July 11, 1952 – Dwight D. Eisenhower Nominated for Republican Presidential Candidate

Dwight D. Eisenhower, formerly Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II, won a hard-fought nomination on this day in history as the Republican candidate for President. Senator Richard M. Nixon of California was chosen by acclamation as his running mate for the Vice Presidency.

The official results were 845 for General Eisenhower, 280 for Senator Taft, 77 for Gov. Earl Warren of California, and 4 for General of the Army Douglas MacArthur.

Eisenhower declared he would lead “a great crusade” for “total victory” against a Democratic Administration he described as wasteful, arrogant and corrupt and too long in power. He said he would keep “nothing in reserve” in his drive to put a Republican in the White House for the first time since March 4, 1933.

Moments before a night session of the Republican National Convention in Chicago in 1952, the seats of New York delegates were covered with “Ike” straw hats for Dwight Eisenhower, via AP

December 8, 1953 – Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” Speech

On this day in history, President Dwight Eisenhower delivered a speech to the 470th Plenary Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

He admitted that the United States no longer held a monopoly of atomic power. He suggested that the knowledge to make weapons of mass destruction then possessed by only a few nations “will eventually be shared by others, possibly all others.”

Nevertheless, he suggested:

… even a vast superiority in numbers of weapons, and a consequent capability of devastating retaliation, is no preventive, of itself, against the fearful material damage and toll of human lives that would be inflicted by surprise aggression.”

Thus, he proposed that the U.S. meet with other countries “to seek ‘an acceptable solution’ to the atomic armaments race which overshadows not only the peace, but the very life, of the world.”

He also proposed that world-wide investigation into peacetime uses of fissionable material be encouraged, while at the same time diminishing stockpiles of atomic weapons.

President Eisenhower addressing the United Nations concerning the Atom Bomb Plan, 1953. (Credit: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

He concluded:

Against the dark background of the atomic bomb, the United States does not wish merely to present strength, but also the desire and the hope for peace.The coming months will be fraught with fateful decisions. In this Assembly, in the capitals and military headquarters of the world, in the hearts of men everywhere, be they governed or governors, may they be the decisions which will lead this world out of fear and into peace.

To the making of these fateful decisions, the United States pledges before you, and therefore before the world, its determination to help solve the fearful atomic dilemma – to devote its entire heart and mind to finding the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.”

You can read the text of the entire speech here.

January 3, 1961 – Eisenhower Severs Diplomatic Ties with Cuba

Fidel Castro governed the Republic of Cuba as Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976 and then as President from 1976 to 2008. A Marxist–Leninist and Cuban nationalist, Castro also served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from 1961 until 2011. Under his administration, Cuba became a one-party communist state, while industry and business were nationalized and state socialist reforms were implemented throughout society. Castro’s alliance with the Soviet Union (our Cold War enemy) and Cuba’s location just 90 miles south of Florida made Cuba a “geopolitical flash point in a global struggle of ideology and power,” to quote the New York Times.

Fidel Castro 1959

On the afternoon of August 6, 1960, Castro announced that the Cuban government would be taking action against the “economic and political aggression toward our country” by the United States. He pointed out that the U.S. Congress recently moved to reduce the participation of Cuban sugar producers in the U.S. sugar market, “as a weapon of political action against Cuba.”

He averred that such an act was only “a repetition of the ongoing conduct of the United States of North American government, directed toward denying our people the right to exercise its sovereignty and its comprehensive development, thus reflecting the despicable interests of U.S. monopolies which have hampered the growth of our economy, and the expression of our political freedom.”

He wasn’t actually wrong.

Castro then proclaimed the nationalization of the businesses and properties of the national telephone and electricity companies; Texaco, Esso and Sinclair oil companies; and the 36 sugar mills owned by U.S. firms in Cuba.

On October 13, 1960, Cuban ministers approved two more laws that stipulated the nationalization via expropriation of all industrial and commercial companies, including all associated factories, warehouses, depots, other property and rights. 382 companies in all, including 105 sugar mills, 18 distilleries, and all banks except the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Nova Scotia.

Sept. 20, 1960 – Cuban leader Fidel Castro, left, and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev hug at the United Nations. (San Diego Union-Tribune

The U.S. felt compelled to respond. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s State Department imposed the first trade embargo on Cuba on Oct. 19, 1960. The original embargo covered all U.S. exports to Cuba except for medicine and some foods. Time Magazine noted wryly, “The U.S. need not worry that a strategic embargo will damage private industry in Cuba. It no longer exists.’”

