The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s by William I Hitchcock, Simon & Schuster, US $35.00, Pp 672, March 2018, ISBN 978-1439175668
President Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States who has left a lasting impact on the country. As the president from 1953 to 1961, he reshaped the United States in more than one way. In The Age of Eisenhower, William I. Hitchcock says that President Eisenhower dramatically expanded the power and scope of the 20th-century warfare state and put into place a long-term strategy designed to wage, and win, the cold war. President Eisenhower spent much of his time forging a global role for the United States. Unlike the isolationist faction in his own party, he believed that to defend freedom and liberty at home, Americans would have to defend these principles overseas as well.
In spite of his views, President Eisenhower did not seek war. On the contrary, Hitchcock says, he ended active hostilities in Korea, avoided US military intervention in Indo-China in 1954, deterred China’s military adventures in the Taiwan Straits in 1955 and 1958, compelled Britain and France to reverse their ill-conceived invasion of Egypt in 1956, and even established stable personal relations with the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. President Eisenhower’s global strategy required the steady accumulation of immense national power and a willingness to deploy that power when necessary. He presided over a significant expansion of America’s secret agencies and ordered them to conduct covert operations and coups d’états around the world. President Eisenhower built the United States into a military colossus of a scale and lethality never before seen and devoted an enormous amount of the national wealth to this effort.
President Eisenhower recast domestic politics by strengthening a national consensus about the place of government in the lives of American citizens. Before President Eisenhower, the political pendulum had swung from the archconservative nostrums of President Warren Harding, President Calvin Coolidge, and President Herbert Hoover to the bold, all-encompassing activism of President Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. President Eisenhower, perhaps the least partisan president of modern times, sought to stop the pendulum in dead center. To be sure, when he ran for president in 1952, he thundered against the ‘statism’ of the New Deal and its expansive federal programs. But once in office, he adopted centrist and pragmatic policies that fairly reflected the preferences of most of his fellow citizens. Early on he made his peace with the New Deal, expanding social security, raising the minimum wage, and founding the Departments of Health, Education, and Welfare.
President Eisenhower established a distinctive model of presidential leaders that Americans ought to study. Hitchcock says we might call it the disciplined presidency. Raised in a strict and frugal family and trained for a career of soldiering, President Eisenhower believed that discipline was the key to success. Not only did he apply discipline to his own person, but also infused discipline in his governing style. Coming into Truman’s disorganized and improvisational White House, President Eisenhower imposed order on it and established clear rules of procedure. Each Monday he met with leaders from Congress and, on Wednesdays, he held his weekly press conference with the print, radio, and (after January 1955) television reporters. On Thursdays, he chaired the National Security Council while on Fridays, he met with his cabinet.
Discipline carried over into President Eisenhower’s approach to the economy and defense. A champion of the free market, President Eisenhower told Americans that prosperity would come only to those who worked hard and made sacrifices. He made it clear that the government would do no more than clear a path so that individual Americans could demonstrate their God-given talents. It is no accident that President Eisenhower’s closest friends were self-made millionaires who, like him, had started out in life with little.
The Age of Eisenhower gives a new and deep insight into the personality, times and legacy of President Eisenhower. William I Hitchcock describes how President Eisenhower turned America into a superpower, reshaped American politics and disciplined the office of the president. Hitchcock shines a light on previously unexplored aspects of President Eisenhower’s life and politics. Hitchcock shows that President Eisenhower’s legacy continues to impact American politics and foreign policy. Hitchcock is without a doubt one of the greatest living hiving historians.