs while Mr. Hadden would run the editorial side. It was Mr. Hadden who fathered the idiosyncratic style by which the magazine became famous.

Two elements of that style--the inverted sentence and the double epithet--were borrowed from "The Iliad," "The Odyssey" and "The Aeneid." Homer and Virgil, however, might have been awe-struck by the license Mr. Hadden and his writers took: "fleet-footed Achilles" became "beady-eyed," or "jut-jawed," or "snaggle-toothed" or "haystack-haired."

The Homeric sentence, "Brazen were the walls which ran this way and that from the threshold to the inmost chamber," was transformed into the Hadden-Luce-Time sentence, "To Swanscott came a lank, stern Senator, gray-haired, level-browed."

Time&aposs carly motto was "Curt, Clear and Complete."

It contained an abundance of telescoped words, such as "GOPolitics," "cinemaddict," "socialite," "Freudulent" and such an archaicism as "moppet" for child.

"Tycoon," from the Japanese taikun, meaning prince, was liberally applied to men of success. Action verbs were the mode, and the dictionary was ransacked for alternatives to the verb "said." The saucy style was considerably toned down after Wolcott Gibbs wrote a merciless parody of it in a Profile of Mr. Luce for The New Yorker magazine in 1936.

The sketch contained two sentences that have become a part of the literary folklore: "Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind" and "Where it will all end, knows God!"

Planned Business Journal

When Time began to show a profit in 1927, Mr. Luce and Mr. Hadden started Tide, a magazine for the advertising business, which they sold in 1930. Meantime, in 1929, Mr. Luce devoted himself to planning Fortune, which was to exemplify the thesis that "business is obviously the greatest single denominator of interest among the active leading citizens of the USA. . .the distinctive expression of the American genius."

Also in 1929, Mr. Hadden died of a streptococcus infection, and the editorial and business aspects of Time, Inc., shifted to Mr. Luce. The two men, oddly, were never intimate social friends, although they always rallied to each other&aposs support.

Publication of Fortune began in 1930. The magazine looked luxurious, cost the then high price of $1 a copy and contained excellent art. In its first year it printed articles critical of some large corporations, including the United States Steel Corporation, but it eventually won acceptance for its perceptive reporting and for its major stories on technological change and life in the executive suite.

Writers for Time and Fortune have included such noted social critics as Archibald MacLeish, John O&aposHara, Stephen Vincent Benet, James Agee and Dwight Macdonald.

Not all of Mr. Luce&aposs writers agreed with him or with his principles, but they found his generous pay scales and his early friendly attitude toward the American Newspaper Guild irresistible.

Bought Architectural Forum

In 1932 Mr. Luce purchased a trade publication, Architectural Forum, a reflection of his own interest at the time in architecture. Twenty years later it gave rise to House & Home, which specialized in home building. The Forum, the largest magazine in its field but an economic loser, was discontinued in 1964. House & Home was sold that year to McGraw-Hill, Inc.

The most spectacularly popular of all Luce publications was Life magazine, started in 1936. Its announced purpose was:

"To see life to see the world to eyewitness great events to watch the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud."

It brashly and splashily published photographs of statesmen in unguarded moments, soldiers fighting to the death, babies being born, policemen clubbing strikers and models in the almost- nude. There were gaudy layouts of surgical procedures and panoramas of nature. Later, there were essays and memoirs, heavily pictorialized, and editorials on what was called "the American Purpose."

Life magazine was a wedding gift of sorts to Mr. Luce&aposs second wife. His first marriage, to Lila Ross Hotz of Chicago, in 1923, ended in divorce in 1935. They had two sons, Henry 3d, a vice president of Time, Inc., and chief of the magazine&aposs London bureau and Peter Paul, a management consultant.

Shortly after his divorce, Mr. Luce married Mrs. Clare Boothe Brokaw, daughter of a vaudeville couple and the divorced wife of George Tuttle Brokaw.

According to an article by John Kobler in The Saturday Evening Post in 1965, Mr. Luce proposed to Mrs. Brokaw, then an editor of Vanity Fair and a fledging playwright, at virtually their first meeting by asking her how it felt to know that "you&aposre the only woman in a man&aposs life."

