tv William Hitchcock The Age of Eisenhower CSPAN June 23, 2018 6:00pm-7:32pm EDT
>> we wrap up our prime time programming at 11:10 p.m. with cnn's chief washington correspondent jake tapper who discusses his political novel about congress and washington set in the 1950s. that all happens tonight on c-span 2's book tv. 48 hours of nonfiction authors and books, television for serious readers. and first up tonight, here's historian william hitchcock on the presidency of dwight eisenhower.
>> good afternoon, everyone. welcome to this afternoon's session of the washington history seminar. i'm from george washington university. i co chair the semimar who is here with me this afternoon. -- i co chair the seminar who is here with me this afternoon. before we introduce our speaker william hitchcock, let me just say for those of you who know or don't know, the washington history seminar is a long-standing joint endeavor between the woodrow wilson center and the american historical association's national history center. behind the scenes amanda perry and pete bierstecker work very hard to make sure we can have these sessions. i like to thank those who help to make the seminar possible financially, the society of historians of american foreign relations is a longstanding
supporter and as well to the george washington university department of history and to various named and unnamed anonymous donors who contribute to help us put on this programming. if you could silence your phones before we get started, we'd very much appreciate that. and now we will introduce william hitchcock. >> good afternoon, everybody. those of you who come here regularly know that is not our usual physical set-up and i have to say i like this because being up so high i can actually see all of you which normally i can't. >> agreed. >> i'm delighted to introduce william hitchcock who is a professor of history at the university of virginia. and the randolph compton professor at that university's miller center. he previously taught at yale and at temple and he's the author of a number of important volumes.
i will mention a couple of them. cold war diplomacy and the quest for leadership in europe, 1945 to 1954. the struggle for europe, the turbulent history of a divided continent, 1945 to the present, and the bitter road to freedom, a new history of the liberation of europe, which was a finalist for the pulitzer prize. he is the coeditor of a number of volumes including strategies for a changing world. so what we're going to hear from him about today is a world that looked as if it was changing in interesting ways back in the 1950s. as he talks about his book "the age of eisenhower, america and the world in the 1950s". professor hitchcock. >> thank you.
>> thank you very much. could you all hear me all right? thank you very much for coming. it is a beautiful afternoon. i'm sure you would like to be out in the sun, but we're here in the 1950s in the age of eisenhower. [laughter] >> good for you. i want to thank you very much for inviting me to come and speak, and i'm really looking forward to your thoughts about the age of eisenhower. i want to start with a biographical note about -- well i won't say quite how many years ago, but in college, i served in one summer as a research assistant at a wilson center enaworked for a professor -- and i worked for a professor, photocopying things and providing the professor with information. i have always been dedicated to the wilson center for bringing me -- allowing me as a young student to work at the center. it was a magnificent -- it is a magnificent place, the quality of the intellectuals that come here, that gather here as a young college student, i was thrilled to come to the wilson
center. it was in the castle back then. it was an exciting place to come and it still is. for scholars in cold war history in particular the wilson center's work is absolutely crucial to what we do. what has been going on here for decades now in the area of cold war history is central. so thank you, thank you, for the work you have done and continue to do in this field. today i'm going to talk for maybe 35 minutes or so, i hope it won't be much more than because i'm eager to have your questions. i want to lay out for you the basic argument of my new book the age of eisenhower. i'm going to argue between 1945 and 1961, 1945 and 1961, no individual dominated american public life and politics as did dwight eisenhower. he was the most well liked, the most admired man in america in that period from the end of the second world war up to the inauguration of john kennedy. but i'm going to argue not just that he was well liked. it would be a short book if i
had to prove that because that's clear, but that he was the most consequential. my thesis is that eisenhower mattered, both in the 50s and in the decades after he left office. he shaped modern america in crucial ways, and i'm going to tell you why and how here today. but i'm going to start with a story to capture the moment. and i hope that you will follow along with me as i set the stage. two minutes before 9:00 in the morning, on december 6th, 1960, 1960, dwight eisenhower went on the white house, stopped at the top of the stairs and stood rigid in a brown suit and brown felt hat. people still wore hats back then, didn't they? although they were starting to carry them, rather than wear them. he was -- he did both. he wore it and then he took it
off. the white house gleamed under a fresh coat of paint, the newly blackened rod iron railings and lamp posts sparkled, across pennsylvania avenue, the president could hear the hammering of carpenters who were building a large reviewing stand for the inaugural parade. that would take place in a few weeks. the president remarked i feel like the fellow in jail, who is watching his scaffold being built. at 8:59, precisely, a cream-colored limousine arrived at the northwest gate of the white house, bearing the man on whom the world's attention had been intensely focused, since the morning of november 9, when his election victory had been announced, senator john f. kennedy now president elect was coming to meet with president eisenhower. as the car slowed to a stop, the lean, tanned senator opened the door and leapt out and the momentum carried him up the stairs. he reached out his hand and said
good morning, mr. president. well, this could have been a very difficult meeting. during the election campaign of 1960, kennedy had attacked eisenhower, mercilessly. kennedy had accused eisenhower of failing to meet the global communist threat with sufficient zeal. in accepting the democratic nomination for president in july, 1960, kennedy had painted the eisenhower years as a lost era. you will hear the wonderful metaphor he used in that speech. there has been a change, a slippage in our intellectual and moral strength, kennedy said, seven lean years of drought and famine have withered the field of ideas. kennedy mocked eisenhower for being old and out of touch and out of ideas. but if kennedy expected to find an old ailing fragile eisenhower waiting for him in the white house, he was deeply mistaken. instead eisenhower brought kennedy the president elect into the oval office and treated him
over the course of two hours to an astonishing tutorial in how the government works and what the world really looks like from the oval office. eisenhower took command of the meeting from the outset. he spent some time in this two-hour meeting with kennedy on the structure of the national security council, the setting for what he called the most important weekly meeting of the government, imagine the president chairing the national security council every week. the most important weekly meeting of the government as well, he talked about the defense department. he told kennedy that it was vital to have a chief of staff who could coordinate the flow of information to the president. he urged kennedy to stick to his own model, eisenhower's model, the well functioning staff and bureaucracy that served the president. he said oh my goodness we're having a terrible time with balance of payments. all the american soldiers in europe spending too much money and so forth. eisenhower spoke totally freely
