Skip to main content

tv   The Presidency Dwight D. Eisenhowers Life and Legacy  CSPAN  October 16, 2020 10:48am-12:00pm EDT

10:48 am
candidates who lost the election but had a lasting effect on u.s. politics. tonight we feature 1964 republican presidential nominee barry goldwater, the senator from arizona who was called mr. conservative, lost in a landslide to president lyndon b. johnson but paved the way for younger conservatives. watch tonight starting at 8:00 eastern and enjoy american history tv this week and every weekend on c-span3. next on american history tv, university of virginia professor william hitchcock talking about dwight eisenhower's political and military career, the white house historical association hosted this event. and now to the lecture part of our program. our speaker tonight is dr. william hitchcock, author of "the age of eisenhower, america and the world in the 1950s," dr. hitchcock is the william w. cork ran professor of history at the university of virginia where he
10:49 am
focuses on international, diplomatic and military history of the 20th century. in particular the era of the world wars and the cold war. and in addition to the age of eisenhower, dr. hitchcock is the author of "the bitter road to freedom, a new history of the liberation of europe" which was a pulitzer prize finalist and a winner of the george lewis spear prize and was also a financial times best seller in the united kingdom. following dr. hitchcock's remarks, ann compton who you all know will join dr. hitchcock for a conversation on this great biography and the 34th president of the united states. ann is a pioneer of journalism in america. she was the first woman to cover the white house for network television and was on the air for 41 years with abc news. her longevity and her impact are inparalleled. ann's career at abc news span
10:50 am
seven presidents of the united states, ten presidential campaigns. she anchored from the white house, from capitol hill, and presidential travel that took her to all 50 states and six continents. and ann, and this is a very significant this is a very significant part of american history and white house history, ann was actually with president george w. bush on september 11, 2001 and was the only broadcast reporter that was allowed to remain on air force one. as you remember, the president was not allowed to return to washington and was kept away during those hours following the chaotic terrorist attack on our country. she was on the air force one on behalf of the entire press corps reporting back, and so she herself has become an important part of white house history. and she's also a very good friend of the white house historical association. she will be moderating a series of lectures throughout the course of the year. we've announced these subjects and the dates are pending, so if
10:51 am
you'll follow our website for future information on these other exciting lectures, it's going to be a wonderful series. but tonight, for our feature presentation, please welcome dr. william hitchcock. [ applause ] >> thank you so much. what a treat this is. it's just a splendid setting in a beautiful room and so much distinguished guests in the audience. i'm quite overwhelmed and i'm thrilled to be able to talk about eisenhower with you here tonight. i hope i do him justice. he's a great man, and i think we have to work hard to really live up to his reputation. i just want to thank stuart for inviting me and thank the white house historical association staff for putting together this event. a lot of work goes into these kinds of events, and julieann levine who has done a lot of
10:52 am
work, i want to thank you for your excellent work. i'm honored to share the stage later with ann compton who is unparalleled and a sparkling presence, someone i watched on television for many years, so i'm starstruck. i also want to acknowledge the presence here of jim riddell. he is a local hero and he is leading the eisenhower commission to get the great memorial built for general and president dwight eisenhower so finally washington, d.c. will have an appropriate monument for this very important general and 34th president. so i just want to congratulate you on your success. [ applause ] >> i believe may 8, 2020 -- may 8, 2020, may 8, of course, the day we'll have a ribbon cutting. thanks so much for your work.
10:53 am
let's get to it. i want to start tonight with a presidential puzzle. not really a quiz or anything, just a puzzle. if you look at american history in the years from 1945 to 1961, so the end of the second world war up to the election of john kennedy, one figure stands out as the most dominant figure in that period. whoops. not those guys. not those guys. that guy. dwight eisenhower was the most popular man, the most respected man, the most admired man of that period, '45 to '61. he served the country as president and he garnered massive approval from the public, having won two landslide elections. his average approval rating, ladies and gentlemen, while he was president for eight years was 65%. average. and the next president who comes
10:54 am
closest to that was bill clinton at 55%, and after that ronald reagan at 53. they're way in the rearview mirror. but the puzzle is that from the moment he set out to run for president in 1951, all the way through his eight years in the white house, and indeed, for the ten years after he left the white house until he died in 1969, eisenhower was consistently underrated as president. that's the presidential puzzle. senator robert taft, his opponent in the 1952 republican primary, scoffed at eisenhower's -- get this -- inexperience. you would never hire such a greenhorn, someone who didn't have experience to be president, would you? the democratic nominee in 1952 and 1956 mocked eisenhower as a lightweight, he was just a tool.
10:55 am
harry truman campaigning for stevenson in 1962 said the voters should send ike back to the army where he belongs. basically efhe was just a gener and he should stay there. a book in 1958 that came out while ike was in office by veteran reporter marcus childs, it was titled "a captive hero." eisenhower in that view had been captured and he was sort of a dummy, a ventriloquist dummy, who was mouthing words of other people. that was the view of him while he was president, while he had won these two elections. and scholars agreed. eisen hoye eisenhower, after he left office, harvey schlessinger sr. asked historians to rate
10:56 am
presidents. all his friends were harvard professors. but eisenhower in that poll in 1962 rating of the presidents placed eisenhower 22nd out of 31. 22 out of 31. he was nestled between chester a. arthur, a figure who -- i don't know if we're going to have a book talk on chester a. arthur, we might get there, but there are a lot of other guys we probably want to hear about first, and johnson, who is seen as the worst president we've ever had. go figure. that's the position they put ike in in 1962. during the camelot years, the camelot clan used eisenhower as a foil to put glory on the young john kennedy. it's harder than it looks. my students would all get this. wouldn't you, if you were kennedy's advance man, use ike
10:57 am
as the sort of counterpoint. on the one hand, in 1954, eisenhower and mamie playing scrabble. i think that looks very pleasant and very lovely, but they had to work with this guy. naturally there was a sharp contrast. it worked against eisenhower's memory and against the oppression that was given to the public. by the time of his death on march 28th, 1969, at the age of 78, the press seemed uninterested in ike. there was an obituary in "time" magazine that concluded that eisenhower was more, quote, a figurehead than a president. that's what they said about him in "time" in 1969. he was, quote, out of touch with his people. he was a great soldier but he was judged a immediamediocrity president. if you go to abilene, kansas and
10:58 am
you work in the eisenhower library, you could read all kinds of wonderful, juicy material about the eisenhower period. it showed that eisenhower was deeply involved in government, deeply involved in the day-to-day operations of his national security council, on national security affairs, foreign policy, especially, he was a master of his brief. he was deeply involved in the details of american national security issues. but the emphasis of the scholarship that came out having read all this was to attack eisenhower for being a kind of evil genius. look here, he had overthrown the government in iran, and over here he had overthrown the government in guatemala. what about cuba, what about the congo? suddenly we had this new brand of scholarship that depicted eisenhower as a new figure, where before he was kind of a sneeze-worthy mediocrity.
