Eisenhower: Soldier of Peace

Read the April 4, 1969 TIME cover story that Don Draper paged through while he waited for reinstatement at SC&P.

He was a soldier who loathed war.

He was a politician who abhorred politics. He was a hero who despised heroics. Yet there was nothing inconsistent about Dwight David Eisenhower. As much as any other American of today or yesterday, he was the storybook American. A man of luminous integrity and decency, of steadfast courage and conscience, he embodied in his wide smile, high ideals and down-to-earth speech all the virtues of a simpler and more serene America.

A son of the heartland, Ike as President had an intuitive sense of the dangers and opportunities facing the U.S. It was he, when the specter of Communist aggression haunted the Western world, who supported the vision of coexistence with the Russians. It was Eisenhower, the career officer and friend of businessmen, who warned in his last speech as President against “the acquisition of unwarranted influence by the military-industrial complex.”

Among the paroxysms of the present, some words he spoke 14 years ago in Rutland, Vt. have particular relevance. “We merely want to live in peace with all the world,” said Ike. “To trade with them, to commune with them, to learn from their culture as they may learn from ours, so that our sons may stay at home, the products of our toil may be used for our schools and our roads and our churches, and not for the guns and planes and tanks and ships of war.”

A soldier-President in a time of peace, Eisenhower personified the respect of the nation for its military after the war. Yet some of his most eloquent words were directed against the “expenditure of billions on military strength” when the rest of the world desperately needed economic and technological help. Subsequent events have in many respects confirmed his skepticism. When he died last week at 78, the military’s image was tarnished and its leadership more severely questioned than at any time since Pearl Harbor.

The fitful, yet comparatively benign—and even dull—expanse of the “Eisenhower Years” today evokes considerable nostalgia. Eisenhower presided over what many now regard as America’s belle epoque. In considerable part, the harmony was illusory, but it is scarcely less cherished for that. Millions of Americans who mourned Ike’s death last week grieved partly for themselves as well, for their loss of the more ordered, seemingly tranquil period that Eisenhower embodied.

The Final Ordeal

The end had been months in coming, and Ike’s repeated recoveries from heart attacks and abdominal operations testified to his remarkable vigor. His mind remained undimmed until almost the final hour. A patient at Walter Reed Army Hospital since last May, shortly after his fourth heart attack, Eisenhower suffered three more attacks in June and August. Several times he was in critical condition, only to recover. Last week the bulletins took on a tone of finality. The old soldier’s heart progressively weakened until, at week’s end, it ceased beating. “His passing was peaceful,” said

Brigadier General Frederic Hughes, commandant of Walter Reed. “He experienced no distress.”

The emotions were genuine, the eulogies more than protocol. Richard Nixon, who emerged red-eyed from the hospital with his wife and daughter Tricia, praised his old mentor’s “patriotism and statesmanship beyond party.” Ike had at least lived to see his Republican protege in the White House, a long-held dream. Lyndon Johnson, who, while in office, consulted Eisenhower frequently, paid tribute to “this good man and noble leader.” Once a bitterly outspoken foe, Harry Truman, now 84, remembered that before the two men were political opponents, they were “comrades in arms. And I cannot forget his services to his country and to Western civilization.” Many others, like Truman, chose to remember Eisenhower not as the 34th President, whose stewardship may long be disputed, but as the “soldier of peace” who led the greatest alliance of armies the world has ever seen, or will likely see again.

Among the tributes from abroad, one of the most heartfelt was a message from Charles de Gaulle, the last of the towering figures of World War II. “For me,” said De Gaulle, “I see disappear with great sadness a dear companion in arms and a friend.” Despite his differences with the U.S., the French President was the first foreign head of state to announce that he would fly to Washington for the funeral. Scrawled in the book of condolences at the American embassy in Paris was a message from an unknown Frenchman: “To General Eisenhower, in deep homage also to those who fell on the beaches of Normandy. We shall never forget.”

Nor will those who passed by the bier or watched the funeral procession on television. The arrangements had been meticulously laid down in 1966, then approved by Ike. The 54-page scenario for the funeral read like a battle plan, covering every detail from the pace of the funeral march (31 miles an hour) to the route and the points at which military bands were to play. After remaining at Washington’s National Cathedral for 28 hours, the body was placed on a caisson Sunday afternoon and moved to the Capitol, where it lay in state on the same black-draped catafalque that supported the body of Abraham Lincoln. Eisenhower’s casket was then returned to the cathedral for the funeral. After the benediction, everyone sang Onward Christian Soldiers.Monday evening, the coffin left Washington’s Union Station, aboard a special train carrying only family and friends, for the 1,379-mile, 30-hour trip to Abilene, Kans., where Eisenhower grew up and where he chose to be buried.

