The Ironies Of Apocalypse Management
The “Spirit of Geneva” did not last long. While the world was busy talking about turning away from cold war, Eisenhower and his administration were busy insuring that there would be no fundamental change. Just three days after making his renowned proposal, the president assured Congressional leaders that “there might well be changes in our methods of dealing with the Russians, although of course we would not change our basic policies.”
The world could have peace only when the Soviets declared defeat, he
wrote in a policy paper drafted in mid-August.
Dulles explained to the president that “the new
atmosphere meant not a perpetuation of the status quo but rather the greater
opportunity for change” — as long as the changes came entirely from the other
side. “The President expressed himself
as in complete agreement with this philosophy.”
He approved Dulles’ paper, which was promulgated as official policy and
sent to all
Eisenhower had gone to the summit to shore up the dike of containment and strengthen his defenses against the threatening combination of communism and the H-bomb. The same pattern of discourse that led him to the summit presupposed that he would meet Soviet intransigence there. Naturally, intransigence was what he saw. With his basic assumptions newly confirmed, he came away convinced once again of the need to restrain the forces of evil by waging cold war vigorously and gaining as much control as possible of every cold war battlefield.
When Dulles explained his new strategy to the
president, the latter mentioned that it “would fit well” into a speech he was
preparing for the upcoming convention of the American Bar Association
(ABA). It was time to re-orchestrate the
domestic public once again, to return to unrelieved cold war dualism. Eisenhower told speechwriter Kevin McCann
that he wanted the speech to “make clear that a
In the speech to the
On the front page of the next day’s New York Times, James Reston announced: “President Moves to Brake ‘Spirit of
C.D. Jackson told a friend that the speech reflected
the “top-level moods” he had found in
Time read the press response
differently: “The point did not get over
After Eisenhower's speech to the
The foreign ministers’ meeting soon degenerated into
the familiar cold war pattern of mutual accusations and invective; no serious
prospects for rapprochement were in sight. The president's response was predictable: “You can’t trust them when they are talking
nice,” he told Under-Secretary of State Herbert Hoover, Jr., “and you can’t
trust them when they are talking tough.”
“The results of the [
In Eisenhower's view, any region of uncertainty—any
geopolitical or conceptual area where the forces of good intermingled with the
forces of evil— still constituted a threat to peace. Despite his growing concern about the “third
world,” he still worried most about
The policy shifts of 1955 showed that the administration could use varying tactics as they waged cold war—now accommodation, now confrontation. The president and his advisors never accepted the status quo of mid-1955 as a new stability. On the contrary, they viewed the geopolitical balance as very unstable. They hoped that a skillful blend of conciliatory words and pressure tactics would shift the balance of power substantially. After that, they would be happy to bless the new situation and keep it stable for the “long haul.” Discursive stability was the key to global stability.
Their hope for stability was in vain. The
administration’s post-Geneva intransigence “dealt a devastating blow to the
already fragile chances for successful negotiations,” as Ronald Pruessen says. Once again,
By December 1955, when Eisenhower had recovered and returned
to active duty in the White House, his hopes for controlling the process of
cold war were fading fast. Dulles' more
aggressive post-Geneva strategy was not paying off; the Soviets were making no
significant concessions in the interests of a prolonged respite. The confident tone of Dulles’ August policy
paper and the
Observers abroad could see the contradictions more
readily than most Americans, including their president. The resulting disappointment around the
world, a risk the administration felt it had to take, was clear evidence that
This paradox plagued Eisenhower for the rest of his years in the White House. During his first term, he was widely perceived as a popular president leading a relatively effective administration (though his own central role in shaping his administration's policies was often misunderstood or underestimated). During his second term, however, as the paradox became evident, he would become the target of increasing criticism not only abroad but at home. Yet he found no escape, because the paradox grew out of his commitment to the New Look policies, its principles, and its discursive structure and ideological underpinnings. The president refused to abandon or even question that commitment.
During his second term, Eisenhower occasionally offered fragments of ideological reflection. He never doubted that the struggle against communism at home and abroad was a single battle “waged on two fronts.” At one level, it was a battle of economic systems. There was no guarantee “that our free system was inherently more productive in all fields than the totalitarian system,” he warned NATO leaders, nor “that the triumph of freedom over despotism is inevitable.”
