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Dwight D. Eisenhower
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on March 21, 2017
Once labeled a “do-nothing” president, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s reputation as our 34th president has risen dramatically in recent years. Historians rank him seventh on the short list of presidential greatness. Journalist Tom Wicker would not agree, however. Judging by his book, he thinks highly of Eisenhower the man and Eisenhower the five-star general, but not so much of Eisenhower the president. In Wicker’s account, President Eisenhower comes up short in his handling of red-baiting Joe McCarthy, in his failure to use the “bully pulpit” to promote civil rights matters, in American involvement in Iranian and Guatemalan politics, and in authorizing U-2 spy missions over the Soviet Union at a time when talks of a test ban treaty with Khrushchev were upcoming. The downing of a U-2 spy plane scuttled the talks.

Wicker makes a good case, but in light of the judgement of historians his arguments amount to a question of perception: is the glass half full or half empty? I enjoyed Wicker’s book, particularly his personal account of a week spent with Eisenhower in 1962, but he didn’t change my opinion. Did Eisenhower make mistakes? Absolutely. What president hasn’t? At 140 pages, Wicker’s book is short but covers well the important world and domestic issues of Eisenhower’s time in office. If you’re looking for a concise and generally fair-minded treatment of the Eisenhower years, you won’t be disappointed. My one gripe is I do wish the publisher had included a table of contents.

Eisenhower was elected president because the people trusted and liked him. His campaign slogan still has a nice ring to it—“I Like Ike.” What he did do particularly well was stay the course after the upheaval years of the Great Depression and World War II. The Cold War with the Soviet Union touched American fears, certainly, but with the much-revered and much-trusted former general in the White House there was hope for a lasting peace. Eisenhower confirmed that hope by bringing a negotiated settlement to the Korean War and by opening a dialogue with the Soviet Union. While most American’s didn’t realize it at the time, he kept American ground troops out of Vietnam at a time when the French were losing their hold on Southeast Asia. Ike knew—the jungles of Vietnam were no place for American soldiers to be fighting. Indeed, Eisenhower kept the nation out of war, which is saying much.

In 1957, when the Soviets launched Sputnik, Eisenhower authorized the creation of NASA, to beat the Soviet Union in the race to the moon. At the same time, he anticipated the vigorous attempts at nuclear disarmament that would follow his presidency, in part through the Atoms for Peace initiative, which promoted nuclear power for peaceful purposes while amplifying the need for the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. On the domestic front, Eisenhower reduced the federal deficit, in part by slashing the massive military spending. The savings he achieved enabled him to launch the interstate highway system, which authorized $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles of interstate highways.

Regarding Senator Joseph McCarthy, Wicker believes Eisenhower didn’t do nearly enough to stop him. Perhaps. What Ike did do was wait him out, believing the despicable bully would go too far and destroy all credibility—which is what happened. While Wicker gives credit for Eisenhower’s appointment of Earl Warren to the Supreme Court, he believes the president could have used the “bully pulpit" of the presidency to advance the civil rights of African Americans. I think he’s right. Eisenhower was decidedly lukewarm, but he did show presidential leadership by sending federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, to protect nine African American children who were integrating a school there. Also, on Eisenhower’s watch, the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 were passed in Congress. Wicker is correct about the coups in Iran and Guatemala that were sanctioned by the U.S., one a Pyrrhic victory in Iran, the other intended to topple an elected, legitimate government in Guatemala. Neither action was necessary to “stop Communism,” and both led to unforeseen upheavals that at the very least called U.S. foreign policy into question. While Wicker says Ike cannot be held totally responsible for what ultimately happened, “he did start the nation down the slippery slope.”

Eisenhower felt unfulfilled when he left office, due to the downing of the U-2 spy plane that put a stop to negotiating a possible arms agreement with Russia. After that “he saw nothing worthwhile left for him to do . . . until the end of his presidency.” Nonetheless, Ike left office as well-liked as ever. Had he run for a third term, Wicker believes he would have won easily.