Across Decades of Expansion

The journey could be measured better in years than in miles or hours. As the nine-car train rumbled through Appalachian passes, it would cross decades of U.S. expansion as well—the scarred hills of West Virginia, the black earth of Illinois, the railroad yards of St. Louis and Kansas City. When it reached the prairies of Abilene, it would arrive in another era. In spirit, if not in time, the contemporary chapel on the grounds of the Eisenhower Center where he will be buried was not so distant from the Abilene he knew as a youth.

Born Oct. 14, 1890, in Denison, Texas, where his father, David Eisenhower, was a railroad-yard mechanic, Dwight was brought to Abilene at the age of two. The family was never well off—David Eisenhower rarely earned more than $100 a month—and the six boys worked hard to help out. Dwight sold vegetables grown on his family’s three acres and stoked furnaces at the Belle Springs Creamery, where, at 19, he became night foreman.

There was much of Abilene in Eisenhower, and he described it unforgettably one June afternoon in 1952, when he had returned to open his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Standing near the little white clapboard house where he was reared (now open to the public), he spoke of his boyhood and his parents, who were members of the River Brethren, a Mennonite sect: “Their Bibles were a live and lusty influence in their lives. There was nothing sad about their religion.” Of his own faith, he once said: “I am the most intensely religious man I know. Nobody goes through six years of war without faith.” Of the citizens whom he knew as a youth: “To those people I am proud to belong.”

Along with their piety, the Eisenhowers gave their sons the frontier creed of self-starting individualism. “Opportunity is all about you,” they told them. “Reach out and take it. Do you want to go to school? Well, go!” Too old at 20 for Annapolis, his first choice, Ike qualified for West Point, where he reported in June 1911. Never an intellectual, he distinguished himself more as an athlete than as a scholar, graduating 61st in a class of 164. At his first post, Texas’ Fort Sam Houston, Second Lieut. Eisenhower met Mamie Doud, a vivacious belle from Denver. They were married in 1916.

They soon experienced a tragedy that was to stay with them always. Four years later, at Camp Meade in Maryland, their first son, Doud Dwight (“Icky”), 3, died of scarlet fever. “This was the greatest disappointment and disaster in my life,” Eisenhower wrote in 1967, “the one I have never been able to forget completely. Today when I think of it, even now as I write of it, the keenness of our loss comes back to me as fresh and as terrible as it was in that long dark day soon after Christmas, 1920.” At Abilene, the bodies of father and son will lie inches apart.

After his son’s death, Eisenhower returned to duty, burying his grief in work. The rewards were scarcely commensurate with the efforts. Ike’s rise up the promotion ladder was painfully slow. In 1922, he was transferred to the Canal Zone—an inhospitable place in those days—where he became executive officer to Brigadier General Fox Conner, commander of the 20th Infantry Battalion. Next to Eisenhower’s parents, Conner was probably the strongest influence in his life, introducing him for the first time to the serious study of military history and strategy. At West Point, Eisenhower remembered with distaste, this had been “an out-and-out memory course.” Ike later wrote: “It took years before I fully realized the value of what [Conner] had led me through. In a lifetime of association with great and good men, he is the one more or less invisible figure to whom I owe an incalculable debt.”

Other stations and assignments followed, and in 1933, Eisenhower, always a good staff man, found himself working in Washington for Douglas MacArthur, Army Chief of Staff. Two years later, he followed MacArthur to the Philippines to help prepare the islands’ defenses. Worlds apart in temperament, the egocentric MacArthur and the self-effacing staff officer nevertheless grew to respect, if not like, each other. His celebrated commander had one habit that, Eisenhower confessed, “never ceased to startle me. In reminiscing or in telling stories of the current scene, he talked of himself in the third person. ‘So MacArthur went over to the Senator . . .’ ” Ike later-was to direct historians recording his official speeches to avoid “the perpendicular pronoun”—the simple I.

Lieut. Colonel Ersenberg

Brought back to the U.S. in 1940, Eisenhower became Third Army Chief of Staff in 1941. He planned the maneuvers of 270,000 troops in Louisiana that fall so ably that he won the attention of Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, who was searching diligently for men to direct the battles he foresaw. The blunt fact remained that after 30 years as a professional soldier, Eisenhower’s permanent rank had gone no higher than lieutenant colonel. So little was he known that photo captions of the exercises listed him as “Lieut. Colonel D. D. Ersenbeing.”

