Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis: Suez and the Brink of War
David A. Nichols
Paperback. 346 pp.
February 2012. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.
A few years ago, I ordered the The Presidents Collection DVD box set from PBS’s awesome American Experience series. This particular set included documentaries about 10 of the most important and influential Presidents of the 20th Century: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy (in “The Kennedys” featuring the story of the entire political family), Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. For someone like me, 35 hours worth of documentaries about our Presidents is basically my personal definition of heaven and I have never had any complaints about my purchase. However, I’ve always been surprised that one of the 20th Century Presidents left out of this particular set of DVDs is the 34th President, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
For some reason, Dwight D. Eisenhower as President is often overlooked or overshadowed. The mid-20th Century featured large personalities immediately preceding and succeeding Eisenhower in the Presidency — FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, and Nixon — and the eight years that Eisenhower served were relatively calm, peaceful, and prosperous in comparison to the events that took place during the Administrations of FDR (Great Depression/World War II), Truman (End of World War II/Atomic bombing of Japan/Korean War), JFK (Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile Crisis), LBJ (Civil Rights Movement/Vietnam), and Nixon (Vietnam/Watergate). Then there’s the fact that Eisenhower’s greatest fame came before he entered the world of politics, first as one of the leading Generals and then the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, where he planned and oversaw the successful D-Day invasion of Europe. In a way, President Eisenhower has always been overshadowed by General Eisenhower, and Eisenhower’s performance as President continues to be underrated, although more Americans are beginning to understand Ike’s greatness during his two terms in the White House.
The world didn’t stop being a dangerous place from 1953-1961. A famous Eisenhower quote inscribed on a wall at the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, Kansas notes that the peace and prosperity that the United States enjoyed during his Administration wasn’t the result of good luck: “The United States never lost a soldier or a foot of ground during my Administration. We kept the peace. People ask how it happened — by God, it didn’t just happen.” Eisenhower spent almost his entire adult life prior to entering politics as a warrior, but as President, the old soldier committed himself and his nation towards, in one of his favorite phrases, “waging peace”.
Even before Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn into office in January 1953, he took steps to end the fighting in the Korean War, which had become a stalemate under President Truman. During the transition between Eisenhower’s election and inauguration, the President-elect followed through on a campaign pledge and traveled to Korea to revive peace talks and help guide the parties to an Armistice. When he took office, Eisenhower hit the ground running and Americans had immense faith in their new President because of the leadership skills that helped the Allies win World War II. The peace and prosperity that Americans enjoyed during Eisenhower’s first term virtually guaranteed that Ike could be easily re-elected in 1956.
David A. Nichols begins his remarkable look at the most difficult year of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Presidency, Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis: Suez and the Brink of War (Paperback, 2012, Simon & Schuster), with President Eisenhower enjoying a nice vacation at the Colorado home of his mother-in-law. However, early in the morning of September 24, 1955, the President, who was less than a month away from his 65th birthday, suffered a massive heart attack. The quick reaction of Eisenhower’s wife, Mamie, may have saved the President’s life, but a little over a year away from the 1956 election, Eisenhower’s ability to seek re-election, or even continue in the Presidency, was in serious question.
Nichols follows President Eisenhower’s recovery into 1956 as Ike slowly but surely regains his strength and becomes convinced that he is not only capable of seeking re-election, but that his country needs him to remain at the helm. The President’s heart attack is the beginning of several crises that make Eisenhower 1956 a gripping account as the political calendar flips closer and closer to Election Day, and as one international crisis after another plunge the world to the brink of yet another World War and seemingly blend together to make every move that the Eisenhower Administration makes potentially dangerous and crucial to the survival of peace.