The outcome was in doubt, in the president's view, because the conflict, rooted in the most basic issues of human nature, was being waged within every individual. Under communism, he told his aide Gabriel Hauge, “the government imposes discipline upon both producer and worker. … Our economy is owned by our people as individuals. …This places upon every member of society a responsibility for self-discipline.” He summed up the point pithily in his State of the Union address for 1957: “Freedom has been defined as the opportunity for self-discipline.” Every person should “truly dedicate himself to the good of the whole and not merely to the satisfaction of personal ambition,” he wrote to one correspondent. “Indeed, I think of personal ambition as something like the tempering of steel. If there is too little, the steel softens and becomes useless; if too much, it becomes brittle and breaks.” The key to preventing “the Kremlin’s control of the entire earth” was the average American’s willingness to sacrifice personal ambition for the good of all.
Responsibility, self-discipline, and self-sacrifice remained the core of Eisenhower's religious views. “All of us were created as creatures capable of independent decisions,” he wrote to a teenager. The problems of life stemmed from refusing to accept that divinely given freedom. Little progress had been made against “sin, the devil and human misconduct,” he wrote to his brother Edgar, because most people “want to shift responsibility, both for their own individual problems and public activities, to the shoulders of someone else.” When he received a report urging that the way to win the cold war was “to breathe new vitality into the spiritual values of Western civilization,” he told Dulles it was “the most thoughtful document I have received” from any private group. In 1958, with his cold war efforts (and his political fortunes) flagging, he considered a major crusade for spiritual revival—not to eliminate the enemy, but merely to defend against it, to “develop a more unified and stronger purpose among free peoples to yield no single inch or advantage to atheistic communism.”
He continued to be “Alarmist Ike,” warning European
leaders that if their nations did not unite, “deterioration and ultimate
disaster were inevitable.” The Soviets
remained (he told Churchill) “implacably hostile and seeking our
destruction.” To the end of his days in
the White House, he remained certain that “Khrushchev is trying to promote
chaos and bewilderment in the world.”
Preventing chaos and destruction remained the nation’s official,
overriding goal. NSC 5707/8, the
statement of national security policy for 1957, announced that “the basic objective of
In 1957 White House staffer Arthur Larson complained
of the “negativism” in the White House, where the only policies appeared to be
“postpone, delay, or better still don’t do anything.” By the end of the second term, nothing had
changed, according to Trachtenberg:
“American policy was essentially defensive in nature. The
Eisenhower still recognized that every effort to prevent change in one area opened up risks of change somewhere else. “The flexibility of the free world defense must be as great as the many-sided character of the Communist attack. No single type of defense can possibly be effective,” he wrote. Yet he recognized that “what we do in one field may have unacceptable impact in another.” “In terms of our over-all military program we can’t prepare everything that might be desirable, and can’t be strong everywhere,” he told his chief military advisors. “The real question is where to take the risks.” At a press conference, he explained the dilemma obliquely but openly: “You try to do something and it affects three other countries. … You try to lay out a program, a plan, work it if you have got it here, if you go here you have to defend from that, you have to move over here. It is a very difficult, intricate thing.”
Indeed it was so difficult and intricate that Eisenhower confessed he felt “forced to give constant attention … to problems that defy solution.” “Each hour will bring its own crisis,” he complained, and the “unsoluble [sic] ones land on my desk.” “There has scarcely been a day when some seemingly insoluble problem did not arrive on my desk,” he wrote. All he could do, he told his brother, was react to “steadily mounting crises and pressures. … There always seems to be an even more complex one than I could have imagined.”
Talk of winning the cold war clearly gave way to the more modest goal of avoiding disaster. “He did not see at this time a clear alternative to the drift toward war,” he confessed to the NSC. “‘What,’ he asked the group, ‘can we do about it?’…He hoped that his advisors would give thought to this awful problem and bring forth any ideas which occurred to them.” The desperation in these words indicates that the president himself was at a loss and expected no real results from his plea. Just the day before, he told Dulles that disarmament offered no way out, for it too presented problems “inherently almost insoluble.” Later that year, he confessed to the NSC that communism could not be defeated by a hot war, for the scale of destruction “would result in the paralysis of both sides. He felt the problem was virtually unsolvable.”