He was to remain neither lieutenant colonel nor Ersenbeing for long. In 1941, he was given the temporary rank of colonel, then brigadier general (he was not permanently awarded the B. G.’s star until 1943). Five days after Pearl Harbor, Marshall ordered him to Washington to assess the situation in the Philippines. Next, Marshall asked for a paper on the organization of U.S. forces in Europe. On June 8, 1942, Ike submitted a document entitled “Directive for the Commanding General, European Theater of Operations.” On June 11, as commanding general for Europe, he went to work on his own recommendations. Marshall had persuaded President Roosevelt to reach deep down the seniority list for a man to lead the largest army that any nation in history had ever fielded. “Looks like I’m going to London next week,” Eisenhower told his wife. “I’m going to be in command there.” Mamie asked: “In command of what?” Ike answered: “Of the whole shebang.”

It was some shebang. First as Chief of the U.S. forces and then as commander of all Allied troops, Eisenhower led the most awesome military machine the world had yet seen, eventually to number more than 4,000,000 men. Landing first in North Africa, his men stormed the beaches of Sicily, pushed up through Southern Italy, then finally prepared to attack Hitler’s Festung Europa itself. Target: Normandy. D-day was set for June 5, 1944, but bad weather over the English Channel, the worst in years, forced postponement. There was only a tiny gleam of hope—better weather forecast for the 6th—and Eisenhower made the most momentous decision of his career: Go.

The Great Crusade

That morning, Eisenhower spoke by radio to his troops: “Soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force. You are about to embark on the great crusade toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory. Good luck, and let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.” Ike kept in his pocket another communique he had written in case of disaster: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold, and I have withdrawn the troops. If there is any blame or fault attached to the attempt, it is mine alone.” As Eisenhower lay dying at Walter Reed, plans were nearly completed for the celebration on Normandy’s beaches of the invasion’s 25th anniversary.

The communiqué explains in brief why he was one of the 20th century’s great military leaders. He may not have been a grand master of strategy or tactics; yet, better than any other commander of his time save George Marshall, Ike understood what is most important in modern warfare: organization and coordination. He was, as Winston Churchill noted, a great “creative, constructive and combining genius.” It is doubtful that anyone else, again save Marshall, could have melded the competitive British and American forces—not to mention the Canadians, Free French, Poles, Czechs, Dutch and assorted others—into so formidable a fighting machine.

In his role as statesman-soldier, Ike was not hurt by his famous modesty. Somehow, in his slow, frustrating progression as a peacetime Army officer, he had gained such self-confidence that he could let subordinates win glory and medals, taking to himself the satisfaction of achievement. “Your job,” Eisenhower told S.L.A. Marshall, the European theater’s chief historian in 1945, “is to determine the truth, and I will settle for that. You are not here to protect my reputation.” Well aware of his worth, he was not falsely humble, but the bravura of a MacArthur, a Patton or a Montgomery distressed his sense of proportion. He did not need to shout, and as General of the Army or President he betrayed not the slightest trace of pretension or vainglory. There was, to be sure, a terrible temper, but as Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, a former subordinate and sometime critic of Eisenhower, said last week, “He had only to smile at you, and there was nothing you would not do for him.” Even as a five-star general, Ike could extend his hand to an enlisted man and say: “My name’s Eisenhower.” He was also, perhaps, the only President who ever apologized (in 1955) for the length of his State of the Union address.

In time, says Historian Marshall, Eisenhower’s reputation as a military innovator will be higher than it is now. The decisive moves of the Normandy landings, Marshall notes, were all Eisenhower’s. It was he who rejected the original conception of a knifelike, five-division strike into Europe and insisted instead on a broad, seven-division assault. Against the advice of his own deputy, he insisted on a paratroop landing behind enemy lines. Only at the end, the historian relates, did Churchill accept Ike’s battle plan.

After the triumph in Europe, it was inevitable that Eisenhower would be considered for the presidency. Scarcely were the guns silenced when a different kind of firing started, this time from home. As Army Chief of Staff (1945-48), president of Columbia University (1948-50) and Supreme Commander of NATO (1950-52), he was under almost constant pressure, from both Republicans and Democrats, to run for the White House. His reply at first was almost Shermanesque. He began nonetheless to think along political lines. “The path to America’s future,” Ike said in 1949, “lies down the middle of the road between the unfettered power of concentrated wealth and the unbridled power of statism or partisan interests.” He was concerned also that the nation might retreat into isolationism and was dismayed by the anti-NATO views of Senator Robert A. Taft, then the leading contender for the G.O.P. nomination. By 1952, he was ready to run, one of a short list of Americans who entered a political campaign with their place in history already assured. After a bruising convention battle with Taft, he won the Republican nomination. The slogan, “I Like Ike,” gathered international currency. (“They were my first words in English,” a German Hausfrau said last week.) In November, Eisenhower won 55% of the popular vote, to Adlai Stevenson’s 44%.