Wicker’s final analysis: “Dwight D. Eisenhower was a good man, at times a great man, and it seems unnecessary to try to make him out a great president, too. . . . Americans will be fortunate if they can accord their future presidents trust and belief equal to the millions who expressed it so often in the fifties, in the simple eloquent phrase: ‘I Like Ike.’”
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on January 25, 2009
This is a general outline of Eisenhower's eight-year presidential term. The volume (presumably limited by series format) includes a 140-page text, notes, a bibliography, and milestones.

Ike's formative life and military career are limited to a few text pages. Important presidential episodes (the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953; the United Fruit Company, the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala, and Oppenheimer's security revocation in 1954; McCarthy's rise and fall; Ike's rejection of the British/French/Israeli assault on Suez in 1956; heart problems & stroke; Vietnam; Castro and Cuba; Nixon relationship; USSR diplomacy; warnings of the `Military-Industrial Complex,' beloved status, etc.) are lucidly but briefly related without elaboration.

The author provides a useful, basic primer on Ike's two terms: it should not be mistaken for a full-fledged biography of the man or his times. The lack of a more comprehensive discussion of Eisenhower's relationship (as a commander-in-chief and alumnus) with the military is lamentable, but (given 2002 publication) perhaps understandable. A real assessment of his relationship with the CIA (given the subsequent fates of Iran, Guatemala, and Cuba) is also a neglected subject.

Nonetheless, Wicker's outline is helpful to readers (like me) who, in later life, need easy access to a concise term record (the two-page `Milestones' is one of the best of Times series).
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One reviewer complained that this was not a complete biography, and that is certainly correct. It is a biography of Eisenhower as president, in a series devoted to covering the American presidents. That is the focus of the series, and most of the books in this series ought to share that focus. Apart from a biography on William Henry Harrison and Garfield, the emphasis on all these books should be on the presidential career of each individual.
I will confess that I am an admirer of General Eisenhower, but not of President Eisenhower. He certainly did count many achievements to his credit during his two terms of office, but his administrations were marred by some utterly dreadful events, and not a few failures to take strong moral stands by Eisenhower himself. His administration also established several unfortunate precedents, such as overthrowing foreign governments. Wicker focuses more on the failures than the achievements, but the most he can be accused of here is a slight--and I think it is very slight indeed--lack of balance. In the more recent presidents, we tend sometimes to see what we want to see, and many simply do not want to see the failures of his years in office.
The general assessment of Eisenhower as president is that he had some real achievements in foreign policy but fared far worse in domestic policy. On the former, he is credited with keeping the United States out of war (and getting us out of Korea) during the increasing tension of the Cold War. He also, in what I believe was his greatest moment as president on the foreign front, intervened strongly when France and Britain attempted to seize control of the Suez Canal in conjunction with an Israeli invasion of the Sinai. As Wicker correctly points out, however, this has to be balanced with the tragedy of the Gary Powers incident, which sabotaged a probable arms treaty with the Soviet Union. Worse, Eisenhower supported some morally reprehensible covert operations in Iraq (where we deposed a popular leader and replaced him with the Shah), Guatemala (where we deposed a democratically elected government), and in Cuba (where Eisenhower's folks undertook the planning for what later became the Bay of Pigs--Kennedy's greatest failure being not to reject the plan entirely). Eisenhower also is responsible for our initial involvement in Vietnam, which would deepen tragically in the Kennedy and Johnson years.
Wicker does a fine job of covering the domestic issues, although I think he draws back from a rather obvious conclusion (though many other writers do not): Eisenhower, although himself a moral, good individual, was at best morally timid and at worst a moral coward. In the terms used my countless ministers in my own Southern Baptist church, Eisenhower engaged in sins of omission. He lamented the Brown v. Board of Education, and failed to support it or implement it, although he did intervene in my hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas when our governor Orville Faubus refused to allow the integration of Central High School. But overall, Eisenhower had a dreadful record on Civil Rights, and we know from numerous personal comments--many of which Wicker records--that he was personally not very sensitive on racial matters (and that is putting it somewhat mildly). Also, despite personally deploring Senator Joe McCarthy and his tactics, Eisenhower did not intervene for several years of his presidency and did not condemn McCarthy publicly. Especially tragic was his failure to defend his patron George Marshall, one of America's great public servants (both in running WW II from Washington and later in his tremendous service in the State Department) from explicit charges of treason by McCarthy. On the other hand, Eisenhower did oversee the creation of NASA (though he wouldn't promote it the way that Kennedy did upon becoming president, for whom going to the moon was a mania). Wicker does point out briefly his great achievement in overseeing the building of the Interstate Highway system, and spends rather more time on his largely ineffectual attempt to convince the American populace that no missile or nuclear gap existed between the US and the USSR. Ironically, during the Eisenhower years, it was the Democrats who were pushing for more military spending, with Ike convinced that the US had more than enough to deter and defeat the Soviet Union in any forthcoming war. Significant mention is made of Eisenhower's farewell address, the first significant farewell since Washington's. In that he warned of the expanding influence of the Military-Industrial complex, a warning that we have not yet heeded.
Wicker also does a good job of discussing the bizarre lack of support that Eisenhower gave Nixon, a lack that undermined Nixon's campaign in an excruciatingly tight election that might have cost him the presidency. It remains one of Eisenhower's most perplexing failures. Although I myself would have preferred Kennedy to Nixon, there is good reason to believe that Eisenhower negatively affected the outcome of the election, from a Republican point of view.
This is a good, brief book on the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Wicker, although admiring of Ike as a man, is unsympathetic to him as a president. But I would argue that he is fair. If one wants a full-length biography of Eisenhower, one could turn to Stephen Ambrose's two-volume biography, or Carlo D'Este's superb biography of Eisenhower's military career.
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"I like Ike." A statement that defined the political world of the 1950s. The popular leader of Allied forces in the European Theater during World War II received high approval ratings from the public throughout his presidency. This brief book, a part of The American Presidents series, provides a brief and readable glimpse of Ike's life and his presidency. The author is Tom Wicker, who originally achieved considerable visibility as a columnist with The New York Times.

