Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower (October 14, 1890 – March 28, 1969) was an American soldier and politician. He served as the 34th President of the United States (1953–1961) as well as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II, with the rank of General of the Army.
Early life and family
Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas, the third of seven sons born to David Jacob Eisenhower and Ida Elizabeth Stover, and their only child born in Texas. Eisenhower married Mamie Geneva Doud (1896–1979), of Denver, Colorado on July 1, 1916. They had two children, Doud Dwight Eisenhower (1917–1921) whose tragic death in childhood haunted the couple forever, and John Sheldon David Doud Eisenhower (born 1922). John Eisenhower served in the United States Army, then became an author and served as U.S. Ambassador to Belgium. John's son, David Eisenhower, after whom Camp David is named, married Richard Nixon's daughter Julie in 1968.
In June 1942 Eisenhower was appointed Commanding General, European Theater of Operations (ETOUSA) and was based in London. In December 1943 it was announced that Eisenhower would be Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. In January 1944 he resumed command of ETOUSA and the following month was officially designated as the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), serving in a dual role until the end of hostilities in Europe in May 1945. In these positions he was charged with planning and carrying out the Allied assault on the coast of Normandy in June 1944 under the code name Operation Overlord, the liberation of western Europe and the invasion of Germany. A month after the Normandy D-Day on June 6, 1944, the invasion of southern France took place, and control of the forces which took part in the southern invasion passed from the AFHQ to the SHAEF. From then until the end of the War in Europe on May 8, 1945, Eisenhower through SHAEF had supreme command of all operational Allied forces2, and through his command of ETOUSA, administrative command of all U.S. forces, on the Western Front north of the Alps.
As recognition of his senior position in the Allied command, on December 20, 1944, he was promoted to General of the Army equivalent to the rank of Field Marshal in most European armies. In this and the previous high commands he held, Eisenhower showed his great talents for leadership and diplomacy. Although he had never seen action himself, he won the respect of front-line commanders such as Omar Bradley and George Patton. He dealt skillfully with difficult allies such as Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and General Charles de Gaulle. He had fundamental disagreements with Churchill and Montgomery over questions of strategy, but these rarely upset his relationships with them. He negotiated with Soviet Marshal Zhukov, and such was the confidence that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had in him, he sometimes worked directly with Stalin.
Eisenhower was offered the Medal of Honor for his leadership in the European Theater but refused it, saying that it should be reserved for bravery and valor.
It was never a certainty that Overlord would succeed. The tenuousness surrounding the entire decision including the timing and the location of the Normandy invasion might be summarized by a short speech that Eisenhower himself wrote, in advance, in case he might need it. In it, he took full responsibility for catastrophic failure, should that be the final result. Long after the successful landings on D-Day and the BBC broadcast of Eisenhower's brief speech concerning them, the never-used second speech was found in a shirt pocket by an aide. It read:
"Our landings have failed and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."
Following the German unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, Eisenhower was appointed Military Governor of the U.S. Occupation Zone, based in Frankfurt-am-Main. Germany was divided into four Occupation Zones, one each for the U.S., Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. He made the controversial decision to reclassify German prisoners of war or POWs in U.S. custody as Disarmed Enemy Forces or DEFs. As DEFs, they could be compelled to serve as unpaid conscript labor. An unknown number may have died in custody as a consequence of malnutrition, exposure to the elements, and lack of medical care (see Eisenhower and German POWs).
Eisenhower was named Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army in November 1945, and in December 1950 was named Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and given operational command of NATO forces in Europe. Eisenhower retired from active service on May 31, 1952, upon entering politics. During this period Eisenhower served as president of Columbia University from 1948 until 1953, though he was on leave from the University while he served as NATO commander.
After his many wartime successes, General Eisenhower returned to the U.S. a great hero. It would not be long before many supporters were pressuring him to run for public office.
Eisenhower was generally considered a political moderate, and it was not immediately clear which party he would choose to join. Eventually he settled on the Republican Party, and in 1952 he was nominated as the party's star candidate in the 1952 U.S. presidential election. Eisenhower easily defeated Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson and became the first career soldier since Ulysses S. Grant to be elected President. Although many presidents have served in the military, Eisenhower would be the only general to serve as President in the 20th century.
Eisenhower nominated at the 1952 Republican National Convention.
Eisenhower's presidency was dominated by the Cold War, the prolonged confrontation with the Soviet Union which had begun during Truman's term of office.
During his campaign, Eisenhower had promised to end the stalemate Korean War, and indeed a cease-fire was signed in July 1953. He signed defense treaties with South Korea and the Republic of China, and formed an anti-Communist alliance with Asian and Pacific countries, SEATO, to halt the spread of Communism in Asia.
In 1956, Eisenhower strongly disapproved of the actions of Britain and France in sending troops to Egypt in the dispute over control of the Suez Canal (see Suez crisis). He used the economic power of the U.S. to force his European allies to back down and withdraw from Egypt.
During his second term he became increasingly involved in Middle Eastern affairs, sending troops to Lebanon in 1958.
Under Eisenhower's presidency the U.S. developed as a global nuclear power. When Russia also developed their nuclear weapons, fears of mutual annihilation in a Third World War intensified. On 30 October 1953, Eisenhower approved the security policy document NSC 162/2, which emphasized nuclear weapons above all other defense means. Nuclear weapons were seen as the most economically feasible means to deter the Soviet Union from military action against what then was called the "Free World." American chagrin at the Soviets' 1957 surprise launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, led to many strategic initiatives, including the creation of NASA in 1958. Eisenhower hoped that after the death of Stalin in 1953, it would be possible to come to an agreement with subsequent Russian leaders to halt the nuclear arms race. Several attempts at convening a summit conference were made. The last attempt failed in 1960 when Nikita Khrushchev withdrew following the shooting down of an American U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union.