Purchased Title for $85,000

The new Mrs. Luce "had been advocating photojournalism ever since she knew Luce," the account stated, "and he had told her, &aposI don&apost really want more magazines, but if it pleases you we&aposll go ahead.&apos"

On their honeymoon, it was said, the couple shaped the magazine, whose title was purchased for $85,000 from the fading humor weekly.

Because Mrs. Luce had such a germinal role in the founding of Life, it was widely assumed that she exercised a great deal of direct influence over its policies and those of her husband&aposs other periodicals.

Initially, it was said, Mrs. Luce did play an open part, but she limited herself to writing bylined articles for Life after an argument with Ralph Ingersoll, a Life editor, in the magazine&aposs early years.

Mrs. Luce&aposs indirect influence, however, was reported to have been considerable. Her husband, it was said, listened to her suggestions for articles and proposed them under his own name.

In the beginning Life magazine was overly successful. Its circulation outraced its advertising revenue, although it was not until 1969 that it operated in the black.

Started &aposMarch of Time&apos

Mr. Luce&aposs final magazine venture was Sports Illustrated (the title was also purchased) started in 1954, to capitalize on what he called "the wonderful world of sport" and a more abundant leisure available to Americans after World War II.

The magazine&aposs appeal was primarily to families in the suburbs and smaller towns. Mr. Luce, previously ignorant of most sports except golf and swimming, undertook an intensive cram course in baseball, boxing and horse racing to equip himself intellectually as publisher.

Mr. Luce also had an early association with radio, starting in 1928 with promotional broadcasts from Time&aposs articles. This developed into "The March of Time." It ran for 15 years, and its narrator, Westbrook van Voorhis, achieved fame for the solemn manner in which he intoned, "Time Marches On!" the program&aposs catch phrase. The series was also adapted for a period for the movies.

At his retirement in 1964 as editor in chief of all Time, Inc., publications, Mr. Luce was the company&aposs principal owner, with a stock interest of 16.2 per cent. The market value of his holdings then exceeded $42-million and his annual dividend income was $1,263,888. All told in 1964, Luce magazines published 13 editions, weekly or monthly, with a world circulation of 13 million copies an issue.

Mr. Luce&aposs influence in communications, however, went far beyond magazines. It included production of television programs here and abroad the operation of five radio and six television stations, and the creation of a series of popular books on science and history. (Time, Inc.&aposs book division was said to have grossed $40-million in 1964.) The company also owned a 45 per cent interest in the 48-story, $70-million Time & Life Building at the Avenue of the Americas and 50th Street.

The man who nurtured the Time, Inc., enterprise from one-room simplicity to global complexity was a tall, lean man with a large head of the sort that his baldness, which began in middle life, enhanced.

His eyes were light blue, narrow and sharp under dark brows. His mouth was thin, his jaw firm.

Almost from the start of Time magazine, Mr. Luce communicated with his underlings by memorandums, of which he was a prolific composer. When he returned from trips--and he traveled incessantly--he dispatched memos that were obviously the work of a sharp-eyed observer and that often contained directives on whatever struck his agile mind as important.

When Mr. Luce stepped down as editor in chief, George P. Hunt, Life&aposs managing editor, wrote that it had been "a rigorous and rewarding experience" to have had "Harry Luce as a boss." He also described the Lucean memos:

"This comes in two forms. The long ones are neatly typewritten. The others consist of pencil scrawls on yellow pad paper, often with a newspaper clipping attached by means of an ordinary straight pin. The subjects of these memos were broad--a proposal to do a series on Greece, a critique of the latest issue of Life, a question about the latest teen-age fad, a philosophical comment on United States politics."

In politics, Mr. Luce backed Republican candidates for President in every campaign except 1928, when he supported Alfred E. Smith. He apparently also had some qualms about the Republican candidate in 1964, for Life, that year carried an editorial critical of Barry Goldwater, the party nominee. Mr. Luce voted for Mr. Goldwater, however.

Mr. Luce sometimes liked to talk with his editors in person, T.S. Matthews, formerly one of his principal editors, recalled in his book, "Name and Address."

