Merlo J. Pusey, “Eisenhower The President”
A book written at about the half-way point thru Ike’s Presidency.
I have great admiration for Dwight Eisenhower, both as a soldier and as President. It’s safe to say that he is my favorite President. I have most, if not all, of his own writings as well as some 30 books written about him and will read just about anything new that I bump into. Don’t remember where I found this one.
Written during his Presidency, the book has a different tone to it compared to a history written long after the fact. It is strong on the personal experiences and short on references and footnotes. The former is a valuable asset and the latter was something of a disappointment. At first, it started out as something akin to a “cheerleader” book, extolling the positive aspects of his presidency and the men and women that were in his Cabinet. As a result, the first part leave something to be desired altho it fills in some gaps in my knowledge of the times.
An example of what I love about Ike is a story related: “He obligingly wrote an excuse for Isabel Ware, fourteen, of Richmond, when she played hookey in order to hear the President speak at the College of William and Mary after he received an honorary degree. Pure Ike.
There has been much made of the fact that Ike did not come to the aid of the French in Indochina (Vietnam) during the siege of Dienbienphu which sealed the fate of the French and won the war for the Communists. This has been used often as evidence that he was opposed to any American involvement in Vietnam. The truth is that Ike was perfectly willing to rescue the French under the condition that the French commit themselves to the liberation of Vietnam and the end of the French colonial rule. The position of the US was that colonial rules had to end and people needed to be liberated. The French did not agree, wanted us to help them maintain their colonial rule and ended up loosing everything in the end. What is also not commonly understood is that Ike was prepared to make a stand against Communism in Indochina, up to and including the use of nuclear weapons should the Chinese intervene in a substantial way.
Remember that this is shortly after the end of the war in Korea and the lessons learned there included the unacceptability of “sanctuaries” for an enemy. While Ike actually disapproved of the use of the atomic weapons against Japan, his objection was simply that it was wrong to use that weapon against a civilian target and a civilian population. Military targets were fair game and completely acceptable. He made this clear to the Chinese when he took over from Truman and made it known that if the Chinese continued their involvement and there was no stop to the war, that he was ready and willing to use nuclear weapons against the Chinese staging areas and bases that were used to press the war in Korea.
He took the position that the South Vietnamese were capable, under the leadership of Diem, of securing their freedom in the South if they had assistance from the US and the Chinese stayed out. But, should the Chinese intervene with their troops as they had done in Korea, all bets were off.
An interesting item related was that Ike was not prepared to send US forces into Vietnam, or anywhere for that matter, without a Congressional Declaration of War. This came up several times during his Presidency and whenever it appeared that US forces might be sent in harm’s way, he made it clear that a formal Declaration would be sought. Simply put, going to war requires special actions and sacrifices and the involvement of the entire nation…..Kennedy and LBJ should have listened to this but did not.
While Ike was never a religious man, he has a strong spiritual side. Meetings were opened with prayer, usually silent and he spoke often of his reliance on God. “Our system”, he once said, “demands the Supreme Being”.
His quiet work related to race relations gets no recognition, which is a gross injustice. I’ll save that for a later time when I get a chance to write about a couple of other books which treat with this subject in depth.
One final note…In a discussion related to the military budget (which was about 8% of what it is now) the author details the internal discussions related to the amount of spending that is appropriate. The question was how to size the budget related to the commitments that the nation had in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. From the author:
“Nor is it possible for a great power, which is cooperating with many other powers in an anti-aggression policy, to keep on hand military strength equal to all its commitments. Any nation that tried to do so would build up such a gigantic military machine that it would itself become a potential menace to the peace. We should then have one power dominating the world by its ever apparent military strength. The mere existence of such a power would be an invitation to all other peoples to combine against it.”
….all of which sounds like the situation the world had after the fall of the Soviet Union. I have felt for a long time that the great failure of the elder President Bush was his unwillingness to boldly reduce American military strength at the time. Did we, and do we really need 30 nuclear subs with 5000 nuclear weapons at the ready?
Worthwhile book and an easy read.