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David Eisenhower’s excellent and incisive memoir of his grandfather.
Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight D.
By David Eisenhower with Julie Nixon Eisenhower
(Simon & Schuster, 323 pages, $28)
“I like Ike” versus “Gladly for Adlai” or “Madly for Adlai.”
These were the slogans for the presidential campaigns of 1952 and 1956, Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois against General Dwight D. Eisenhower, former supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe. Seldom have political slogans so effectively encapsulated the perceived social, political, and cultural differences between candidates.
“Gladly for Adlai” or “Madly for Adlai,” with their off-rhyme — clever, languid, Noel-Cowardish — over against “I Like Ike” — direct, solid, positive — just right for the poor boy from Kansas with that great wide smile who played football for West Point and commanded the greatest multinational fighting force in the history of warfare, freeing Europe from fascism.
For a majority of Americans, that defined the difference — one the darling of the Eastern establishment, the other straight from the heartland. Eisenhower lived up to the image, providing a strong and steady leadership tempered by common sense. And beneath that image there was great depth — a superb military strategist, an historian and author, whose Crusade in Europe was a runaway bestseller; a successful executive and administrator; a diplomat and at times a psychologist, as witness his dealings with some of the most contentious figures of the 20th century — Churchill, de Gaulle, Montgomery, and even his own fighting commanders, among them George Patton, a favorite he always called “Georgie.”
In Going Home to Glory, historian David Eisenhower, author of the Pulitzer-finalist Eisenhower at War: 1943-1945, and Julie Nixon Eisenhower, whose previous books are Special People and Pat Nixon: The Untold Story, take us from Inauguration Day, January 20, 1961, when leaving the White House, “Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower drove north to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in the 1955 Chrysler Imperial that Mamie had purchased for Ike on his sixty-fifth birthday,” to March 28, 1969, at Walter Reed Hospital, where, “surrounded by others as always, at peace and in the company of his doctors and his lineal heirs, Dwight Eisenhower died.”
During those eight years, the man others called Mr. President or General, a title he much preferred, and who David Eisenhower called Grandad, remained active in politics, counseling his successors and other world leaders, commenting on important issues, but always behind the scenes.
MUCH HAS BEEN MADE OF STRAINS between Eisenhower and his former vice president, most of it more imagined than real. But on matters of import, Eisenhower and Nixon were in agreement on the central issues of the day, among them the war in Vietnam.
With the siege and eventual fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, every NCO in the First Marine Division knew we were preparing to intervene. Eisenhower, however, said no, emphatically. Although he did not oppose land wars in Asia in principle, “U.S. forces, if committed in 1954, would have been fighting for French colonialism alongside French forces that had proven themselves unable to pacify the region in five years of war. Nor had France promised to grant independence to Vietnam once the fighting was over.”
But in the early 1960s, the Kennedy administration committed us in insufficient numbers with unclearly delineated goals. LBJ inherited the war, was indecisive in planning and execution, massively escalated our involvement with the goals still unclear, and ended by attempting to micro-manage the war. Eisenhower believed LBJ should have gone all out: “Once a decision is made to commit American prestige, all else must take a second seat to winning.” But LBJ was unable to make that commitment.
In a discussion with Richard Nixon in 1967, “Both men [Eisenhower and Nixon] agreed that it would be difficult to chart the future course of the war because of the volatility of Lyndon Johnson.… Johnson’s problem, Eisenhower told Nixon, was that he lacked the inner pressure gauge that told him when to relax.” Johnson “was often up at 3 A.M. phoning Honolulu, Saigon, and the Pentagon to get the latest word on the air strikes and ground actions.”
Realizing that Johnson’s approach to the war was courting disaster, Nixon sent Eisenhower the draft of an article in which he laid out a long-range approach to dealing with Vietnam in particular and Asia in general, with emphasis on China. Eisenhower read the article carefully and telephoned suggestions, “none of which, to Nixon’s relief, disputed his foreign policy views. The general took no exception even to Nixon’s forward-thinking China views, which were unfurled for the first time in this article.”
“Nixon… perceived danger and opportunity in the Vietnam
morass,” David Eisenhower writes. “Nixon could envision
that an ‘acceptable’ outcome in Vietnam would serve as the
basis for an opening to China, which would formalize the
breakup of the communist world and the breakup of an
obsolete Cold War structure that had become the prop of
status quo, serving Soviet interests, not American.”
And with Eisenhower’s tacit approval, that’s just what happened. Nixon’s strategy in Vietnam, a gradual withdrawal that the historian Robert W. Merry called “the greatest retreat in U.S. history, one of the greatest in world history,” combined with intense diplomacy, led to the trip to China in 1972 that resulted in a successful end to the war, ultimately negated by Congress, and a distinct shift in the global balance of power.
Thus, Nixon’s much derided “secret plan” for ending the war was in fact a carefully developed, coherent, and largely successful long-term strategy, approved in its initial formulation some five years earlier by Dwight D. Eisenhower.
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H/T to National Review Online