In Eisenhower 1956, David A. Nichols uncovers incredible details from recently declassified documents, personal diaries, diplomatic cables, and more in order to prove that Dwight D. Eisenhower was not merely a popular, genial, caretaker in the White House. Instead, Eisenhower was a hands-on leader who may have come from a military background but who had perhaps better political instincts than any American politician of his time. Eisenhower was clever and cunning, in national politics and international diplomacy. Despite running for a second term and another serious setback to his health, Eisenhower stays engaged at a top-level and, in many instances, the President’s perspective on foreign relations and his vision for the big picture rivals that of his ever-present Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and any of the other longtime political or diplomatic veterans in Eisenhower’s Cabinet or inner circle. For those readers who were previously aware of Eisenhower’s surprising political skills, Eisenhower 1956 will add to your appreciation of Ike’s capabilities. For those who might have thought of the old General as a hands-off delegator with a famous smile who won the Presidency as something akin to a lifetime achievement award — and there are many Americans who have thought of Eisenhower the President in that way over the past half-century — this book by Nichols is perhaps the best revelation yet about Eisenhower’s immense skills and how he transformed the Presidency.
The main conflict in Eisenhower 1956 is the Suez Crisis, an event that continues to have consequences today in an area of the world which remains a flashpoint. Since the Suez Crisis took place in 1956, some historians have looked at it one of the last gasps of European colonialism in the wake of World War II. Throughout Eisenhower 1956, the deep research done by David A. Nichols reveals incredible details about how the Suez Crisis escalated and what could have happened if not for the restraint and stunning diplomatic footwork of President Eisenhower and the Eisenhower Administration. One of the most incredible aspects of the Suez Crisis is how, just a decade following the end of World War II, two of America’s wartime Allies that owed perhaps more gratitude than anyone else to Dwight D. Eisenhower — Great Britain and France — secretly plotted with Israel to double-cross President Eisenhower and the United States in order to attack Egypt after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. It is a tremendous story, told with incredible detail by Dr. Nichols, which not only takes you back to 1956, but makes you feel as if you were in charge of President Eisenhower’s daily calendar throughout the crisis.
Most unbelievable of all is that President Eisenhower’s bid for re-election, the most heated moments of the Suez Crisis, and Eisenhower’s precarious health are issues that don’t simply share the same year — 1956 — but, in many cases, take place simultaneously. And, as President Eisenhower considers how to handle the Suez Crisis — including the unthinkable possibility of American forces combating the aggression against Egypt by responding militarily against our seemingly inseparable Allies, Britain, France, and Israel — the Soviet Union puts down a popular revolt in Hungary with 200,000 Russian troops and threatens to funnel weapons and funding, if not direct military support, in the Middle East.
Eisenhower 1956 is a compelling, phenomenal history of one of our great, underrated Presidents, at the top of his game as a world leader and visionary of modern global relations, responding to a hurricane of dangerous international crises with political skills that few leaders — Presidents, diplomats, politicians, or soldiers — have ever possessed. Dr. Nichols has crafted a masterpiece that does justice to the gravity of the events portrayed in his book while giving President Eisenhower the just due that he so richly deserves. This is an important work for the study of Eisenhower, the American Presidency, the Cold War, and the always-evolving status of American relations in the Middle East.
Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis: Suez and the Brink of War by David A. Nichols is available now in hardcover and paperback from Simon & Schuster. You can order the book from Amazon, or download it instantly for your Kindle. Dr. Nichols previously authored another title about the 34th President, A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution (BOOK•KINDLE). For more information on Dr. Nichols, be sure to check out his author page at the Simon & Schuster website.
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
34th President of the United States (1953-1961)
Full Name: Dwight David Eisenhower (Born David Dwight Eisenhower)
Born: October 14, 1890, Denison, Texas
Term: January 20, 1953-January 20, 1961
Political Party: Republican
Vice President: Richard Nixon
Died: March 28, 1969, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C.