10:59 am
if your head is swimming, i'm not surprised. where is the real eisen hoye ei? i'm a historian, but i'm not interested in making him into a saint or a villain, but i want to figure out what impact did he have on the country? what's the real meaning of eisenhower for the country? what impact did he have, and also, how should we understand his political appeal? why was he so popular? people said, i like ike, but why? what was it about him that they liked? i'm going to touch on two big answers to that question. first i want to talk briefly about his policy achievements. the substance of his presidency was really significant. if you want to know why eisenhower was popular, look what he did. look at his accomplishments in his eight years and i'll touch on that. but i also want to talk about the man and his character, who he was and the kind of man that he was. let me talk about the substance of his presidency first and give you a gist of what's in the book.
11:00 am
there's much more there, but i want to give you a little bit of the sink your teeth into some of what he really accomplished. eisenhower's proudest accomplishment as president was that the united states did not go to war for eight years while he was in office. he said this again and again, it didn't just happen, i'll tell you that. he probably said it a little more heatedly and a little more colorfully than that. he insisted it didn't just happen. he worked hard to keep the united states at peace for eight years. when he came into office, the korean war was raging. an unpopular war, eisenhower was determined -- determined -- to stop it. even before he was sworn in as president, he went to korea to see the front, and what did he find? it was an unwinnable war. the only way it could be won was to use nuclear weapons. he thought about it briefly. he talked to staff about it. obviously he didn't want to do that. joseph stalin dropped dead in 1953. the chinese leadership, the
11:01 am
north korean leadership said, we're not going to win this war, let's agree to an armistice. the moment of leadership here is eisenhower said, i'll take that deal. i'll take the armistice. many in his own party criticized him for accepting an armistice that was short of all-out victory. we're still living in a time when that war hasn't been completed yet, but the point is ike took a deal with criticism from his own party. that's the kind of thing leaders do. he said the american public wants this war to end. i'm going to give them that, and it was an overwhelmingly popular decision. americans were glad the war was over. eisenhower also decided to keep united states troops out of vietnam in 1954. you'll remember, some of you, that the french were fighting a dogged defense of their empire in indochina, trying to hold on to their empire in indochina. the generals, the french, the
11:02 am
prime ministers came to eisenhower and said, send american troops to vietnam. it was 1954. they had been fighting for ten years. rescue our colony there. eisenhower said no. he said no, and he said it again and again. i cannot conceive of a greater tragedy for america, he said, than to get heavily involved in an all-out war in those regions. many of his advisers -- here are two of them -- disagreed and privately coaxed eisenhower to aid the french, to send some troops there, to get involved in the fighting. alan radford was former joint chi chief. they found a way to backchannel and get their views heard. he said no. i cannot tell you how bitterly opposed i am to such a course of action. this war in indochina would absorb our troops by divisions. so america did not go to war with vietnam in 1954.
11:03 am
eisenhower then committed to help build the state of south vietnam, and we can have an argument about the fact that built up future commitments that led later presidents to commit the united states to war in vietnam. but eisenhower had a choice to make, and despite some of his most powerfully important allies and advisers, he said, no, we're not going to wage that war. that's the wrong war for the wrong reasons. america avoided conflict there. in 1956, israel invaded egypt. should the united states join in with its allies and overthrow the strong men, nassir? you would think there would be an argument for doing that. eisenhower did just the opposite. it's a violation of international law and he put pressure on the french to get out. humiliating, actually, anthony eden the prime minister in the process. and when it came to berlin, eisenhower resorted to diplomacy
11:04 am
rather than sabre rattling. he invited kruschev to the united states. that was the thing, resort to diplomacy first if you can to avoid war. mind you, eisenhower was no dove on defense matters. on the contrary. he invested huge sums in building up our defense establishment. in the eisenhower years, and this is a number to take away with you. i won't give you many numbers, but here's one. in the eisenhower years the united states spent on average 10% of its gdp on defense. 10% of gdp on defense in the 1950s. today we're at about 3.3%. obviously the size of the economy is very different, but a huge sum on investing in defense. the man who did so much to alert us to the dangers of the military industrial complex did a lot to build that complex.
