June 27, 2013

Good Thursday. Cooler here after a little rain. Also smoky from fires.

We watched a good PBS documentary on Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Ike,” who started life in a poor family in Abilene, Kansas and went on to graduate from West Point, rise to the rank of 5-star general and Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during WWII, and then win election as president of the US for two terms. The film divides his career into his military career and the presidency. At the outbreak of WWII, Ike was a 44-year-old major. He was known for his organizational ability, though, and quickly won a series of promotions under FDR and his top military advisor Gen. George C. Marshall. Ike commanded the D-Day invasion of Europe and the final assault against Nazi Germany.

In 1952 Ike declared himself a Republican and ran for president. He held his nose when campaigning with Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy and didn’t care much for red-baiters like his running mate Richard Nixon. Ike’s great strength as president was his thorough knowledge of the military world. He famously left office with a speech warning the country against the “military-industrial complex,” which however is still very much with us. Ike thought that much military spending was a waste of money. He was right.

Ike’s other nemesis in government was the newly formed CIA, which sent the U2 spy plane with pilot Francis Gary Powers over the Soviet Union just a couple of weeks before a May 1958 summit meeting between Eisenhower and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. The plane took off from Pakistan and was supposed to land in Norway after filming Soviet military installations. It was shot down by a Russian missile, and Powers bailed without hitting the self-destruct switch, giving the Soviets access to our latest technology. He carried a card that said in 14 languages, “I am an American.”

The U2 episode destroyed the growing détente between the West and the USSR, a situation which was not to be improved until the Beatles’ White Album. At almost the same time, the CIA was working on its famously botched invasion of Cuba, a disastrous plan that JFK inherited. Ike was famous for his broad smile, but intimates say he rarely smiled in private. He smiled in public to promote confidence, first in the Army and then as a politician, and it worked. Good primer on US history during Ike’s lifetime. We watched it on a VHS tape from the public library.

Eisenhower VHS

Comments are closed.