Regular readers know that I tend to be “slightly” partisan in favor of Democrats. It’s not because only Democrats have good ideas, it’s that today’s Republican Party has such bad ideas, and so bitterly partisan they care more about trying to politically damaging a Democratic President than they care about what’s best for our country. But it didn’t always used to be that way. Not all that long ago there was a great Republican, who really did put “country first”, A Republican who cared not only about all his fellow countrymen but also about others around the world, a Republican who would see a wrong and try to to make it right. He was this Republican, 5 Star General, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during WWII, and President:
Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, like most Americans, came from a family of immigrants. The Eisenhauer (German for “iron hewer”) family migrated from Germany, to Switzerland in the 17th century due to religious persecution, and a century later came to the United States. The Eisenhower family settled in York, Pennsylvania, in 1730, and in the 1880s they moved to Kansas. At some point the German name Eisenhauer was changed to a more American spelling of Eisenhower. Dwight’s father, David Jacob Eisenhower, was a college educated engineer. Eisenhower’s mother, Ida Elizabeth Stover, born in Virginia of German Lutheran ancestry, moved to Kansas from Virginia. She met David Eisenhower when they were both attending college, and they married in September 1885. David owned a general store in Hope, Kansas, but the business failed due to economic conditions and the family became impoverished. The Eisenhowers then lived in Texas from 1889 until 1892, and later returned to Kansas, with $24 to their name. David worked as a mechanic with a railroad and then with a creamery. By 1898, the family was self-sustaining with suitable accommodations for their large family, and set about on doing just that. Eisenhower was born on October 14, 1890, the third of seven boys. All of the boys were called “Ike”, such as “Big Ike” (Edgar) and “Little Ike” (Dwight); the nickname was intended as an abbreviation of their last name. As a child, Dwight was involved in an accident that cost his younger brother an eye; he later referred to this as an experience teaching him the need to be protective of those under him. Both of Dwight’s parents were very religious, but his mother in particular was a pacifist who thought warfare was “rather wicked”. But it was her collection of history books that first sparked Eisenhower’s early and lasting interest in military history. He persisted in reading the books in her collection and became a voracious reader on the subject.
Eisenhower attended Abilene High School and graduated with the class of 1909. He and brother Edgar both wanted to attend college, though they lacked the funds. They agreed to take alternate years at college while the other worked, in order to earn the tuitions. Edgar went to college first while Dwight was worked as a night supervisor at a creamery. At the end of the year Edgar pleaded for a second year in college as he was enjoying it so much, and Dwight deferred to his brother and continued working. During that second year a friend was applying to the Naval Academy and urged Dwight to apply to the school, since no tuition was required. Eisenhower requested consideration for either Annapolis or West Point with his U.S. Senator, Joseph L. Bristow. Though Eisenhower was among the winners of the entrance-exam competition, he was beyond the age limit for the Naval Academy. He then accepted an appointment to West Point in 1911. At West Point Dwight as at best an average student, and graduated in the middle of the class of 1915. But, likely due to timing – shortly before the U.S. entry into WWI and 26 years until our entry into WWII, the United States Military Academy class of 1915 is know as “the class the stars fell on” – of the 164 graduates that year 59 (36%) attained the rank of general, the most of any class in the history of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Dwight was one of two who reached the rank of five-star General. Two also reached four-star Generals, 7 made three-star Lieutenant General, 24 were two-star Major Generals, and 24 one-star Brigadier Generals.
Dwight was first stationed in Texas, and it was there that me met and fell in love with Mamie Geneva Doud, his beloved “Mamie”. He proposed to her on Valentine’s Day in 1916, and they were married on July 1 of that year, and remained married for the next 53 years, until Dwight’s death in 1969. The Eisenhowers had two sons. Doud Dwight Eisenhower, who died at age 3 of scarlet fever. Their second son, John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower, went on to also graduate from West Point and become a Brigadier General. Although he requested deployment overseas several times during WWI, Dwight but he was placed in charge training at several locations at home, gaining valuable experience. He continued to move up through the ranks of the Army during the 20s and 30s. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Eisenhower was assigned to the General Staff in Washington, with responsibility for creating the major war plans to defeat Japan and Germany. In June 1942, he returned to London as Commanding General, European Theater of Operations. Later that year also appointed Supreme Commander Allied (Expeditionary) Force of the North African Theater of Operation, and led the campaign that defeated Rommel in North Africa. In December 1943, President Roosevelt appointed Eisenhower Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Eisenhower planned and led the famous D-Day Invasion of Normandy, and the subsequent operations that led to the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany less than one year later.