Fulfilling his campaign pledge, Eisenhower went to Korea, and eight months later a truce was negotiated. At home, after the acrid atmosphere of Truman’s last months, Americans entered a period of calculated calm. That era of consolidation was one of Eisenhower’s great achievements, and is more appreciated today than it was when he left office in 1961. Some critics would speak of “stagnation” rather than “consolidation,” and it is undoubtedly true that behind the tranquil exterior of the Eisenhower years, urgent social problems were neglected. Too many old certainties remained unexamined, too much onrushing change was ignored. It is sometimes hard to believe that the Eisenhower era is only a decade distant; at times, it seems more like a century.

More than any other President in modern times, he had the trust of his fellow citizens. More perhaps than any other President since James Monroe, who for a time presided over the “Era of Good Feelings,” Eisenhower transcended political parties. People blamed his subordinates, not Ike, for the faults of his Administration. Since the death of Lincoln, as British Historian D. W. Brogan has noted, the presidency has been more than a secular political office. Eisenhower’s quiet dignity satisfied the need of the times for a paternal, even majestic figure in the White House.

According to the polls, he could easily have won a third term in 1960 — if he had wanted it, and if the 22nd Amendment had not barred his way.

Above the Battle

Detachment, however, had its price, and Eisenhower’s contempt for politics often hobbled his leadership. Though he despised Wisconsin’s demagogic Senator Joseph McCarthy, he refused to say a public word against him—even when McCarthy viciously attacked George Marshall, and even when a word from the President might have brought McCarthy to heel. “I am convinced that the way for me to defeat Senator McCarthy is to ignore him,” Eisenhower noted in a personal memo in April 1953. “Never to admit that he has damaged me, upset me, or anything else.” Again, Ike’s above-the-battle concept of the presidency was partly responsible for his party’s loss in the 1954 congressional elections. Never again was he to have a Republican Congress. He conceived of the President’s role as only one of a team running the country. For the last six years of Eisenhower’s tenure, Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn, the Democratic congressional leaders, helped to shape his domestic policy.

Not even serious illness could disrupt the tranquillity of his first term, however. Late in the summer of 1955, the President, fishing and golfing in Colorado, suffered the first of his heart attacks but recovered quickly. Less than a year later, in June 1956, he was stricken again, this time with ileitis, which required major surgery. To his credit, Nixon, then Vice President, responded with tact and humility in a situation that might have stopped other men. After two such illnesses, it seemed impossible that Ike would run for reelection. But he did. “I want to finish what I have started,” he said. On the eve of election, he was confronted with two simultaneous crises, the Hungarian Revolution and the Anglo-French invasion of Suez. Ike did nothing to stop the Russians in Hungary—there was almost nothing he could do—but he put a fast brake on the European allies. In both instances, his judgment was probably correct. Suez might have been avoided by more astute American diplomacy, however, and the Eisenhower Administration did little thereafter to ease the Arab-Israeli confrontation that even now seriously threatens world stability.

In a sense, however, Eisenhower had already completed the job of healing he had set out to achieve. Thus he might be remembered better by historians if he had stepped down at the end of the first term. Re-elected even more overwhelmingly in 1956 than in 1952 (57% of the popular vote v. Stevenson’s 42%), he almost immediately ran into trouble. His Secretary of the Treasury, George Humphrey, disavowed his budget as too big. The economy slipped toward the worst recession since 1932. After a century of neglect, the problems of the nation’s blacks burst forth. In 1954, the Supreme Court finally outlawed school segregation. Though Ike did not help to implement the decision, he did act when he had to, sending troops into Little Rock, Ark., in 1957 to enforce a court-ordered desegregation decree. In October 1957, Russia’s success with Sputnik I cast a pall of self-doubt over the entire country—a mood that was ultimately to spur popular support for federal programs to aid education and science. There was a sense of drift, a feeling that Eisenhower was by then more figurehead than President. In November 1957, Ike, for the third time in less than three years, suffered a major illness—a stroke.

Abroad, the cold war became colder still, and the hopeful East-West exchanges of the first term turned to anger in the second. Ike was widely criticized for giving overly free rein to John Foster Dulles, his forceful but dogmatically inflexible Secretary of State. It must be remembered that Communism was then a very different force from what it is now, in its splintered and growingly bourgeois condition. But in hindsight it is also clear that Dulles needlessly oversimplified the world’s predicaments by assuming that all nations must line up clearly on one side or the other in the cold war and that whoever was not for the U.S. was against it.

