The Origins Of Apocalypse Management
President Eisenhower took office determined to develop a coherent, unified, long-term strategy for national security in an era of cold war. From his first day in office to his last, his strategy would aim at the same fundamental goal: “to defend a way of life." Eisenhower was innately conservative. According to his favorite speechwriter, Emmet Hughes, he “was never more decisive than when he held to a steely resolve not to do something.” In performing any public duty or assessing any public situation, he asked first about potential dangers to be avoided. As Campbell Craig’s says, he showed an “inclination to pursue negative rather than positive objectives. … Others could try to perfect society; he would work to make sure it survived for another day.” In Anthony Joes words, his aims as president were most often "expressed in terms of preventing bad things from happening."
Eisenhower spoke of the dangers he faced, not as a series of disparate problems, but as so many manifestations of a single unified threat that could destroy “the American way” and “civilization as we know it.” The apocalyptic framework brought into the White House continued to shape his private language during his first months in office, as his grand strategy was being formulated. As Ronald Pruessen has written, a "crisis atmosphere permeated the Eisenhower presidency" from the very beginning.
The predominant threat, in the president's view, came
from Soviet communism: "A backward
civilization with a second rate production plant [has] develop[ed] the power to
frighten us all out of our wits,” he wrote.
Even in National Security Council (NSC) meetings and other high-level
policy conferences, where one might expect his words to have been most measured
and deliberate, he framed policy problems in terms of apocalyptic threat. At one of the first NSC meetings, he warned
Eisenhower had long been equating
While the president worried about the external threat
posed by the Soviets, he told legislative leaders that he was just as concerned
about the apocalyptic internal threat posed by the “long continuance and
magnitude of Federal spending.” The
military budget would determine “the long-term capacity of the
This was the context in which he approached the
question of nuclear weapons. It was
clear from the beginning that the bomb would play a crucial role in preserving
national security, though he struggled throughout his presidency to define that
role precisely. Eisenhower had no principled objection to
using it. Among Army men, he had long
been a champion of relatively heavy reliance upon it as “a weapon of first
resort," as David Alan Rosenberg puts it.
And he assumed from the outset that his administration would increase
Deployed in the context of a discourse of Manichaean dualism, the bomb reinforced the tendency to speak of the global conflict in absolutes. For some, it raised hopes for absolute victory. For others, its promise of deterrence raised hopes for absolute safety from every threat. Eisenhower rejected these hopes. He was the first president to stress that the instrument of military omnipotence could itself trigger limitless catastrophe. The "winner" of a nuclear war would also be a loser, overwhelmed by the impossible task of occupation and reconstruction. So he had, he wrote in his diary, a “clear conviction that as of now the world is racing toward catastrophe.”
Relying on military means for "total protection" was self-defeating, he argued, for it would bring "prolonged and total mobilization—which means, practically, regimentation," the very evil it was designed to forestall. For Eisenhower the goal of any war was to defend one’s nation, and since nuclear weapons could not meaningfully defend any nation, it would be hard to imagine how to use the “new weapons” to fight a war. At the same time, however, the mushroom cloud still symbolized for him what Harry Truman had called “the winning weapon.” Thus total destruction and total victory were now embodied in the same visual image—the mushroom cloud.
In Eisenhower's hierarchy of threats to national existence, communism and national bankruptcy were both derivatives of the highest danger, which he called “statism.” The bomb was lower in the hierarchy of threat, for it had a positive as well as a negative role in his discourse. Ultimately, though, these perils were bound together, and each heightened the others. Indeed the threat of communism turned out to be largely an effect of the other threats. Internal economic collapse might lead to communist domination. A nuclear war, or preparations for a conventional war, to prevent that domination might bring the regimentation that was the essential evil of communism. Although Eisenhower and his advisors spoke of conflicts between geopolitical and economic concerns, at a deeper level they perceived both, and the threat of global war, as interwoven and synergistic parts of a single peril. So their strategy is better understood as a unified three-fold restraining effort, directed against a single three-fold threat.
