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Eisenhower | Article

Opinion: John Eisenhower and Historians

Reflections from John Eisenhower and Historians Stephen Ambrose and Fred Greenstein (drawn from film interview transcripts)


John D. Eisenhower, son of President Dwight Eisenhower, reflects on Kay Summersby.
Well the thing is that they had already been talked about and my Dad and Kay Summersby, and so they were using this as evidence, in spite of the fact that it was a gang that went. Kay Summersby made a real contribution to the war. She was a very positive influence. If you remember that Mary Tyler Moore series on television, she was the Mary Tyler Moore of the office, and Dad certainly had an affection for her, no question about that. But she performed real service, I think, I was fond of her, and I think she liked me too. Any allegations to make this look like a terrible thing was all in the minds of the people who were doing the allegating, as far as I'm concerned.

Historian and author Stephen Ambrose comments on the Paris Summit, during Eisenhower's presidency.
I think the reason Khrushchev made such a big deal out of the U2 when he could have underplayed it, had many roots to the decision. One of which was he was insulted that Eisenhower, he felt personally that Eisenhower had double-crossed him on this. He was under pressure from his military to slow down the pace of rapprochement with the United States. And then you've got to get into the specific. The reason for that Paris summit was to discuss the situation in Berlin. And Khrushchev knew that Eisenhower was not going to back out of Berlin, as the Russians were demanding. I think Krushchev broke up that summit because he knew that it wasn't going to get anywhere, that he wasn't going to be able to force the West out of Berlin, and that therefore there was no point to having the meeting and he used the U2 as a way to very dramatically bring the meeting to a crushing stop, and lay the onus on the Americans for it.

Historian Fred Greenstein comments on the Civil Rights issue during Eisenhower's presidency and Eisenhower's plan during World War II.
Civil Rights

What I would say about Eisenhower and civil rights really is at two levels. One is that he's a conservative who believes in evolutionary change and not revolutionary change. So his impulse to begin with wasn't to state a moral position about civil rights. Secondly, when he does have to state such a position, his impulse is to be more an exhorter rather than someone who engages in substantive arguments. He was able to handle that very impressively at the actual point of Little Rock when he had understood the symbolism of the Presidency enough to go from Newport to the White House to say that he was speaking from the house of Lincoln. But that was really late. He'd allowed the situation to go downhill. With civil rights I think the problem is less that his sort of general inspirational style wasn't suited than that he was after all a "go slow" conservative on domestic social change. He didn't have the theme to advance. He wasn't really thinking about what many of us I think would now say, after the fact, which is that genuine substantive leadership was needed.

Eisenhower's Plan
Eisenhower reports to Marshall, General Marshall as the Chief of Staff says, how would you approach the problems of World War II? Eisenhower says give me a few hours and give me a typewriter. He returns with a very brief, highly analytic presentation which cuts to the bone. Essentially what he's sensed is that the main show is in Europe, but it's important for the United States to make a move immediately in the Pacific area where the Japanese have attacked. Secondly he realizes that the Philippines are going to fall, but he immediately says, we can't be forgiven if we seem to ignore the Philippines. So he really almost instinctively produces a combined military, political judgement. And Marshall obviously recognized this as precisely the kind of judgement that he wanted in a leader. And within six months MacArthur has moved him up and he's on his way to Europe, as Supreme Commander.

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