Biography for Dwight D. Eisenhower
For almost 20 years, Dwight D. Eisenhower, as supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II, commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces from 1950 to 1952, and president of the United States from 1953 to 1961, played a major role in the events that shaped the 20th century. One of six sons, Dwight David Eisenhower was born on October 14, 1890 in Denison, Texas but grew up in Abilene, Kansas. After graduating from West Point in 1915, he commanded a tank training school during World War I in Pennsylvania. In 1933, he became army chief of staff Gen. Douglas MacArthur's administrative assistant. Eisenhower accompanied MacArthur to the Philippines in 1935 and assisted in building up the commonwealth's defenses until 1940. Lt. Col. Eisenhower attracted considerable public attention in 1941 when the troops he commanded in huge war game maneuvers in Louisiana defeated their opponents through the careful coordination of infantry, tank, and airplane forces. Promoted to brigadier general, Eisenhower returned to Washington after the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor to be the assistant chief of staff to George C. Marshall. In this position, he helped draft the U.S. military's World War II global strategy, outlined a plan for a cross-English Channel invasion of France, and designed the European theater of operations command that he was appointed to lead in June 1942. As supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in World War II, Eisenhower directed the invasions of North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany. He was not a colorful figure like Gen. George S. Patton or Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. However, his style of firm, calm leadership proved to be ideally suited for welding the disparate forces of the Allies into an efficient military machine capable of accomplishing the largest amphibious invasion in history at Normandy in 1944 and then crushing Nazi Germany. "He has the power of drawing the hearts of men towards him as a magnet attracts the bit of metal. He merely has to smile at you, and you trust him at once," said Gen. Montgomery in an attempt to explain Eisenhower's leadership charisma. After Germany's defeat, Eisenhower oversaw the demobilization of American troops before leaving the service to become president of Columbia University in 1948. In 1950, President Harry Truman appointed Eisenhower supreme commander of NATO, a position he held until his decision to seek the Republican nomination for president in 1952. The immensely popular Eisenhower, nicknamed Ike by reporters, was viewed by the American public as the architect of a peaceful world order and the personification of traditional American goodness. Efforts to embroil Eisenhower in the controversy raging around McCarthyism failed, and he made a brilliant campaign promise to go to Korea and end the fighting there. Eisenhower, with the young, conservative Richard Nixon as his running mate, obtained 442 electoral votes to his Democratic challenger Adlai Stevenson's 89, winning by a plurality of more than 6 million votes. Eisenhower's administration is remembered chiefly for its lack of legislative initiatives and calm style of consensus management during a period of national prosperity. Eisenhower believed that most problems would be better solved at the local government level than through programs designed and managed, like those of the New Deal, from Washington. He had campaigned on the promise of cutting back on government—on the size of the budget, on taxes, and on regulation of the nation's business. Once in office, however, Eisenhower, always a practical man, recognized how popular the New Deal programs were and instead of ending them actually expanded some, such as Social Security benefits. His efforts to eliminate the budget deficit and to end price supports for farm products failed. In Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that integration of the public schools must go forward "with all deliberate speed." Eisenhower did not believe that a president should publicly approve or disapprove of Supreme Court decisions. Southerners, he said, should be given a chance to adjust to the great social changes integration would entail. The process would have to go ahead slowly. "We have got to have reason and sense and education, and a lot of other developments that go hand and hand in the process—if this process is going to have any real acceptance in the United States." But mob violence occurred in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 when black children attempted to attend school, and the illegal opposition of the governor of the state to integrating the public schools drove the president to take action. Eisenhower sent more than a thousand paratroopers to Little Rock and federalized 10,000 Arkansas National Guardsmen. He also supported the establishment of the Civil Rights Commission. Neither of these actions, however, meant that Eisenhower was making civil rights a priority of his administration. In general, Eisenhower left the issue of civil rights up to the Supreme Court and local authorities. Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in September 1955 but returned to his duties within two months' time. He ran for reelection in 1956, once again against Stevenson, and won a landslide electoral vote of 457 to 73. In foreign policy, the Eisenhower years stand out as a period of relative peace. One month after his election in 1952, Eisenhower traveled to Korea and halted the fighting through an uneasy truce with North Korea. For much of his eight-year administration, he avoided stark confrontations with the Soviet Union; he even hoped to improve U.S.-Soviet relations to the point where the two superpowers might contemplate weapons' reductions. Nevertheless, Eisenhower could not escape the realities of the cold war. He relied upon the threatened use of American nuclear weapons to deter Soviet and Communist Chinese aggression. He involved the United States in the affairs of Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latin American nations in the pursuit of U.S. cold war objectives. In 1954, Eisenhower committed the United States to the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization to protect Southeast Asian nations from communist attack. This commitment helped to draw the United States ever deeper into the war between the communists and noncommunists in Vietnam. In 1956, Eisenhower opposed the invasion of Egypt by Britain, France, and Israel for fear of driving Arab states into the Soviet camp. (This invasion was a response to the Egyptian president Gamal Abdal Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal.) In 1957, having just promulgated the Eisenhower Doctrine, which pledged U.S. aid to any Middle Eastern country threatened by international communism, Eisenhower sent 5,000 marines to Lebanon to suppress an internal revolt against the U.S.-supported government. Also in 1957, when the Soviet Union shocked America by launching Sputnik, the first artificial satellite into space, a reluctant Eisenhower authorized America's entry into the "space race." Finally, on the island republic of Cuba, located only 90 miles from Key West, Florida, a corrupt pro-American dictatorship was overthrown by Fidel Castro in 1959. Initial American approval of Castro turned to hostility as he began turning Cuba into a communist dictatorship. Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations with Cuba just before leaving office in January 1961. For those and other reasons, Eisenhower's efforts to improve relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were unsuccessful. A hoped-for Paris summit in 1960 was canceled when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union and Eisenhower refused to apologize for the incident. The inability to achieve any weapons reductions agreements was Eisenhower's greatest disappointment. He feared the danger posed by "the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex" in American life. Popular and beloved by Americans after leaving the White House, Eisenhower retired to his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1961. Following another serious heart attack in 1965, he concentrated on writing his memoirs, playing golf, hunting, fishing, and painting until his death four years later on March 28, 1969. The image of Eisenhower as an uninvolved, figurehead president has recently been reconsidered. Revisionist historians have come to view Eisenhower as a quietly activist and extraordinarily shrewd president who projected an air of simplicity, naivete, and simplemindedness in order to pursue his objectives more effectively behind the scenes.