I’ve invested an enormous amount of time and energy into trying to understand the character of Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. president from 1953 to the start of 1961. He was the one who opened up the world to nuclear energy. Historians and biographers and others provide hugely contrasting viewpoints, to the extent that sometimes you wonder if there were multiple Eisenhowers.
One historian who seems to have gotten the man right, in my humble opinion, is William Hitchcock, whose recent book contains a lovely compressed perspective on one aspect that I’m most interested in.
First, sink into some background. It’s 1953. On March 5, Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin dies. After flailing around a bit as to how to react, on April 16, Eisenhower delivers an address at the Statler Hotel in Washington, to a bunch of newspaper editors, that becomes famous as his “The Chance for Peace” speech. Hitchcock covers the speech with lovely style and economy, and then writes:
Eisenhower’s actions following Stalin’s death set something of a pattern for his presidency. He was emotionally and personally attached to the idea of peace. He spoke eloquently about the horrors of war and his desire to turn the productive capacities of humanity away from swords and toward plowshares. But Eisenhower was not an impulsive man. As a general he had developed a reputation as a master planner, a man who husbanded power, amassed resources, and always fought from a position of overwhelming strength. As president he followed the same strategic principles, choosing to wage a long, patient struggle with the USSR in which American power would eventually win out, rather than make any sudden or risky move that could leave the nation vulnerable. There would be many sincere words of peace during his presidency, but Ike was always preparing for war.
Isn’t that paragraph lovely, simultaneously precise and eloquent and deep?
Hitchcock, William I. 2018. The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s. Simon & Schuster, New York, p. 98