Although Eisenhower sometimes seemed to discourage the hope for “total protection,” his overall pattern of discourse actually tended to reinforce this hope. Since warfighting could no longer offer protection, words became the most fundamental weapons. This led him to embrace psychological warfare enthusiastically. He recognized that every occasion of discourse, whether ostensibly belligerent or pacific, could be used as another weapon to “win World War III without having to fight it.”
The magnitude of the multifaceted peril was heightened in Eisenhower's discourse by the conviction that it would threaten the American way of life for a very long time. He rejected the Truman administration's notion of planning for an imminent final showdown, a “year of maximum danger," as “crazy.…I have never looked at it any other way.” "We're not in a moment of danger," he told legislative leaders, "We're in an age of danger." Truly ending the cold war was “a job for ten years,” he told Emmet Hughes. At a press conference he explained: “You have got to get a level of preparation you can sustain over the years. And I don’t know—whether it’s 1 year, 10 years, 20 years, or what.” In a formal message to Congress, he spoke of the need to contain communism for an indefinite future. This would require high levels of military spending indefinitely, as he implied when he told the NSC that higher taxes might be sustained " for two or for three years.” “But,” he added, “no eloquence would sell this proposition to the American people for the indefinite future."
Eisenhower's presidency, C. Wright Mills pointed out the fundamental change:
"For the first time in American history, men in authority [began to] talk
about an 'emergency' without a foreseeable end." Of course, the administration blamed this
facet of the threat on the external enemy.
As Raymond Garthoff says, “From the outset, the Eisenhower
administration saw the
This was the true danger in the selfishness of
interservice rivalry, which the president so often decried. If defending the "free world" meant
being constantly prepared for full-scale global war, each service would demand
every weapon that the new technology could invent. The
The president hoped to make his most fundamental value, voluntary self-control, the foundation of all his policies. Yet those policies had to rely on taxation and military technology, which he feared as threats to the federal government's fiscal self-control. His policies also relied on, and were meant to defend, the free enterprise system—which, as he fully recognized, presumed and promoted selfish greed. The more one used these instruments to defend the status quo, the more there was to defend against. So he was caught in a never-ending struggle.”
Eisenhower came close to recognizing this dilemma,
though in a limited framework, when he told the NSC that "the
Eisenhower and his aides spoke of these threats in
urgent apocalyptic terms, though the language of the "long haul"
denied the possibility of any apocalyptic solution. Since they assumed that the
Since Eisenhower saw innate human selfishness at work nearly everywhere, he could find peril in the most unlikely places. Only a few weeks after taking office, he complained in his diary about briar pipemakers who wanted to reduce foreign imports. Their pursuit of "immediate self-interest" threatened "our whole policy of collective security." Even more, it raised "the whole question of the ability of a free government to continue functioning." Their demands might elicit more calls for federal regulatory commissions, which gave so much power to government bureaucrats that they threatened "the entire system of free government." The trouble with the pipemakers was that they were unwilling or unable to restrain their selfishness.
(The president then added a telling comment: "Admittedly, masses of people have suffered under the injustices" of private capitalists. "However, individual fortunes come and go; shirt-sleeves to shirt-sleeves in three generations is almost an accepted characteristic of modern civilization." In fact, among his many wealthy friends, he might have found very few whose fathers, and even more so whose sons, were reduced to “shirt-sleeves.”)
A month later, another long diary entry complained about the protectionists who would “in the long run to destroy any free economic system. … The principal contradiction in the whole system comes about because of the inability of men to forego immediate gain for a long time good. … We do not yet have a sufficient number of people who are ready to make the immediate sacrifice in favor of a long-term investment."
