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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Presidents of the 20th Century - The Road (More) Traveled

Perhaps the most under-appreciated President of the 20th Century was one of the most famous men in the world long before entering politics: Dwight David Eisenhower. The West Point footballer-turned Supreme Allied Commander was famed for planning and overseeing the "D-Day" invasion of Europe which was the beginning of the end for the Axis powers and Hitler in particular. "Ike" was the man who Patton and Bradley and even British Commander Montgomery answered to in the last years of the War in Europe, a man capable of dealing with people like Stalin and DeGaulle without Presidential oversight.

Wikepedia's lead paragraph:

Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower (October 14, 1890 – March 28, 1969) was an American soldier and politician. During World War II, he served as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, with responsibility for planning and supervising the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1944-45. In 1949 he became the first supreme commander of NATO. As a Republican, he was elected the 34th President of the United States (1953–1961). As president he ended the Korean War, kept up the pressure on the Soviet Union during the Cold War, reoriented the defense budget toward nuclear weapons, launched the space race, enlarged the Social Security program, and built the interstate highway system.

Plenty of things happened on Ike's two-term watch. Two states entered the Union (Alaska and Hawaii). The Space Program was launched. The Korean War was ended. Ike also tried to streamline government, forming Health, Eductation and Welfare to bring together several agencies. Ike had a broad vision for the country, running on a platform that rejected isolationism and a moderate Republican agenda that continued, to some extent, the social programs of Truman:

In domestic policy the President pursued a middle course, continuing most of the New Deal and Fair Deal programs, emphasizing a balanced budget. As desegregation of schools began, he sent troops into Little Rock, Arkansas, to assure compliance with the orders of a Federal court; he also ordered the complete desegregation of the Armed Forces. "There must be no second class citizens in this country," he wrote.

Eisenhower concentrated on maintaining world peace. He watched with pleasure the development of his "atoms for peace" program--the loan of American uranium to "have not" nations for peaceful purposes.

But I believe the great genius of the retired General was the interstate highway system. He realized that to supply and transport armies and equipment from coast to coast required better roads, and also that with the advance of automotive technology that trucks could operate on those same roads to increase the effectiveness of commerce. He was able to convince congress that these roads would also be needed to evacuate cities faced with nuclear attack. In the "bomb shelter days" of the early Cold War, that was a winning strategy. Americans now take for granted these concrete-and-asphalt ribbons of roadway that allow us to travel smoothly and hopefully safely for great distances. In 1950 there were many fewer highways and most of them required multiple stops with only one lane in each direction. Much of the boost to the American economy in the 1950's and 60's was a result of much better roads providing far more efficient and safe travel.

Eisenhower's push to bring an end to racial discrimination is forgotten now. However, Eisenhower supported the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in which segregated ("separate but equal") schools were ruled to be unconstitutional. The very next day he told District of Columbia officials to make Washington a model for the rest of the country in integrating Negro and white public school children. Liberal critics complained Eisenhower was never enthusiastic about civil rights, but in 1957 he did support and sign the first significant civil rights bills since the 1870s, sent soldiers to Little Rock to integrate their schools, and admitted multi-racial Hawaii as a state in 1959.

The Little Rock Central High crisis of 1957 involved state refusal to honor a federal court order to integrate the schools. Eisenhower placed the Arkansas National Guard under federal control and sent Army troops to escort nine black students into the all-white school; this incident did not occur without violence. Eisenhower and Arkansas governor Orval Faubus engaged in tense arguments during this tumultous period in history.

His Eisenhower Doctrine established America's determination to fight repression and communist advances overseas if it was in the interests of national defense. His stance was the precursor to the stand JFK would take against Kruschev concerning missiles in Cuba and culminated in Ronald Reagan's bold measures that brought down the Iron Curtain at the end of the 1980's.

We don't think of him as being as bold as Truman or Teddy or Reagan but his quiet strength was just as effective. I like Ike, too, how can I not rate him an 'A?'


highboy said...

"I like Ike"

That slogan seems to work. It was the slogan my brother put on campaign buttons for John Eichelberger. "I Like Eich". Heh.

And you're right. He is under-appreciated. He wasn't contoversial, so there's no "I hate him" or "I love him" opinion from the right or left. They guy just did his job. He was very active in the civil rights movement, as you have pointed out.

cranky old fart said...

And let's not forget his coining the phrase "Military-Industrial Complex".

An insidious evil he correctly predicted, in full flower today with bipartisan support.


oriolebird38 said...

Eisenhower was by far one of the best presidents this country has had. Not much else to say.

If only Nixon weren't his VP...

LC42 said...

Enough with the wikipedia!

When you are basing your whole blog entry on a wikipedia that speeds through the life of a great man like an express train, your entry is going to be cursory.

Amborse wrote an amazing autobiography of DDE. This is the type of literature I'd recc citing.

cranky old fart said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
cranky old fart said...


I only cited the Wikipedia for the narrow point I raised. It was more in support of the chilling short video I cited. Sorry to offend.

Or where you talking to radar?

radar said...

LC, these Presidential posts ARE cursory, meant in the manner of a review and to get commentary. I'm not a biographer here...

LC42 said...


it just makes it seem your research is based completely of wikipedia. While I love certain things about wiki, I think it replaces comprehensive, deep research and understanding of a topic in too many cases. Wiki, as good a thing as it is, should not be the primary source of information for research(this is a general gripe I have about wikipedia, not specifically aimed at you).

radar said...

Actually, LC, I am tremendously old and my years of experience and interest in the political field are my primary source of information. I cut and paste some lines from sources that are universally friendly to my readership when possible but only when they agree with what I think about the subject. and wikipedia aren't in-depth sources, I know. But then I am simply doing an overview...