Thursday, January 21, 2016

Reassessing Thomas Mann's Latin America Policy

Thomas Tunstall Allcock, "Becoming 'Mr. America': Thomas C. Mann Reconsidered." Diplomatic History 38, 5 (2014): 1017-1045.


This article provides a new perspective on Thomas C. Mann, a Foreign Service officer best known for serving as Lyndon Johnson’s assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs and coordinator of the Alliance for Progress. Mann is commonly portrayed as unsympathetic toward aiding Latin American development, often accused of dismantling John F. Kennedy’s idealistic aid initiative, the Alliance for Progress, supporting repressive regimes, and vigorously promoting U.S. private investment throughout the hemisphere. By focusing on Mann’s early career, up to and including the Kennedy–Johnson transition, this article seeks to undermine the common image of Mann, revealing instead a dedicated Latin Americanist who consistently advocated aiding hemispheric development. A more accurate understanding of Thomas Mann can provide a starting point for rethinking assessments of the Alliance for Progress, a crucial presidential transition, and Lyndon Johnson’s Latin American record.

This article caught my eye. Mann is universally criticized, including by me in my textbook, as anti-democratic and friendly toward dictators in Latin America. Allcock places Mann within the context of the tension between LBJ and Kennedy advisors:

Misjudging the depth of the antipathy toward him, Mann failed to pay sufficient lip-service to the more unrealistic promises of the Alliance, leading to the creation of the “Mann Doctrine” and reinforcing the view that he sought a dramatic shift in the U.S. approach to dealing with rest of the hemisphere. What was for Mann a simple statement of U.S. goals, the Mann Doctrine would cement his new reputation and the narrative of the presidential transition.

Allcock points out that Mann assured LBJ that his words were taken out of context, that he was being attacked unfairly, and that he had clearly expressed support for democracy in Latin America. In general, he argues, Mann was not good at political maneuvering and actually had a stronger commitment to non-intervention than generally assumed.

Interesting narrative. It's always fun to get long-held assumptions challenged.


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