White House Years
Waging Peace, 1956-1961
by Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower
(Click for Amazon book review)
OnTheIssues.org BOOK REVIEW:
I don't like Ike. Eisenhower's campaign buttons said, "I like Ike," but I don't--his memoir persuaded me not to. Nixon's memoir persuaded me that Nixon accomplished a lot more than he is remembered for; even Ford's memoir persuaded me that he was an honest and good man. Eisenhower's memoir persuaded me that America should never elect generals as president--military leaders just make bad political leaders.
Eisenhower, of course, did some good for America--even in the domestic realm. Some of his most important accomplishments include:
Unlike on domestic issues, Eisenhower was very active and very visionary on foreign affairs. Perhaps too active. He traveled to dozens of countries -- and sent Nixon to dozens more. The inside front cover of the book shows a two-page map of the world with lines indicating Eisenhower's travels around the world labeled "In Search of Peace, 1953-1960". Sounds great -- visionary and implemented! But alas, the inside back cover of the book shows a two-page map of the world, entitled "The Ring of U.S. Alliances," outlining which countries are allied with us (those visited on the inside front cover); the "Communist Bloc" in grey. That is Eisenhower's vision: the bipolar world of the Cold War.
Eisenhower saw the world entirely within that Cold War framework: everything he did was about stopping Communism, for example:
Civil Rights: America made substantial progress on racial integration during the Eisenhower era: integrated federal contracting (p. 7); integrated Washington DC (p 148); established the concept of African-American voting rights (pp. 156-7) and the framework for African-American civil rights (p. 161); and enforced school integration in Little Rock (pp.167-9). But the 1950s were still a bad period for women, Jews, gays, and all minorities--Eisenhower made some progress on specific issues but sparked no general change in national attitude.
Space Policy: The Soviet Sputnik satellite launch shocked America during Eisenhower's presidency--and Eisenhower responded by founding NASA and reforming the American education system to produce enough scientists and engineers to populate NASA. Eisenhower's actions on NASA laid the groundwork for Kennedy, a few years later, to envision the moon landing--but Eisenhower was more concerned with the military implications (his chapter on NASA is entitled "Science and Defense"). Similarly, Eisenhower's actions on education reform laid the groundwork for later presidents to envision "STEM Education" (focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)--but Eisenhower was more concerned with the military implications of education, too (Eisenhower called it the "National Defense Education Bill", p. 239). To summarize 1950s Space Race policy, Eisenhower focused on the specific military implications and left applying vision to later presidents.
Government Reform: Eisenhower recognized after two terms in office -- as one of the first presidents to be term-limited -- that term limits would be a good idea to apply to Congress as well as the Presidency (pp. 638-43). And Eisenhower also conceived of applying the "Line Item Veto", common among governors, to the federal budget (p. 644). But those ideas -- new ideas and big ideas at the time -- are relegated to the chapter called "Afterthoughts", and were never discussed publicly by Eisenhower. To summarize, Eisenhower did not use the "bully pulpit" to implement a societal change, even when he did have the vision.
The two lists above do not describe a record of "Waging Peace," as Eisenhower would have us believe from his title. His domestic policy accomplishments (the first list above) show that his intentions were good -- but his viewpoint was entirely colored by his military background. Eisenhower was a military general -- not a diplomat; not a legislator; not even really a politician -- so what else should we have expected?
And Eisenhower did not always keep the Cold War cold: he had plenty of "hot wars", most of which are not well-remembered today. For example:
- On East Asia (p. 564): US relations with Formosa (now Taiwan): all about stopping a Communist Chinese takeover.
- On Africa (pp. 579-81): US and UN relations with Africa: all about ensuring that colonialism was not replaced by Russian-aided Communism.
- On Latin America (p. 539): US relations with the Organization of American States: all about stopping the spread of Cuban Communism.
- 1956 Suez Crisis: The US aided Egypt against England and Israel (yes, we were on the OTHER side then!)