Then in January 1961, on this day in history and just weeks before he left office, Eisenhower closed the American embassy in Havana and broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba.

According to the online site of The History Channel,

The immediate reason cited for the break was Castro’s demand that the U.S. embassy staff be reduced, which followed heated accusations from the Cuban government that America was using the embassy as a base for spies.”

Cuba wasn’t the only country engaging in surreptitious activities of course. Early in 1960, the Eisenhower administration began financing and training a group of Cuban exiles to overthrow the Cuban leader, ultimately leading to the Bay of Pigs debacle.

Then in May 1960, a diplomatic crisis ensued when the USSR shot down an American U-2 spy plane in Soviet air space and captured its pilot, Francis Gary Powers. Confronted with the evidence of his nation’s espionage, President Eisenhower was forced to admit to the Soviets that the CIA had been flying spy missions over the USSR for several years.

Francis G. Powers, Civilian pilot of the U2 American jet plane shot down over Russia. (AP Photo)

Nevertheless, the United States continues to impose a commercial, economic, and financial embargo against Cuba. As of 2018, the Cuban embargo is enforced mainly through six statutes: the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Cuban Assets Control Regulations of 1963, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, the Helms–Burton Act of 1996, and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000.

No changes were made to these policies until 2009, when President Barak Obama eased the travel ban, allowing Cuban-Americans to travel freely to Cuba. In January, 2011, he further eased the ban, by allowing students and religious missionaries to travel to Cuba if they meet certain restrictions. In 2014, the Obama administration announced its intention to re-establish relations with Cuba.

The easing of restrictions were not met with uniform support in the United States, and when Donald Trump was elected president, he took steps to reverse this and all other policies enacted by President Obama. Trump’s tough stance on Cuba paid off in the 2020 election. As “The Miami Herald” reported:

Years of courting voters with tough policies toward Cuba and Venezuela, a strong pre-pandemic economy, an unmatched Republican ground game in Miami-Dade and a targeted messaging instilling fear about socialism coming to America helped the president rally Cuban-American voters, part of the reason he carried Florida.”

You can read a November, 2019 update on “U.S. Relations with Cuba” from the U.S. State Department, here.

By the fall of 2021, President Biden had not altered the Trump policy towards Cuba, on spite of campaign promises to do so.

June 29, 1943 – During WWII General Eisenhower Requisitions Ten Portable Coca-Cola Bottling Plants

At the beginning of World War II, Coca-Cola was already bottled in 44 countries. Robert Woodruff, the president of The Coca-Cola Company from 1923 until 1954, wanted every man in uniform during the war to be able to get a bottle of Coke for 5 cents, “wherever he is and whatever it costs the Company.”

1942 advertisement

Woodruff was also a close personal friend and golfing buddy of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower was only one of many important figures in the military who were fans of Coke. General Patton loved it, although he preferred to drink it with rum in it. General Omar Bradley kept a case of Coca-Cola in his office no matter where he went. Among soldiers, it was so popular and considered such a morale booster that beginning in 1942 Coco-Cola was exempted from sugar rationing when sold to the military or to retailers serving soldiers. (Source: For God, Country, and Coca-Cola by Mark Pendergrast, 2013)

On this day in history, Eisenhower sent a cablegram requesting shipment of “three million bottled Coca-Cola (filled) and complete equipment for bottling, washing, capping same quantity twice monthly.” He also asked for equipment for ten separate bottling machines for installation in different locations, along with sufficient syrup, caps and bottles. Moreover, he asked for an automatic monthly supply.

A young boy and a bulldozer operator with the 64th Seabees drinking cokes in Tubabao, Samar, the Philippines. Gift of James L. Dale, The National WWII Museum Inc.

By Christmas of 1943, the first Coke was rolling off the line in Oran, a coastal city that is located in the north-west of Algeria captured by the Allies during “Operation Torch” in World War II.

Once approved by Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, the Coca-Cola Company was more than happy to comply with Eisenhower’s orders.

The bottling plants grew from the 10 initially requested by Eisenhower to 64 plants located all over the world and were operated by 148 Coke employees who held the Army rank of Technical Observer, commonly known as “Coca-Cola Colonels” by soldiers.