If you're like me, you might rather read D'Este's "Eisenhower," which takes almost 700 pages to text to bring his biography to the end of World War II. However, most people will not be interested in such a massive work, and the 140 page volume by Wicker is apt to prove more attractive to people.

As with other volumes in the series, this one begins with the family background and Dwight Eisenhower's early years. Some readers might be surprised to know that, when he went to West Point, he was a star football player (and see the incredible confrontation between Ike and his mates and Jim Thorpe and his in books such as 'Carlisle vs. Army"). Later, he began to work his way up the military hierarchy, by providing excellent staff support to leaders such as Generals Pershing, MacArthur and Marshall. When World War II broke out, he was not an especially visible figure. Soon, though, he rose to Allied command in North Africa and then in Europe. Other books describe this period in much more detail--and illustrate both his strengths and his weaknesses. After the War, he served in a number of capacities. In 1952, he began his quest for the presidency.

The book does a nice job of showing how he won the nomination. Then, his major challenges: the War in Korea, Quemoy and Matsu, the U-2 shoot down, Dienbienphu and Vietnam, Senator McCarthy, economic slowdowns, physical ailments (heart attack and stroke), the space race, relations with the Soviet Union, and so on and so on. Once thought of as a rather amiable cipher as president, historians and political scientists more recently have reappraised his presidency. I am not sure that that reappraisal always manifests itself in Wicker's book.

Then, the transition as of the election of 1960. The relationship between Eisenhower and Nixon is played out reasonably well in this book. Then, after the e3lection, Eisenhower's retirement from public service and his later years.

