The Trip

On February 21, 1945, then Congressman Dirksen set out on a world trip that would take him to twenty-one countries, logging 32,000 miles.  This was not an ordinary junket.  Dirksen traveled on behalf of the House Committee on Appropriations to inspect American embassies, reconstruction agencies, intelligence services, and the armed forces.  He had a bird’s-eye view of Europe and the Middle East as World War II neared its end.

His stops included London, Algiers, Tunis, Cairo, Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Karachi, Teheran, Baghdad, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Palestine, Beirut, Damascus, Ankara, Istanbul, Athens, Rome, Florence, Paris, Rheims, Augsburg, Dachau, Wiesbaden, and Leipzig, among many others.

As Dirksen toured from London to Ceylon and back, history recorded the deaths of Franklin Roosevelt, Benito Mussolini, and Adolph Hitler.  And as circumstance would have it, Dirksen landed in Paris on V-E Day and was the first member of the House to visit the Dachau concentration camp, twelve days after its liberation (In the accompanying photo, Dirksen is right center wearing a hat and pocket handkerchief).

In addition to meetings with thousands of GI’s and dozens of American ambassadors and consul generals, Dirksen held face-to-face sessions with scores of U.S. generals, prime ministers, members of various parliaments, and other foreign leaders.  Those whom Dirksen counted as the most impressive were the British Viceroy in India, Lord Mountbatten, General Mark Clark, the eventual King of Jordan, and Pope Pius XII.

From Paris on May 8, VE Day, Dirksen penned the following to his wife, Louella:

Will we succeed this time in building a structure of peace that shall have full and fair opportunity to endure? I wonder.  I’ve seen some things, Mumsie, that are disturbing.  Already I see Freedom being mocked and leeched away in certain places.  I see the vigorous propagation of certain ideologies which

imperil the very thing for which young Yanks have died. I see the selfish grasping for power, the economic advantage which can only weaken and then destroy that sense of fairness and faith which is so requisite to a well-ordered and contented world.

Ironically, given the challenges the United States faces today in the Middle East, Dirksen concluded more than sixty years ago that they have “different aspirations than ours” grounded in the “deep past,” and that “they do not want what we crave.”  In musings following a memorial service for Roosevelt, Dirksen admitted that “Seeing other people and particularly the conditions in other countries does enlarge the horizon and give one a sense of responsibility which we really carry in this world.”

Upon his return in mid-May, Dirksen met with President Harry Truman and prepared a confidential memo with recommendations to the new president for postwar foreign policy.  Dirksen also briefed Congress and his constituents through a series of speeches.

Dirksen’s experiences shaped his world view for the rest of his life as he gained influence and participated in meeting the major foreign policy challenges of the late twentieth century:  the Cold War, Korea, and Vietnam.  As a leader of the Republican Party, Dirksen’s views figured prominently in the emerging bipartisan consensus on the conduct of diplomacy well into the 1960s.



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