Eisenhower appointed a Cabinet full of businessmen and gave them wide latitude in handling domestic affairs. He allowed them to take credit for domestic policy and allow him to concentrate on foreign affairs. With respect to the emerging American Civil Rights Movement, he has been criticized by liberals for being reluctant to exercise leadership unless forced. In 1957, however, he sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas after Governor Orval Faubus attempted to defy a Supreme Court ruling that ordered the desegregation of all public schools.
Eisenhower was also criticized for not taking a public stand against Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist campaigns. Privately he held McCarthy in contempt for the senator's attacks on his friend and World War II colleague, General George Marshall, Secretary of State under Truman. He stated "I just won't get down in the gutter with that man". This was little comfort to the many people whose reputations were ruined by McCarthy's allegations of Communist conspiracies. Later, it was revealed that Eisenhower worked behind the scenes to bring McCarthy down. Yet, in a speech delivered in Milwaukee on October 3, 1952, just after being chosen as the Republican nominee, Eisenhower opted not to make any statement defending Marshall. A full paragraph in the sixth draft of that speech was written for that purpose, but Eisenhower decided to drop the paragraph.
Eisenhower endorsed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which created the United States' Interstate Highways. It was the largest public works program in U.S. history, providing a 41,000-mile highway system. Eisenhower had been impressed during the war with the German Autobahn system, and also recalled his own involvement in a military convoy in 1919 that took 62 days to cross the U.S. Another achievement was a 20% increase in family income during his presidency, of which he was very proud.
Eisenhower retained his popularity throughout his presidency. In 1956 he was re-elected by an even wider margin than in 1952, again defeating Stevenson, and carrying such traditional Democratic states as Texas and Tennessee.
However, there were three recessions during Eisenhower's administration — July 1953 through May 1954, August 1957 through April 1958, and April 1960 through February 1961. Real GDP growth averaged just 2.5 percent over those eight years.
Eisenhower had mixed feelings about his Vice President, Richard Nixon, and only reluctantly endorsed him as the Republican candidate at the 1960 Presidential election. Nixon campaigned against Kennedy on the great experience he had acquired in eight years as Vice President, but when Eisenhower was asked to name a decision Nixon had been responsible for in that time, he replied (intending a joke): "Give me a week and I might think of something." This was a severe blow to Nixon, and he blamed Eisenhower for his narrow loss to Kennedy.
States admitted to the Union: Alaska – January 3, 1959, Hawaii – August 21, 1959
On January 17, 1961, Eisenhower gave his final televised speech from the Oval Office. In his farewell speech to the nation, Eisenhower raised the issue of the Cold War and role of the U.S. armed forces. He described the Cold War saying: "We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose and insidious in method...A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction."
Three days later, when he handed over the presidency to John F. Kennedy, at 43 the youngest elected president, he was the oldest president to serve, at 70 years and 98 days – a record since broken by Ronald Reagan. Eisenhower was the first president affected by the 22nd Amendment, limiting presidential terms, and the first Republican president to be elected to two full terms since William McKinley (who did not live to serve them both).
Once Eisenhower left office his reputation declined, and he was seen as having been a "do-nothing" President. This was partly because of the contrast between Eisenhower and his young, activist successor, John F. Kennedy, but also due to his reluctance to support the civil rights movement or to stop McCarthyism. Such omissions were held against him during the liberal climate of the 1960s and 1970s. Eisenhower's reputation has risen since that time due to his non-partisan nature, his wartime leadership, his action in Arkansas, his being the last President to balance budget, and an increasing appreciation of how difficult it is today to maintain a prolonged peace. In recent surveys of historians, Eisenhower is often ranked in the top ten among all U.S. Presidents.
Eisenhower is purported to have said that his September 1953 appointment of California Governor Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the United States was "the biggest damn fool mistake I ever made". Some sources place this act on Eisenhower's own list of "My Top Five Lifetime Mistakes". Eisenhower disagreed vigorously with several of the Chief Justice's decisions. Warren's appointment was perhaps in appreciation of his swinging his California delegates to support "Ike" at a crucial point of the 1952 Republican National Convention.
Eisenhower retired to the place where he and Mamie had spent much of their post-war time, a working farm adjacent to the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Gettysburg farm is a National Historic Site . In retirement, he did not completely retreat from political life; he spoke at the 1964 Republican convention, and also appeared with Barry Goldwater in a Republican campaign commercial from Gettysburg.
Due to legal issues related to holding a military rank while in a civilian office, Eisenhower resigned his permanent commission as General of the Army before entering the office of President of the United States. Upon completion of his Presidential term, his commission on the retired list was reactivated and Eisenhower was again commissioned a five star general in the United States Army. With the exception of George Washington, who was appointed a Lieutenant General after serving as President, Eisenhower is the only United States President with military service to reenter the United States armed forces after leaving the office of President.
"Ike" Eisenhower died at 12:25 PM on March 28, 1969, at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington D.C., after a long illness at the age of 78. He was honored with a state funeral at Washington National Cathedral and a full military funeral in Abilene, Kansas . He lies alongside his wife and their first child, who died in childhood, in a small chapel called the Place of Meditation, at the Eisenhower Presidential Library, located in Abilene.
Eisenhower's portrait was on the dollar coin from 1971 to 1978. Nearly 700 million of the copper-nickel clad coins were minted for general circulation, and far smaller numbers of uncirculated and proof issues (in both copper-nickel and 40% silver varieties) were produced for collectors. Ike reappeared on a commemorative silver dollar issued in 1990, celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth.
From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city, every village, and every rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. --Dwight D. Eisenhower when signing into law the phrase "One nation under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron. -- Dwight Eisenhower, April 16, 1953