11:05 am
the u.s. nuclear arsenal absolutely soared in the eisenhower years from just a few hundred weapons to well over 20,000 warheads that could be delivered on a number of platforms. the b-52 bombers, the ever more powerful atlas and titan intercontinental ballistic missiles, all of these came on line in eisenhower's terms, and he was fascinated by the details. he pored over the plans. he was deeply engaged in pushing the agenda, pushing these developments forward. the purpose of these weapons was to deter the communists. it was to keep the peace. this was the beginning and the formation of the peace through strength, strategy that waged and won the cold war. now, we can debate whether it was the right choice, but every president since has followed it, and it was very much the strategy that helped to win the cold war. so ike is a paradox in this regard. he wanted to avoid war, he did avoid war, but he invested
11:06 am
hugely in the tools of war. that's the nature of the choices that he made. well, a second area where i want to talk a little bit about eisenhower's substance of his achievements was in the economy. i'll touch on this very briefly, but it's really important. here's a fact you might not have known. eisenhower balanced three budgets out of eight and he came pretty close on the others. except for the first one, which was truman's deficit. but he really was a budget hawk. this is a record of fiscal discipline unmatched by any of his successors until bill clinton managed to balance a few budgets in the late 1990s. and i want to talk for a moment about a figure who is often held up as a leading conservative figure, if i can get us away from the nuclear deterrent and on to the -- i want to talk for a moment about ronald reagan who is sometimes held up as the archetypal conservative leader, and he didn't come close to
11:07 am
balancing a budget. the reason is reagan was much more interested in cutting taxes. here is a really revealing difference between ike and reagan. they had very different ideas about how to handle taxes. eisenhower was very stern about taxes. he demanded that the u.s. budget should be balanced before everyone got a tax cut. boy, does that date him. what he said, and he said it repeatedly, he wasn't private about it. he went on the campaign trail again and again, he gave national radio addresses and public addresses about taxes, and here's the gist of it. the good american, eisenhower said, is proud to carry his share of the national burden. whoo. i don't think that's going to be on the bumper sticker in 2020. whoever is out there. it's just a different world. and this was simply his view. paying your taxes was part of being an american, and it was a patriotic duty and americans should do it. no wonder that bill buckley,
11:08 am
when his magazine was just coming out in the mid-'50s, "the national review," they viewed eisenhower as someone that contributed to the negativity around his legacy. it wasn't conservative enough for the conservatives. now, ike thought of himself as a conservative, but the fact is early on in his presidency, he made his peace with the new deal, he expanded social security to include 10 million additional recipients, he raised the minimum wage. he founded the department of health, education and welfare. and, of course, he invested in a very different infrastructure program, the highway system. it meant building billions of dollars of road, but he put money in the highway trust fund. the more you drove cars, the more gas you bought, the more
11:09 am
tax you paid into it which means the more roads we could have. but it didn't place a heavy burden on the treasury, and that was of the key genius of the plan. so strong on defense but even stronger on diplomacy. great on a budget hawk, but also a progressive when it came to issues like social security and human welfare. finally one substance of topic i want to touch on before i get to ike's character is an area where i will bet you not many of you realize what a significant legacy he actually had, and that's the field of civil rights. in the 1950s, the civil rights were gaining national attention. african-americans were using the courts to challenge segregation of public schools and public places across the country. the practice of jim crow was in place fully across the south, and this was a practice that was
11:10 am
coming as an utterly increasing conflict for african-americans in the 1950s. peace marches, sit-ins, black americans were demanding an end to racial segregation. it's one of the things that make the 1950s such an interesting decade. ly it's an astonishing time. ike is a fascinating character to study on these issues because he didn't know much about black life in america. he didn't know much about the civil rights movement, and frankly, he wasn't all that interested in it before he became president. when he was growing up, his entire career was spent in the segregated military. most of his friends in the army were southerners or had southern connections. where did he like to go on vacation? georgia, who didn't allow women
11:11 am
or blacks to be included. he accumulated a significantly progressive record on civil rights. he and his attorney general, herbert brownell, worked quietly through the courts to weaken jim crow desegregation. they appointed five reasonable jurists to the supreme court, most significantly earl warren. warren would write the unanimous decision of brown versus the board of education in 1954 that ended segregation in public schools. eisenhower had some qualms about the decision, but at no time did he cease to announce it or for that ruling to be enforced. he never would dream of doubting it publicly. he would sign into law the 1957 civil rights act, the first
11:12 am
civil rights legislation before the end of the civil war since reconstruction. he took an enormous risk, a real risk uncharacteristic of eisenhower's history when he ordered federal troops to surround central high school in little rock, arkansas. cou to ensure that court-ordered desegregation of that school would proceed despite the hostility of the governor of arkansas. eisenhower saw the issue simply as federal power versus state power. government had the right to enforce and impose the law. he may have been a warrior on civil rights but he was a defender on the u.s. constitution and the authority of federal law. it's true that ike didn't publicly or personally embrace the civil rights cause as his own. he did not speak up about civil rights as a "moral" issue, as an issue of justice and equality. he spoke about did only in the
11:13 am
terms of law. the law is the following and we must enforce it. historians and many critics have criticized eisenhower for not putting his shoulder to the wheel. but i think you can also see the opposite, which was he was not really prepared to deal with this crisis, and presidents face crises they're not prepared to deal with a lot. i think he managed very well, and he left a significant legacy in this field of civil rights. well, ladies and gentlemen, i could go on about his policy achievements, but the fact of the matter is it probably wasn't his policy achievements that endeared him to so many americans during the 1950s. i want to reflect a little bit on his character and then we'll go into some q&a. when americans looked at dwight eisenhower -- i love this picture of ike, by the way. it's 1946, it's after the war, he's chief of staff in hawaii. what's one word that comes to mind -- maybe there are many. he's confident, he's relaxed,
11:14 am