The scenario had been familiar enough to Eisenhower ever since he had helped Douglas MacArthur disperse the “bonus army” in 1932: if capitalism succumbed to its internal strains, economic decline would surely follow. Eventually, unrestrained hungry mobs demanding action would elicit totalitarian state controls in response. In July, 1953, he saw freer trade policies as essential to fend off that threat. But “Alarmist Ike” was as alarmed as ever: “The danger is very real and very great that even the so-called enlightened areas of Western Europe, Britain, United States, and the other English-speaking people will, by stubborn adherence to the purpose of achieving maximum immediate gain, actually commit suicide.” Communist domination and the internal collapse of capitalism were two interwoven strands in the same impending catastrophe. Both stemmed from the root of the problem—the disorder of irresponsible selfishness.
There was an escape from suicide, the president confided in his diary. If "men and nations" could follow a "middle way," giving "the long-term good of all" as much consideration as immediate selfish gain, "we could laugh at all the other so-called 'contradictions' in our system, and we could be so secure against the Communist menace that it would gradually dry up and wither away." The cold war, then, like World War II, would be decided not on the front line separating the geopolitical foes, but on the spiritual line within each individual in the "free world," separating selfishness from self-discipline. The really vital question of cold war policy was how to transform the souls of “free men.”
When they first began to discuss their plan for a grand strategy, Eisenhower told his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, that “talk” would be a crucial weapon, because “it’s men’s minds and hearts that must be won.” In his diary he suggested that he meant more than just manipulating public opinion: "Even if the free government were not originally based upon some form of deeply felt religious faith, then men should attempt to devise a religion that stresses the qualities of unselfishness, cooperation, and equality of men." But Eisenhower usually assumed that every religion would necessarily stress unselfishness. And he often said publicly that free government had to be founded on religious faith.
He made the same point privately at least once, in a mid-1953 conversation with his personal secretary Ann Whitman. She recalled him saying: “An atheist is a stupid person, he is one who won’t think. … Our democracy was founded on religion on the thesis that all men are created equal. He said ‘I know I am better than lots of men’ but on what else do you base this democracy of equal right. In the sight of God they are equal.” In that conversation, the president also advanced a novel proof for the existence of God: “He could accept the theory that the earth was created by fiery volcano, but we had always been taught scientifically that intense heat destroyed life -- how then account for the beginnings of life, the first protoplasm must have come from somewhere. He said he did not conceive of God as any being -- that he abhorred the trappings of the church as much as anyone -- but . . .” Whitman’s written account breaks off at this tantalizing point.
The president showed more
than perfunctory interest in the advice of a group of psychologists that
"the appeal to basic spiritual longings is probably the most fundamental
approach we could use" for successfully waging cold war. And he did speak often to the
Eisenhower expressed his sense of limitation and
frustration when John McCloy sent him a copy of a letter written in 1823, which
read in part: "I am worn down and
worn out with crusading and defending
People had been talking about peace "for many, many years," he wrote to his friend Ellis Slater, but "human nature being what it is, these ideas have never gotten very far." "Prejudice and hatred" were far more powerful than "fact and logic," and now prejudice fueled the "rising tide of militant nationalism" that kept nations in conflict. All the regions of cold war conflict, he told Swede Hazlett, were part and parcel of the same great “struggle of free men…to prevent their system from collapsing under them…that has been going on for some three thousand years."
perspective raised serious doubts whether he, or any leader, could even stave
off the unending threat, much less create positive change. If the problem were rooted in selfishness and
Policymaking meant determining the most effective ways
to restrain the multifaceted threat over the "long haul." To aim for anything more would be
unrealistic. Of course, this put Eisenhower,
quite unwittingly, in a theological contradiction. He restricted his goal to survival because of
his basic ideological commitment that selfishness always threatens to overwhelm
every person. Yet he pinned the hopes
For the new president, the greatest threat of all was
discursive confusion; the highest priority was to have a clearly defined
articulation of threats and responses.
He told William Robinson, shortly after he took office, that his
“primary job” was “to keep at the highest possible level the morale of the
people of this country and the free world.”