Buried: Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Abilene, Kansas
Ulysses S. Grant is on American currency because of his successes as a Union General during the Civil War, not because of anything he did as President of the United States. For decades, the first thing that Dwight D. Eisenhower has been remembered for is his leadership as the Allied Commander during World War II. Perhaps that will never change, and maybe it shouldn’t, but as the years pass and we are able to compare him to others, it is clear that Eisenhower was a great President. Eisenhower was an incredibly clever and able politician, and he modernized the way the Executive Branch works and is organized. Eisenhower brought the military-type of chief of staff position to the White House and it changed the way that Presidential power was used and protected. The eight years of the Eisenhower Administration were prosperous and peaceful, and despite his age and his supposed “inexperience” with politics, Eisenhower was hands-on and directed every aspect of his Presidency. That made for a strong Presidency and a country that was steered into the 1960’s by President, not General, Eisenhower.
1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine: Not Ranked
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine: 22 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine: 9 of 38
1990: Siena Institute: 12 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine: 10 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 9 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll: 8 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership: 8 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 8 of 42
2010: Siena Institute: 10 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre: 10 of 40
“We seek peace, knowing that peace is the climate of freedom. And now, as in no other age, we seek it because we have been warned, by the power of modern weapons, that peace may be the only climate possible for human life itself.” —Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), 34th President of the United States (1953-1961), Second Inaugural Address, January 21, 1957
The names “Truman” and “Eisenhower” would became two of the most important and admired of the 20th Century. Harry Truman succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt when FDR died in 1945 and helped guide the nation through the last days of World War II. Dwight Eisenhower was the commanding general of that war, and went on to serve as President from 1953-1961 after Truman declined to run for another term in 1952. Truman and Eisenhower had a close relationship at first, became antagonistic towards each other for several years, and reconciled in 1963 when they shared a vehicle during President Kennedy’s funeral. No matter what their personal relationship, though, Truman and Eisenhower made their mark on the world and by the end of the 20th Century, they were both revered as American heroes.
If you had mentioned that to a couple of young businessmen sharing a room in a Kansas City, Missouri boardinghouse at the beginning of the 20th Century, they probably would have thought you were insane. After all, roommates Vivian Truman (Harry’s younger brother) and Arthur Eisenhower (Dwight’s older brother) were far more successful at the time than their brothers who would later change the world.
Eisenhower was a good President. He was popular with the American people and the nation under Eisenhower experienced relative peace and prosperity. Ike was underrated in his political abilities. Because Eisenhower was plain-spoken, a career soldier, and an older man who was kind of grandfatherly, many people think of him as a political novice. Instead, Eisenhower was a very clever political operator, not just as President but also as he rose through the ranks of the U.S. Army.
In fact, Eisenhower organized the Executive Office of the President in a different manner than it had previously been organized. Eisenhower brought that military-style organization into the White House and the model that he created for governing is pretty closely followed today. Eisenhower was the first President to appoint a White House Chief of Staff. Other Presidents had private secretaries that played a similar role, but Eisenhower (who had been Chief of Staff to several Generals prior to World War II) not only created that position to assist the Commander-in-Chief, but even carried over the name of the Chief of Staff position from the Army to the White House. Since Eisenhower’s Presidency, the influence of the White House Chief of Staff has continued to grow to the point where, in many instances, the Chief of Staff is one of the most powerful people in the United States. Eisenhower’s vision for how the Executive Branch should be organized in order for it to be as efficient as possible was really visionary for someone who happened to be the last President born in the 19th Century.
Now, no President is perfect and that goes for Eisenhower, too. I wish he would have openly opposed Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy during McCarthy’s disgusting witch-hunt that ruined the lives of so many people. I think President Eisenhower could have brought an end to the McCarthy hearings if he had used the power of his office and personality to stand up to McCarthy. We know now that Eisenhower worked in the background to destroy McCarthy, but I feel that what he helped eventually accomplish behind-the-scenes could have happened sooner if Eisenhower — the most popular and trusted person in the United States, if not the world in the 1950s — had used the force of his personality to bring McCarthy down. A lot of innocent people were ruined by McCarthy’s attacks and by Eisenhower’s reluctance to publicly take McCarthy on.
Overall, though, Eisenhower was a good President and good for our country.
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” — Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969), 34th President of the United States (1953-1961)