The staff of the Coca-Cola bottling plant established on Saipan. Gift of Precilla Porche, The National WWII Museum Inc.

Review of “Eisenhower: The White House Years” by Jim Newton

In a previous post I reviewed another product of current scholarship on Eisenhower, Ike’s Bluff by Evan Thomas. (You can read that review here.) This second review is best read in conjunction with the first. I listened to this book rather than read it; accordingly, we have not included quotes from the author.

Newton’s book is more comprehensive than Thomas’s; it does not have the narrow focus on Ike’s nuclear strategy that the Thomas book has. Thus we learn more about Ike’s early life, his relationships with his wife and his brothers, his somewhat ambiguous position on civil rights, his appointments to the Supreme Court and subsequent dealings with the Court, and his illnesses during the presidency, all of which Newton covers admirably.

In particular, Newton recounts Eisenhower’s stand on civil rights thoroughly and sympathetically. When, in 1957, Governor Orville Faubus of Arkansas defied the Court’s order to desegregate Little Rock’s schools by using the National Guard to keep blacks out of high school in Little Rock, Ike was incensed. While he privately disagreed with the Court’s desegregation decision, he believed it was his responsibility to enforce the law and decisions of the Supreme Court. Not trusting the Arkansas Guard, he first nationalized them and then ordered them to return to their armories. Next, he sent in the redoubtable 101st Airborne Division to carry out the Federal court order and protect the black students.

[Governor Faubus responded by shutting down Little Rock high schools for the 1958-1959 school year. Incredibly, this elevated him to the Gallup Poll’s 1958 list of “Ten Men in the World Most Admired by Americans.”]

Newton’s analysis of Eisenhower’s famous valedictory speech in January, 1961, in which he coined the term “military-industrial complex,” is fair-minded and enlightening. Ike decried the expansion of the complex, but he realized that growth was necessary to cope with the exigencies of the Cold War. Eisenhower deplored not so much the existence of the complex as its necessity. [You can read the full-text of this speech online, here.]

Eisenhower delivering his farewell address on January 18, 1961

Newton maintains that Ike was powerful and effective in such a quiet, low-key way that recognition of his brilliance eluded many. But his leadership qualities are such that those who are now involved in politics would do well to take a closer look.

Discussion: I did not detect serious differences of opinion between the two writers, although Newton gives more credence to the conveyance through India of a threat to use nuclear weapons to end the Korean War than Thomas does.

Newton emphasizes Eisenhower’s natural inclination and consistent policy to seek a middle ground in domestic controversies. He also applauds Eisenhower’s legacy of peace and prosperity in spite of continuous and serious challenges. Like other authors, he argues that Eisenhower’s penchant for golf and cards did not diminish his ability to attend to his presidential duties.

Newton does not totally neglect Ike’s flaws, such as his somewhat mixed record on civil rights. Also, he attributes Ike’s long silence regarding the outrages of McCarthyism to a deliberate strategy (also taken by Truman), believing that McCarthy would fall from his own excesses. In this Ike was correct, but the process took a longer time than many critics would have preferred.

Eisenhower endorsing McCarthy’s reelection bid for the U.S. Senate in 1952

Moreover, while Ike avoided large-scale conflicts, he delighted in covert action such as the CIA sponsored coups in Iran and Guatemala. Although sometimes successful in the short term, some of these adventures had long-term adverse effects. For example, he tolerated the planning of a small-scale invasion of Cuba, which ultimately morphed into the Bay of Pigs disaster. And the U.S. is still suffering from the blowback of the CIA-backed overthrow in Iran in 1953.

As befalls many historians, an admiration for the subject of study leads to an accentuation of strong points and a diminution of failings. This book is not a hagiography, but Newton does manage a subtle skewing, in Ike’s favor, both in what he omits, and how he interprets that which he includes.

Evaluation: I found this book absorbing and entertaining. Since I already know something of Ike’s history, I slightly preferred the more succinct and focused book Ike’s Bluff to this more comprehensive biography. Both books provide a very positive take on Eisenhower. Like any histories, they are best read in conjunction with other treatments from across the interpretive spectrum.

