Military Leader, Thirty-Fourth President of the United States : 1890-1969
It may come as a surprise that these words belong to a man whose extraordinary career was forged in the furnace of Twentieth Century warfare. Perhaps those who actually experience war may be best qualified to testify to its costs. In the same speech, delivered early in his presidency, Eisenhower said: “The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.”
Dwight Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas and grew up in Abilene, Kansas. His parents, who raised six sons (a seventh died in infancy) on very modest means, were strict Christians who stressed the importance of hard work and self-sufficiency. Although the opportunity for a free college education at the U.S. Military Academy was a boon for this high school football star, a knee injury at West Point forced him to the sidelines and left him discouraged about his prospects. Graduating in the middle third of his class in 1915, Eisenhower again felt sidelined during World War I when he was assigned command of a newly-formed tank training unit rather than to the overseas duty he craved. By the end of his first decade in the service, however, he had come to be regarded as a promising staff officer with strong leadership and tactical skills. His rise from the rank of lieutenant colonel to that of five star general during World War II (1941-45) remains a remarkable feat in the annals of the service.
“Ike,” as he was widely known, is remembered today as the Allied Commander of the integrated land, sea and air forces that planned and executed the D-Day invasion of France which led, ultimately, to the liberation of Europe from Nazi domination. Crusade in Europe (1948) is his account of the war years. In 1949-50 he re-entered civilian life to become president of Columbia University and, in 1950, President Truman appointed him Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the world’s first peacetime command of a multinational force. In each of these roles he had to deal with people representing diverse backgrounds and interests and keep them united in a common purpose without yielding authority.
Eisenhower’s great personal popularity, epitomized by his famous wide and winning smile, won him the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1952 and swept him into office at a time when the country was mired in the Korean War. As President, he was able to keep his campaign promise to end that conflict in 1953. He served two terms and demonstrated that he preferred consensus to confrontation. His administration promoted the Atoms for Peace program and supported the extension of civil rights. Often quoted but too seldom remembered are these words from his farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”