Revisiting Eisenhower

"Going Home to Glory"In 2011 I read and reviewed Volume 1 of Stephen Ambrose’s magnum opus, a biography of Eisenhower. I finally took up Eisenhower Volume II: The President, which chronicles the two terms of Ike’s presidency (1953-1961) and his retirement years.

I found the book dense and too full of details that were difficult to absorb. I plodded, rewarded by many curiosities: Eisenhower’s valet, Sgt. Moaney, dressed him. Everyday. Most of his custom-made suits were gifts; he seldom wore a suit more than twice! Mamie spent most of the day in bed, watching soap operas and attending to her correspondence.

Peace and Prosperity is how Ike wanted his tenure to be remembered. He got us out of Korea and had six consecutive balanced budgets. I find it ironic that the former five-star general continually slashed defense spending to the howls of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Interstate Highway system and soil conservation—paying farmers to take land out of production—were two highlights of Ike’s domestic policies. Eisenhower, not wanting to antagonize southern politicians he relied on, failed to assist the civil rights movement.

In 1955 the world had two Germany’s, two Korea’s, two Vietnam’s, and two China’s. The greatest fear during these Cold War years was the growth of communism. I’ve always wondered when and why foreign aid began. It started with Ike’s insistence that America’s prosperity wouldn’t last if other countries didn’t also prosper.  More to the point, if Third World countries went Communist, their raw materials would not be available to the U.S.

I learned about the Dulles brothers: Foster Dulles, for whom the D.C. airport is named, was Secretary of State and his brother Allen Dulles, who was the head of the CIA. The poor author had to constantly differentiate which Dulles was referenced.

A few things surprised me. Eisenhower’s cabinet urged him several times to solve a situation by dropping a nuclear bomb. It seems they did not grasp the consequences of such an action. Ike resisted each time. I was also amazed that  Kennedy and Johnson both consulted Eisenhower several times. Think about that: can you imagine President Obama asking President Bush for help?

While my interest was still warm, I decided to read David and Julie Eisenhower’s biography, Going Home To Glory, eager to read a grandson’s personal perspective. This book is more accessible, shorter, easier to grasp, more fun to read. David blends family stories with historical analysis. It is affectionate without being obeisant.

I once asked Mamie if Granddad’s compulsive restlessness, his habit of maintaining company around the clock, revealed a weakness, perhaps a fear of being alone, or a nonexistent inner life….My question unanswered, I asked her if she felt she had really known Dwight Eisenhower. She paused. “I’m not sure anyone did.”

My friend’s father was a friend of Ike’s. We have visited about his friendship with Eisenhower, Ray sharing how excited Ike was about shooting a hole-in-one, how he reenacted the shot in the telling of it. It was delightful, then, to read about this achievement in both books. Ike called it “the thrill of a lifetime,” which, when you consider Eisenhower’s life, is saying something.

I want to close this long post with two DDE quotes I find prescient and throw in a recipe he concocted.

When the federal government begins to fund education, he argued, educational institutions will find they cannot live without the assistance they receive. Then, he added with dark emphasis, the government eventually tells the educators what to do. Whether for good purposes or evil purposes, Eisenhower continued, the ability to control education has the potential to be used to promote mind control and that should be enough to recommend against letting any such thing take root.


Eisenhower’s Barbeque Sauce
1/4 cup butter
1 no. 2 can tomatoes, sieved (2 cups)
1/4 cup vinegar
1 T sugar
1 T paprika
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tsp salt
2 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire
1/4 tsp Tabasco
1 tsp black pepper

Mix and simmer 15 minutes. Use for basting meat or chicken, and serve as sauce for it as well.

Letter from Eisenhower to grandson, David, 1966:
Too many of us are allowing too much authority and responsibility for our lives to become concentrated in Washington. I think it is just as important to develop enthusiasm for the election of a proper city council, a county board of commissioners, or statewide governor and legislature as it is to get the right man in the Presidency. Indeed, if we had better and stronger government at lower levels we would do much to reduce the risk that one day we are going to be governed by an entrenched and organized bureaucracy.


3 thoughts on “Revisiting Eisenhower

  1. Excellent! After seeing this on your Goodreads list, I ordered it from PBS and received it this week. Thanks! It’s on the shelf with a million other to-reads. 🙂

    The two quotes are quite interesting, and I’d like to re-post one to pass it on.

    Seems like I remember my dh reading Ambrose’s Eisenhower (combined volume) a decade ago.

    I always appreciate your book reviews, Carol!


  2. Excellent review! The education quote is a good bookend to his more famous military industrial complex quote. Thanks!

  3. Pingback: Pat Nixon | A Living Pencil

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