but the word that comes to mind is winner. this guy is a winner, and that is what americans saw when they looked at eisenhower. they saw a man who, since playing football or army, then running the second world war, winning, liberating europe, being the first commander of nato, winning two landslide elections and never really looking like he was trying all that hard, the guy was a winner. people just loved being around him, his optimism, his personal quality. one of the things that struck me when researching this book were reports about his personal charisma. he had enormous charisma. he was one of these guys where everyone in the room turned and said, wow, there he is. it was terminal star power. he was athletic in his carriage. carried himself like the athlete that he was. people just loved his persona, and that's a big part of his early political magic, if you will. another reason for his appeal
11:15 am
was surely his authenticity. ike knew where he came from and he never forgot it. he used it politically in his story, but he loved where he came from, abilene, kansas. he grew up in a family of six boys, and eisenhower shared a bed -- not just a bedroom -- a bed with one of his brothers until he left to go to the army. they were poor. his father worked at the creamery down the street. they were one paycheck away from total did he sayty tu destituti. eisenhower sold fruit through the summer. they lived on pennies to make it through the week. he lived in a small house. if you go to abilene, you can see it, you can tour it, and it's tiny. it's hard to imagine there were six boys in this place. i imagine there was a lot of, get the heck out of here, go play in the yard, in that household. at the same time here's
11:16 am
something i want to emphasize. abilene had some glamour to it. who were his mentors? george marshall. who were his friends? millionaires who were titans of industry. he was at home and working with churchill and with roosevelt. he had met stalin, he had been in moscow, he had been in london, he had been all around the world, he lived in the philippines. he was a global citizen. what an interesting contrast. the small town, barefoot farm boy and the five-star general who was a friend of world figures. he wrapped up this wonderful story in his own political personality. i'm an ordinary guy, but i'm, like, not ordinary at all. that's part of the magic. that was part of the magic. now, let us not forget part of his appeal for the public was his wonderful wife, mamie eisenhower. mamie grew up in denver and she
11:17 am
met eisenhower in san antonio soon after he left west point, and they married in 1916, and this is a photo of her around the time they met. i think she's beautiful and i love this picture. it has a lot of style and personality to it. mamie -- ike and mamie married in 1916. they made a sparkling, happy couple and mamie devoted herself to eisenhower's career. she was charming, she was social, she was fashionable, she was a gregarious partner in his life. at the white house, she did everything from choosing menus and cutting coupons and wisecracking with divisions of state. she had charm and personality, much like higeisenhower, a pers who was comfortable in any setting and was able to make her guests comfortable. a lot of people have forgotten mrs. eisenhower, but the truth is she really did help shape the role of the modern first lady, and americans of the '50s adored
11:18 am
her. she also had the sympathy of many americans because the public knew perfectly well that the eisenhowers had suffered through the loss of a young child, their first name iggy who died of scarlet fever in 1921 at the age of three. neither mamie nor ike overcame the loss. eisenhower recalled his son's death as the greatest disappointment and disaster in my life, the one i've never been able to forget completely. it was just another element of their lives that made them feel that much closer to the public, perhaps their sorrow, their sadness, their vulnerability, it linked them to the public in a very endearing way. americans also liked eisenhower for his religious faith, another element that i bet not that many of you knew and you're going to learn about right now, a fascinating detail of his life. eisenhower was raised by parents who were members of the river
11:19 am
brea brethren, which is an offshoot of the menonites. the eisenhowers -- eisenhower learned the bible from his father. it was in his mind and heart, but he didn't practice publicly his faith until he was elected president. well, he had not been baptized as a child, but he decided a few weeks after his inauguration that he would join the presbyterian church here in washington, and in a private ceremony on february 1, 1953, president eisenhower was baptized by the reverend edward elson. and he remains the only president to have been baptized while in office. eisenhower made every effort while he was president to place religious faith in the public eye at the heart of his presidency. now, the '50s was an era of
11:20 am
religious revival in the country. there was a significant increase in churchgoing numbers across the country, and eisenhower was fine with that and he encouraged it. he started the national prayer breakfast. he was the first president to bring the young evangelical billy graham to the white house, and he became close friends with him as spiritual adviser. billy graham would go on to serve many presidents. he hardly approved of the congressional decision to place the words "under god" in our pledge of allegiance, and to have the words "in god we trust" named the national motto and placed on our currency. whatever you may make of these forms of popular paiety of the president, the fact it is squared with the values of his time and americans loved this about eisenhower. another aspect of his appeal. then finally, ladies and gentlemen, on the subject of his charact character, we look back -- a lot of my students certainly look
11:21 am
back on ike as something from the stone age, and he was the last president to have been born in the 19th century. so he is a man of the rather distant past. but at the time he believed himself and wanted to be associated with innovation, with new technologies, with new ideas, with science, with education, and he was during his time in office a great champion of those things. he was the first president to hold a press conference in front of the television cameras. his press conferences would be recorded and then rebroadcast from 1955 onward. he used tv advertising very effectively in his presidential campaigns, '52 and '56. after the sputnik crisis, he did research and founded nasa and invested large sums into science education. and on july 12, 1957, he became the first president to ride in a helicopter, something he loved to do and did regularly even with visiting dignitaries,
11:22 am
including nicky kruschev. this is a wonderful year to feature the helicopter at the white house because i'm sure eisenhower would love that gesture. eisenhower reached the ripe old age of 70 while in the white house, that's true, but he saw himself as the future, cutting edge, an innovative person eager to help encourage technological breakthrough. ladies and gentlemen, i've painted a pretty glowing picture of ike here tonight, and i'm going to wrap it up and go into some q&a, but i want to make sure you understand that as a historian i understand that ike had plenty of words. there are questions we should raise about eisenhower and his presidency. i'll just name three topics maybe we can return to a little bit in the q&a.