Rating: 4/5

Unabridged Audiobook published by Random House Audio, 2011

Book Review of “Eisenhower 1956” by David A. Nichols

Generally when one thinks of our thirty-fourth president, one thinks of golf. Or at least, Eisenhower was the president most closely associated with golf before Trump was elected. During Eisenhower’s eight years in office (from 1953-1961) he played almost 800 rounds of golf. Plagued by a football knee injury however, he was never satisfied with his score, and once grumbled, “If I don’t improve, I’m going to pass a law that no one can ask me my golf score.”

Eisenhower playing golf in 1956 (Time Life Pictures - Getty Images)

But Eisenhower was much more adept than his diversionary life suggested, even if the fact that the press played up his avocations (he was also fond of painting) tended to obscure his successes as President. One of the greatest of his achievements was the commanding way in which he handled the Suez Crisis of 1956.

In that year, America’s closest allies pursued a course of action profoundly adverse to U.S. interests and which also brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. In the greatest secrecy, Britain, France, and Israel prepared and conducted an invasion of Egypt in response to Gamal Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal.

Gamal Nasser came to international attention in 1952, when he and a group of army officers overthrew the monarchy of Egypt and Sudan. He became president of Egypt in a military coup in 1956. Nasser wanted to build the Aswan High Dam to regulate the flow of the Nile River, and sought financial aid from the United States. The U.S. was willing to assist the Egyptians only if they installed financial controls that the Egyptians considered infringement on their sovereignty. The Soviet Union was willing to assist Egypt under less onerous terms, but the U.S. used its leverage in arms sales to dissuade the Russians. Unable to find satisfactory financing for the dam, Nasser then nationalized the Suez Canal, planning to use revenue from operation of the canal to pay for the dam.

Gamal Nasser

The British envisioned the canal as an important strategic asset because it greatly reduced travel time by sea to its prize colony, India. Even though the canal lay entirely within Egyptian territory, Britain and France owned nearly all the stock in the canal company and Britain had controlled and operated the canal since the 19th century. The British stationed 80,000 troops in the canal zone to protect its interests.

The British and the French could not envision the canal to be operated by mere Arabs (thought to be not even able to make water run down hill). Moreover, the Europeans distrusted Nasser, a dictator in his own country who was openly seeking to be the leader of the Arab world. Meanwhile, Israel and Egypt had been engaged in numerous deadly border skirmishes since 1948. The Israelis were eager to attack Egypt and annex more territory as a buffer zone between the two countries.

The British, French, and Israelis secretly concocted a wild scheme whereby the Israelis would attack Egypt from the East. Britain and France would then intervene militarily to protect their vital interests in the canal.

In mid-October 1956, just before the American presidential elections, the Israelis invaded Egypt, and the British and French launched a large expeditionary force that they had secretly assembled in Malta and Cyprus, ostensibly to separate the Egyptians and Israelis, but actually to retake the canal. Seeking to establish their influence in the Mideast, the Soviets threatened to use all necessary force, including nuclear weapons, to prevent the Europeans from taking the canal.

Eisenhower was just recovering from a severe heart attack. His Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, was also very ill. Nevertheless, during this crisis with the world at the brink of war, Eisenhower managed to keep his composure. Through deft diplomacy and careful manipulation of the procedures of the United Nations, he led an American effort to persuade the British and French to withdraw from Egypt and avoid a world war, all the while keeping the Soviet Union from establishing a foothold in the oil rich Mideast. (It may have helped that the Soviets had their hands full elsewhere, as they were busy brutally putting down popular uprisings in Hungary and Poland.)

Eisenhower realized that Egypt was completely within its right to nationalize the canal with appropriate compensation to the British and French shareholders of the canal company. He also firmly believed and asserted that the law was the same for Egyptians as it was for his long time allies. He rightfully felt betrayed by Britain and France, which had kept their machinations secret from him. He had to take sides against his close friends and allies from World War II to prevent World War III. Moreover, he had to confront a strong pro Israeli lobby and a staunchly pro-Israeli Democratic party during a period immediately before the presidential election. All this while conducting his own re-election campaign while his Secretary of State was hors de combat and he himself was recovering from his own medical crisis!

Discussion: Nichols gives us an arresting description of a strong, decisive leader under great pressure. If anything, Eisenhower is portrayed even more favorably than in Michael Korda’s stridently positive Ike, An American Hero.