Mr. Matthew&aposs 1960 autobiography found Mr. Luce secretive, not always aware of other people, yet a good editor and a man who could be answered back. Nonetheless, Mr. Matthews faulted Mr. Luce on the question of fairness, asserting that "the Presidential campaign of 1940 was the last one that Time even tried to report fairly."

"In 1952, when it sniffed victory in the air at long last," Mr. Matthews wrote, "there was no holding Time. The distortions, suppressions and slanting of its political &aposnews&apos seemed to me to pass the bounds of politics and to commit and offense against the ethics of journalism. The climax was a cover story on Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate, which was a clumsy but malign and murderously meant attack."

Mr. Matthews reported that he had not resigned over this incident. He left the organization in the mid-fifties and subsequently wrote his autobiography.

Mr. Luce&aposs curiosity was legendary. Correspondents who drove with him from an airport to the center of a city had to be prepared for all manner of detailed questions about the sights. Some, to anticipate the cross-examination, made dry runs from the airfield to town. Once, one story has it, Mr. Luce, spotting a large excavation, asked his correspondent what it was. "That, Mr. Luce," the man replied "is a hole in the ground."

In addition to these impressions of Mr. Luce, there was a thinly distinguished portrait of him in "Death of Kings," a novel by Charles Wertenbaker, once a high-ranking Time editor. Many of Mr. Luce&aposs associates thought the portrayal unflattering.

Mr. Luce wrote little about himself for publication and was seldom quoted in his own publications. In his travels he talked to presidents, premiers, popes, cardinals, ambassadors, bankers, political leaders, industrialists, generals and admirals.

Many in Time, Inc., close to Mr. Luce were impressed by his ranging interests. Hedley Donovan, who succeeded Mr. Luce as editor in chief, recalled that his superior had "an extraordinary zeal for new ideas, not only as inspiration for new modes and vehicles of journalism but as a subject matter for journalism."

"Far from being pained by new ideas," Mr. Donovan said, "Harry Luce rejoices in them. He welcomes argument so ardently that it takes a certain amount of intellectual courage to agree with him when he is right, as is bound to happen from time to time."

This was also the impression of Gilbert Cant, a Time editor for many years, who said:

"His decisions may have been unidirectional but, by God, he thought a hell of a lot. Conversation with him was utterly maddening because he was always aware of the other side of any proposition he was stating, and he frequently tried to express both sides at once."

A belief in a Christian God animated much of Mr. Luce&aposs thinking. A man who attended church regularly and prayed before he went to bed, he contended that the United States had a "constitutional dependency on God." He often used the word "righteousness" to describe the causes he espoused.

Mr. Luce, however, was not a dogmatic Protestant. He concurred in his wife&aposs right to convert to Roman Catholicism in 1946, and he was said to respect her view of the world without adopting it for his own.

After a career as a playwright ("The Women," "Kiss the Boys Goodbye" and "Margin for Error") Mrs. Luce, also an ardent Republican, served two terms in the House of Representatives from Connecticut, from 1943 to 1947. She was appointed Ambassador to Italy by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953. Mr. Luce was in Rome with her during most of her three-year term.

Mrs. Luce was nominate as Ambassador to Brazil in 1959 but she resigned before going to her post after a public quarrel with Senator Wayne Morse, Democrat of Oregon.

Mr. and Mrs. Luce maintained an apartment in New York and homes in Ridgefield, Conn., and Phoenix.

Part I. From the American Century to the Cold War:
1. Henry Luce and China: prelude to an American crusade
2. Learning to market Chiang's China
3. Bitter victory
4. China on the brink: what role for America?
Part II. Luce and the 'Loss' of China:
5. Cold war strategy: allies and enemies in the battle for China
6. Losing China: the hunt for culprits intensifies
7. Anti-communist allies in Asia: MacArthur and Rhee
8. McCarthy and Korea: crises and opportunities
9. The campaign for a wider war in Asia
10. Electing Eisenhower while fighting McCarthy
Part III. Time Inc., Eisenhower, and Asian Policy, 1952–9:
11. Unwelcome moderation: Eisenhower's caution in East Asia
12. Keeping the pressure on Mao and Ho
Part IV. Time, Luce, and the looming disaster in Vietnam, 1960–7:
13. Time Inc. and nation-making in Vietnam: from Kennedy to Johnson
14. Troubled crusade in Vietnam
15. The final years of Henry Luce's mission to Asia.