11:23 am
i hear lots of oohs and ahs. yes, indeed, ooh, ah. i'll just do this real quick because i'm sure you'll want to ask some questions yourself and we can have a further discussion, but the first question i have is, why nixon? now, there is a political answer to why eisenhower chose nixon to be his running mate in 1952. actually, eisenhower didn't choose nixon to be his running mate. thomas deu dewey chose nixon. it was dewey who put him on the ticket. eisenhower never met nixon. i believe eisenhower accepted it as a decision of the party to have him on the ticket. i think it was a bad decision. i don't say that because of what nixon became later, but eisenhower didn't use his vice president as an adviser, a
11:24 am
counselor. the two men didn't get along. they didn't have a relationship, quite frankly. in my opinion, eisenhower didn't trust nixon. he didn't believe he could grow into the job of becoming president. for eight years he tried, or so he said, but nixon was so intimidated by eisenhower, the two just never meshed. in 1956, ike tried to bounce nixon off the ticket. he said, dick, you need some experience. you really ought to go run the pentagon. nixon smelled a rat and said, i know what you're trying to do. thanks very much for that, but i'm okay right where i am. eisenhower refused to tell him directly, i'm ordering you to go run the pentagon. wouldn't do it. he wanted nixon to say, sir, i think i need some more executive experience, i would like to go run the pentagon. wouldn't do it, so the two of them were ships passing in the night. i think that's not a good way to use the vice presidency and i think it's a question we should raise about his legacy. second, joe mccarthy. what about mccarthyism? why didn't ike do more, say
11:25 am
more, go to war with mccarthy? there again, there is a political answer. general mccarthy was reasonably popular in the united states in 1953 and 1954. americans didn't believe everything he said, but their view was, if 10% of what he says is true, it's bad enough. and there were communists who had penetrated into the weapons research program at the manhattan projects. there were communist sympathizers who had worked in the state department and the treasury. mind you, there were only a few of them and most of them had done it in the '30s or late '40s, but eisenhower didn't want to be the president who said, i think it's a lot of baloney and then have another scandal on his hands when congress should be working in the government. he approved of the idea of oaths, he approved of the idea of vetting working in government but he hated mccarthy's tactics. should he have gone to war with
11:26 am
mccarthy and elevated him to an equal as the president? eisenhower said, no, i won't go toe to toe with him publicly. but many of his friends, and we have the correspondence, wrote to him and said, general -- his close friends could still call him general -- won't you say something about this awful man? eisenhower said, i'm trying. and he worked very hard behind the scenes. we show you in the book he worked very hard behind the scenes. a lot of things that led to the mccarthy hearings came from the white house. so eisenhower played a really important role in backchannelling, creating a dossier of material that hurt mccarthy and that eventually led to his downfall, but it was all out of public view. so the result was many people felt he never tangled with mccarthy when behind the scenes, he was trying to do just that. the last thing i think i'll leave for q&a was andrew dulles. he was there the entire year
11:27 am
eisenhower was in office and indeed into the kennedy years. president eisen hoye eisenhower significantly expanded the agency and ordered it to conduct coup de tate around the world. the cia-aided rebels in indonesia in the mid to late '50s and outlined assassination attempts of foreign leaders in the congo and fidel in cuba. some of these operations relearned about in the 1970s in the church committee, but they still had jaw-droppingly zany and you can see it in the book. the truth is eisenhower delegated enormous power and resources to a secret agency and let them carry out quite violent operations against sovereign nations in the name of national
11:28 am
security. now, spoiler alert, he's not the only president to have done this. but this is part of the eisenhower legacy, too, and if we're going to be fair to the past and to the documentation, we have to understand why eisenhower felt those decisions, those kinds of policies were in the national interest. he believed they were. he could make a good argument that they were. historians have come along and criticized him for this. that's what historians do. but we need to understand how he viewed the world to explain his decision to give alan bellis free rein to concoct dirty tricks around the world. ladies and gentlemen, these controversies are going to continue, no question. i hope they will continue. it's good for eisenhower's legacy that we debate it and talk about it. but it seems to me unlikely that they're really going to mar eisenhower's legacy. in 2017, a poll of presidential historians -- oh, no, not another poll of historians, but
11:29 am
yes, this is a very good one. a poll of president historians ranked eisenhower our fifth greatest president right after washington, lincoln, franklin and teddy roosevelt. now, this leap up the rankings, 22 and chester a. arthur. he left chester in the dust, that's for sure. this leap tells us that eisenhower's style of moderate governance combined with personal integrity, with character, with dignity is something that even today americans admire. and it's up to us to make sure that these values are once again placed at the heart of our political discourse. thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. [ applause ] >> take a seat there. >> okay. let me just grab -- i'm sorry,
11:30 am
thanks. >> wow. so what do you think? 5 is a pretty good ranking for eisenhower? do any of you really remember the eisenhower years? most of you are much too young to remember it, but i think we all -- i was a kid back there, but my parents sure remember dwight eisenhower, and i always thought he was, you know, really one of the cool ones. >> "cool" is not a word they often associated with him. great, maybe. >> we're going to open this up to questions and answers, and as you're thinking -- we'll have microphones in the aisle or coming around to you. just catch the young lady's eyes when you're ready to ask a question. but i want to start off, will, by asking you, eisenhower's son john said that the worst time in his presidency was late 1957
11:31 am
when weeks after he had sent federal troops into little rock, just two weeks later, sputnik was launched. then a few weeks after that, eisenhower is in the oval office waiting to greet a king, and he gets woozy and dizzy and cold and numb and can't call his secretary, and he's having a stroke. his health at that moment -- and that was after his big heart attack -- >> it was a couple years later. >> how did dwight david eisenhower handle the multitasking of things which today is considered part of the -- how did he as a person handle that kind of onslaught of unexpected crises? >> that's a great question. the multitasking of the presidency must be so exhausting. it's also hard to write about as a historian, because if you just think about a day of what
11:32 am
crosses the president's desk and there's 10 or 20 crises and they all have to be dealt with immediately, but that's also hard to write, it's hard to narrate. you end up choosing one and all the others fade into the past. trying to look at it all as a president oversees it, it must be terribly overwhelming. 1946, australia invade budapest, the french invades egypt, and what else is going on? oh, yeah, eisenhower is running for re-election. there is a 10-day period in 1956 where eisenhower is dealing with two crises, either one of which could lead to war. i can tell you the thing he spent the least amount of time on in that month was running for re-election. of course, he was running against adlai stevenson once
11:33 am