for 20 minutes on that topic and for about an hour without notes. sitting in front of a supremely smart and very well briefed john f. kennedy who had been devouring briefing books all week for this meeting. ike is completely comfortable in his own skin. there was no doubt in this meeting who was the more experienced man or what was the more accomplished man. there was no doubt at this moment who was in command. president elect kennedy was obviously impressed by what he found in the eisenhower white house. he spoke to reporters afterwards. he was gracious in his thanks to the president and his staff for assuring an easy transfer of power, but privately kennedy said even more than that. eisenhower was better than i had thought. [laughter] >> he said to bobby kennedy when he got back in the limo. and bobby kennedy remembered him saying this, eisenhower had a strong personality, and he could
see -- he could understand talking to him why he was president of the united states. and that ladies and gentlemen is the keynote of my book, "the constant discovery of dwight d. eisenhower's talents, his aura of natural leadership and his skills at governing. eisenhower was better than i had thought. i can see why he was president of the united states. i've repeated that to myself frequently over the last eight years of toil working on this book, and i really do believe that he is better than many of us had ever thought, and i want to carry on now and give you examples of what i mean. but before i do that, i want to dwell for a moment on this phenomenon. that eisenhower ever should have been underestimated, that there should have been a time, not just a time, but years, decades, when ike was thought to be not as smart, how did it happen a
man as successful at the ballot box, how is it possible that such a figure was ever thought to be a dunce. he was underestimated as a politician even before he was president, even before he openly started running in 1951, 52, all the way through eight years in office and for the ten years after he lived after he left the white house, the press and especially the democratic party and his opponents in the democratic party styled him as a lightweight, a likable man, a dignified figure, but a lightweight, an amateur. he was an orthodox, pro business, do nothing president, a lazy leader, although he grinned a lot, he was often thought to be callous and distant and cold. that's what kennedy had called him, cold, that's not at all how it turned out. the two ended up getting along quite well. it is the central paradox of the eisenhower presidency, that a man so successful had been given such poor marks by the political class. his two time opponent in the elections of 52 and 56 mocked
eisenhower as slow and tongue tied. he was just a tool of the wealthy right wingers. president harry truman piled on the famous quotation which i will use poor ike true mnd said on his way -- truman said on his way out of office, he will sit here and say do this and do that and nothing will happen. i think that describes truman presidency. a 58 book by a journalist, an important journalist of era described eisenhower in a wonderful phrase, a captive hero. he was a general who had been set up in office. he was imprisoned by right wingers and he was nothing more than a kind of ventriloquist dummy mouthing the words that other people wrote for him. william z. shannon the new york's post washington columnist concluded that eisenhower had accomplished nothing in the eight years of office. he wrote the era is the time of
the great postponement. and scholars agreed. in july 1962, the harvard historian arthur schlessinger sr., the father, published the famous results of the poll, one of the early polls of the presidency, asked 75 historians, no doubt all his buddies, to rank the presidents. eisenhower placed 22nd out of 31 presidents in that poll. the bottom third of the class. he was nestled between chester arthur and incredibly andrew johnson, who is widely now considered to be the absolute bottom of the barrel. but no one did more damage to ike's reputation than the camelot clan. i'm not ganging up on the kennedies, but they get enough positive publicity i think they can handle it. kennedy didn't really run against nixon. he ran against eisenhower. the campaign used eisenhower as the perfect foil. kennedy was young, handsome, he was cool.
he was sharp witted. he was smart, dynamic, bold, all those adjectives. by 60, eisenhower was 70 years old. he had had a major heart attack while in office. he had intestinal surgery. he had had a mild stroke. by the end of his time in office, he was starting to show the wear and tear of age. he had all the appeal of a dried prune compared john f. kennedy. and the kennedy people knew it and used it both for kennedy and against him. for years and indeed i think decades after kennedy's tragic death, kennedy's admirers continued to demean eisenhower in order to heighten the beauty and the glory of the kennedy era. arthur schlessinger jr., the son in his great testament 1965 book "a thousand days", he described the nation's capital as -- in the eisenhower years. under kennedy, fresh winds were blowing. [laughter] >> the kennedy presidency
schlessinger wrote began with incomparable dash, one of his favorite words dash. everyone is dashing in the kennedy years as all these young liberals poured into the capitol to launch the new frontier. like the new dealers a quarter century earlier they brought with them the ideas of national reconstruction and reform which had been germinating under the surface of a decade of inaction. basically the eisenhower years was a gigantic, you know, eight year national nap, between two eras of wakeful democratic activity. snoozing through the eisenhower years, that's the motif of that book. by the time of his death, in 1969, eisenhower had been largely forgotten by the press. an obituary in time magazine concluded that ike was quote more figurehead than president. quote out of touch with his people unquote. as a politician, by 1969, eisenhower seemed to be destined
to be written off as a benign mediocrity. well, that's an opportunity for a historian, if ever there was one. we now know -- in fact we have known for sometime that this caricature of eisenhower was wrong. in just the past couple of decades, many scholarly books and articles have been published on eisenhower's handling of numerous topics among other things the korean war, the rise of covert operations and the cia, nuclear weapons, china, latin america, europe, the middle east, the third world and so on. scholars have really begun to examine in much greater detail his policies on the home front as well. especially in areas such as civil rights and economic policy, infrastructure, science, religion, education, how he handled the mccarthyism and so forth. we know a great deal in many of these areas. so taking into account all of this scholarly material and
drawing on an enormous amount of relatively recently declassified material out in kansas at the wonderful eisenhower library, if you haven't visited there, i urge you to go. it is a distance from the coast, but understand you are there, you will be treated so well. they are wonderful people and they are terrifically knowledgeable in the way they can identify the material that you need, whatever topic you are working on. so drawing all of this material, the monographs, the scholarly work, the new declassified material, this book "the age of eisenhower" gives you a fully fleshed out portrait of the entire presidency. i don't think we've had that since the effort in 1984 by steven ambrose to write a big two volume life of eisenhower. unfortunately, as you may know, steven ambrose's book came under some criticism because unfortunately there were some fraudulent sources that were used in that book. so i hope that's not the case here, and i offer a decisive