Troops in battle would achieve victory only if they clearly understood
and agreed with their mission. Now he
wanted the entire nation, indeed the entire “free world,” to enlist as troops
in a “spiritual crusade” (as he told his new Cabinet). He intended to define their mission clearly
in his inaugural address. He began with
a prayer that placed the entire speech in a religious framework, suggesting
The speech that followed translated this distinction into a rigidly Manichaean spiritual dichotomy: “Forces of good and evil are massed and armed and opposed as rarely before in history.…Freedom is pitted against slavery; lightness against the dark.” The collocation of good, freedom, and light was summed up in the term faith, which was pitted against the implacable “enemies of this faith.” Eisenhower called the nation to “proclaim anew our faith…that the future shall belong to the free.” He wanted the speech to deal with “the speculative question of free men” more than “the material aspects of the current world situation,” he confided in his diary. As he gave substance to faith by outlining it in nine points, he linked faith directly to the freedom to practice voluntary self-restraint and self-sacrifice.
The speech sounded a note of dire alarm. The whole twentieth century was “a time of
tempest…a continuing challenge…a time of recurring trial” for the
The inaugural address asked whether the future would bring victory in the apocalyptic war and relief from the continuing anxieties. But it carefully avoided any guaranteed answer. The address was meant to be the first step in a newly invigorated enactment of faith—a summons to continuing, open-ended war—not an assurance of apocalyptic victory. So it portrayed humanity as still in the darkness, facing “the shadows of another night.” It strongly suggested that the darkness would be there forever, challenging the light. And the president concluded on a note of uncertainty: “This is the work that awaits us all, to be done with bravery, with charity, and with prayer to Almighty God.” The religious context subtly blended intimations of an eternal moral rightness, which was bound to triumph, with a doubt that placed full responsibility for the outcome on each individual.
The speech was also meant to be heard abroad. In his diary, the president-elect wrote: “I want to warn the free world that the
American well can run dry, but I don’t want to discourage any.” So he included numerous reference to the need
for allies to share in the dangers and sacrifices of the “free world.” “Above all,” the diary entry continued, “I
don’t want to give the Soviets the idea they have us on the run.” He wanted to convince the Soviets that the
Only in one sense did the inaugural address promise an
eschatological end to the vicissitudes of history: “In our quest for an honorable peace, we
shall neither compromise, nor tire, nor ever cease.…an earth of peace may
become not a vision but a fact. This
hope—this supreme aspiration—must rule the way we live.” As Martin Medhurst says, the inaugural
address was “the first in what would be a series of rhetorical attempts to
Throughout the speech, Eisenhower equated “our whole
faith” with the
But peace required strength, not conciliation with
communism, for (in the speech’s most memorable phrase), “a soldier’s pack is
not so heavy a burden as a prisoner’s chains.”
The speech did offer to move toward “drastic reduction of armaments,”
but it made clear that this would have to be done on
Press coverage of the address reflected this
ambiguity. The New York Times’ headlined: “EISENHOWER SWORN IN; PLEDGES QUEST FOR PEACE;
BACKS UN, URGES
On two points, though, the reporting left no doubt. The new administration would be strongly internationalist, and it would view the world in starkly dualistic terms. Under the bolded words “Good vs. Evil,” Newsweek reported that the address called upon the nation “to make whatever sacrifices may be necessary to meet the threat of Soviet aggression.…[It was a] simple matter of freedom against slavery, good against evil.” The Newsweek report accurately reflected the rhetorical structure of the inaugural speech, which was built upon a fundamental pair of equations:
good = freedom = peace = light = religion = the fulfillment of our whole faith = order = self-restraint = disciplined cooperation for the good of the whole = military strength
evil = slavery = conflict = darkness = atheism = the demise of our whole faith = disorder = selfishness = lack of discipline and self-sacrifice = military weakness.