again so he wasn't that worried. he said to his son, let's go to the ball game. eisenhower's health suffered a lot in that 10-day period. he had a doctor by his side in that couple of weeks who was constantly monitoring him. this was after his heart attack. the sputnik case is one of those wonderful moments in which i think we all recognize his political brilliance. soviets sent up a satellite and everyone said, this is the end of the world. we've lost the cold war. russia is going to run the table on us. eisenhower had a press conference and said, essentially, simmer down. we're doing fine. what's the big deal? they got a lump of aluminum up there. he said, we're going to get one, but we're way ahead of them on things that matter, on missiles, our bombing fleet. that little toaster oven circling the earth, it has no military value, and he said that, it has absolutely no military value. guess what, the thumpress gave
11:34 am
the thumbs down on that press conference. they said, see, he doesn't get it. he doesn't realize what a big crisis this is. this is one of those instances where the press just didn't hear what he had to say. so eisenhower went back and recalibrated his message. he said, i grant you they've had a breakthrough. guess what we're going to do, we're going to put our foot on the gas and redouble our efforts to build out the missile deterrent. we'll get a satellite into orbit, which they would do in 1958, but i'm also going to create nasa, which he did, i'm also going to get through the reorganization of the defense department, which he did. he figured out the old adage don't waste a crisis. something bad has happened? i'm going to get through the things i wanted to do. i'm finally going to get control. pentagon. he got a big bill reorganizing the powers of the pentagon, giving the defense secretary much more power. things like that reveal how he understood washington. the idea that ike was green,
11:35 am
inexperienced, didn't really get how washington worked, he had spent his whole life in washington. he had worked if washington from the '20s onward. he was prepared to deal with this multitasking issue very well. >> questions, ladies and gentlemen, hands up. we've got one way back over here. can we get the microphone here? and second question? let's bring the other microphone right over here. put your hand up again and we'll come to you second. yes, sir, welcome. >> yes, hi. i've very much enjoyed your presentation. one thing you didn't mention was eisenhower's farewell address. it was one of the great speeches in presidential history. and if you haven't seen it, go to youtube and listen to it when you go home from this event. one of his big messages in that speech was the warning about the military industrial complex.
11:36 am
so what i wanted to ask you was how do you square his role as a cold war era with that admonition about the military industrial complex? >> yes, thank you. excellent question. >> you just wrote about this. >> yes. i deal with it -- i try to address it in the book. that is an interesting speech, and i would urge and commend to all of you, go home and listen to it. it's not just about the military industrial complex. what he says is, if there's one thing i'm sorry about, it's is that we didn't have better breakthroughs on arms control, on peace with the soviets, on ending the cold war. i would have loved to have significant breakthrough there. i pushed forward and we didn't get it, so as a result, we have been compelled to build a military industrial complex. that's the tell. what he's saying is, to defend our country and our way of life against the communists, we have been compelled to build a military industrial complex. now, we're sorry about that, but it's keeping us safe.
11:37 am
now it's on you, the citizens, to be careful, to keep a watch on it, to make sure that the brass doesn't have the run of the place. who do you think that message might have been directed toward? it's january 1961. he's on the way out. the new guy is already in there measuring the drapes. i believe it's a direct message to the 43-year-old lieutenant junior grade john kennedy who is coming in, who has no experience managing the brass, no experience managing the multitasking. and part of what he's saying is, okay, america, you voted for john kennedy against my guy richard nixon. i understand that. but it's on you to hold your leaders to the high standard and to make sure they're doing the job of monitoring the military industrial complex. that's what he says. it's a different message to the public. make sure that you keep tabs on your leaders and make sure they have your best interests at heart. actually, it is a cold warrior's
11:38 am
message, which is to say, i did it. i'm owning that. but at the same time i want you to be aware that it comes with a burden, a responsibility that he wants to place on the public so they'll keep an eye on this inexperienced guy who is now in the white house. >> question right here. yes. and do we have another hand up over here? we'll bring a microphone over here in the green shirt and then i'll come down here to you. hi. >> good evening. he took office seven years after the end of world war ii but he did bring in a number of senior officers who worked with him in world war ii. how successful were those appointments compared to the other appointments he made to secretarial positions? >> well, i'll just name two that i think was pretty successful. beetle smith was his chief of staff who had already run the cia, and he would have liked him
11:39 am
to run the cia, but he couldn't for various reasons, i guess. maybe the state department but he was deputy secretary. i think beetle was very effective. robert cut ller, who was his fit national security general. he had been schooled by george marshall, and i think robert cutler really invented the role of national security adviser. he really defined the purposes of the national security council and, indeed, brought a military ethos to running the eoc. eisenhower said again and again, the meetings of the national security council were the most important meetings of the government. in fact, he said that to john kennedy when they were meeting during the handover, during the transition. he said, you have to understand the noc is where everything happened. john said, yeah, i've got bobby, i'll be fine. he didn't use the noc, and it represented a staff system and
11:40 am
cutler was the one who brought it in. >> george marshall. >> that's a lecture in itself, but marshall made eyisenhower. we owe eisenhower to general marshall. it's a story with some pathos to it. he ran war plans to running the american theater to taking command which marshall probably wanted, and he said, mr. president, it's not up to me, and he said, okay, i'm going with ike. george marshall had been criticized for many, many months by senator joe mccarthy. he said, hey, that marshall guy was over in china when they went communist. there must be a connection. maybe he's a traitor. believe it or not, of all the
11:41 am
people. well, you wouldn't think that marshall's greatest, most successful protege who had the platform would have stood up and said, anyone who says a bad thing about marshall will have to deal with me right now. we'll just go outside. but he said nothing of the kind, and that's partly because he was a newbie in campaign politics. he listened to his advisers who made him cut a praise-worthy paragraph out of a speech he was going to deliver in wisconsin, mccarthy's estate. he gave a speech but the press had already received the advanced copy of the text. so he knew, oh, he's going to praise marshall in this speech. he's finally going to break radio silence and say something positive about marshall. when he gave the speech, the paragraph was missing. i've seen the text. the actual speech was circulated on the campaign train. the advisers were in there saying, the wisconsin boy said it's a bad idea, we have to cut
11:42 am
this paragraph out. you can see it scrapped out with pencils. so he gave his piece, the press went crazy and they never relented. they never forgave eisenhower for this act of failing to support his mentor. there is correspondence between the two of them, marshall and eisenhower, after this event. marshall basically, between the lines, what i read is if you went into politics, ike, of course you were going to do something dumb every day. i just assumed that. you gave -- once you left the army and went into politics, i expect knuckleheaded things, i'm not going to hold it against you. but i have subsequently learned that mrs. marshall never forgave eisenhower. >> question right here. thank you so much, sir. >> thank you. turning to the infrastructure, can you share any insight as to eisenhower's inspiration for the interstate -- advocating for the interstate system or for what he hoped the country's goals would accomplish by advocating for it?