verdict, dwight eisenhower must be counted among the most consequential presidents of american history, certainly of the modern postwar period. what the heck do i mean by consequential? that's a waffling word; right? well, let me tell you what i mean by it. eisenhower significantly shaped the united states. in at least three lasting ways, and i'm going to explain each of them a little bit. first, he built and expanded the warfare state that eventually won the cold war. second, he recast domestic politics, especially republican party politics by creating a consensus or at least adding to the consensus about the appropriate role of government in public life. and third, perhaps -- perhaps his greatest legacy, is he gave us a model for how to be president. he gave us a model of how the
presidency could be used. and i will come back to that at the end. so to demonstrate the significant impact of the ike years on modern america, just want to elaborate a little bit on each of these three areas. the warfare state, his impact on the domestic politics in the united states in the 50s and his shaping of the presidency itself. dwight eisenhower dramatically expanded the power and scope of the 20th century warfare state. now, obviously he did not create it himself, single handedly. he built upon a set of assumptions and decisions that were made in the truman presidency, in the roosevelt presidency. but between 1953 and 1961, eisenhower legitimated the idea of a permanent peacetime warfare state. permanent peacetime warfare state. designed to be technologically
dynamic, cutting edge, nimble, global and responsive to national security needs all around the world. the warfare state that eisenhower built dwarfed anything that truman had envisioned. yes, truman dramatically increased military spending when the korean war broke out in 50, but before that his administration saw the dismantling and hollowing out of u.s. military capabilities between 1945 and 1950. not so with eisenhower. he was determined to maintain a permanent peacetime military establishment that would never be caught unprepared. or incapable of responding to the soviets. the numbers tell a story. i will give you one number. in the eisenhower years, the united states spent about 10% of its gdp on the military establishment, 10% of its gdp on the military establishment. a higher percentage than any peacetime administration before or since. today we're at 3 1/2. give or take.
so the man who warned later generations about the military industrial complex of course did a great deal to build it. he developed a rhetorical strategy to justify this kind of permanent warfare state right from the start of his presidency, eisenhower embraced the idea as did many millions of americans that in the 1950s, the united states really did face an existential threat, from the soviet union and from global communism. he drew on the language of the red scare to denounce communism and communists as insidious, one of his favorite adjectives, insidious, secretive, immoral, subversive in his first inaugural address, just think about these terms. they are very powerful. he wrote forces of good and evil are masked and armed and opposed as rarely before in history. this is the man who just finished defeating hitler in europe. but here in 1953, forces of good
and evil are masked as rarely before in history. a remarkable image. he continued freedom is pitted against slavery, likeness against the dark. styling the communist block as a slave empire is a constant theme of the 1950s. throughout his years in office, eisenhower frequently said that america was living in an age of peril. he used that term a lot in public. the cold war was real. it was dangerous. and eisenhower meant to prosecute it vigorously. now, these views did not lead him recklessly to seek out foreign wars. on the contrary, in many respects the keynote of the eisenhower national security policy was restraint. after all he ended active hostilities in korea in 53, avoided u.s. military intervention in china in 54. deterred china's military adventures in the taiwan straits in 55 and 58.
compelled britain and france to reverse their invasion of egypt in 56. avoided a conflict in berlin in 58 and even established stable personal relations with the soviet leader. all of these were choices that could have gone a different way and every time he made the choice that sought to diffuse and to use restraint. all of those choices, all of those cases could easily have become wars. eisenhower worked hard and successfully to keep the peace between the superpowers, but he was no pacifist. his global strategy required the steady accumulation of immense national power and a willingness to deploy that power when necessary. the u.s. nuclear arsenal soared in the eisenhower years. a few hundred weapons at the beginning at his term in office to 20,000 war heads by the end of it. deliverable on all manner of platforms, b 52 bombers, titan missiles, the undersea missile,
by the time he left office, the united states had plans for launching 3,200 nuclear weapons at over 1,000 targets in russia, china and eastern europe in the event of a nuclear war. so you can use the term restraint in one way to say that he did not pursue war, but this is not restraint in building out the capabilities of the warfare state. eisenhower turned the united states -- or built the united states into a military colosssas of a skill never before seen on earth. this had a knock on effect not just in the defense industries but in the mobilization of science. the universities and industry all pulling together to boost american military power, by the end of the 50s, the u.s. had even taken the first steps towards the militarization of states with the launching of the corona spy satellite. i will just say one more thing about the warfare state. eisenhower of course also presided over the significant
expansion and we can talk about this more in the questions, significant expansion of america's secret intelligence agencies. he ordered them to conduct covert operations around the world. under him the cia developed a global strategy that used american money, arms and technology to contend with communism and anticolonial nationalism everywhere in the world. the u.s.-led coups in iran in 1953 and guatemala in 1954 were followed by massive investments of secret aid to south vietnam, to rebels in indonesia to covert operations in cuba and many other regions of the world. eisenhower began a practice, let's call it what it is, that has become an american habit, the delegation by the american president and congress of the enormous power and resources to a largely unaccountable agency to conduct a range of subversive and violent operations against
the nation's enemies. the secret wars of our own times date from the 1950s. the question that you may be asking is, were these techniques for waging the cold war, were they good for the united states in the long run? did eisenhower by using such methods help to win the cold war? and if so, does that justify his methods? these are difficult questions. i think we should talk about them. and i hope we can return to them in a question-and-answer. the second area that i want to touch on is eisenhower's impact on politics inside the united states and here too i think eisenhower was a far more important figure than we have tended to realize. eisenhower actually recast american politics by strengthening a national consensus about the place of government in the lives of american citizens. before eisenhower, the political
