The Reading Room, in which we take a look at recently released books, is an occasional feature of this blog and of More Politically Alert which airs on Manchestertv23 live Wednesday at 9 p.m., rebroadcast Thursday at 9 p.m., Sunday at noon, and Tuesday at 11 p.m. (always available at vimeo.com).
David A. Nichols, an Eisenhower scholar, has chronicled the year leading up to the crisis in an exciting and highly readable 300 page new book, Eisenhower 1956 (The President's Year of Crisis, Suez and the Brink of War).
In the fall of 1955, Eisenhower suffered a heart attack; in June, 1956, he underwent abdominal surgery, so it would be easy to conclude that he was not in the best of shape during the build-up to the crisis.
However, he stood firm against our allies and against the Soviets in one of the most courageous acts of Presidential leadership we are likely to encounter.
Eisenhower 1956 ( succeeds on so many levels.
Not only does it provide a day by day account of the behind the scenes maneuverings in the Middle East, it also presents a great look inside the man who (in my humble opinion) ranks behind Washington in the pantheon of Presidents.
After the heart attack, when the Soviet Union decided to sell arms to Egypt, the President was sidelined for the better part of two months. He also had to decide whether or not to seek re-election. In fact, he didn’t make the announcement until February 29, 1956. That would be like Obama not deciding until next February that he plans to run again. (Hey, by next February, he may decide that he’s NOT going to run).
Eisenhower 1956 provides fascinating insight into that decision making process including a quote from New Hampshire’s own Sherman Adams, “The real reason a President wants to run again is because he doesn’t think anybody else can do as good a job as he’s doing.”
True in 1956, probably not so true today.
But I digress.
When warned by his doctors that he had to avoid stressful situations, Eisenhower wrote to a friend, “To avoid all situation that bring about such reactions as irritation, frustration, anxiety, fear and above all, anger….Just what do you think the Presidency is?”
Keep in mind, 1956 was a decade prior passage of the Constitutional amendment clarifying Presidential succession, so that adds another layer of what one would think (incorrectly) would be a simple and straightforward narrative.
When it comes to the Middle East, the reader can’t help but think how little things have changed since 1956. The insoluble problems Ike was dealing with remain insoluble today with the exception that the onus is now on the U.S. while Britain and France, whose colonial adventurism created most of the problems, are out of the picture.
There’s also a gem of insight into government spending contained in this marvelous pages. Concerning the need to spend more to build up weapons system in 1956, Eisenhower presciently warned, “The government could force higher spending and our abundant economy could stand it—for a while; but you cannot do it for the long pull without destroying incentives, inflating the currency, and increasing government controls. This would require an authoritarian system of government and destroy the health of our free society.” (page 49)
Wow! Don’t those words right true today?
Talk about first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen, Ike sure measure up to Washington in that regard.
On the walls of the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, Kansas, this quotation, a quote from Ike which, is inscribed. “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.”
Thanks Ike for eight year of peace and prosperity and thanks David A. Nichols for great insight into the man and the times.