Eisenhower is surely our most underrated modern president. He had the guts to tell our two closest allies to discontinue a policy near and dear to them. Moreover, he defied a recalcitrant and uncooperative Israeli government, just before a presidential election no less, and forced them to cede territory they had just taken from Egypt by force of arms. Compare the reluctance of our more recent presidents to sacrifice electoral advantage and assert American strategic interest by not objecting to Israel’s construction of additional settlements in occupied land!

Eisenhower 1956 reads almost like an adventure novel with the president as the chief protagonist. But that quality may be its biggest shortcoming. It contains more detail (at what time did Ike arise, how did he sleep, what did he eat) than I found interesting in a book even about very important historical events. On the other hand, Nichols’s analysis is keen, albeit sparse.

Note: An excellent map is included, as well a number of photographs of the key players.

Rating: 3/5

Published by Simon & Schuster, 2011

December 28, 1945 – Congress Officially Recognizes the Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance, thought to have been written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, was officially recognized by Congress only in 1945. “The Pledge” was published anonymously by a magazine for young people, The Youth’s Companion, on September 8, 1892, and was written in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. The published Pledge read:

“I Pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All.”

The Pledge was accompanied by instructions for a salute to be performed as part of the Columbus Day celebrations: “At the words, ‘To the Flag,’ the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.”

Francis Bellamy

The first flag salute statute [requiring children in public schools to recite the Pledge of Allegiance] was passed in New York in 1898, the day after the United States declared war on Spain. New York’s state superintendent, in his Manual of Patriotism, included five possible ‘patriotic pledges’ that teachers might use in their classes. One of these was Bellamy’s, but it was placed fifth.

In 1940, the US Supreme Court ruled in Minersville School District v. Gobitis (310 U.S. 586) that a local school board could expel students who refuse to recite the Pledge. Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote:

So far as the Federal Constitution is concerned, it is within the province of the legislatures and school authorities of the several States to adopt appropriate means to evoke and foster a sentiment of national unity among the children in the public schools.”

In 1942, legislation was adopted by Congress “to codify and emphasize existing customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag of the United States of America.” The text of the pledge, as originally written and modified a bit by the National Flag Conference in 1923 and 1924, was inserted into this legislation (Public Law 829, Chapter 806, 77th Congress, 2nd session), but without designating it as the official pledge.

The small changes made to the text resulted in this version:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Congress also amended the Flag Code this year, substituting the original straight arm salute, associated with Nazi Germany, with the current salute of the right hand over the heart.

Schoolchildren in Southington, Conn., recite the Pledge of Allegiance in 1942, around the time the custom of placing a hand over the heart replaced the original hand position.

In 1943 the Supreme Court overturned the Gobitis decision in the case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (319 U.S. 624). Justice Robert Jackson wrote that the compulsory state action violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and that “Under the Federal Constitution, compulsion as here employed is not a permissible means of achieving ‘national unity.'” He famously added:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Then in 1945, additional legislation was introduced into Congress by Representative Herman P. Eberharter of Pennsylvania, which amended the 1942 act to give official congressional sanction to the pledge.

The words “under God” were added by Congress on June 14, 1954, in response to the anti-Communist (and thus anti-atheist) opinion sweeping the country during the Cold War. This addition to the law, sanctioned by President Eisenhower, is still controversial. President Eisenhower said in signing the law:

From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country’s true meaning.”

Eisenhower was reportedly influenced by a sermon given by the Reverend George Docherty, who gave a sermon Eisenhower attended at his church in honor of Lincoln’s birthday.

The Washington Post reported:

To omit the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance is to omit the definitive factor in the American way of life,” Docherty said from the pulpit. He felt that ‘under God’was broad enough to include Jews and Muslims, although he discounted atheists: ‘An atheistic American is a contradiction in terms,’ Docherty said in his sermon. ‘If you deny the Christian ethic, you fall short of the American ideal of life.’”

George Docherty (left) and President Eisenhower (second from left) on the morning of February 7, 1954, at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church; the morning that Eisenhower was persuaded by Docherty that the Pledge of Allegiance must be amended to include the words, “under God.”

The legislation for the pledge is found in Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 4 of the U.S. Code.

The Federal legislation does not refer to schools; it is state and local law that mandates recitation of The Pledge in schoolrooms. Students may decline to participate, although as even the Supreme Court has recognized, the consequences could be deleterious. Schoolchildren of minority faiths, by so declining, would isolate themselves from classmates and open themselves up to ridicule and rejection.