pendulum had swung from the arch conservative ideas of harding and coolidge and hoover and all the way over to the bold and activism of franklin roosevelt and the new deal. he is probably the least partisan president of modern times and he sought to stop the pendulum in dead center. to be sure when he ran for president in 52, he thundered against the statism of the new deal and its expansive federal programs. but once in office, he adopted a centrist and pragmatic policy and approach that reflected the preferences of most americans. he managed to disarm the right wing of his own party, the so called old guard republicans who had flocked to senator robert taft and who were antigovernment isolationists. he moved the g.o.p. to the center and he set out to make it into a moderating force in politics. for example, eisenhower early on
made his peace with the new deal, expanding social security to over 10 million self-employed principally people. he raised the minimum wage, and he founded the department of education -- health education and welfare. he even suggested ideas for a national health insurance system. doesn't every president [laughter] >> they went about as well in his time as they have later years. eisenhower invested significantly in infrastructure of course. he made -- found a way to make government work without making it too big and too costly. the interstate highway system is preeminent example. building its 40,000 miles of roads of course cost billions. but most of the money came from user fees in the form of a gas tax and other licensing fees, used to replenish a highway trust fund. so the burden on the treasury relatively minor. his attitude towards taxes tells us much about the man and indeed about the g.o.p. of the 50s. in 1954, he faced significant
demands and pressures for tax cut from congress. eisenhower went on national radio and he said -- he made a very elementary argument which one doesn't hear very much anymore. [laughter] >> he said that schools and roads and housing and healthcare cost money. and here's what he said, quote, the good americans -- oh boy -- the good american is proud to carry his share of the national burden. when eisenhower tells you about the good american, he's making a very powerful point, and in this case, he believed paying taxes was a national and personal obligation in order to be -- to enjoy the benefits of american citizenship, not only should you do it and do it without complaining, you should be proud of it because that was your pledge, your participation in the great experiment of american democracy, paying taxes was a job of every decent american as
specimen of humanity. but mccarthy's cruel method. not the idea those that could be doing subversive things in the american government or for that matter or in the idea of homosexuals in government. but the administration took steps it is a tell all biography the good and the bad and this is the area i think we can be critical. hoping to steal his thunder but the anti-communist crusade and check the need to eventually force thousands out of federal employment. his executive order 10450 announce new procedures for rooting out anyone considered disloyal.
no place in the federal government but just the first months in office. so for all the hatred of mccarthy he was determined not to be outflanked so how eisenhower cleverly outmaneuvered mccarthy to build a wall around him how eisenhower cleverly outmaneuvered mccarthy to build a wall around him does give credit that was fatal to mccarthy. but with something that many people outside of that circle bought into. i believe eisenhower had to inoculate himself from the challenge of its own right wing.
with the greatest social and moral challenge of his time was the civil rights movement, eisenhower like many white americans responded with caution in so to be an unsung hero with the civil rights movement, i was tempted by the argument and i found evidence to support that argument but at the end of the day i feel that you went a little too far. however eisenhower made crucial tension steel that were bold and humane and consequential that could have gone the other way when he had to make a decision, more more often than not made the right decision. he had no background in this field or no understanding of the 50s and no familiarity spending his entire career with the segregated military.
the inter- moral convictions came through again and again but that said turning to the man i regard as the most consequential attorney general brownell. and together eisenhower and brownell found on -- noted an important team they tried to weaken jim crow segregation they hope to leave the desegregation of the nation's capital with the amicus briefs with those challenges to the segregation of restaurants and movie theaters in the district pushing their thumbs on the scale. to have five moderately progressive jurist the most significant was earl warren of california with unanimous decision brown fee board of
course ended the the end of segregation publication lung -- with public education now going through a deeply divided with the civil rights act of 1957, a landmark because it was so rare as a previous major act from the reconstruction. and on civil rights doesn't get credit to see that through. if you are a fan who works tirelessly eisenhower almost vetoed it but he thought that is better than nothing and he passed the bill but he did finally push it through. that created a civil rights division and the justice department and gave the attorney general limited
powers to intervene with the voting rights violation to set the stage with the later civil rights act of the next decade. eisenhower also took an enormous risk that was deeply uncharacteristically ordered federal troops to surround the high school in little rock i school and high school to make sure they proceed despite local authorities. in my view eisenhower never embrace the fundamental demand they do not understand the crisis. but at the same time here's the point to be driven home, eisenhower did use his power to aid rather than halt the courageous generation of civil
rights crusaders just emerging into the national american scene and to place themselves in the path of this generation. one can imagine in this country that there is a spectrum. it is easy enough to place people on the far and you always seem to do the right thing. and people at the other and seem constantly to be behind the arc of history. i like to put eisenhower in the effort third of that spectrum. perhaps not as aggressive as he might have been, enormously consequential. blowing hot and cold on this issue at the end of the day the desegregation of washington d.c. the decision
brown fee board and the intervention in little rock is an astounding record. and i would say he probably did more than his predecessors. and some of his successors to advance the agenda of civil rights in america. the last point and briefly, is really about eisenhower's impact on the presidency itself. the way i see it, eisenhower eisenhower established a distinctive model of leadership that americans today could benefit from studying. i won't name names. i call it the disciplined presidency discipline was the lowest start. raised in a very strict and
frugal family and trained for a career of a soldier. he believed discipline was the key to success. not only did he apply discipline to his own person, he maintained his weight very carefully, 175 pounds. he quit his four pack of cigarette a day overnight and said i put it out of my mind. what about that works for everybody that he was a tough man but then eisenhower imposed order on the white house to establish clear rules of procedure wednesdays he held weekly press conference with. radio and then the television. thursday he chaired the national security council friday he met with the cabinet.
