Our 34th president, native of Texas, grew up in Kansas and spent his  latter years on his Gettysburg farm,appropriate for a general, huh? Just finished  an excellent bio  on Ike by author Stephen E Ambrose. In actuality, it was not a true bio since it focused on Eisenhower’s  two terms  as president and the  eight years following. But there were plenty of allusions to the WWII years and the interim between 1945 and his election.

It was a unique read for me since Eisenhower was the first president I remember, although not hardly at all as a child. We were a quite non political household other than my mom being quite anti Republican. It was an odd feeling reading about events that took place during my childhood but of which I was totally oblivious.

Anyway, the book was a fascinating read in several areas. Deficit spending seemed to be Eisenhower’s bete noire, quite ironic for  a career military man. He seemed in a constant struggle to keep military spending under control, often  maintaining  he knew better the needs of the military than did the Joint Chiefs.

I have read much that indicates he was  a do-nothing president, charges that were even voiced during his time in office. I came across with a much different impression. There were  a significant number of foreign policy crises, none of which lead to war, although a number could have had they  not been handled well.

To name a few. There was the Suez crisis of 1956  involving Britain, France and Israel, an ongoing struggle with the Soviet Union ( sometimes below the surface but always there ; ‘U-2 flights, atomic weapons etc ), Quemoy and  Matsu( islands off China coast) , Korea, Berlin, and so on. I came with an excellent impression of Eisenhower’s calmness during these crises since oftentimes all his advisers were pushing for war to one degree or another.

All the while he continued our nuclear buildup; an exercise that was slowed  a bit  from time to time by efforts at  disarmament. The failure to achieve meaningful results here was quite  disappointing to Eisenhower.

Things were also intriguing on the political/domestic fronts. Eisenhower was rather apolitical and both parties, Truman in particular, tried to get  him on their ticket. He worked reasonably well with the Democrats, not always so well with his own party. It was amusing to read his thoughts on occasion about forming a third-party. He was always quite popular, but never could bring the Republican party along for the ride.

Ironically, one of the strongest parts of the book for me does not show Eisenhower at his best. This made the book much more balanced and not  just  a tome on Eisenhower’s greatness. The civil rights movement was  picking up steam in the  1950’s, particularly in the area of education. The Supreme Court decision of 1954 on Brown vs Topeka being a case in point. Ike seemed to drag his feet in this area, not showing the leadership that he showed in other areas. His southern sympathies seemed to carry more weight than they should have . Consequently, progress was glacial, although he did send troops into Little Rock, albeit with great reluctance.

A couple of observations. Eisenhower is quite well known for his warning about the “military-industrial complex.” There are at least a couple of other areas in which he turned out to be ahead of his time. He was quite concerned about the growing dependence on imported oil and even imposed some quotas. The other area actually concerns an individual. Nixon was his vice-president for both terms although he often damned him with faint praise nd seemed always on the hunt for someone better, even in the 1960 election. There must have been  something worrisome there  that later blossomed into a mess.

A great president? I don’t know but his stock rose  as a result of  Ambrose’s work; fair and balanced to  coin a phrase.


April 17, 2010 - Posted by | History | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Good post about Eisenhower, I have always felt that he was a good president that kept his calm in all his decisions!

    Comment by goodtimepolitics | April 19, 2010 | Reply

    • Sure would be nice to have a commander-in-chief that we could trust wouldn’t it?

      Comment by tarheeltalker | April 19, 2010 | Reply

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