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Eisenhower...had perhaps better political instincts than any American politician of his time.
Overseas Crises and Ill Health Were No Match for Eisenhower
David A. Nichols
Paperback. 346 pp.
February 2012. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.
A few years ago, I ordered the The Presidents Collection DVD box set from PBS's awesome American Experience series. This particular set included documentaries about 10 of the most important and influential Presidents of the 20th Century: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy (in "The Kennedys" featuring the story of the entire political family), Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. For someone like me, 35 hours worth of documentaries about our Presidents is basically my personal definition of heaven and I have never had any complaints about my purchase. However, I've always been surprised that one of the 20th Century Presidents left out of this particular set of DVDs is the 34th President, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
For some reason, Dwight D. Eisenhower as President is often overlooked or overshadowed. The mid-20th Century featured large personalities immediately preceding and succeeding Eisenhower in the Presidency -- FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, and Nixon -- and the eight years that Eisenhower served were relatively calm, peaceful, and prosperous in comparison to the events that took place during the Administrations of FDR (Great Depression/World War II), Truman (End of World War II/Atomic bombing of Japan/Korean War), JFK (Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile Crisis), LBJ (Civil Rights Movement/Vietnam), and Nixon (Vietnam/Watergate). Then there's the fact that Eisenhower's greatest fame came before he entered the world of politics, first as one of the leading Generals and then the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, where he planned and oversaw the successful D-Day invasion of Europe. In a way, President Eisenhower has always been overshadowed by General Eisenhower, and Eisenhower's performance as President continues to be underrated, although more Americans are beginning to understand Ike's greatness during his two terms in the White House.
The world didn't stop being a dangerous place from 1953-1961. A famous Eisenhower quote inscribed on a wall at the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, Kansas notes that the peace and prosperity that the United States enjoyed during his Administration wasn't the result of good luck: "The United States never lost a soldier or a foot of ground during my Administration. We kept the peace. People ask how it happened -- by God, it didn't just happen." Eisenhower spent almost his entire adult life prior to entering politics as a warrior, but as President, the old soldier committed himself and his nation towards, in one of his favorite phrases, "waging peace".
Even before Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn into office in January 1953, he took steps to end the fighting in the Korean War, which had become a stalemate under President Truman. During the transition between Eisenhower's election and inauguration, the President-elect followed through on a campaign pledge and traveled to Korea to revive peace talks and help guide the parties to an Armistice. When he took office, Eisenhower hit the ground running and Americans had immense faith in their new President because of the leadership skills that helped the Allies win World War II. The peace and prosperity that Americans enjoyed during Eisenhower's first term virtually guaranteed that Ike could be easily re-elected in 1956.
David A. Nichols begins his remarkable look at the most difficult year of Dwight D. Eisenhower's Presidency, Eisenhower 1956: The President's Year of Crisis: Suez and the Brink of War (Paperback, 2012, Simon & Schuster), with President Eisenhower enjoying a nice vacation at the Colorado home of his mother-in-law. However, early in the morning of September 24, 1955, the President, who was less than a month away from his 65th birthday, suffered a massive heart attack. The quick reaction of Eisenhower's wife, Mamie, may have saved the President's life, but a little over a year away from the 1956 election, Eisenhower's ability to seek re-election, or even continue in the Presidency, was in serious question.
Nichols follows President Eisenhower's recovery into 1956 as Ike slowly but surely regains his strength and becomes convinced that he is not only capable of seeking re-election, but that his country needs him to remain at the helm. The President's heart attack is the beginning of several crises that make Eisenhower 1956 a gripping account as the political calendar flips closer and closer to Election Day, and as one international crisis after another plunge the world to the brink of yet another World War and seemingly blend together to make every move that the Eisenhower Administration makes potentially dangerous and crucial to the survival of peace.