These equations were as basic to Eisenhower's private
discourse as to his public. At times he
might demonstrate, publicly or privately, some logical relationship between one
term and another, but the discourse was based less on logical argumentation
than on assumed equivalencies. Each term
could be substituted for any other term in that equation. The inaugural address cast history as an
uncompromising battle of one set of interlocking values defending itself
against the other. The outcome depended
entirely on the choices that the American people and
Just days later, Eisenhower's
first State of the Union address cast doubt on the nation’s hope for
peace. It voiced a hope for peace only
in passing. Instead, it emphasized the
new administration's determination to deter aggression through strength. Most press reports of the State of the Union
address highlighted its two specific foreign policy gestures: removing the Seventh Fleet from the
Notes to Chapter 1
 Gaddis, Strategies of Containment, ; Hughes, Ordeal of Power, 349; , 117; Joes, "Eisenhower Revisionism and American Politics," 294.
 Pruessen, "John Foster Dulles and the Predicaments of Power," 39.
Eisenhower to William Draper, 3/16/53, PDDE, 14: 103;
 See, e.g., GE, 55,64, 89, 94, 101-103, 109, 127, 135, 168.
 Eisenhower to Churchill, 2/13/53, PDDE, 14: 45; Eisenhower to Churchill, 7/6/53, PDDE, 14: 366; Eisenhower to Roy Cullen, 10/31/53, PDDE, 14: 627; diary, 2/13/53, PDDE, 14: 45. See also Eisenhower to Anthony Eden, 3/16/53, PDDE, 14: 100. Eisenhower's assumption of the need for a strong alliance was rooted in his World War II experience and his own ideology; see GE, 31.
 NSC, 3/31/53, FRUS 1952-1954, 2.1: 271; NSC, 10/7/53, FRUS 1952-1954, 2.1: 528.
Bowie and Immerman, Waging Peace, 107
(see also 188); Eisenhower to Alfred Gruenther, 5/4/53, PDDE, 14: 203. See also Eisenhower to Alfred Gruenther,
2/19/53, PDDE, 14: 60. The NSC, on one
occasion, debated whether or not a strong
For differing views of the process and its difficulties, see
 Diary, 12/10/53, PDDE, 14: 748. See also NSC, 4/25/54, FRUS 1952-1954, 2.1: 639, 642; Ferrell, ed., The Diary of James C. Hagerty, 69; Pruessen, "John Foster Dulles and the Predicaments of Power," 39.
 Eisenhower to Errett Scrivner, 6/3/053, PDDE, 14: 341; Cook, Declassifed Eisenhower, 164. For the Truman administration's approach to nuclear weapons, see Herken, The Winning Weapon. The power of nuclear weapons has always tended to evoke images of omnipotence and countervailing images of apocalyptic chaos; see Chernus, Dr. Strangegod and Ungar, The Rise and Fall of Nuclearism.
 See Immerman, “Confessions of an Eisenhower Revisionist,” 329, on Eisenhower's “comprehensive definition of national security.”
Press Conference, 4/23/53, PPP, 1953, 209-10; Minnich, Notes on Legislative
Leaders Meeting, 5/19/53, cited in Ambrose, Eisenhower,
89; Emmet John Hughes Diary, 4/12/53, Emmet John Hughes Papers, Box 1, Seeley
G. Mudd Library, Princeton University; Press Conference, 4/23/53, PPP, 1953,
209-10; “Special Message to Congress,” 4/30/53, PPP, 1953, 225-238; NSC, 10/7/53, FRUS 1952-1954, 2.1:
521. Later that year, Eisenhower would
write to Alfred Gruenther about the best way to protect Europe “over the long
term (several decades),” implying that he expected Europe to need defense
 Mills, The Causes of World War Three, 5; Garthoff, Assessing the Adversary, 5. See also press Conference, 12/2/53, PPP, 1953, 802; Dulles, "Policy for Security and Peace," 354, 364; Snyder, "The 'New Look' of 1953,” 405.