A Partnership for Disorder

China, the United States, and their Policies for the Postwar Disposition of the Japanese Empire, 1941–1945

Henry Robinson Luce

Henry Robinson Luce (1898-1967), American magazine editor and publisher, was the most powerful journalistic innovator of his generation because of his insatiable curiosity and consuming sense of moral purpose.

Born of American Presbyterian missionary parents at Tenchow, China, Henry Luce attended a British school from the age of 10 to 14 and then went to Hotchkiss Academy in the United States as a scholarship student. He entered Yale in 1916 and joined the Army in 1917. He graduated from Yale in 1920 summa cum laude and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He had formed a close friendship with Briton Hadden editing the Yale Daily News, Hadden and Luce determined to found a weekly newsmagazine.

Luce studied for a year at Oxford University and then worked with Hadden on the Baltimore News. They left in 1922 to raise $86,000, with which they launched Time magazine in March 1923. By 1928 Time's profits came to $125,000. In 1929 Hadden died of a streptococcus infection. His obituary in Time concluded: "To Briton Hadden, success came steadily, satisfaction never."

Time was successful because its creators had captured the growing college-educated public with a frankly biased combination of news reporting, interpretation, and departmentalized coverage of a dozen other fields—all in a distinctive writing style, originated by Hadden, that featured brevity, brashness, and shock. Luce excelled as the editorial executive.

In February 1930 Luce's new project, Fortune, appeared, addressed to business executives. He encouraged talented writers to develop civilized expositions of America's business world. Archibald MacLeish, J. K. Galbraith, Dwight MacDonald, and Louis Kronenberger contributed to Fortune, while Fortune contributed to their own professional development. In 1932 Luce purchased Architectural Forum.

Few journalistic executives of Luce's generation could match his ability to organize and to gratify his curiosity and ambitions. None possessed the sense of moral purpose that sustained Luce in his Americanism, Republicanism, anti-communism, and anti-McCarthyism. In 1935 Luce divorced his first wife to marry the brilliant, talented Clare Boothe Brokaw. It was said they planned Life magazine on their honeymoon. Luce bought the name and subscription list of the humorous weekly Life and transformed it into a fresh and stunning experiment in photographic journalism. Life took only 2 years to reach a circulation of over 2 million.

Luce had pioneered new techniques of team journalism—in Time, the reporter-researcher-writer team in Life, the photographer-writer team. In 1954 he launched Sports Illustrated. Retiring as editor in chief of all Time, Inc. publications in 1964, Luce remained the company's principal owner.

By the time of Luce's death, Life had a circulation of 750 million and Time a circulation of 350 million. Life had more than twice the advertising revenue of any American magazine Time ranked second.

Revisiting Henry Luce’s “American Century”

In 1904, Canadian prime minister Wilfred Wilfrid Laurier declared that “The 20th Century Will Be the Century of Canada.”* In January 1940, a writer in Japan asserted that the century needed to be characterized by Japanese dominance. Whatever the defects of Life magazine’s publisher Henry Luce’s famous essay called “The American Century,” he was closer to the mark than the others.

The Short American Century: A Postmortem, edited by Boston University political scientist Andrew Bacevich, turns several contributors loose on Luce’s article and its legacy. Published in Life’s February 17, 1941 issue, the long editorial asserted that America must assume the mantle of global leadership: “It must be a sharing with all peoples of our Bill of Rights, our Declaration of Independence, [and] our constitution…It must be an internationalism of the people, by the people and for the people.” Luce declared that America’s manifest destiny was to spread its ideals and culture across the globe, sharing its blessings with all the peoples of the world. Doing so would only “lift the life of mankind from the level of the beasts to what the Psalmist called a little lower than the angels.” Such would mark the “first great American century.”

Luce’s essay was well-read and well-remembered. Life magazine was, as Bacevich writes, “arguably the most influential popular periodical in American history.” It was the first all-photographic magazine in the United States, mixing social commentary with light-hearted entertainment and popular culture. Luce himself was profoundly influential, the founder of Time and Sports Illustrated, and an important figure in Republican circles.

