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The Welles of loneliness: Sumner Welles and the creation of American foreign policy

Parkes, Christopher (2015) The Welles of loneliness: Sumner Welles and the creation of American foreign policy. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis examines the intersection of the personal and professional lives of former Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles. It argues that Welles sexuality had a formative influence on his worldview and, hence, his career as a policymaker, his place in the Roosevelt administration, and his legacy in U.S. political and diplomatic history. Using sexuality as a lens through which to view his career, this thesis provides fresh interpretations of the major events in Welles’ career while offering new insights into the contradictions, ambiguities, and continuities in Welles’ thinking and behaviour. Welles’ sexuality permeated his entire life. It impacted the trajectory of his career, shaped his personality, and altered the dynamics of his worldview. Beginning with formative experiences that positioned Welles as an outsider, Welles’ upbringing and sexuality conditioned him with unique characteristics and beliefs that shaped his professional life. These characteristics were manifested in three ways: an aversion to military solutions to diplomatic problems, a belief in paternalistic idealism toward the world outside the U.S., and the development of a close political bond with a fellow outsider to conventional masculinity, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Through a close reading of Welles’ papers, documents from his formative years, accounts by his contemporaries, and a consideration of the broader political and societal context in which he operated, this thesis shows how examining Welles’ personal life is crucial to understanding his impact on American foreign policy. This thesis is not a straight diplomatic history. Its primary focus is on Welles as an individual and how he embodied the intersection between sexuality, power, and diplomacy. It directly engages with the existing historiography about Welles by challenging the portrayals of his sexuality as aberrant and incidental. That said, while the components of personality and sexuality are fundamental to this thesis’ argument, this thesis does not argue Welles’ sexuality is the sole or allencompassing criterion by which his career can be understood. Rather, this thesis highlights the salience of sexuality alongside more traditional metrics of ideology, politics, culture, and power, in order to provide a richer understanding of Welles’ contributions to the political and diplomatic history of the U.S., particularly with regards to Latin America, World War Two, and the internal politics of the Roosevelt administration. More broadly, it expands the scope of analysis for historians studying foreign policy and diplomacy by demonstrating how sexuality shapes the attributes and outlook of foreign policy decision makers.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Christopher Alexander Parkes
Library of Congress subject classification: E History America > E151 United States (General)
Sets: Departments > International History
Supervisor: Casey, Steven

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