Yet there seemed no way to win a cold war either. It was “almost impossible” for
Media analyst Craig Allen comments that “Eisenhower was impelled to use the media as a reactive shield against a flood of invidious developments that placed one crisis after another at his doorstep.” In such circumstances, the president would rarely talk about implementing any grand strategy. Indeed by 1956, as Trachtenberg concludes, “the whole Eisenhower strategy, so clear in 1953-54, was coming unglued. The president understood the problem, but he had no real answer.” He had no answer because he did not understand how he contributed to the problem. He was caught between constantly changing events and the unchanging interpretive lens through which he viewed those event. His fixed national security paradigm required a degree of control that he could not achieve.
Eisenhower never wavered from the basic image of a
dike of containment, intended to preserve order by keeping the chaotic
communist flood out of that area. The
choice was “violence, rioting, destruction of orderly government, and communist
exploitation” or “a just and permanent peace.”
When he sent troops to
In his diary, Eisenhower acknowledged that “the true
issue in the
Pragmatic and ideological concerns merged to give
Eisenhower a limited view of the situation and thus to limit his options. He ended up frustrated and bewildered by what
appeared to be an insoluble problem. He
acknowledged his plight when he noted that the
In ensuing crises throughout his second term, Eisenhower’s interpretations, and thus his responses, remained much the same. And every response tended to undermine another equally necessary response. He relied on military technology and economic aid as his principal instruments of apocalypse management. Yet, as he himself consistently declared, these instruments were the continuing sources of seemingly insoluble problems. So he found himself unable to control emotion and discourse, not only abroad but also in his own nation. The more his control efforts failed, the more he persisted in them and promoted the state of national insecurity.
Stuck in this insoluble situation, and not
understanding it, Eisenhower inevitably made insecurity and avoiding disaster
the central themes of his language, and therefore his policies, for the rest of
his presidency. There would be a
seemingly unending string of major crises from 1956 to 1960:
The following chapters do not offer such a full account. They merely illustrate the ironies of apocalypse management as they were manifest in Eisenhower’s approach to nuclear weapons, disarmament, the military budget, and mutual security. As individual crises came and went, these four areas remained at the heart of national security policy. In mid-1956, Eisenhower named them when he reminded the NSC of his administration’s major concerns, using his typically apocalyptic language: “retain our retaliatory power as a deterrent; have a good continental defense; support the military strength of our allies; ensure that friendly nations were able to make a living. … We have to do some of these basic things or cease to exist.”
Notes to Chapter 10
Bipartisan Legislative Meeting, 7/25/55, AWF, Legislative meetings,
 For a somewhat different interpretation, see Pruessen, “From Good Breakfast to Bad Supper,” 268. Dulles claimed that his strategy for the summit had been designed to weaken the enemy’s position in just this way: creating relaxation as a quid pro quo to increase pressure. Had it indeed been designed in this way, it would have been impressively clever. However there is no documentary evidence to support his retroactive claim.
Memorandum of Conversation, 8/11/55, FRUS 1955-1957, 5: 546; FRUS 1955-1957, 5:
551, n.1; Eisenhower to Hazlett, 8/15/55, PDDE, 16: 1822. Dulles told the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee that there was a very good chance that “within five years” the
 Memorandum of Conversation, 8/11/55, FRUS 1955-1957, 5: 546; Eisenhower to Kevin McCann, 8/11/55, PDDE 16: 1816. In his own hand, Eisenhower added to the speech draft: “Whether or not such a spirit as this [of Geneva] will thrive through the combined intelligence and understanding of men, or will shrivel in the greed and ruthlessness of some, is for the future to tell”: draft of ABA Speech, 8/15/55, AWF, Speech Series, Box 14, “American Bar Association, Philadelphia, 8/24/55 (3).” The greedy, ruthless “some” were obviously the Soviet leaders.
 Address to American Bar Association, 8/24/55, PPP, 1955, 802-810.
NYT, 8/25/55, 1.
 Time, 9/5/55, 11.
 Eisenhower to Dulles, 11/2/55, AWF, DDE Diary, Box 11, “DDE Diary - November, 1955 (2).” See also Eisenhower to Dulles, 11/8/55, PDDE 16: 1889.
Hoover to Dulles, 11/10/55, FRUS 1955-1957, 5: 747, n.4; Memorandum, 11/14/55,
AWF, DDE Diary,
Pruessen, “Beyond the Cold War,” 81. See
also Pruessen, “From Good Breakfast to Bad Supper,” 261. In his memoir, Eisenhower placed all the
blame on the
 Young points out that the Eisenhower administration was imitating what it took to be Soviet strategy, in order to defeat that strategy. Thus both sides used the process of negotiation as an exercise in psychological warfare: “The Geneva Conference of Foreign Ministers,” 276, 291.