In July 1958, Eisenhower sent troops to save the government of Lebanon from Nasser-oriented Arab nationalists. In November 1958, Nikita Khrushchev handed down an ultimatum to the Western allies to get out of Berlin. To resolve the issue, Eisenhower initiated a venture in personal diplomacy. Khrushchev came to the U.S., and during talks in the President’s Camp David retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, agreed to lift his ultimatum. The “spirit of Camp David” was short-lived. Just before another summit conference in Paris in 1960, Khrushchev announced that the Russians had shot down an American U-2 spy plane. Not only was the conference canceled; Ike’s planned trip to Russia was vetoed as well, a personal humiliation. The uncertain performance of his Administration, which clumsily lied and backtracked before Eisenhower himself claimed responsibility, marked the nadir of Ike’s White House years, and the unhappy memory was only partly counterbalanced by his triumphal tours of world capitals in the last two years of his presidency.

Sins of Omission

In 1960, vowing to “get the country moving again,” John Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon—and by inference repudiated the Eisenhower era. Early in 1961, Ike, at 70, the oldest President in history, rode with Kennedy, the youngest elected President, down Pennsylvania Avenue. “The vitality of the man!” exclaimed J.F.K. his first night in office. “It stood out so strongly there at the Inauguration. There was Chris Herter, looking old and ashen. There was Allen Dulles, gray and tired. There was Bob Anderson, with his collar seeming two sizes too large on a shrunken neck. And there was the oldest of them all, Ike—as healthy and ruddy and as vital as ever. Fantastic!”

Eisenhower will probably not be remembered as a great President. Many problems that haunt the nation, from the racial crisis to the Viet Nam conflict, would be less inflamed today if they had been seized upon in the ’50s. The Eisenhower Administration’s record on civil rights was, to say the least, undistinguished. “I have very little faith,” he would say in the tones of Ecclesiastes that the next decade would find unacceptable, “in the ability of law to change the human heart or eliminate prejudice.” Much as Eisenhower’s Abilene background strengthened him for the great tests of war, it did little to help him understand the urban society he governed. In the era of Keynesian economics, his obsession with a balanced budget seemed archaic. In those days there were, to be sure, only hints of the bitter black-white struggle and the sometimes frightening war between the generations, only the beginnings of the “new morality” and permissive society of the ’60s. Yet even then, as the decade ended, the dignified Eisenhower of the early ’50s seemed out of touch with his people, particularly the young.

Still, he embodied something of American greatness in a way that went beyond particular successes or failures. The people acquiesced in his decisions, and on the big issues of war and peace, Eisenhower justified their faith. Though his Administration laid plans for the Bay of Pigs operation, leaving an enormous problem for its successor, it is unlikely that Ike, the meticulous technician, would have allowed the sloppy staff work that resulted in J.F.K.’s Cuban fiasco. And he would probably not have reacted as massively as Lyndon Johnson did in the Dominican Republic. By comparison, the U.S. intervention in Lebanon was refined and precise.

The beginnings of Viet Nam were clearly visible in the ’50s, but Eisen hower seemed convinced that to fight a land war in Asia would be ruinous—though he later supported Johnson’s policies. In retrospect, much of what was taken for clumsy bumbling was neither clumsy nor bumbling. “He knew when not to do something,” says Political Scientist Harvey Wheeler, a fellow of California’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.

In a poll taken by Historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. in 1962, 75 prominent “students of American history” were asked to rate the Presidents. Eisenhower received a low “average” rating, ranking 22nd among the first 34, just above Andrew Johnson. Today he would probably receive a higher mark. The staff system he brought to the White House, for example—a target of ridicule in the late ’50s and early ’60s—is now seen as his valuable addition to the presidency. No President since World war II had been more resistant to the demands of the military than General Eisenhower. “We must guard,” he said, “against feverish building of vast armaments to meet glibly predicted moments of so-called ‘maximum peril.’ “

A Piece of Ground

Ike could not assure permanent peace, but he managed to avoid war during a perilous decade. No civilian has ever spoken more often or with greater conviction about the need to end war. In 1961, retiring to his 200-acre farm near Gettysburg, Pa.—the first home that he and Mamie ever owned—he raised cattle and tended the land. “I wanted to take a piece of ground like this that had been sort of worn out through improper use and try to restore it,” he said a few years ago. “I just said that when I die I’m going to leave a piece of ground better than I found it.”

It was a firm and decent goal—like the man who aspired to it.


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