truman did not can be national security council very often. but by contrast to endowed the national security council with enormous support and use the weekly meetings of this body to approve policies and his eight years in office the national security council, think about this company years in office, they met 366 times. he was present at 329 of them a 90% attendance rate once a week. so the candidates lampooned this. i am an academic i know how boring meetings can be but that is not how eisenhower sought. good government requires constant focus the famous phrase used again and again plans are worthless but
planning is everything. if you haven't been planning you cannot work intelligently. it was a well-trained system in place and with his approach into the nation. that prosperity would come to those who worked hard the government would only do to clear a path to demonstrate their god-given talents. it is no accident, in my view that his closest friends were self-made millionaires. he liked the billionaire parchment that they were self-made all of his close towel started out with very little like eisenhower. and worked their way up to the american system.
they were emblems of what makes america great and hard work. they found that she told americans they needed discipline from the first inaugural to the farewell address he insisted that to prevail in the struggle against global communism americans needed to demonstrate vigilance and steadfast purpose they need to pay taxes and serve in the military and rally to the defense of the country. they should spend wisely on defense not to jeopardize the health of the economy. most significant the american system can only indoor citizens willingly impose self-discipline to prepare themselves to bear the common burden to defend free government. if we add that all up with eisenhower in his legacy he
dramatically extended the war for state lung -- warfare state to put into place high-stakes but effective strategy to win the cold war. he dragged his own isolationist party into the bright light of internationalism and also gave the gop a heart transplant. [laughter] advancing important social policies and he managed to make the institution of the presidency stronger and better organized and more rigorous. eisenhower's often accused of misunderstanding the powers of the presidency or of failing to my -- uses lovers more objectively but that was made by democrats at the time and in the later decade who saw the presidency of ambitious
social policy. perhaps that criticism is fair that is up to you to decide but eisenhower never aspired to construct the imperial presidency four-door domestic to serve as one branch of government he wanted it to be responsive and emblematic wanted it to be wide and it's reached and promises is earned dosing goal potholed a promise to fill first day in office? is or nothing they won't promise? but he did not overpromise.
and to carry into office his forebears frugality discipline restraint and the deep spiritual faith. these have often been considered a corny view of virtue since the 50s but perhaps after so many decades of excess and full garrity of war and conflict and hatred and violence, the unthinkable has happened and some americans might actually wish to return to the age of eisenhower. [laughter] thank you. [applause] a mac please wait for the microphone and please use the microphone and identify yourself.
>> thank you so much. to those of us to the eisenhower era the book is a wonderful eye-opener. i want to ask you the function of presidential leadership when you talk about eisenhower in the mccarthy phenomenon and i'm wondering about the function of the president and tomorrow's leadership. remember whatever eisenhower thought of mccarthy and whatever he did, the lack of anything coming from the white house about the incredible work he was doing but that incredible harm to do to so many americans and to the
american dialogue and values. then getting to the civil rights issue, i don't think i would give credit to eisenhower for brown fee board of education at all. that came from other places altogether. but nonetheless, whatever he did quietly is it your contention he had to do those things? he had to issue moral leadership in order to those things he thought were more important? if that's the case what does that say? >> this is an area that often has been criticized. those do have merit and we have come to a very different view of the role of the presidency. i have made a simple tactical
decision that mccarthy wanted nothing more than eisenhower to say i denounce senator mccarthy eisenhower would never do it and many of his advisors began to despair over his restraint to do that because eisenhower believed that more than anything he wanted was the attention that would come in a face-to-face duel between eisenhower and mccarthy. that's what mccarthy wanted and i quit i give it to him you can read the letters he received from friends mr. president i feel at the end of the day you are missing an opportunity and not standing up to the bully we need your moral authority. i think it tortured him and really frustrated him there were moments like the dartmouth speech but he did not name him. and i think it was a tactical decision it would destroy the republican party. remember this is a republican party that only just started to grow the tissues that are pulling it back to carter
lung -- back together into a unified party but when he was finally censored, many of you will know this, 222 republican senators voted against the resolution of censure. this was a deeply divided a republican party even at the end of olive this. so eisenhower felt i have a number of obligations here but going toe to toe will not help suppress him but only embolden him. i have written about significantly in the book how eisenhower did manage to use the executive privilege to starve his committee of information of documents and testimony of witnesses and in the long term that did have an effect to isolate mccarthy. but i think it is a reasonable criticism. it is fair. but i also want to say, we have changed our attitudes a
good deal about what the president should do and can do and i think eisenhower still remains in the presidency but didn't want to personalize those issues. civil rights i disagree i think especially brown the board he knew because brownell told him that warren was a progressive on civil rights. brown v board of education case was pending in the court when warren was appointed. they knew there would be a big decision there and he would have influence brownell probably knew better than eisenhower but nevertheless he had him carry through the cavalier promise with the first available feed but easily could have appointed a different person and far less
people. this is a moment of contingency. but a lot of people say he keep it up and he denounced warren. >> i don't think that is true warfare. he came to criticize over civil liberties. but brown v board he was worried about the pace of change in this word explode resistance to the decision and guess what? was right. he was anxious about that that the brown decision ever happened in the world? but that's not the case. i found he would praise worn after the decision when eisenhower maintained racial prejudice newsflash most white americans in his position and background also did.
