Appointed by President John F. Kennedy
Continued in office under President Lyndon B. Johnson
Dean Rusk probably never read a poem written by the Nobel Prize winning Polish author Wistawa Szymborska that begins—“After every war someone has to tidy up. Things won't pick themselves up, after all.” These few lines arguably describe the role that Rusk sought to fill as a major participant in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy from 1945 to1968. Out of the chaos created by the Second World War, the future secretary of state wanted a world order in which Hitlerian aggression, later expanded to include its communist cousin, could not reoccur. Reasoning statesmen, working with a United Nations bolstered by the rule of law, would form the first Wilsonian bulwark. If that battle line did not hold, than a coalition of Western, democratic governments would stop aggressive acts, preferably by collective security, but failing that, by unilateral American actions. No mistaken Munichs, let alone unacceptable Dunkirks, would mark the path to peace if only resolute leaders would defend the borders of democracy and freedom against transgressors.
Born on February 9, 1909, to farm parents down on their financial luck in Georgia, but highly educated and possessed of good instincts, Rusk prospered in his intellectual development. His father, trained in the ministry, contributed a foundation of strong southern Presbyterianism and an even stronger work ethic to his son. A southerner to his core, Dean admired and came to share many of the ideas and principles of his fellow southerner, Woodrow Wilson. At Davidson College in North Carolina, he further imbued even more of the moral approach when he attended his father's alma mater. His religious and political beliefs grew so important that he considered becoming a missionary to China. Although he finally followed the path of worldly rather than religious internationalism, a crusading, missionary zeal and a continued interest in Asia always remained.
His scholarly bent led the young Phi Beta Kappa to the Rhodes scholar competi-tion and then successfully to Oxford University in 1932. There his attraction to international law and its promise of an orderly world blossomed. World events at the time strongly influenced his development as he watched the rise of Germany,