Liberals called him a “do-nothing-president.” Well they may be right if you consider not getting us into a war, like Kennedy and Johnson, as doing nothing. Eisenhower ended the Korean War by threatening to deploy a nuclear weapon if North Korea did not end their hostilities.
As for wasteful spending, Eisenhower balanced the budget in six out of his eight budgets. Do nothing? Liberals forget that the first President to pass a civil rights bill was Eisenhower in 1957, or that it was Eisenhower who sent troops into Little Rock when Governor Orville Faubus tried to block the integration of schools.
Eisenhower was no stranger to integration of blacks. In 1947, as Army Chief of Staff, he put out the order to the Army barracks everywhere that the “Colored Only” be painted out at midnight so that in the morning soldiers found integrated camp life. Later as President, he was the first President to appoint a Black man, Fred Morrow, to the White House staff.
President Harry Truman charged in 1952 that General Eisenhower had not the political qualifications or experience to be Chief Executive. Well, he had a lot more experience than Harry Truman in 1945. Eisenhower at the same time had more soldiers answerable to him than President Franklin Roosevelt had government workers in 1940.
Truman said Ike will find that in the White House “you can’t just snap an order and it’s done. It takes politics and persuasion.” Eisenhower’s genius was in persuasion. He got egos like Charles de Gaulle, General Montgomery and George Patton to all work in harness. In the prosecution of the war, he was working with the exiled presidents and prime ministers of foreign countries in London as well as maintaining ties with the Pope.
An example of his political skill was when a general under him was demoted to a colonel and shipped back to stateside because he called a British general “that British bastard.” The British command remonstrated with Eisenhower that he was too harsh. “He is a bastard,” Ike replied. “I didn’t punish him for calling him a bastard, but for calling him a British bastard.”
It is worth noting that on Eisenhower’s death in February, 1969, his body lay on a catafalque in the East Room the day before the memorial service at the Capitol. As a member of the Nixon staff, I witnessed De Gaulle in a Colonel’s uniform come to his body and give a salute. And a French aide said to me, “Tomorrow de Gaulle is President, but today he wanted to come as a colonel to salute his old commander.”
When I visited Abilene, I visited his final resting place. No massive marble structure encompasses his body -- just a single grey, functional casket – the same military issue that privates in the Normandy graveyards are buried in.
At the end of what is called “the longest day, June 6, 1944, when the Allies knew that a beachhead had been established on the Normandy coast, Harry Butcher, an aide to Eisenhower, found in the General’s wastebasket a crumpled, thrown-away, never sent, press release.
It was a statement of the Supreme Allied Commander taking complete, outright responsibility for the military failure to gain the beachhead. In all military history, no precedent has been found to have been written out beforehand a general’s acknowledgement of responsibility for a possible defeat.
Eisenhower, unlike so many generals and presidents, had his ego well in command. In late April of 1944, hardly a month before the June invasion, the General inspected some American troops. Near the airfield where he landed, thousands of men with rifles stood at ramrod- erect attention. As their commanding general approached, he slipped on the tarmac surface wet with spring rains and fell on his backside.
Not one of his troops stirred a muscle. Eisenhower pulled himself up and let loose a loud gaffaw. The troops echoed resoundingly.
Eisenhower, forbearing any remarks, gave his personal salute, both arms raised, and walked back to his plane. As he said, “It was the best morale appearance I ever gave.” To be able to laugh at oneself is the sign of a great leader such as F.D.R. and Ronald Reagan.
Eisenhower’s “D-Day” landing is the greatest logistical triumph in military history. It was as if a city the size of Pueblo with population and buildings were moved across the English Channel.
Eisenhower had not the eloquence of a J.F.K. or the legislative mastery of L.B.J. , but two of his programs had a more practical result in stimulating commerce and industry than J.F.K.’s Alliance for Progress or L.B.J.’s O.E.O. War on Poverty. They were the St. Lawrence Seaway which helped open up Middle America to the North Atlantic and the Federal Highway Program which built a network of artery commerce.
In the 1952 campaign, he inspired the greatest political button ever: “I Like Ike.” No one could dislike the American hero who flashed a smile wider than his state of Kansas. But those who saw him at close range saw too often a sober, all-business look and even a frown. When he wore a brown suit to the Oval Office, it was better not to get on his wrong side. But when visitors came in for photo ops, he could flash that that thousand-watt smile and look like a 70-year- old Huck Finn.
This October 14th will be the 120th birthday of this President who helped win the war and keep the peace.
James Humes is a former White House speechwriter , a Visiting Historian at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the author of the recently- released book, The Reagan Persuasion" (Sourcebooks, July 2010.)
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