did he say and number of regrettable things reported in the historical record? yes. but in this case i thank you need made a number of crucial decisions that push the course of history forward and i have tried not to oversell him that's too much but it is a fascinating transitional moment. those were two big questions i had to get with them. >> i cannot resist the follow-up. you make the case quite convincingly that eisenhower is a consequential figure. throughout the book you are remarkably judicious that one -- judicious to many of the issues you deal with and you do not shy away from criticizing his errors or misjudgment for his failure to do ask or why. but on page 517 you
alternately conclude that people around eisenhower and by implication those of us who relive this by reading the book were impressed with his greatness so if i was to give an assignment to a student that said i want a critical paper on eisenhower to demonstrate he is not all of these things the book could be the first and last source that they use because you are so darn judicious all of the evidence needed to say yes on brown he did something that really there is so much more to be done for he kept the peace between the superpowers but guatemala. the congo are these other examples that you go to in copious and appropriate detail. so as you add all this up, is it possible to draw a conclusion somewhat different
than the one that you ultimately include the book with? that eisenhower's presidency was marred as much by certain failures and inadequately as by success in so many areas? >> no. [laughter] >> next question. >> i love that question i am also flattered by it. because your impression of the book is just the 1i hoped the readers would take away. i am a historian. they are somewhat different from biographers. biographers tell a life. from birth to death but generally it is a significant section. i did that and you will find out about his life but as a historian it meant i wanted to take on historical arguments play covert operations and give it a fair hearing on both sides.
i didn't want this to be an attack or an apology i hope it is neither. at the same time, after a while people get bored around being historians to say does this man really matter? and if eisenhower is not a great man i don't know who it is. it's presidency is filled with significant achievements but so was his life and and of course americans who live through the 50s view eisenhower not just as the president but as a great commander so he had the benefit throughout his presidency already to be a popular and successful public hero. that's what i mean the people felt they lived among greatness and they did. eisenhower's popularity had so much to do with his achievement achievements. and what is surprising is the historians who treated him for
years downplayed those to such a degree that it overcorrected completely and many historians has started to move us back to a more sensible and comprehensive view of the strike -- strengths and weaknesses. i think it is a question of attention of history over biography. >> okay. now here on the side. the microphone will meet you. >> i am with the wilson center. thank you very much for the tal talk. also a child of the 50s but one thing that struck me is that you did not mention sputnik. i think about eisenhower putting forward in 55 mentioning the highway act and tags that the national defense
highway act to tie that in with our military defenses to mobilize or evacuate. and then along came sputnik with the national defense education act. was he one who didn't believe that much in infrastructure and it had to be tied to defenses? was that a selling point how much did sputnik shake him up into a new outlook of the role of the federal government? >> thanks. i have written quite a lot about the sputnik crisis it is a fascinating case. i call it ike's missile crisis because it is a political disaster but not necessarily the worst thing for eisenhower because he looks at this to say the soviet camp at up a sphere to circle the earth they have no capabilities to drop the icbm. we want to find out but he wasn't terribly alarmed. so a. of two or three weeks the press and the public are really alarmed and eisenhower
says we are cranking along with a series of missiles we are doing fine. he says this to her three times during the press conference and says don't worry. politically that was a disaster. this is one of the things it is used against him for the rest of his presidency he didn't act with sufficient alarm and excitement when lyndon johnson started to hold hearings they haul and all of the scientist who didn't get the contracts to say we are lagging behind this is a disaster spend more money on research. eisenhower says i have to the proactive that one of the things i already want to do that i cannot use the crisis to advance a certain legislative agenda that's rehab the national defense education act or nasa.
not a military organization that focusing on research. he defends quite moderately on the missile programs because they are already spending so much. the numbers are staggering between 1955 and 57 and 57 spending on r&d for the missile program increases tenfold in two years. eisenhower knows this. so he turns a political crisis bypassing pieces of legislation. but the defense reorganization act. chief of staff of the army, trying trying to get the services to work together and managed to strengthen and something he had been wanting to do since the mid- 40s. i think that is one of his shining moments back.
>> from the wilson center. he had three major illnesses one in his first term with the division of his opinion if he should run for reelection. how do you think that affected his presidency? >> it is astonishing. he had a significant heart attack. in the fall love 55 and mccarthy on -- cardiovascular knowledge at the time is not what it is today for about 24 hours his army doctor had no idea what happened to him started to prescribe more indigestion than some morphine they finally gave him that he cage he and realize what had happened. and the treatment prescribed was blood thinners and rest. and for a period of almost six
months if you really tie that up between the following 55 in the beginning of 56 he is out of action. really as a leader. almost that entire period. he's in denver's days in a hospital bed for months the cabinet comes to him sherman adams basically becomes the president there is one person who is not really in the inner circle after the heart attack and that is richard nixon. eisenhower never delegates authority to nixon in fact eisenhower wasn't clear on those procedures that will be to the 25th amendment but this could be a discussion but it is fascinating how he doesn't turn things over. on the surgery he is a nest of ties he would not turn over power to nixon even for a few hours.
also a theory brief weekend long stroke but that none of these moments that he turn over authority to nixon. how does that affect his presidency? i'm not sure it was decisive. i think now it would be a bigger factor in his decision to run for reelection. he thought long and hard if he could handle it but he was the most competitive man i ever read about. he was a competitive man and bet on everything nichols on every hole of golf he ever played. he did not want to give out. and of course there was nobody else to turn it over to accept the young richard nixon. he wasn't going to do that so oddly enough i don't think to radically and affected the course of his presidency. >> jim. right here in the middle.