- 1958 Lebanon Crisis: The US sent 14,000 troops into Lebanon, with 40,000 more offshore -- a major invasion, but for only a few months.
- 1960: Early troops into Vietnam (yes, Eisenhower started it; JFK continued it; and LBJ escalated it).
- 1961: Almost invaded Laos (Eisenhower was only president for one month in 1961, until JFK's inauguration, but considered invading).
I supported both Colin Powell and Wesley Clark in their short-lived campaigns for the presidency. I thought both generals would have made fine presidents. But reading Eisenhower's memoir has made me reconsider both Powell and Clark. Wouldn't they be just as entirely colored by their military backgrounds? If we were to elect them -- or some other general to come onto the scene in the future -- what else should we expect, other than another Eisenhower?
-- Jesse Gordon, editor-in-chief, OnTheIssues.org, November 2013
| OnTheIssues.org excerpts: (click on issues for details)
Dwight Eisenhower: Population control abroad is not a US responsibility.
Budget & Economy|
Dwight Eisenhower: Achieve pay-as-you-go budget instead of increases.
Dwight Eisenhower: Inflation hurts people; even in times of full employment.
Dwight Eisenhower: Deficit spending is irresponsible and inflationary.
Dwight Eisenhower: 1953: eliminate discrimination in government contracting.
Dwight Eisenhower: Desegregate federal government and nation's capital.
Dwight Eisenhower: Signed 1957 Civil Rights Act, including Negro voting rights.
Richard Nixon: 1953: chaired committee to eliminate federal discrimination.
Strom Thurmond: 22-hour filibuster against 1957 Civil Rights Act.
Dwight Eisenhower: $1.3B for four-year school construction program.
Dwight Eisenhower: National Defense Education Bill: focus on science & math.
Dwight Eisenhower: More funds for wildlife refuges and recreational areas.
Dwight Eisenhower: Arm Egypt on promise of never accepting Soviet aid.
Dwight Eisenhower: 1956: People-to-People program, a step toward world peace.
Dwight Eisenhower: Presidential "prestige" is unimportant; visit every nation.
Dwight Eisenhower: US aid for raising living standards & resisting Communism.
Richard Nixon: 1959 Kitchen Debate: show Soviets the American lifestyle.
Dwight Eisenhower: Assure minority right to vote, and all other rights follow.
Dwight Eisenhower: Ending draft takes undue chances with our nation's security.
Dwight Eisenhower: Cutting defense budget takes a needless gamble.
Dwight Eisenhower: More defense spending doesn't necessarily increase security.
Dwight Eisenhower: Permanent arms industry is new to the American experience.
Dwight Eisenhower: Post-war disarmament is dangerous; keep peacetime military.
Dwight Eisenhower: Avoid farm subsidies that create millionaires.
Dwight Eisenhower: No government wage fixing during labor strikes.
Richard Nixon: 1959: Led secret meetings to resolve steel strike deadlock.
Principles & Values|
Dwight Eisenhower: Principal political disappointment was Nixon's 1960 loss.
John F. Kennedy: 1960: US is standing still & suffering lowered prestige.
Lyndon Johnson: 1960 ideological balance: Voted opposite JFK 264 times.
Dwight Eisenhower: High taxes take too much money out of the economy.
Dwight Eisenhower: Sputnik: Soviets lead in satellites, but US leads overall.
Dwight Eisenhower: 1958: First satellite only a step; established NASA.
War & Peace|
Dwight Eisenhower: 1956: Supported Egypt against Israel, UK, and France in Suez.
Dwight Eisenhower: In WWII, none doubted need for sacrifice; unlike in Cold War.
Dwight Eisenhower: Berlin: Why is our only feasible response to start WWIII?
Dwight Eisenhower: Wars occur because of government arrogance & ambition.
Dwight Eisenhower: Initiated economic sanctions against Communist Cuba.
Welfare & Poverty|
Dwight Eisenhower: 1/3 of mankind struggles for freedom from grinding poverty.
The above quotations are from White House Years
Waging Peace, 1956-1961
by Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower.