A supremely talented military commander and the 34th president of the United States Dwight. D Eisenhower, AKA Ike, served his country for many years and was an essential part of the Allies’ victory in World War II.
Born in Denison, Texas, in 1890, Dwight D. Eisenhower grew up in Abilene, Kansas, where he enjoyed an all-American childhood. He spent his time hunting, fishing, and playing football.
In 1911 Dwight won an exclusive appointment to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. At West Point, he played football until suffering a devastating knee injury. Though not an exceptional student- he graduated in the middle of his class.
Eisenhower was popular among his peers and enjoyed playing cards, smoking, and pulling pranks.
Early Military Career
In his early military career, Dwight D. Eisenhower spent his first few years of military service bouncing around from base to base. He started at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where he met and subsequently married Mamie Doud.
Dwight was then transferred to Camp Meade in Maryland, where he became good friends with another future American hero of the 2nd World War- George S. Patton. In 1920 both Dwight and Patton published prescient articles about the advantages of tanks and their uses in avoiding static trench warfare like World War I.
Dwight received a break when he was transferred to Panama in the Panama Canal zone, where he worked under General Fox Conner, who appreciated Eisenhower’s thinking regarding warfare and eventually arranged for his appointment at the Command and General Staff School located at Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas.
At the school, Eisenhower excelled, finishing first in his class and immediately began receiving important assignments. He served as an aide under legendary generals John J. Pershing and Douglass MacArthur.
Though polar opposites, Eisenhower served by MacArthur’s side for seven years. The two often disagreed, though as the superior officer MacArthur always got his way, despite their contrasting styles.
Eisenhower followed MacArthur to the Philippines in 1935 to organize and train the Philippine Commonwealth military.
World War II Rise & Service
Upon the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, Dwight returned to the United States where he initially played a role in training exercises at Ft. Polk in Louisiana.
These massive training exercises, which included up to 400,000 men, highlighted Dwight’s strategic brilliance and earned him a promotion to Brigadier General.
Several days after the Japanese brought the United States into the war with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Eisenhower was rushed to Washington D.C. to help work on U.S. war plans.
The Army Chief of Staff Geoge C. Marshall was impressed by Eisenhower, and Dwight was subsequently promoted again and handed more crucial assignments.
In 1942 Dwight D. Eisenhower led the allied troops to take back North Africa from its Nazi occupiers. Proving successful, Eisenhower quickly became the allied’s go-to commander for large-scale invasions.
In 1943 he led the allied invasion of Sicily and Italy. His most important task and greatest success of the war occurred the following year in 1944 when he was the supreme commander of Operation Overlord, which fooled the German high command and was the largest overseas invasion in warfare history. D-day, June 6th, 1944 commenced the invasion.
In just five short years, Eisenhower rose from lowly lieutenant to four-star general, becoming one of the most powerful and important men in the world.
After the allies had achieved victory, Dwight D. Eisenhower rightfully received a hero’s welcome at several world capitals, including Moscow, Paris, London, and of course, Washington D.C.
Eisenhower continued to play a role in Europe, helping to oversee the rebuild and reorganization of the continent. Eisenhower was criticized by many for “allowing” the Soviet red army to liberate and thus receive some control over Berlin.
In a tough move, Eisenhower was forced to remove his old friend General Patton from duty in Bavaria due to a violation committed by Patton placing former Nazis into governmental positions. Shortly after Patton passed away from injuries received in a car accident.
Dwight Eisenhower returned to Washington D.C. in the capacity of chief of staff of the army. During this two-year period, Dwight worked to transform the army from a war-time fighting force to one prepared for the “cold war.”
Dwight retired from military service in 1948 and subsequently wrote a memoir of his war experiences entitled Crusade in Europe and became the president of prestigious Columbia University.
Eisenhower’s military retirement was short-lived. After war broke out in Korea, he became the supreme commander of Nato forces in Europe, one of the world’s most important military positions.
Campaign and Elections of 1952 and 1956.
Many, including incumbent president Harry Truman, propped Eisenhower to run for the oval office in 1948. However, “Ike” declined. Even an offer to be run for president with Truman as his vice president was spurned.
Initially, Eisenhower demurred about running for office in 52′ as well. However, he had continued pushing from many prominent political figures and friends, including senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. of Massachusetts. Eventually, Dwight D. Eisenhower agreed to accept the Republican party’s nomination for president, defeating Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio in the process.
For his choice as vice president, Eisenhower went with a young senator from California- Richard M. Nixon, who would have a long, scandal-ridden presidential tenure nearly two decades later.
In the election, Ike faced off against the democrat’s nominee Adlai Stevens of Illinois. On the campaign trail, Eisenhower charmed the country with his straight-up way of speaking and reassuring smiles. All in all, Dwight visited 45 states on his campaign trail, and the campaign slogan “I Like Ike” became wildly popular.
Eisenhower did run into problems with his campaign, including a corruption scandal involving Richard Nixon. However, Nixon was eventually devoid of blame in this instance, and from his own personal connection to zealous, red-basher, Senator Joseph McCarthy. Overall, Ike’s reputation became damaged due to a commonly held belief that he had thrown away his principles for political advantages and success.
Come election day, Dwight. D. Eisenhower won the presidential election in a landslide victory. He received over 55 percent of the popular vote and a whopping 442 electoral college votes to Stevens’ paltry 89.
Eisenhower had a very high approval rating following his first term as president (between 68 and 79%). It was widely expected he would easily crush whoever the Democrats selected to run against him. Despite having many doubts about him, Eisenhower chose to keep Nixon on as his vice president.
Adlai Stevens once again won the Democratic nomination setting up a rematch in the general election. The country once again rallied around Ike, and he won by an even greater margin of victory than in the previous election. Eisenhower won 41 states and took home approximately 58% of the popular vote. Though Eisenhower won reelection, his Republican party continued to suffer as the democrats maintained control of the house.
Eisenhower’s presidency coincided with the United States’ arrival as a world superpower and with the “happy 50’s” when many people had more money and opportunities than ever before. Despite the image of the carefree 50s, Eisenhower had to face many difficult issues in both domestic and foreign affairs. For this article’s purpose, both of Ike’s terms in office have been condensed into domestic and foreign affairs sections.
Eisenhower’s administration implemented a series of reforms which Eisenhower himself titled “Modern Republicanism,” which preserved individual freedoms and the market economy system while still supplying welfare benefits to those in need.
During his tenure, Ike confirmed legislation that expanded social security programs, increased the minimum wage, and created the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
Under Eisenhower, the United States greatly improved its infrastructure, including the building of the St. Lawrence seaway in partnership with Canada, and his most notable infrastructure feat, the Interstate Highway program, which created a 41,000-mile roadway system that is still in place today.
The development of interstate programs improved travel times and safety and proved a great boost to the economy. The creation of the highway system also coincided with the development of suburbs and large-level evacuations from cities.
Despite a few minor recessions, on the whole, the economy expanded rapidly during the 50s and featured low levels of unemployment and increased wages. During Eisenhower’s presidency, personal income increased by a whopping 45%. Throughout his tenure, families could buy homes, cutting-edge appliances, and even 2nd or 3rd cars. Dwight placed a strong emphasis on balancing the budget and keeping government bureaus and agencies efficient. Three out of his eight years in office ended in the black.
Despite the success for many, poverty remained prevalent, and many Americans were poor. The south, in particular, was devastated, and as a result, a great African American migration to many northern and West Coast cities occurred. Large groups of African Americans moved to Detroit, Chicago, and Los Angeles, among other cities.
Eisenhower preferred to stay out of racial issues but found that impossible after the Brown V. Board of Education system ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.
Eisenhower dispatched federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, after governor Faubus failed to protect the first group of African American students from integrating.
Despite many challenges and oftentimes vagueness on the part of the President during his tenure, significant strides were made in civil rights. In 1957 Dwight signed the first civil rights legislation since immediately after the Civil War, the legislation intended to protect black voters’ rights, especially in the south.
Dwight D. Eisenhower also advanced desegregation in federal buildings as well as within the armed forces. Still, Eisenhower was often very cautious when promoting civil rights, often sympathizing with White Southerners.
Only once during his presidency in 1958 did Dwight meet with African American leaders, certainly making his record and stance on racial issues murky at best.
Eisenhower’s most significant foreign affairs policies came in the arena of defense policy. The main elements, according to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, included:
- Maintaining the vitality of the U.S. economy while still building sufficient strength to prosecute the Cold War
- Relying on nuclear weapons to deter potential Communist aggression
- Using the CIA to carry out clandestine operations against those directly or indirectly responsive to Soviet control
- Strengthing partnerships with allies and winning the friendships of nonaligned governments
Nuclear Policy and Soviet Relations
It is reasonably certain that pressure from the U.S. and indirect threats of using nuclear weapons helped end the Korean conflict, convincing North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union to negotiate with the United States.
When Mao Zedong’s People’s Republic of China (which Eisenhower never officially recognized) began to shell Taiwan and the Republic of China’s officially recognized government on the island, Eisenhower acted to bring U.S. Military force into the strait of Taiwan, and things eventually fizzled out. However, tensions remained and still remain high. A second Taiwan Strait crisis occurred in 1958.
Stalin died shortly after Eisenhower’s inauguration ushering in a whole new era of U.S.-Soviet relations. In 1955 a summit of Western and Soviet leaders was held in Switzerland. This conference helped ease tensions, although no major agreements or policy changes were made. In 1956 Eisenhower authorized the CIA to begin secret reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union.
After a successful summit with Soviet leader Khruschev, the leaders agreed to meet along with their English and French counterparts. However, these plans were ruined when an American U-2 reconnaissance plane was shot down flying over the Soviet Union and became an international scandal in which the U.S. was caught in a series of lies. The cold war grew even colder.
The CIA overthrew several governments while Eisenhower was in power.
They overthrew the contemporary government and restoration of the Shah in Iran, which gave the U.S. and Brittain great access to oil.
The Guatemalan government was overthrown in 1954. A pro- U.S. leader was put in charge.
The plans for the disposal of Cuban despot which resulted in the infamous “Bay of Pigs” was formed in 1960.
Dwight D. Eisenhower and his administration also put the precedent in place for intervention in Indochina (Vietnam) to prevent Ho Chi Minh and his communist regime from taking power, and in the Suez crisis in the Middle East, which resulted in the “Eisenhower doctrine” in the middle east which was to promote nationalism in the area by providing military and economic aid to countries in the Middle East facing the threat of communist aggression/takeover.
Later Life & Death
After leaving office, Dwight D. Eisenhower retired to a farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he spent time with his wife Mamie and raised Angus cattle. Dwight and his wife traveled extensively, and despite his retirement, Ike remained involved with politics advising both John F. Kennedy and his successor Lyndon B. Johnson.
Ike suffered a heart attack almost two year’s after Kennedy’s assassination in 1965, and his health gradually deteriorated. After spending nine months at Walter Reed Hospital beginning in 1968, Dwight D. Eisenhower passed away at the age of 78 on March 28, 1969.