As a brief biography, this works pretty well. For those wanting to get a sense of Dwight Eisenhower in a compact book, this is pretty good.
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on September 26, 2017
A very good summary of Ike's career.
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on April 28, 2015
Great Book, Better Man.
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on June 19, 2006
There really could have been so much more said of this man, this General who led our troops during the Second World War, who entered politics in order to preserve the peace. In this short volume (the series is generally short and introductory in nature) the author, Tom Wicker, misses so many chances to engage his reader into discovering Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Something I found especially difficult to ignore was the glaring omission of any mention (I believe there was but one fleating reference) of the Interstate Highway Act...something which arguably did more to change the face of American life and culture than any other measure of the time.

Wicker does manage to capture a bit of character in discussing the 34th President of the United States. We are introduced to a man who served his country as both a military commander and as Commander-in Chief, who, following his first-hand experiences in war beleived that war should always be the option of last resort. Eisenhower's Farewell Address, warning his country against the dangers of an organized military complex, still is remarkable today.

However, what Mr. Wicker does most successfully is present Eisenhower's failures. As president, Eisenhower was unwilling to spend political capital on divisive, politically-charged issues such as the growing tension of the Civil Rights struggle and the anti-communist witch hunts spurned by Senator Joseph McCarthy and HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Commitee). A more compelling figure might have stood up and directed his country through such difficult times; Eisenhower failed to act.

Unfortunately, so does Wicker. The pages here feel as though the author slept through most of the writing. The book skims the surface of any real substantive discovery of what Wicker refers to as "the most popular president of modern times."
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on January 31, 2014
I read all the Biographies of the Presidents by way of the Presidential series. If you are going to do it, read John Hancock first because he was the first Continental Congress President. You will find as you read these how the lives of each President intertwined with the next. The job is a lineage.
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As I write, our country is in the midst of a highly contentious presidential campaign, including, today, the sharply-fought Pennsylvania primary. In light of the furor of the ongoing campaign, I have been trying to revisit the American presidents in the short series of biographies edited by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. I thought a consideration of our 34th President, Dwight D. Eisenhower would be especially appropriate for these tumultous events. I was alive during the Truman presidency but Eisenhower was the first president I can remember. I have always had the sense that he was, somehow, undervalued as a leader. Thus I was eager to read Tom Wicker's brief biography.

Wicker admits at the outset that he was never a political supporter of Eisenhower. With that in mind, his admiration for Eisenhower as a person and for some of his accomplishments as President comes through in this book. I didn't find this book as harsh or unfair towards Eisenhower as did some of my fellow reviewers. Yet I agree that Eisenhower warrants a more detailed look than Wicker's and, indeed, deserves more.

Eisenhower (1890 -- 1969) was born in Texas but grew up in Kansas. He served two terms as the 34th president (1953 -- 1961). Wicker's book, probably for reasons of space, quickly passes over Eisenhower's early life, including his extraordinary military career, to focus on the eight years of his presidency.

The 1950s were a difficult time in which the United States and the U.S.S.R came perilously close to war on several occasions. Wicker offers Eisenhower qualified praise for his foreign policy and for his role as a "man of peace." Eisenhower ended the war in Korea and worked for disarmament even though, in Wicker's terms he "fumbled" on opportunity to secure a nuclear test-ban treaty late in his administration as a result of his decision to authorize a final U-2 flight over Russia. Wicker gives Eisenhower high praise for his handling of the Suez Crisis in 1956, which he describes as the President's finest hour, and for his calming influence after the U.S.S.R launched Sputnik in 1957, leading to panic among many Americans over our educational system and scientific and military readiness. Wicker faults Eisenhower for his engagin in covert warfare in Guatamala and Iran and he is vaguely critical of Eisenhower's role in precipitating what would become America's involvement in Vietnam.

In domestic affairs, Wicker focuses almost entirely of Eisenhower's role in discrediting Senator Joseph McCarthy and in his actions regarding Civil Rights. Many writers besides Wicker are critical of Eisenhower for not being more agressive against McCarthy. But as Wicker shows, Eisenhower worked effectively to bring about McCarthy's demise, not the least of which work was in allowing him to self-destruct. Eisenhower's approach may well have been more effective and less divisive to the country than a more confrontational approach.

