Eisenhower, Dwight David

(“Ike”)
(1890-1969)
   34th president of the United States. Born in Denison, Texas, Dwight D. (“Ike”) Eisenhower graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1915 and was commissioned in the infantry. During World War I, Eisenhower remained in the United States in charge of training camps. After the war, he served in Panama and attended the General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Texas, and the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. After serving as General Douglas MacArthur’s chief of staff and a term in the Philippines, Eisenhower was appointed head of the War Plans Division in Washington, D.C., in December 1941. In May 1942, he was given command of U.S. troops in Great Britain, and in July he was appointed to lead the Allied invasion of North Africa in November. He led the invasion of Sicily on 10 July 1943 and the invasion of Italy on 9 September 1943. In December 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Eisenhower as supreme allied commander with the responsibility of leading the invasion of Europe in June 1944.
   Although sometimes criticized for his caution, Eisenhower was an excellent strategist, and he managed to get the best out of British General Bernard Montgomery and American George S. Patton. However, Eisenhower’s insistence that fighting be continued on a broad front meant that supplies were spread thinly, and it left Allied forces vulnerable to counterattack, which occurred during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. Nonetheless, Eisenhower was able to turn the tide by his effective use of manpower and the support for the forces holding Bastogne, Belgium. Once the Germans were forced back, Eisenhower continued the broad front strategy rather than letting either Montgomery or Patton move on to Berlin. Instead, he left it to the Soviet army to take the German capital. In November 1945, Eisenhower replaced General George C. Marshall as the U.S. Army’s chief of staff. Eisenhower retired in 1948 and produced his war memoir, Crusade in Europe, that year.
   After leaving the army, Eisenhower became president of Columbia University in New York City. He resisted overtures from both political parties to run on the presidential ticket in 1948. In 1951, he became first Allied supreme commander in Europe, and he provided military leadership for the newly formed North Atlantic Treaty Organization. However, in 1952 he was persuaded to run as the Republican presidential candidate, and he defeated Senator Robert A. Taft to win the party’s nomination. He easily defeated Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson and went on to win a second term in 1956, again defeating Stevenson.
   As president, Eisenhower practiced what he called “dynamic conservatism,” or “moderate progressivism,” meaning that he was liberal on social issues but conservative on economic matters—his was a “middle way.” He distanced himself from Joseph McCarthy and disapproved of the worst excesses of McCarthyism. Abroad, Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end and refused to commit U.S. troops to the war in Vietnam following the French defeat in 1954. He did, however, sanction the overthrow of an apparently leftwing government in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954. During the 1950s, the United States became increasingly involved in the Middle East, sending troops to the Lebanon in 1958 but refusing to support the British and French in the Suez Crisis of 1956. In 1959, Eisenhower approved preparations by the Central Intelligence Agency for an invasion of Cuba to overthrow the new regime of Fidel Castro. Those plans led to the failure in the Bay of Pigs in 1961.
   At home, Eisenhower accepted the basic reform initiatives of the New Deal, extending Social Security and raising minimum wage levels. His administration also approved the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and embarked on a massive road-building scheme with the 1956 Federal Highways Act. Following the Soviet success in launching Sputnik, an unmanned satellite, in 1957, Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) in 1958 and provided federal funding for scientific research through the National Defense Education Act. Although as a fiscal conservative he aimed for a balanced budget, he only achieved that balance on two occasions. However, he supported such probusiness policies as the reduction of corporation taxes and increased tax relief. He refused to support any expansion of the Tennessee Valley Authority or federal control of atomic energy. Moreover, Eisenhower only reluctantly acted on civil rights issues, disapproved of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, and used federal troops in Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce desegregation of the public schools only when forced to by Governor Orval Faubus. Although he took a strong position against the Soviet Union when they shot down a U-2 U.S. spy plane in 1960, when Eisenhower left office he warned against the dangers of a growing “military-industrial complex.” He retired in Abilene, Kansas.

Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . . 2015.

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