The use of the phrase “under God” is still being contested and litigated. You can read more about it in this Smithsonian article.

January 17, 1961 – Eisenhower Warns of a Military-Industrial Complex

Eisenhower delivered his farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961. He first observed that the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. . . . We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.”

He warned:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Eisenhower delivering his farewell address January 17, 1961

Robert Gates, the former Secretary of Defense, declared in 2010 (speaking at the Eisenhower Library) that America seemed to have an insatiable appetite for more and more weapons:

Does the number of warships we have, and are building, really put America at risk, when the U.S. battle fleet is larger than the next 13 navies combined — 11 of which are our partners and allies?

Is it a dire threat that by 2020, the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China?

These are the kinds of questions Eisenhower asked as commander-in-chief. They are the kinds of questions I believe he would ask today.”

There is no gainsaying the close relationship today between the military and the businesses and contractors that serve it. See, for example, the articles “Donald Trump, Palantir, and the Crazy Battle to Clean up a Multibillion-dollar Military Procurement Swamp” by Steven Brill online here and “Danger Zone” by Paul Barrett online here. Then of course there is the scandal involving Blackwater, the contract military firm, and its involvement with the Trump Administration and also with Russia. (Blackwater founder Erik Prince, the brother of Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, joined by a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin, met as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump. You can read more about it here.)

You can read the entire text of Eisenhower’s speech here.

Review of “Ike: An American Hero” by Michael Korda

Subtitled “An American Hero,” Michael Korda’s Ike is a tribute to an exceptionally good, if not great, American general and president. Dwight Eisenhower’s reputation suffered from several setbacks in his second term as president and from the way John F. Kennedy’s campaign negatively characterized the eight years of his presidency. Korda’s book is an attempt to undo some of the unfavorable impressions about Eisenhower prevalent in America today. He offers no new scholarship, but rather a readable paean to a man who was a hero before the word came to mean simply “one who has survived.”

Korda’s coverage of Eisenhower is a bit quirky. In a 722 page book, he devotes only two chapters and about 68 pages to the eight years of the presidency, while spending eleven chapters and over 500 pages on World War II. Korda can’t resist retelling the familiar story of the relationships and interactions among Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin although Eisenhower played only a very minor part in that drama.

Korda’s treatment of Eisenhower’s early career is enlightening. He was a good but not distinguished student at West Point, from which he was graduated in 1915 when Europe, but not yet the United States, was at war. He proved to be such an exceptional trainer of men and student of logistics and equipment that he was considered too valuable an asset to be sent to Europe for any of the fighting. Shortly after WWI, he accompanied a cavalcade of army vehicles to drive all the way across the United States, a feat that had never been accomplished before. [This trip made such a deep impression on him that later he spearheaded the effort to build the nation’s cross-country highway system.] He became a close friend of George Patton and studied armored infantry tactics with him. Patton and Ike actually took apart a French tank (the state of the art at the time) and put it back together. Later, he was assigned to the Philippines and spent five years reporting directly to Douglas MacArthur (where, as Eisenhower explained, he learned “dramatics”). MacArthur later characterized Ike as “one of his best clerks.”

Eisenhower’s organizational talents caught the eye of General George C. Marshall, who picked him to head the American effort in the European theater in WWII. Marshall’s confidence that Ike could come up with a plan, turn chaos into order, and win the confidence of the British was rewarded by exceptional performance.

General George C. Marshall

General George C. Marshall

Before the war, Ike had never commanded combat troops. His first major assignment in the war was to lead the largest amphibious invasion (into North Africa) ever undertaken to date. The attack was ultimately successful, but Ike was severely criticized for moving too slowly in some ways. Interestingly, Roosevelt wanted the attack to begin before the 1942 elections, but he deferred to Ike’s judgment that the attack would not be ready until four days after the elections.