11:43 am
>> you may know the answer. sometimes there are people who are really very knowledgeable on these topics, and i know in audiences like this we have a lot of expertise gathered here. it's often said, in fact, eisenhower himself said it, the famous controversial convoy was at least part of the inspiration, which was taking a great deal of demobilized military equipment -- after world war i he was assigned to get this material across the country so it could be mothballed. it took three months to cross the united states -- this was in 1919, i think it was. and he ever after said, this is ridiculous. you can't drive from one coast to the other of this country. we need -- somehow we've got to find a way to make it together. it's often said eisenhower used the national security imperative for an explanation of how to get this thing through congress. he didn't do that, he claimed. it would be a terrible thing if there were a nuclear attack on the united states and everyone was stuck on route 1 at a dunkin' donuts trying to get
11:44 am
from boston to washington or wherever it was. so he did say it was a national defense imperative that we have a system, an integrated system, of highways. and they had been trying to pass such a bill for a long time, but they hadn't figured out how to pay for it and it was the breakthrough of the eisenhower administration to come up with the means to pay for it. >> it's fascinating. we have a question right here. yes, sir. >> hi. i'm ambassador gil robinson and i was the youngest appointee of eisenhower and had some interaction with him. >> thank you for coming. >> one of the things that i think is not pointed out enough and i had some personal experience with this is eisenhower's integration of the white house five years before, four or five years before, they got a lot of publicity by
11:45 am
appointing a black assistant. what people don't know is that when he went into the white house, sherman adams, the governor of new hampshire, became the chief of staff, and one of his two top assistants was a young black woman named lois libman, and she was very, very helpful in the white house in what she did. as some of you may know, the citizens rights was one of the major groups that got him elected or his nomination, and lois was in there with the founders early on. and she became very, very significant in the white house. for example, one of the founders of citizens, charles willis, the other one was stanley rumbo jr., became the chief of new people
11:46 am
coming in, and he said with lois they developed a system that is still in use today in the white house. >> this is a fascinating add-on. thank you for raising this because we've already talked about was eisenhower too timid? did he think twice about not just the education but the broader issue? >> it's -- let me just put it this way. to dodge the question, historians disagree. there are those who feel that he was really quite out in front on civil rights and those who feel he didn't do enough. can i just add to your -- very helpful, very useful story by pointing to another figure in the white house, an african-american named frederick morrow. >> he's the one i referred to. came in almost four or five years later.
11:47 am
>> yeah, morrow. morrow was a fascinating man, and he wrote repeatedly about his experiences in the white house. he wrote a memoir called "black man in the white house." i highly recommend it to you. it's about his experiences working with sherman adams and others. morrow tried very hard to get the eisenhower team, and adams in particular, to meet civil rights leaders one on one. he played a very important role in a breakthrough meeting in 1958 when the young martin luther king along with african-american civil rights leaders of that era came to the white house and met with eisenhower and presented a set of concerns to him. that took years to get that done and he took a lot of pride, rightly so. he is an unsung hero of the administration, but it wasn't all a bed of roses. he acknowledged that he felt his issues weren't -- this is probably true of every staffperson, right, my issue isn't getting enough attention.
11:48 am
>> i didn't want to ignore hands over here. we've got one right down in front, and do we have another -- why don't we get the microphone right here, and then we'll come over to you, sir. thank you. yes, please, go ahead. >> i just wondered if you could make some observations on the relationship with sherman adams and his influence and how that all came about, because it became, i guess, quite controversial and maybe particularly difficult for eisenhower at a certain time. >> sherman adams was his chief of staff. he was the governor of new hampshire. he came onto the eisenhower campaign early. he helped to organize the new hampshire primary, which eisenhower won. it was close, you know. in 1952, robert taft was considered the guy. he was going to be the nominee. there was eisenhower in paris running nato. he hadn't even said if he wanted to run. they needed a team on the ground to help get him on the ballot and make sure he was going to be
11:49 am
president in those primaries. adams was crucial in getting him on the ballot and helping him win. taft went to the 1982 convention. they were deadlocked. it was that close. it was no guarantee that eisenhower was going to get the nomination in 1952. can you believe that, given how successful he became. adams was a taciturn. he was known as the abominable no man. he was considered a terror. he invented in many ways the contemporary role of chief of staff. he was called assistant to the president but really he was the first full-time chief of staff. a very important figure. he had to resign over claims that gifts had been given to his wife, famously a persian carpet
11:50 am
or a mink -- >> a vicuna. >> -- a vicuna coat. everybody remembers that. taking a carpet from a rug dealer. it didn't seem like a resigning offense, but that was 1958 when he stepped down. he went back to new hampshire. he said, fine, i'll go back to new hampshire and live a happy life, which he did. a very important figure. >> while we're getting this microphone, could we bring it to the front row? i want to ask you about one other figure. we talked so little go congress. like senate majority leader. >> a very big personality in an era full of big personalities. lyndon johnson, once the republicans -- >> you've all heard of lyndon johnson. >> there was taft and ike in the same party, they didn't like each other, but when the democratic party controlled the
11:51 am
senate, lyndon johnson became majority leader, and the two of them could not have been more opposite. it's a fascinating story. i'm no expert on lyndon johnson but i pored over johnson. it's a wonderful complement to ike. they really went at it. lyndon johnson could run rings around anybody, but he really was trying to undercut eisenhower. but there's a fascinating story about getting the 1957 civil rights act through. johnson is a southerner and a democrat, and he had to deal with his faction of southern democrats who were very hostile to civil rights, very hostile to desegregation, very hostile to warn and the brown decision. here's eisenhower saying, i want to strengthen the powers of the justice department so the attorney general can investigate issues of voting irregularities and go down to the south and say things like the emmett till