>> to enlarge the context of little bit, when i look at presidential studies and biographies, it seems over the past 25 or 30 years, if you do this work you are engaging in reputation grade inflation. [laughter] >> i do know about all the studies of all the presidents starting with chester and arthur who, for mckinley. for warren harding. not so much. [laughter] calvin coolidge even herbert hoover or george bush. the first. but i am less aware of presidents who are being less
well measured. they certainly change in relationship to each other with the polls but what is it in the historians venture who write on your subject who seem to be working to fill in and thereby increase the reputation of so many presidential figures from abraham lincoln? b mcnamee challenge the premise of the question i don't think historians are inflating the reputation i think many of you will know this historians are right about presidents. people like me who actually work in history departments and universities in the united states do not write presidential bagger fees. if you did your career would come to a screeching halt it is not considered cutting-edge methodology. biography in general has been scorned by history department academic departments the public loves to be down maybe
that is why horace one -- historians will write them we try everything we can to be unpopular and invisible but in general presidential biography is considered the unsophisticated genre of historical writing. that is the difference between history is important. but we have wonderful biographies written by severna stylist and coming out a mile a minute and made into musicals. they are not to being written by people who have ten year in academic. go figure. why? we can get into that but i am taking a risk. a tenured professor so not really that much of a risk. [laughter] but i have done something that most of my colleagues you as a backward view but specifically i will say two people come to mind who are beginning to the slightly less enthusiasm.
this one will surprise you because there is so much on the tv right now that kennedy is coming under more criticism i think he had a pass over the last many years his actual accomplishments are relatively thin compared to where he stands on the popularity poll. also his treatment of women is now really starting to tell but the other is woodrow wilson terry sayed at the wilson cente center's handling of race politics early 20th century has come under great scrutiny and i don't have to tell this audience what that means. fair or not it has happened and historians have done a great deal to shine bright light on the negative aspects of his legacy. despite his enormous accomplish men's with you please one -- usually significant consequential he
is embraced less the ethnically about his position. >> i am a journalist in my retired starting as a coffee boy at the end of the eisenhower era when they were just down the street i am always impressed i'm impressed how the journalists know what's really going on in the presidency but specifically talk about the kennedy eisenhower first meeting a lot of that was devoted to eisenhower having this little too big country to be the linchpin of all of asia and i could never quite figure out why a great strategist like eisenhower was so obsessed
with laos. and also the book about you to eisenhower kept resisting dulles flying this plane and he knew that this would be to our catastrophe and you can actually argue had the paris summit gone off and the policy continued nixon may have been elected president in 1860. so this is dubious that dulles that kennedy learns with his own pain once he gets into office. >> those are great topics there is a lot about them in the book. the cork in the bottle if it goes the whole regional go eisenhower spoke he appeared to either believe he really didn't believe in the domino theory although he often said that personally i really don't think he thought it was vital but he seems to abide into
that with laos but it was a canary in the coal mine if this thing goes right on the knife said she fell it would have a negative impact from everything from south vietnam with a significant problem then handed over to kennedy to say enjoy the job about the golf course. the biggest mistake of his presidency with you to. the biggest mess and the unforced error that he did not have to do. and erin dulles and all of the security officials and advisors working down. we tend to think eisenhower had been flying millions of lights no problem just send a couple of more over there but on the contrary there were relatively few flights. ♪ through 57 and he grounded the program because he was
terrified something bad happen he wanted to curry favor with khrushchev that would be terrible if they got shut down every day dulles is in his face i want more. no. i will not allow it. so then the program comes to a halt and not the eve of the paris summit finally says it would be nice to know how far along their program has gotten before i go into that meeting so i come up with the deal on nuclear testing so he allows three flights so i view that as a very uncharacteristic case regarding eisenhower. >> a wonderful talk but could you go into some detail about the break with herbert brownell? maybe more than any other individual to get the nomination 1852 and in terms of the interstate highway act,
was the slightest thought given to the consequences of railroad passengers to one -- service in this country? >> i don't know if you been to abilene in kansas it is a great place to visit there is a railroad that runs through the backyard of eisenhower's house and library event it is emblematic of the impact because the interstate highway 70 goes about a mile and a half north of town the rest of the town has really suffered as a result the first miles are actually built in kansas on purpose and abilene has struggled ever since they have that highway intersection at the top of the town that is where the infrastructure has weathered fewer people than when eisenhower was five years old. the answer is no. he didn't because the benefits were so enormous the highway system was an engine of
economic growth for midcentury america. the machine kept perpetuating paying more highways to use more gas to have more taxes it is an easy program to love. that brownell resigned. he wanted to get out and get back to his practice october 57 he had become a political problem and pushed through the civil rights act that burned some bridges in dover little rock he had become a target of criticism for the administration. it was time for him to go but i think he was come i won't say he was forced out, that's not true but the timing is suspicious about his departure. >> you said only a few words about john foster dulles so could you comment?
>> thank you. john foster dulles in my view, in my assessment of him and the administration, comes out as the outstanding presidential lawyer whose client is dwight eisenhower and that is all that he cares about. i think that eisenhower very early on contain dulles and and then eisenhower asked a lot of senior officials to think through the options ahead and how do we wage of cold war? stay the same or be really
aggressive? i believe in the documentary evidence is there was an exercise by a large designed to defang dulles he keeps saying the world is ending the communists are taking over everywhere spring of 53 he said come up with a plan to wage the cold war differently. he did that it eisenhower said fine. good. straightahead. full speed ahead on what i'm doing anyway. to go the other way would have led to war. it was a way to contain him. time and time again i think that we see eisenhower investing dulles. we see him out on all live then crawling back to get closer to eisenhower. you are interested in the suez crisis that perhaps john foster dulles was playing a double game and wanted the british and the french to overthrow nasa before anything could be done.
but there is suggested evidence to have enough daylight for that plan to be effective. eisenhower himself moved so quickly to restrain the british and the french and save the day. it is amazing those ten days was the handling of the suez crisis and he got reelected by the way. >> a quick observation, two of the presidents reputations are going down to seem to be andrew jackson and jefferson with the fact that jackson's picture is so prominently displayed in the oval office doesn't help.