In the book’s opening essay, Bacevich wryly notes that the rest of the Life issue in which Luce’s essay appeared contained only advertisements, features on women’s fashion, an examination of the current Broadway hits, and a look at the do’s and don’ts of campus etiquette. “References to the economic crisis of the previous decade were nowhere to be found,” Bacevich writes. “The world beyond America’s borders might seem stormy, but at home an atmosphere of hopeful normalcy—and fun—prevailed.”

Those familiar with Bacevich’s previous writings will not be surprised at the themes of the essay, and of the book as a whole. The Illinois-born professor has emerged as the single most respected radical critic of U.S. foreign policy. In bestselling books like The New American Militarism and The Limits of Empire, he excoriates the combination of American missionary zeal, nationalism, and military power that convinces the country to pursue global ambitions. For Bacevich, whether the party in power is Democratic or Republican makes little difference—both are wedded to unwise and unrealistic ideas about America’s role in the world.

What makes Bacevich’s voice such a formidable one, aside from the clarity and force of his arguments themselves, is that he is critiquing U.S. foreign policy from the right. He is a deeply religious paleoconservative, culturally traditional and patriotic. He served in Vietnam, where his brother-in-law was killed, and his son was killed fighting in Iraq. Nobody can hurl accusations of treason and weakness at such a credible figure.

Bacevich is now convinced that, such as it ever was, the American century is most certainly over. “[T]he conditions that once lent plausibility to visions of an American Century had ceased to exist,” he writes, speaking of the period between 2006 and 2008. He offers the essay collection “as a sort of dissenter’s guide to the American century.”

It doesn’t quite function that way, though. Stanford University professor David Kennedy argues nearly the exact opposite. “As international regimes go, much of the American Century, despite the chronic tensions and occasional blunders of the Cold War (and especially the tragedy of Vietnam), was on the whole a laudably successful affair,” he writes. President George W. Bush’s policies largely undid the goodwill amassed by America from the 20th century, but the cause is hardly forsaken, according to Kennedy.

University of California, Irvine historian Emily Rosenberg likewise dissents from Bacevich’s dissent. “During the Cold War, U.S. strategy exported to the world the assumptions and practices of America’s consumer republic,” she writes. American elites mistakenly assumed that the practices that made America wealthy would do the same for the rest of the world, but there is little doubt the American way of buying and selling had a tremendous impact.

Historian Walter LaFeber is more in line with Bacevich’s thinking. “The American Century was stillborn,” he writes. U.S. “military power could not create an American century in Central and Eastern Europe, China or the Soviet Union itself, any more than comparably overwhelming military power some sixty years later could incorporate Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Georgia, or other parts of the Middle East and central Asia into an American Century.” To which one might retort that Europe and China, with their robust capitalism, look far more like visions of America than the Communists who ruled them ever would have liked.

Still, even if LaFeber, like Bacevich, overstates the follies of American foreign strategies in the 20th century, the essayists’ humility and pessimism is more than welcome. Especially since 9/11, the failures of American power have outweighed the successes. Every single essay in this book is thought-provoking and engaging, however much one agrees or disagrees with their specific analyses. Though not filled with policy prescriptions, The Short American Century implicitly suggests that the country would benefit from lowered sights. Paradoxically, an America less focused on international dominance would find itself in a better position in the world. If the book’s lessons are heeded, Americans may find that decline is no more inevitable than are delusions of international dominance.

Correction: The original version of this piece misspelled the first name of the seventh prime minister of Canada. He is Wilfred Laurier, not Wilfrid. The relevant sentence has been corrected. CJR regrets the error.

Click here for a complete Page Views archive.

Jordan Michael Smith is a contributing writer at Salon and the Christian Science Monitor. Tags: American Century, Andrew Bacevich, books, Henry Luce, Life Magazine, Walter LaFeber

Alan Brinkley chronicles Henry Luce’s career creating Time, Life, Fortune and other magazines.