11:52 am
murder cannot happen anymore and those guys walking free. johnson said, we'll see how it goes. we'll see what we can work up. over a long period of time of negotiation, johnson watered down the bill, watered down the bill. he came back and said, mr. president, i know you've already given me four fingers but i have to ask for one more. i have to take this other piece out of the bill. eisenhower wanted to veto his own piece of legislation. he didn't recognize it. johnson had completely oviscerated it. eisenhower signed the bill and it became an important stepping stone to johnson's later ability to deliver a civil rights legislation in the senate. he said, i showed in that bill that i could control the southern democrats. i got them so they wouldn't veto it in committee. and it passed. so the passage was more important than what was in the bill. the two of them -- again, it's another example of why the '50s are so amazing. the young johnson making his
11:53 am
bones work in the senate is a great moment, and eisenhower was like, wow, this guy is really good. he wanted to work with him but eisenhower ran rings around him. fascinating character study. >> we have one right here. yes, sir. >> you just preempted the issue i wanted to raise. one thing that was interesting about that is the man that eisenhower designated to push brownell's bills was nixon. brownell was often credited for vetting eisenhower when he was in paris on civil rights. can you go into that a bit? >> brownell was designated to try to persuade eisenhower to run. they spent quite a bit of time talking about how it would happen. he was sort of the liberal new york wing, the dewey team. they got along very well. i think when eisenhower realized that this real pro coming from new york is saying, we could make this work, he wasn't just a fan. he was the real machine guy. so brownell very important in
11:54 am
getting ike to run and then making the campaign work and getting him in. i don't know about vetting nixon, that did come out of -- >> eisenhower. >> vetting eisenhower. you didn't really vet eisenhower. everybody knew he was political gold, just absolute political gold. it was getting him to say yes and that took a very long time. probably the most important figure in getting him to say yes was his close buddy general lucious clay. he finally said, you've got to do it or the country will go to hell. you're the only person who can save the country. when enough people who you admire tell you this again and again and again, and hundreds did, thousands did, people begged him to run, he started to say, well, maybe i am the only person to save the country. all right, i'll run. he did and never looked back. >> i have to ask one last question on my own. there are such colorful moments, and the personalities from that
11:55 am
era, you're right, are just amazing. frankly, will's book is so beautifully written. his almost pulitzer winner was described as written as a novel. it was written with the art and the elegance of a novel. give us as your parting gift to us a little description of eisenhower and kruschev for the trip that -- >> what a comic scene. someone should do a one-act play or short movie or something. kruschev arrives -- it's 1959. >> so this is the last year. >> yeah, sputnik already happened, there is a lot of bad blood in the water. kruschev isn't very well known. it's not clear, is he a stalin figure? he's got this bald head. they met in 1955 in geneva but
11:56 am
really didn't know each other. kruschev decides to come, he's eager to get an invitation and eisenhower tenders an invitation to hopefully end the berlin crisis. he wants prestige to be seen with the u.s. president. he flies the biggest plane ever made to the united states in order -- talk about arriving with a bang. it's this gigantic jet that they can't land at the usual place, they have to extend the airway. anyway, he steps down off this thing. eisenhower is there, they drive back into washington. it's icy at first, they're not getting along. kruschev says, i've got some gifts for you. this is an era where they were exchanging personal gifts. he pulls out a mini flag, a little obalisk, and he says, this is a replica of the thing we just sent to the moon. many of you may not know the soviets landed a little do-dad on the moon.
11:57 am
they managed to get this little flag and plant it in the ground. he says, this is a replica. which is basically a way of taunting eisenhower that your space program is a decade behind ours. not a good way to begin. eisenhower had this plan the two of them were going to sit knee to knee and they were going to get rid of everybody except the translators and they were going to say, let's end the cold war. kruschev will have none of it. no, no, we're going to have a cold war. eisenhower says, this isn't working. i have an idea. let's go for a helicopter ride. quite literally without any planning. get the chopper, and he takes kruschev around on a tour of washington in rush hour. kruschev says, i'm not getting into that thing. he does, and is softens the ice. kruschev goes to hollywood with his bigwigs and they see shirley
11:58 am
mcclaine on the side of a can who must have been 15. i kid you not, they do a number -- they do a song and dance number for the visiting dignitaries, the ending of which is one of the dancers slides on his knees underneath the legs of one of the female dancers, and he pops up out of her bloomers with a pair of red underpants in his hands. and that's the end of the number. soviet delegation is watching this and they're just appalled. this is disgraceful, this is capitalist garbage, this is outrageous, an insult. they were about to leave to go to moscow. they get back on the train, they go north to san francisco, it's beautiful, they have a wonderful time. they come back to washington and they hear clyburn has a concert at the embassy. it's a moment where eisenhower then takes kruschev and they
11:59 am
talk, really get to know each other. we might find a pathway to ease this thing called the cold war. it didn't happen, and i blame alan dulles in part, a separate story you'll have to read about in the book, but we missed the chance to maybe change the nature of the cold war, because the diplomacy was so successful. the two men really got along, and kruschev desperately wanted to do a deal with eisenhower, but after the third term it was impossible. >> this is not dry history. it's a delight. thank you, will. [ applause ] >> announcer: you're watching american history tv. every weekend on cspan-3, explore our nation's past. c-span3 created by american history television as


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on