[laughter] so i have two quick questions. you mention president eisenhower's accomplishment in the field of religion. can you give us a couple of examples? and also you alluded to the president's lack of appreciatio appreciation. and what was it about nixon that made the president be so cruel to nixon? >> on religion that is fascinating he came from a very spiritual background his family was from the rather brethren deeply scriptural people who read scripture every night in the living room. his parents later became jehovah's witnesses and grew up intensely religious pacifist family. after he left home at the age
of 20 went to west point and never went to church anymore. i've course they were not as nonconformist but he wasn't comfortable in church services but deeply religious and new scripture very well when he became president he immediately decided he would have to demonstrate his faith in public so you might not know this but a few days into office he was baptized at the national presbyterian church here in washington. that was mimi's faith. why? because he firmly believed that judeo-christian faith and belief was central to waging the cold war into differentiate americans for all people who were believers. and he embraced the public
figures of the day who were popularizing and as a decade of war on. and those that we would later become -- televangelist and leader to bring these into his popular displays of religiosity. motor talked about lately is billy graham he became relatively close eisenhower was the first man to whom billy graham gave a sermon there was a lot in the book about religion and eisenhower. >> the national motto in god we trust in the pledge of allegiance, yes yes yes.
that is our religiosity of the country at the time. [inaudible] [laughter] he age gap for one thing the experience gap, the comfort gap. eisenhower was comfortable and nixon wasn't especially as vice president he was so intimidated by eisenhower. eisenhower never brought him into the inner circle. i've said this before but he often brought important figures he wanted to impress to gettysburg he spent more time in india then he did with nixon. he didn't feel comfortable with the man he didn't feel comfortable with the man
university of maryland college. given the time. which is post-world war ii, is there anything about nixon's views or expansion of immigration opportunities? >> talking about the postwar period are people in europe wanting to come to the u.s., how did his experience influence or connect with american immigration polys -- policies in the 50s? >> i don't talk much about him it would -- immigration policy that is one of the many subjects i could not include and i regret that but he has a pretty mixed record i am afraid and of course american policy is changing dramatically in the postwar
decades with respect to immigration. one immigration problem did confront eisenhower which was migrant workers in the southwest united states and eisenhower very cavalierly approved deportation plans of mexican laborers in the southwest to be rounded up and shipped back to mexico. and i wanted to write more about it. i found it hard to find material and i do think it is a great understudy topic not just of the 50s but of later decades and i would like to come back but there are hints of the material in the sources i looked at with that particular project of the laborers and it is an interesting and potentially explosive topic. there's always more work to be done on it. >> from homeland security or question with the security council peace i can't imagine
having that many meetings with policy coordinating committees you could never get that you dob system to work. but one of the more recent advisors i asked to was his role model and history? and he mentioned andrew goodpaster who was a secretary and defense liaison. so maybe power based army of one versus the nsc officials themselves? how does that work out? >> goodpaster was his most trusted wing man and staff secretary and was a brilliant servant but i think he worked very closely and very well. that's what he said after. talk about oral history with grey's personality and the administration but the point is well taken the scale is so much moeller so you could have
the 5412 community of the covert operations or the national security adviser or goodpaster in the background a representative from state, cia, and my associates would want to know if we could topple. and those with plausible deniability. and to take this to my associates. but there was a harmonious sense of collegiality and they were also deeply loyal to eisenhower himself and they
really thought goodpaster was top drawer there was only three national security advisors but i believe eisenhower visited taiwan the only president to have done so and using their weapons against china and throughout does the ten year it was part of the social disintegration with internal problems in china but i am wondering if you talk about his views on china? did he have discussions with khrushchev of ways of triangulation in that era? will i learn more about that? to make yes.
and with the taiwan crisis in the 1958. so just 30,000 feet global cold war and the one in europe is relatively stable and relatively cold in the 50s they did not know that at the time that by comparison the one in asia is red-hot if there was ever going to be a third world war it would start in asia and probably over taiwan. but remember the context the korean armistice then eisenhower's decision in 5454 not to help the french in indochina that doesn't mean he's not interested indochina but not writing but then 1855 the support of the united states with the government and the creation of south vietnam. there is an interest in containment of avoiding open conflict. a little bit of elasticity
with respect to korea and indochina but not on taiwan. so then the chinese say for a variety of reasons why did they start throwing these little rocks off the coastline? to show the americans were weak and would not respond for the plan to liberate taiwan? eisenhower was pretty clear from the first crisis in the attack to taiwan would be the use of nuclear weapons against china. he said it as clear as it could be said in public. it had an effect. it is the to the chinese on both occasions to halt from further provocation. but it is a sign of how dangerous the cold war was in asia and also how different president could have reacted quite differently and unlike
indochina and the congress backs the president and passes the resolution. if you take on china. go ahead. it is a great question but china taiwan is terribly raw and explosive i think eisenhower handled it very well but it was a high-stakes game. >> last question. >> thanks for a great talking sounds like an amazing book. you talk at the beginning about eisenhower's restraint and so far you have given a lot of examples of the way he was restrained in foreign policy which begs the question how do you deal with iran and guatemala? and then you talk at the beginning about the age of
eisenhower being 45/60 once i do think 45 or 52 so what is it about 45 that signals this is the beginning of the. ? but i thank you sarah also she just wrote a very good book so ask her some questions. [laughter] about human rights. forty-five is because the death of roosevelt nobody can one -- can compete with him as long as he was alive. truman fans will be wondering what the heck i am talking about and in the book i think eisenhower still arguably the most consequential figure out through the death of kennedy because so many continuity shapes the kennedy years living in the age of eisenhower. there is a lot of continuity with truman eisenhower kennedy. so now iran.
eisenhower reviewed those as examples of restraint. i hate to turn that around but that is exactly how he viewed it. to achieve national security objectives with a small amount of money and dirty tricks wouldn't you rather do that then engage in major conflict? eisenhower did or drew his experience he loved covert operations as a commander and wanted intelligence. and then as testing cases to use relatively small means for a great payoff.
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