His next assignment was as Supreme Commander of both British and American forces for the invasion of Normandy. Ike made the decision to go ahead despite risky weather reports. He also opted to use airborne troops to a great extent despite the high casualty rate they were bound to and did incur. Ike battled to get control of the air forces of the US and the UK, which wanted to continue bombing German cities rather than support the invasion force.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower visits paratroopers in England on June 5, 1944, moments before the troops boarded transport planes bound for Normandy and the June 6 D-Day invasion. (AP Photo/File)

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower visits paratroopers in England on June 5, 1944, moments before the troops boarded transport planes bound for Normandy and the June 6 D-Day invasion. (AP Photo/File)

His greatest challenge in managing the war after establishing a Normandy bridgehead was allocation of force. He had to manage prima donna commanders like British Field Commander Gen. Bernard Montgomery and American General George Patton, both of whom wanted as much glory as could be had. Montgomery and other British generals wanted a single powerful thrust through northern Germany to take the Ruhr and then Berlin before the Soviets could get there. Ike demanded a broad frontal assault, which he believed would wear the Germans down with the superior numbers and production of the Allies. Ike prevailed over both the British and the Germans, although British historians have tried to argue that his strategy was inferior and ultimately prolonged the war.

Monty and the British wanted to push on to Berlin despite the fact that the Yalta agreements had assigned that role to the Soviets. Ike ruled that the Western Allies would leave that to the Russians, thus saving many lives in the rest of the Allied Forces.

Ike’s greatest talent as a general seems to have been his ability to elicit cooperation among parties with diverse interests. He was able to control Montgomery, even though they detested each other. It should be noted that nearly all American generals grew to detest Monty. Ike also was able to get significant cooperation and even some affection from De Gaulle, despite Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s intention to exclude him from the decision making process.

Montgomery and Eisenhower

Montgomery and Eisenhower

Ike finished WWII as one of the most popular personas in the world, and was considered a cinch to win the presidency once he decided for which party he would run. He waited one election, biding his time as Chief of Staff of the Army and then president of Columbia University.

Korda’s book is disappointing in its coverage of Ike’s presidency. He is particularly weak in his coverage of the Suez crisis of 1956, spending more time glorifying the action of the Israeli army than discussing what happened. He even gives the impression that Nasser was disgraced by those events rather than becoming the leader of the Arab world. In fact, Nasser’s fall was postponed until the 1967 war.

Korda credits Ike with being a wise leader in civil rights, sending the 101st Airborne Division to Arkansas to forcibly integrate the schools. Ike would not rely on the National Guard, which probably harbored segregationist sympathies. He believed in the use of force only when it could be applied overwhelmingly.

Korda also gives Ike credit as the inspiration for the interstate highway system (partially a result of his first cross country car trip with the army) and for his balanced appraisal of America’s defense needs. For example, he was not very concerned about the alleged “missile gap,” and he pushed the development of the B-52.

Korda sums up Ike’s strengths as:

. . . the ability to use and apply simple common sense to large and complicated problems. Also like Roosevelt, he had a genius for seeing the big picture, and no reluctance to make major decisions or to accept full responsibility for them. Above all, he knew the difference between right and wrong, and tried to apply that knowledge to politics and diplomacy without preaching or boasting of any inherent, superior morality.”

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Korda’s book brings the personality of the man to life. Ike’s presidency and the era of American over which he presided deserve a fuller explication.

Rating: 3/5

Published by Harper, 2007

Book Review of “Blood and Sand: Suez, Hungary, and Eisenhower’s Campaign for Peace” by Alex Von Tunzelmann

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A number of crises since 1945 have propelled the world to the brink of another global war, which is why it is so critical for a powerful nation like the United States to be led by someone of sound judgment and temperament.  One of those pivotal moments occurred on October 29, 1956, when Great Britain, France, and Israel all invaded Egypt in a concerted effort to reclaim the Suez Canal.  Simultaneously, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, both complicating the developing crisis and deflecting international attention.  Alex Von Tunzelman’s Blood and Sand is a gripping retelling of those events, which took place during the closing days of an American presidential election.

Smoke rises from oil tanks beside the Suez Canal hit during the initial Anglo-French assault on Port Said, November 5, 1956.

Smoke rises from oil tanks beside the Suez Canal hit during the initial Anglo-French assault on Port Said, November 5, 1956.

Gamal Abdel Nasser had become the president of Egypt after deposing the pro-British leadership in 1952.  He compounded the offense in Western eyes by nationalizing the British- and French-controlled Suez Canal in July of 1956 in retaliation for the failure of Britain or the United States to finance his pet project, the Aswan Dam.