 Remarks at NATO Meeting, 12/16/57, PPP, 1957, 839. A few months before he left office, Eisenhower recalled a speech he had given to the American Bar Association on September 5, 1949, that “still represents the heart of my philosophy.” His theme had been the need for a conservative ideology of individual responsibility to stop the liberal drift toward centralized government: Eisenhower to Ralph McGill (not sent), 10/7/60, PDDE 21: 2123. See also Eisenhower to John Olin, 11/4/58, PDDE 19: 1188; Eisenhower to Edgar Eisenhower, 10/23/58, PDDE 19: 1163; Eisenhower to Benjamin Fairless, 10/6/58, PDDE 19: 1137.
 Eisenhower to Gabriel Hauge, 1/5/59, PDDE 19: 1278; State of the Union Address, 1/10/57, PPP, 1957, 21 (see also pre-press conference notes, 10/30, /57 AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 27, “October ’57 Staff Notes (1)”); Eisenhower to Frances Bolton, 12/14/60, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 55, “DDE Dictation December 1960”; Eisenhower to E. L. Hering, 5/29/59, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 41, “DDE Dictation May 1959.”
Eisenhower to Nancy Bierce, 4/4/60, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 49, “DDE
Dictation April 1960”; Eisenhower to Edgar Eisenhower, 10/5/60, AWF, DDE
Diaries Series, Box 53, “DDE Dication October 1960”; National Planning
Association to Eisenhower, 10/15/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 27, “DDE
Diary, October 1957”; Eisenhower to Dulles, 10/14/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series,
Box 28, “October 1957 DDE Dictation”; Eisenhower to Arthur Sulzberger, 1/28/59,
PDDE 19: 1320. See also Eisenhower to
Hughes, 11/20/58, AWF, DDE Diaries Series,
 Ambrose, Eisenhower, 405, 373; Memorandum of Conference, 10/1/60, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 53, “Staff Notes October 1960 (2)”; NSC 5707/8, FRUS 1955-1957, 19: 509; NSC 5810/1, FRUS 1958-1960, 3: 100.
 Brendon, Ike, 340; Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace, 259.
 Eisenhower to Arthur Morris, 11/21/60, PDDE 21: 2166; Eisenhower to Robert Biggs, 2/10/59, PDDE 19: 1340; Memorandum of conference, 3/13/56, FRUS 1955-1957, 19: 240; Press Conference, 5/28/58, PPP 1958, 436.
Eisenhower to Clifford Roberts, 9/4/58, PDDE 19: 1090; Eisenhower to Isidor
Ravdin, 9/30/58, PDDE 19: 1127; Eisenhower to
 NSC, 2/7/56, FRUS 1955-1957, 20: 320; Memorandum of Conversation, 2/6/56, John Foster Dulles Papers, White House Memoranda Series, Box 4, “Meetings with the President, January 1956 - July 1956 (5)”; NSC, 8/16/56, FRUS 1955-1957, 19: 352.
 Eisenhower to Dulles, 3/21/58, PDDE 19: 790; Bipartisan legislative leaders meeting, 12/3/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 29, “Staff Notes Dec. 1957.”
 Allen, Eisenhower and the Mass Media, 151; Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace, 184-185.
Memorandum of Conference, 3/13/56, FRUS 19: 238; diary, 3/8/56, PDDE 16: 2053;
Eisenhower to Nixon, 7/14/58, quoted in Ambrose, Eisenhower, 470. See also Eisenhower
to Arthur Tedder, 12/5/56, PDDE 17: 2434; Eisenhower to Winston Churchill,
11/27/56, PDDE 17: 2413, 2414 (where he said
 Address to National Conference on the Foreign Aspects of National Security, 2/25/58, PPP, 1958, 181; Letter to Nikita Khrushchev, 7/22/58, PPP, 1958, 572; Statement by the President, 7/15/58, PPP, 1958, 556. See also Address to General Assembly, 8/13/58, PPP, 1958, 616.
 Diary, 7/15/58, PDDE 19: 986.
 “Certainly there have been no such days [without insoluble problems] since July of 1956”: Eisenhower to Lorraine Knox, 4/2/58, PDDE 19: 815.
 NSC, 8/16/56, FRUS 1955-1957, 19: 348.