In Eisenhower 1956, David A. Nichols uncovers incredible details from recently declassified documents, personal diaries, diplomatic cables, and more in order to prove that Dwight D. Eisenhower was not merely a popular, genial, caretaker in the White House. Instead, Eisenhower was a hands-on leader who may have come from a military background but who had perhaps better political instincts than any American politician of his time. Eisenhower was clever and cunning, in national politics and international diplomacy. Despite running for a second term and another serious setback to his health, Eisenhower stays engaged at a top-level and, in many instances, the President's perspective on foreign relations and his vision for the big picture rivals that of his ever-present Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and any of the other longtime political or diplomatic veterans in Eisenhower's Cabinet or inner circle. For those readers who were previously aware of Eisenhower's surprising political skills, Eisenhower 1956 will add to your appreciation of Ike's capabilities. For those who might have thought of the old General as a hands-off delegator with a famous smile who won the Presidency as something akin to a lifetime achievement award -- and there are many Americans who have thought of Eisenhower the President in that way over the past half-century -- this book by Nichols is perhaps the best revelation yet about Eisenhower's immense skills and how he transformed the Presidency.
The main conflict in Eisenhower 1956 is the Suez Crisis, an event that continues to have consequences today in an area of the world which remains a flashpoint. Since the Suez Crisis took place in 1956, some historians have looked at it one of the last gasps of European colonialism in the wake of World War II. Throughout Eisenhower 1956, the deep research done by David A. Nichols reveals incredible details about how the Suez Crisis escalated and what could have happened if not for the restraint and stunning diplomatic footwork of President Eisenhower and the Eisenhower Administration. One of the most incredible aspects of the Suez Crisis is how, just a decade following the end of World War II, two of America's wartime Allies that owed perhaps more gratitude than anyone else to Dwight D. Eisenhower -- Great Britain and France -- secretly plotted with Israel to double-cross President Eisenhower and the United States in order to attack Egypt after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. It is a tremendous story, told with incredible detail by Dr. Nichols, which not only takes you back to 1956, but makes you feel as if you were in charge of President Eisenhower's daily calendar throughout the crisis.
Most unbelievable of all is that President Eisenhower's bid for re-election, the most heated moments of the Suez Crisis, and Eisenhower's precarious health are issues that don't simply share the same year -- 1956 -- but, in many cases, take place simultaneously. And, as President Eisenhower considers how to handle the Suez Crisis -- including the unthinkable possibility of American forces combating the aggression against Egypt by responding militarily against our seemingly inseparable Allies, Britain, France, and Israel -- the Soviet Union puts down a popular revolt in Hungary with 200,000 Russian troops and threatens to funnel weapons and funding, if not direct military support, in the Middle East.
Eisenhower 1956 is a compelling, phenomenal history of one of our great, underrated Presidents, at the top of his game as a world leader and visionary of modern global relations, responding to a hurricane of dangerous international crises with political skills that few leaders -- Presidents, diplomats, politicians, or soldiers -- have ever possessed. Dr. Nichols has crafted a masterpiece that does justice to the gravity of the events portrayed in his book while giving President Eisenhower the just due that he so richly deserves. This is an important work for the study of Eisenhower, the American Presidency, the Cold War, and the always-evolving status of American relations in the Middle East.
Eisenhower 1956: The President's Year of Crisis: Suez and the Brink of War by David A. Nichols is available now in hardcover and paperback from Simon & Schuster. You can order the book from Amazon, or download it instantly for your Kindle. Dr. Nichols previously authored another title about the 34th President, A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution (BOOK KINDLE).
Anthony Bergen, Senior Literary Editor: Anthony Bergen is a writer and Presidential historian based in Sacramento, California. His historical work has been published by numerous outlets and historical associations including pieces for the New Hampshire Historical Society's Franklin Pierce Bicentennial, ConsiderableThoughts.com and the National Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial celebration. Anthony has also been a contributing joke-writer for several touring stand-up comedians and "The KiddChris Show" on Portland's KUFO FM.