Time's new managing editor Richard Stengel plans changes for weekly magazine including sharper point of view and hiring of more brand-name journalists seeks to reshape magazine to be closer to Newsweek's style and format, which may undergo its own transformation both publications are reacting to changes in media landscape and threats to weekly news cycle from Internet and other 24-hour news sources photo (M)


1 The standard two-volume biography for Luce’s life is Sylvia Jukes Morris, Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce (New York: Random House, 1997). Quotation is from Annabel Paxton, Women in Congress (Richmond: Dietz Press, 1945): 86.

2 Morris, Rage for Fame: 459–460 “Mrs. Luce Decides She Will Seek Nomination as Congress Candidate,” 1 September 1942, New York Times: 14.

3 “Fight Is Pledged by Miss Kellems,” 5 September 1942, New York Times: 28 “G.O.P. ‘Tempest’ Over Mrs. Luce in Connecticut,” 5 September 1942, Christian Science Monitor: 4.

4 James A. Hagerty, “Mrs. Luce Winner Over 6 Opponents,” 15 September 1942, New York Times: 25.

5 Libby Lackman, “Mrs. Luce Caustic About Her Rival,” 19 September 1942, New York Times: 10 Morris, Rage for Fame: 469.

6 “Dorothy Thompson Backs Clare Luce,” 24 October 1942, New York Times: 13.

7 “Willkie Endorses Mrs. Luce in Race,” 3 November 1942, New York Times: 15.

8 Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

9 Milton Bracker, “Mrs. Luce Wins Race for House Pledges Work for ‘Fighting War,’” 4 November 1942, New York Times: 1.

10 Congressional Record, House, 78th Cong., 1st sess. (9 February 1943): 759–764 “American Air Rule Urged By Mrs. Luce,” 10 February 1943, New York Times: 27 “Spotlight Performance: Rep. Luce Urges U.S. to Plan for Postwar Air Supremacy,” 10 February 1943, Washington Post: 1.

11 “Masaryk Rebukes Mrs. Luce,” 12 February 1943, New York Times: 8 Sydney M. Shalett, “Mrs. Luce in the Limelight Since Her Free–Air Speech,” 21 February 1943, New York Times: E10 “Clare Boothe Luce Upsets Capital with First Speech,” 11 February 1943, Los Angeles Times.

12 “Lady Astor Gibes at ‘Globaloney,’” 13 February 1943, New York Times: 13.

13 “Mrs. Luce Defines Freedom of the Air,” 25 February 1943, New York Times: 3.

14 Congressional Record, House, 78th Cong., 1st sess. (24 June 1943): 6428–6434.

15 Congressional Record, House, 79th Cong., 2nd sess. (17 July 1946): 9261–9271 quote on 9262.

16 Congressional Record, House, 79th Cong., 2nd sess. (27 June 1946): 7763–7764.

17 Congressional Record, House, 79th Cong., 1st sess. (19 December 1945): 12391–12392.

18 “Mrs. Luce Presses Equal Rights Bill,” 23 February 1943, New York Times: 16 Congressional Record, House, 78th Cong., 1st sess. (22 April 1943): 3728.

19 “Mrs. Luce Demands Heavy Tax on Rich,” 18 April 1943, New York Times: 40.

20 “Luce, Clare Booth,” Current Biography, 1953 (New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1953): 375–378 Congressional Record, House, 79th Cong., 2nd sess. (31 January 1946): A378.

21 Kathleen McLaughlin, “Mrs. Luce Assails ‘Bumbledom’ Trend,” 28 June 1944, New York Times: 15. Includes a transcript of the complete speech.

22 “Luce Wit: Caustic Clare Can’t Resist a Wisecrack,” 30 April 1959, Washington Post: C1.

23 “Party Rift Threat to Luce Candidacy,” 31 July 1944, New York Times: 1 “Mrs. Luce to Stand for Re–Election,” 1 August 1944, New York Times: 12 “Griswold Assails New Deal Policies,” 8 August 1944, New York Times: 30.

24 “Rival Happy to Make Race,” 10 August 1944, New York Times: 13.

25 “Offers Plan for Peace,” 7 October 1944, New York Times: 9.

26 “Roosevelt ‘Lied Us Into War,’ Mrs. Luce Declares in Chicago,” 14 October 1944, New York Times: 9.

