The following is an evaluation of the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower. The perspectives of two different historians, Arthur M. Schlesinger, jr., and Stephen E. Ambrose, are analyzed. Ambrose presents a generally positive view of Eisenhower’s presidency, praising him for keeping us out of war, especially in Vietnam. Schlesinger, however, is far more critical of Eisenhower, particularly in regard to his use of the central intelligence agency and atomic weapons. This investigation will attempt to present the evidence for and against President Eisenhower, to thoroughly analyze the information, and to arrive at a conclusion as to the extent of Dwight Eisenhower’s success as president.
Criterion B-summery of evidence
To historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, jr., Dwight D. Eisenhower was a failure as president. In domestic affairs, Schlesinger concludes that Eisenhower did what duty required, but little more (Schlesinger, 392). He criticizes President Eisenhower for creating the largest peacetime defecate in history through that time(Schlesinger, 391), for his use of executive privilege(Schlesinger, 390), for never renouncing the idea that a president has the authority to send troops into major combat without congressional approval(Schlesinger, 391), and for his inaction on civil rights(Schlesinger, 391).
Schlesinger becomes far more critical of President Eisenhower in the field of foreign affairs, arguing that Eisenhower relied “exceptionally, and dangerously, on unconventional forms of coercive power: upon the covert operations of the central intelligence agency, and upon nuclear weapons.” (Schlesinger, 395) Schlesinger gives many examples of covert actions by the central intelligence agency (Schlesinger, 396), and points out that the amount the central intelligence agency was spending on covert action increased by a factor of ten in the first four years of Eisenhower’s presidency (Schlesinger, 396). He proceeds to present President Eisenhower’s central intelligence agency as dangerously unsupervised and out of control. He does this by quoting President Eisenhower’s own board of consultants on foreign intelligence and special assistant for national security (Schlesinger, 396-7). He blames Eisenhower for releasing a “dangerous virus in American society and life.” (Schlesinger, 398)
Schlesinger’s greatest criticism of President Eisenhower is in his treatment of nuclear weapons. He shows how President Eisenhower used the threat of nuclear weapons more than any other president, citing such examples as Korea and Quemoy-Matsu (Schlesinger, 399-400). He asserts that Eisenhower saw little, if any, distinction between nuclear weapons and conventional weapons, and condems President Eisenhower’s campaign to legitimate nuclear war (Schlesinger, 400). The British perspective that President Eisenhower’s desire for the legitimacy of nuclear weapons may have been a greater threat to world peace than the Soviet Union is clearly illustrated (Schlesinger, 401-2). Oddly enough, in the following section Schlesinger calls that campaign “a passing phase” (Schlesinger, 402) and presents a positive view of President Eisenhower’s atoms for peace plan and open skies(Schlesinger, 403). His final criticisms of President Eisenhower come in regards to the buildup of atomic weapons during his terms and his hawk like advice to later presidents in favor of war (Schlesinger, 403-4).
Historian Stephen E. Ambrose presents a much more positive view of the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower. He praises President Eisenhower for making peace in Korea and keeping peace during the rest of his terms, especially in Vietnam in 1954. Ambrose presents a good deal of evidence from written records, as well as interviews with Eisenhower, to establish Dwight Eisenhower as an exceptionally good president. Although Ambrose does present some criticisms of President Eisenhower, particularly in regards to his action (or lack thereof) on the issues of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hunt for communists and the Supreme Court decision in the case of brown v. board of education of Topeka, Kansas. Both historians seem to be in general agreement that Eisenhower erred in his treatment of these two issues, and that the contemporary view of Eisenhower as a national hero who played golf and neglected his job was inaccurate.
Criterion C-evaluation of sources
Stephen E. Ambrose is professor of history and director of the Eisenhower center at the University of New Orleans. He has written several books about Dwight D. Eisenhower. His work is based on numerous sources, including Eisenhower’s diary, Eisenhower’s private correspondence, minutes of various meetings, as well as a number of interviews with Dwight Eisenhower himself.