Wicker also is highly critical of Eisenhower for his less than full support of the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education and for his failure to exercise the moral suasion both he and his office possessed to implement civil rights. Many admirers of Eisenhower have come to the same conclusion. Yet, Eisenhower used force to protect the rights of African American students in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. And Eisenhower's two immediate successors in the presidency were themselves slow to commit to the civil rights movement. A recent book by David Nichols, "A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Civil Rights Revolution" (2007) reassess in part Eisenhower's contributions behind the scenes to the cause of civil rights.

The 1950s are sometimes regarded as a time of somnolescence and conformity in the United States and sometimes as a subject of sentimentalized nostalgia. Eisenhower had proven his ability as a leader during WW II and he served the nation well, even Wicker admits, as President during a difficult era. According to one of his advisers quoted by Wicker, Eisenhower's greatest strength was "in getting people to compromise divergent views without anyone's surrender of principle." (p. 138) In view of the never-ending tumult our country has undergone since the 1960s, one can do worse than the balance, sanity, and quietly effective leadership that characterized the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Robin Friedman
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on June 1, 2011
For the reader (such as myself) who is more familiar with General Eisenhower than President Eisenhower, one who has perhaps come by the notion that the Eisenhower administration embodied a less-interesting era in American political history, a complacent lull between the decade of WWII and the decade of JFK, LBJ, and MLK, this book may well serve as impetus to further study. It certainly brings into focus many events the gravity and context of which I was only dimly aware. Due to its necessary brevity, the book can hardly be expected to treat any particular issue with a great deal of detail - this is by no means the author's fault - he seems however to assume that moral posturing and a wisdom informed of hindsight can compensate for depth.
The author takes Eisenhower to task for failing, or refusing, to push a civil-rights agenda beyond the barest minimum dictated by the Supreme Court, and finds space to present anecdotal material the relevance of which can only be to suggest that Eisenhower was at heart a racist. Now I would not presume to know the man's inner sentiments, nor what he felt he could or could not do, politically, at the time, but I would consider whether the country was, in the mid-1950s, truly ready for a revolution in race relations. Again, I don't pretend to know for certain; it is only something to ponder. And there is a considerable body of anecdotal evidence indicating that LBJ, whilst taking a more decisive stand on civil rights, nonetheless engaged in some unashamedly bigoted language when off the record. Certainly Eisenhower, reared in Kansas at the turn of the last century, would not have been immune to certain post-Reconstruction attitudes. (While the author does not hint at Southern attitudes, he does view Eisenhower's ascent as indicative of a partisan shift in the South, which subsequent history - Johnson, Carter, Clinton - would seem to refute.)
In the realm of foreign affairs, I was interested to learn something of the Guatemala intervention, particularly the egregious connexions between Eisenhower associates "Beetle" Smith and the Dulles brothers with the United Fruit company...
Although the author's prose reads quickly, there are occasional instances of awkward sentence structure. Furthermore:
On p17, Eisenhower is said to have entered the White House on Jan. 20, 1952; obviously this should read 1953, as he election was in Nov. 1952.
On p.35, Eisenhower is described as a "virulent" anti-communist. This word seems far more appropriately applied to Joe McCarthy. Eisenhower could be described as a "staunch" or "convinced" anti-communist, but "virulent"? This seems like a cheap shot. (Incidentally, the author's chronicling of the McCarthy saga is one of the highlights of the book.)
On p 129, "The Eisenhower administration...had come to an end on a sad, even something of an Aristotelian, note." Would someone who is accredited in Aristotle exegesis please shed some light on the author's possible meaning here? Perhaps he is thinking rather of Aeschylus or Euripides?
Withal, the book can be said to serve the purpose of provoking one to further, deeper study of Eisenhower, his administration, and the broader context the post-WWII era and the Cold War. But it should not by any means be taken as the last word on the subject. Unfortunately, one fears that by virtue of its concision, as well as - rather than in spite of - its high proportion of judgemental moralising to straight impartial fact, this is exactly the sort of book to be given impressionable students little inclined to think past what they are told.
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