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DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER


Excerpted from an essay by Stephen Ambrose:

Nurture and nature played their respective roles in shaping Dwight Eisenhower. Physically, he inherited a strong, eisenhowertough, big, athletic body and extremely good looks, with a quite fabulous grin, along with keen intelligence. He also inherited a strong competitive streak from his parents, plus a bad temper, along with unquestioning love, stern discipline, ambition, and religion. They made him study, read the Bible aloud, do chores. They instilled in him a series of controls over his emotions, his temper most of all. They gave him a solid Victorian outlook on the relations between the sexes and on proper conduct. All his life he would blush if he slipped and said a "hell" or a "damn" in front of a lady......

At West Point, and in his first twenty-five years in the Army, Eisenhower satisfied few of his ambitions-- he didn't get to war and he was still a lieutenant colonel-- but he learned his profession and demonstrated another characteristic trait, patience.

eisenhower and churchill After Pearl Harbor his star rose, and soon he was in Washington, making war plans for Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, and then on to London, to take command of the American forces in England. This threw him into the middle of the great decision-making process of the Allies, at the highest level, dealing daily with Winston Churchill. He proved to be an outstanding diplomat and politician, not only with Churchill but with Free French leader Charles de Gaulle and other Frenchmen as well. He was successful because he was true to his character....

Indeed, whenever associates described Eisenhower, there was one word that almost all of them, superiors or subordinates, used. It was trust. People trusted him for the most obvious reason-- he was trustworthy. British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery didn't think much of Eisenhower as a soldier, but he appreciated other attributes. "His real strength lies in his human qualities," Montgomery said. george marshall "He has the power of drawing the hearts of men toward him as a magnet attracts the bit of metal. He merely has to smile at you, and you trust him at once." .......

By 1952, the year Eisenhower entered into politics at age sixty-two, his character, as formed by heredity and experience, was set in cement. It included qualities of love, honesty, faithfulness, responsibility, modesty, generosity, duty, and leadership, along with a hatred of war. These were bedrock.

Or were they? This paragon of virtue had lived in the shelter of the Army nearly all his life. Character-testing opportunities or temptations were almost unknown to him. It is easy to be virtuous when virtue is rewarded, as it was in the Army; not so easy when virtue is ignored and partisanship is rewarded, as in politics.....

On racial matters... Eisenhower seemed to come up short. He was a segregationist. He was an infant when Plessy v. Ferguson established the doctrine of separate but equal, making segregation the law of the land...

As President, segregation proved a...test of character. He appointed Governor Earl Warren of California to the post of Chief Justice, something he later regretted. His Attorney warren General, Herbert Brownell, and the Justice Department made the case for integration in 1954 in Brown v. Topeka before the Warren Court, something Eisenhower regretted but did not prevent. The Court ordered the integration of the public schools with all deliberate speed, which Eisenhower thought was a terrible mistake because the schools were the most sensitive place to proceed, by far. He preferred beginning with public parks, motels, cafes, and the like...

There is no doubt of Eisenhower's dislike for Brown. But there is also no doubt of his sense of duty and responsibility. Whatever one thought of Brown, he told (his childhood friend Swede) Hazlett, "I hold to the basic purpose. There must be respect for the Constitution-- which means the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution-- or we shall have chaos. We cannot possibly imagine a successful form of government in which every individual citizen would have the right to interpret the Constitution according to his own convictions, beliefs, and prejudices. Chaos would develop. This I believe with all my heart-- and shall always act accordingly."

On the other hand, he abhorred the thought of using force. He said in a press conference in the summer of 1957 that he could imagine no circumstances that would lead him to use the U.S. Army to enforce integration. So he wanted to uphold the Court, but not use force to do so.......

His willingness to listen, his known sympathy with white southerners, his failure to give his public support to Brown v. Topeka, and his general lack of leadership on the question of the day, gave one southern governor the notion that he could roll the President. Orval Faubus of Arkansas defied a court order to integrate Central High in Little Rock. He called out the Arkansas National Guard and placed it around the high school, with orders to prevent the entry into the school of about a dozen Negro pupils.

This was the great moral and character test of the Eisenhower presidency. He met it head-on. Despite his own feelings about the mistakes being made in implementing Brown, and his horror at the thought of using American troops in American cities, he called out the 101st Airborne and sent it to Little Rock. At Brownell's suggestion, he ordered the Arkansas National Guard into federal service, thus stealing Faubus's army out from under him and putting it to duty helping the 101st ensure an orderly and peaceful integration of Central High.

It was a brilliant stroke and the action of a man of principle. It settled forever the question of whether the federal government would use force to break down segregation.....

His special triumphs came in the field of foreign affairs and were directly related to his character. By making peace in Korea five months after taking office, and avoiding war thereafter, and by holding down the cost of the arms race, he achieved greatness. No one knows how much money he saved the United States, no one knows how many lives he saved, by ending the war in Korea and refusing to enter any others, despite a half-dozen and more virtually unanimous recommendations that he order a first strike.....

He was an inspiring and effective leader, indeed a model of leadership. The elements of his leadership were varied, deliberate, and learned. He exuded simplicity. He deliberately projected an image of the folksy farm boy from Kansas. But in fact he was capable of a detached, informed, and exhaustive examination of problems and personalities, based on wide and sophisticated knowledge and deep study. He projected a posture of being above politics, but he studied and understood and acted on political problems and considerations more rigorously than most lifelong politicians ever could.

His magnetic appeal to millions of his fellow citizens seemed to come about as a natural and effortless result of his sunny disposition. But he worked at his apparent artlessness. That big grin and bouncy step often masked depression, doubt and utter weariness, for he believed it was the critical duty of a leader to always exude optimism. He made it a habit to save all his doubts for his pillow.

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