27 “Mrs. Luce Attacks Chief ‘Isolationist,’” 15 October 1944, New York Times: 36 “Mrs. Luce Declares Reds Plot Against Labor and Democrats,” 17 October 1944, New York Times: 14.

28 “Defeat of Mrs. Luce Is Urged by Wallace,” 3 November 1944, New York Times: 18 “Mrs. Luce Advised to Study Record,” 15 October 1944, New York Times: 36 “Calls Mrs. Luce Shallow,” 11 October 1944, New York Times: 22.

29 “Woman Opponent Says Mrs. Luce ‘Lied’ in Accusing President of Falsehoods,” 16 October 1944, New York Times: 11 “Miss Connors Predicts Election by 5,000 Asks Mrs. Luce Some Questions in Telegram,” 1 November 1944, New York Times: 40.

30 “Mrs. Luce is Re–elected,” 8 November 1944, New York Times: 2 “Fish Is Defeated Clare Luce Wins,” 8 November 1944, New York Times: 1.

31 “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present."

32 “Mrs. Luce Likens Russians to Nazis,” 28 May 1945, New York Times: 5.

33 “Asylum for Poles Urged by Mrs. Luce,” 20 February 1943, New York Times: 12.

34 “Ann Brokaw Dies in Auto Collision,” 12 January 1944, New York Times: 25.

35 “Mrs. Luce Decides Against House Race,” 31 January 1946, New York Times: 17 “Senate Attracts Mrs. Luce?,” 28 January 1946, Christian Science Monitor: 4. Another reason for Luce’s decision not to run for re-election was the attention given her conversion to Catholicism in early 1946. Fearing that opponents would capitalize on her conversion, she told the press, “Therefore, I have chosen to be unavailable by design or draft for elective office.” See “Mrs. Luce Turns Roman Catholic,” 18 February 1946, Christian Science Monitor: 7.

36 Bart Barnes, “Clare Boothe Luce, Renaissance Woman, Dies at 84,” 10 October 1987, Washington Post: C8.

37 W.H. Lawrence, “Rome Envoy’s Post Seen for Mrs. Luce,” 24 January 1953, New York Times: 10 “Mrs. Luce Chosen as Envoy to Rome,” 8 February 1953, New York Times: 1 Edward F. Ryan, “Mrs. Luce Appointed Ambassador to Italy,” 8 February 1953, Washington Post: M1 “Eisenhower to Nominate Mrs. Luce to Rome Post,” 9 February 1953, Christian Science Monitor: 14.

38 Russell Baker, “Mrs. Luce Wins in Senate Husband Asks Her to Quit,” 29 April 1959, New York Times: 1 Edwin L. Dale, Jr., “Mrs. Luce Quits Declares Morse ‘Poisoned’ Task,” 2 May 1959, New York Times: 1.

39 “Clare Boothe Luce,” 11 October 1987, Washington Post: H6.

Reviews & endorsements

"For sheer density of material. and for insights into the relationship between journalism and high policy, this book is very informative. I recommend it to anyone interested in U.S.-Asian relations during the early Cold war years." New York Sun, John Derbyshire

"Herzstein is a historian who writes like a brilliant journalist, and a scholar whose occasional partiality never detracts from his innate fairness. His very readable new work on Luce. is a valuable, colorful contribution to modern history." The New Leader, Valentin Chu

"Herzstein's evaluation of Luce's accomplishments and shortcomings is judicious and balanced." - Qiang Zhai, Auburn University Montgomery

Sources of Information

Contact at: Time Inc.
1271 Avenue of Americas
New York, NY 10020


Brinkley, Alan. "To See and Know Everything: Henry R. Luce Had an Insatiable Curiosity, with the Drive and Ambition to Match." Time, 9 March 1998.

Contemporary Authors. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, Inc., 1982.

Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1990.

Heckscher, August. "Henry R. Luce: A Political Portrait of the Man Who Created the American Century." New Leader, 6 June 1993.

"Henry R. Luce Honored on Cover of U.S. Stamp." M2 Press-wire, 6 April 1998.

Morrow, Lance. "The Time of Our Lives." Time, 9 March 1998.

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