(b. April 11, 1893, Middletown, Conn., U.S.--d. Oct. 12, 1971, Sandy Spring, Md.), U.S. secretary of state (1949-53) and adviser to four presidents, who became the principal creator of U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War period following World War II, during which he helped to create the Western alliance in opposition to the Soviet Union and other Communist nations.
A graduate of Yale and of Harvard Law School, Acheson served for two years as private secretary to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. In 1921 he joined a law firm in Washington, D.C. His first government post was under Roosevelt as undersecretary of the Treasury in 1933; he entered the Department of State in 1941 as an assistant secretary and was undersecretary from 1945 to 1947.
One of Acheson's first responsibilities in 1945 was to secure Senate approval for U.S. membership in the United Nations. After 1945 he became a convinced anti-Communist, a position that was the dominant influence on his later conduct of foreign policy. Believing that the Soviet Union sought expansion in the Middle East, he shaped what came to be known as the Truman Doctrine (1947), pledging immediate military and economic aid to the governments of Greece and Turkey. In the same year he outlined the main points of what became known as the Marshall Plan.
Appointed secretary of state by Pres. Harry S. Truman in January 1949, Acheson promoted the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the first peacetime defensive alliance ever entered into by the U.S.
Despite his strong stance in what he conceived to be a global confrontation with Communism, Acheson--because he had been associated with high government circles during the period when Communist parties were taking over many European countries--was the target of attack by foreign-policy critics within both political parties. His enemies were particularly inflamed when, during the congressional hearings of Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy on subversive activities (1949-50), Acheson refused to fire any of his State Department subordinates. His most widely publicized remark was, "I will not turn my back on Alger Hiss"--a former State Department officer later convicted of perjury in denying that he had engaged in espionage in the 1930s.
Demands for Acheson's resignation increased after the entry of Communist China into the Korean War (1950-53). The storm of public controversy erupted more violently after the President removed Gen. Douglas MacArthur as commander of forces in Korea. Acheson subsequently established the policies of nonrecognition of China and aid to the Nationalist regime of Gen. Chiang Kai-shek on Taiwan; later he also supported U.S. aid to the French colonial regime in Indochina.
After leaving office he returned to private law practice but continued to serve as foreign-policy adviser to successive presidents. His account of his years in the Department of State, Present at the Creation, won the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1970. Other works include Power and Diplomacy (1958), Morning and Noon (1965), The Korean War (1971), and Grapes from Thorns (posthumous, 1972).