During World War II, Eisenhower had feared that the selfishness of
Eisenhower to Bea Patton, 5/25/53, PDDE, 14: 249;
 See Hogan, A Cross of Iron, chapter 9.
 NSC, 9/24/53, FRUS 1952-1954, 2.1: 469.
 Diary, 2/9/53, PDDE, 14: 34-36
Diary, 7/2/53, PDDE, 14: 358-60.
 Diary, 7/2/53, PDDE, 14: 360. On the “bonus army” episode, see GE, 40-41. For Eisenhower's view of communism as an expression of selfishness, see GE, 169-171; for Nazism as an expression of selfishness, see GE, 38-39.
 Diary, 7/2/53, PDDE, 14: 361
 Memorandum of Conversation, 5/8/53, cited in Bowie and Immerman, Waging Peace, 125; diary, 7/2/53, PDDE, 14: 362;
 Ann Whitman to E. S. Whitman, n.d. (July, 1953), Ann Whitman Papers, Box 1, “Correspondence -- Whitman, E. S.”
 Eisenhower to John J. McCloy, 5/29/53, PDDE, 14: 262; Eisenhower to Churchill, 6/19/53, PDDE, 14: 315; Hughes Diary, 10/19/53.
Eisenhower to Ellis Slater, 7/13/53, PDDE, 14: 382; Eisenhower to Swede
Hazlett, 11/14/51, in
 Notes, 2/17/53, William E. Robinson Papers, Box 6, “Diary — WER and DDE.”
 Bose, Shaping and Signaling Presidential Policy, 67, notes that “the tone of Eisenhower's inaugural address was markedly spiritual, almost sermonic.” “If you are going to institute and make progress on what you might call a spiritual crusade of any kind,” he told his Cabinet, “you have got to identify the follower with the leader, and if we here identify ourselves collectively as the leader we have got to identify the fellow plowing a row of corn or driving a taxi”: AWF, Cabinet Series, Box 1, “Commodore 1/12/53.” See also Donovan, Eisenhower, 3, 9. The text of the Inaugural Address is in PPP, 1953, 1-8. All quotations here are from that version.
Eisenhower told his new Cabinet: “Our
forefathers said we hold that men are endowed by their creator and unless you
accept that sentence our form of Government makes no sense”: AWF, Cabinet Series,
the president-elect shared a draft of the speech with his new Cabinet, he made
the point more strongly. Speaking of the
scientists who built the H-bomb, he said, "They gave us as our final gift
the power to kill ourselves.…And it doesn’t do any good to run. Some day we will get those boys up to tell us
some of the facts of those things. They
are terrifying": Minutes of Cabinet
Meeting, 1/12/53, AWF, Cabinet Series,
AWF, Cabinet Series,
 For another analysis, see Medhurst, “President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s First Inaugural Address.”
 Diary, 1/16/53, Ferrell, The Eisenhower Diaries, 225.
 Medhurst, “Eisenhower’s First Inaugural Address,” 154. On Eisenhower's vague but rhetorically skillful use of the word peace in his campaign, see GE, 282-286.
 AWF, Cabinet Series,
 Medhurst points out that the commitment to disarmament was a relatively last minute addition to the text: “Eisenhower’s First Inaugural Address,” 165, n. 12. See also diary, 1/16/53, PDDE, 13: 1057.
 NYT, 1/21/53, 1; SLPD, 1/20/53, 1; Time, 1/26/53, 17.
 Newsweek, 1/26/53, 25, 30.
Time, 2/9/53, 15; Newsweek, 2/9/53, 17, 19. The St.
Louis Post-Dispatch went so far as to tell readers that Eisenhower “Sides
With MacArthur.” Next to its report on
the speech it headlined, “NATIONALIST [Chinese] NAVY READY FOR HIT-RUN ATTACK