Arthur m. Schlesinger, jr., is a renowned American historian. He has won both the Pulitzer Prize and the national book award, twice. He quotes from (and sometimes criticizes) several other historians, including Stephen E. Ambrose. He also uses non-American sources regularly throughout his work, a fact which distinguishes him from Stephen E. Ambrose.
Both historians are American, and both wrote there books around the same time, so there is little different between the two in time or place. They both had access to the same materials, although they selected different materials to use. Schlesinger looks primarily at what the President Eisenhower’s contemporaries thought and at the works of other historians, while Ambrose concentrates mainly on the words of President Eisenhower himself. Schlesinger also spends a fair portion of his article discussing president Eisenhower’s handling of the central intelligence agency, while Ambrose fails to seriously address this issue. Another relevant distinction between these two historians’ works is that Schlesinger’s book is a general book on American history, while Ambrose’s book is a biography of Eisenhower.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of only five presidents in the twentieth century to have served eight consecutive years in the white house. He served during the cold war, and his actions had a tremendous effect on that conflict. Stephen E. Ambrose and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., are in general agreement on his handling of domestic affairs, but take opposite views of President Eisenhower’s actions in regard to foreign affairs. Stephen E. Ambrose Praises President Eisenhower for ending the Korean War and for maintaining peace for the remainder of the decade. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., criticizes President Eisenhower for what he portrays as recklessness in his treatment of nuclear weapons and the central intelligence agency. It is not adequate, as Ambrose’s writing would seem to suggest, to judge a persons actions only by there actual outcome. It is at least as important to consider what the consequences of ones actions might have been if things had gone just a little bit differently
It is interesting to note that both Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Stephen E. Ambrose both chose to use the same quote from Robert Divine in there writing. Divine says “The beauty of Eisenhower’s policy is that to this day no one can be sure whether or not … he would have used nuclear weapons.” Stephen E. Ambrose uses this quote to make a point about President Eisenhower’s decision making process in regard to the Quemoy-Matsu crisis of 1955(Ambrose, 385). Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., points out that we did not consider nuclear “blackmail” beautiful when the Russians tried it (Schlesinger, 400). Perhaps the strongest statement of President Eisenhower’s recklessness with nuclear weapons comes from a British official who apparently saw the United States as a greater threat than the Soviet Union (Schlesinger, 401-2). However, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., totally condemns President Eisenhower’s “campaign to legitimate the bomb” in one section and calls it a “passing phase” in the next (Schlesinger, 402). If Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., cannot make up his own mind, then how can one conclude that he is correct?
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., bases his criticism of President Eisenhower’s handling of the CIA largely on the reports of President Eisenhower’s own board of consultants on foreign intelligence activities and special assistant for national security (Schlesinger, 400-1). While the opinions of these sources are certainly worth taking into account, they cannot form the entire basis for a judgment that President Eisenhower allowed the central intelligence agency to get out of control. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., also fails to consider the significance of the U-2 spy plane. From 1956 on, the U-2 spy plane provided a great deal of information about the Soviet Union. As Stephen E. Ambrose points out, President Eisenhower authorized every U-2 flight separately, and only after knowing the specifics of the proposed flight.
Although Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., is at times inconsistent or ignores important facts, he presents a good deal of relevant information in support of his arguments. Stephen E. Ambrose does present more information, but sometimes ignoring the possible consequences of President Eisenhower’s actions.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower may have had a more successful military career than any other commander in chief of the 20th century, his success as president was due more to luck than to skilled leadership. Eisenhower repeatedly and dangerously used the threat of nuclear war to produce the results he desired in crisis in Asia. The fact that that threat was generally successful cannot negate the possible consequences if it had not been. President Eisenhower also allowed the covert operations of the central intelligence agency to become dangerously unchecked. Although Schlesinger wavers somewhat himself as to the degree of President Eisenhower’s recklessness in these two areas, it is clear that Dwight Eisenhower’s actions (or intentional lack thereof) on these two issues were far from positive. President Eisenhower’s dangerous actions with nuclear weapons and the central intelligence agency, combined with his mediocrity in domestic affairs, make him an unwise replacement even for the single most unpopular president of the century.