General Eisenhower was immensely popular for his successes in WWII, and As the 1948 election approached, Eisenhower was repeatedly urged by both the Democrats and Republicans to run for president. President Truman even offering to serve as his Vice-President if he would agree to run as president on the Democratic ticket. Eisenhower maintained no political party affiliation during this time. He firmly declined all the offers and many believed he was foregoing his only opportunity to be president – Thomas E. Dewey was considered the probable winner, would presumably serve two terms, and Eisenhower, at age 66 in 1956, would then be too old. Despite a certain Chicago newspaper headline proclaiming otherwise, Truman defeated Dewy. In 1951 President Truman again pressed Eisenhower to run for the office as a Democrat. It was at this time that Eisenhower voiced his disdain for the Democratic party and declared himself and his family to be Republicans. A “Draft Eisenhower” movement in the Republican Party persuaded him to declare his candidacy in the 1952 presidential election to counter the candidacy of non-interventionist Senator Robert Taft, who he narrowly defeated for the Republican nomination. Eisenhower ran a strong campaign and defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson in a landslide, the first Republican elected President in 20 years. He also managed to bring with a Republican majority in Congress, also the first time in 20 years. Eisenhower’s campaign was noted for the simple but effective slogan, “I Like Ike”.
Eisenhower was reelected in 1956, defeating Stevenson a second time, in an even greater landslide. Throughout his presidency, Eisenhower adhered to a political philosophy of a moderate, progressive Republicanism: He said: “I have just one purpose … and that is to build up a strong progressive Republican Party in this country. If the right wing wants a fight, they are going to get it … before I end up, either this Republican Party will reflect progressivism or I won’t be with them anymore.” He continued all the major New Deal programs still in operation and expanded Social Security programs and rolled them into a new cabinet-level agency, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, while extending benefits to an additional ten million workers. While President Truman had begun the process of desegregating the Armed Forces in 1948, actual implementation had been slow. Eisenhower made clear his stance in his first State of the Union message in February 1953, saying “I propose to use whatever authority exists in the office of the President to end segregation in the District of Columbia, including the Federal Government, and any segregation in the Armed Forces“. When he encountered opposition from the services, he used government control of military spending to force the change through. The day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education, that segregated schools were unconstitutional, Eisenhower told District of Columbia officials to make Washington a model for the rest of the country in integrating black and white public school children. He proposed to Congress the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 and signed those acts into law. The 1957 act for the first time established a permanent civil rights office inside the Justice Department and a Civil Rights Commission to hear testimony about abuses of voting rights. In 1957, the state of Arkansas refused to honor a federal court order to integrate their public school system stemming from the Brown decision. Eisenhower demanded that Arkansas governor Orval Faubus obey the court order. When Faubus balked, the president placed the Arkansas National Guard under federal control and sent in the 101st Airborne Division. They escorted and protected nine black students’ entry to Little Rock Central High School, an all-white public school, for the first time since the Reconstruction era.
We baby boomers look back at the Eisenhower years as a period of peace and prosperity, with strong economic growth and an ever increasing middle class. It was the time when television took it’s place in the American home, and families would gather round to watch shows like Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy. It was Eisenhower who nominated Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, leading the “Warren Court” to make so many decisions that led to much greater equality and justice in our country: Brown v. Board of Education, the banned racial segregation of public schools. Gideon v. Wainwright, which that all criminal defendants receive publicly funded defense counsel if they could not afford one themselves. Miranda v. Arizona, which led to the “Miranda Warning”, that everyone charged with a crime must be advised of his rights to remain silent until he has been advised by an attorney. And two of Eisenhower’s greatest legislative achievements still foster and promote economic growth today. In cooperation with Canada, we built the St. Lawrence Seaway, a series of canals and channels that connected all the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence River, opening up ports deep in our Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean. And it was Eisenhower who pushed through and signed the bill that authorized the Interstate Highway System in 1956. He managed to overcome opposition claiming the project was “too expensive” and that we “couldn’t afford it” by promoting it as essential to American security during the Cold War. It was believed that large cities would be targets in a possible war, hence the highways were designed to facilitate their evacuation and ease military maneuvers. But he also believed an interstate highway system would lead to greater economic growth, and he was right.
Although known for, and probably elected President, as a great military leader, Eisenhower knew first hand the horrors of war and deftly kept us out of war. And it was Dwight Eisenhower who first warned us of the dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
On Fox News Sunday this morning former Senator and Republican Presidential Candidate Bob Dole said that he didn’t think he could make it in today’s Republican Party, and he didn’t think Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon could either. I thinks he’s right, and would certainly add Dwight D. Eisenhower to the list. But, I’ll leave it at that. Memorial Day is no day for partisan politics. It is a day to honor people like Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Greatest Generation would saved us from Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. It is day to honor the millions of brave men and women who serve and served with honor, distinction, and bravery wearing the uniform of our great nation. All gave some, and some gave all. God bless them, God bless their families, and may God bless our great country.