At the time, Britain was the largest single shareholder in the Suez Canal Company, one of Britain’s last remaining colonial possessions.  Some 1.5 million barrels of oil a day went through the canal, of which 1.2 million were destined for Western Europe.  According to the author, the British Treasury estimated the value of its assets in the Canal Zone to be 500 million pounds.  But even aside from the profits, Britain needed the oil.  In addition, though not measurable in dollars or barrels, Britain did not want to lose “its divinely and racially ordained place at the top of the world.”

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When Nassar nationalized the Suez Canal Company, all of that was threatened.  British Prime Minister Anthony Eden treated the nationalization as a direct affront to British prestige and became so incensed that (according to Von Tunzelmann ) he ordered Nasser’s assassination.

But, as the BBC History Magazine reported:

“. . . for as much as the operation [seizing the canal from Egypt] was a success in military terms, it was a disaster politically. World opinion roundly condemned the three nations for their aggression and lack of respect for Egyptian sovereignty. Fury and outrage erupted across the Islamic world at Britain’s perceived neo-colonial behaviour.  . . . “

The United States was also opposed to the violation of Egyptian sovereignty.  Both Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles, the American Secretary of State, were somewhat incapacitated with health issues.  They were, however, able to exert not only moral and financial suasion, but also the threat of potential military force against the British, French, and Israelis.  When Eisenhower was warned by politicos that checking the Israeli advance might cost him New York’s electoral college votes in the coming election, Eisenhower said he would rather be right than president.  

British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden (left), and President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles in 1956, (right).

British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden (left), and President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles in 1956, (right).

To make matters infinitely more complicated, as Von Tunzelmann reported, “…the high point of the Suez crisis – From October 22 to November 6, 1956 – would coincide precisely with the biggest rebellion yet against Soviet power, which took place in Hungary from October 23 to November 4.”  The people of Hungary spontaneously revolted against the incompetent rule of their government, which was pretty much a puppet of the Soviet Union.  At first, the Russians tried to placate the Hungarians by installing a new set of puppets, but when that failed to quell the unrest, Khrushchev ordered a full scale invasion.  The Hungarian rebels fought bravely, but they had only small arms against tanks.

Russian tanks enter Budapest

Russian tanks enter Budapest

The author cogently summarizes the broader meaning of the crisis for the various players:

“The crisis would be intensely emotional for the nations involved.  For Hungary and Egypt, it would be about freedom.  For Israel it would be about survival.  For France, it would be about saving territory it considered integral to the republic.  For the Soviet Union, it would be about resistance to Western colonialism as well as reasserting and extending its own influence.  For the United States, it would be about decency and the trustworthiness of its allies.  And for Britain, as the then leader of the House of Commons Rab Butler admitted in his memoirs, it would be about the ‘illiberal resentment at the loss of Empire, the rise of coloured nationalism the transfer of world leadership to the United States.’”

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All of these developments ratcheted up tensions among the major Cold War players, a dangerous situation given that the U.S., the Soviet Union, and Britain all held nuclear weapons.  The Americans felt powerless to aid the Hungarians militarily without starting a nuclear war.

Von Tunzelmann’s book gives a nearly hour by hour account of the actions at the highest levels of the Soviet, American, British, French, and Egyptian governments.  In the author’s account, Anthony Eden appears nearly unhinged and exceedingly unwise; Khrushchev is volatile; the Israelis are aggressive and unscrupulous; and Nasser is simply over his head.  Eisenhower is something of a hero in this tale:  his prudence and calm manage to avoid a worldwide catastrophe even though he was unable to help the Hungarians other than by leading the condemnation of the Soviets in the United Nations.

Positive Outcome:  Presidents Eisenhower and Nasser meeting in New York, 1960

Positive Outcome: Presidents Eisenhower and Nasser meeting in New York, 1960

Von Tunzelmann points out that the Cold War put the United States in an awkward position in seeking influence in the third world against the Communist powers.  Prior to the Suez Crisis, the United States had struggled to maintain a balance in world affairs in remaining allied to the French and British colonial powers while preaching liberal democracy and anti-colonialism to the rest of the world.  When push came to shove, Eisenhower upheld American ideals even though he had to chastise his closest allies and risk the wrath of Israeli’s supporters in the American electorate.  

Evaluation:  This is an even-handed, well-written account of a perilous time.  Perhaps the best lesson to come out of this history is how fortunate the world was to have an American leader who was experienced in battle, adept politically, and calm under pressure.

Rating:  4/5

Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2016