Chapter 11:  Mutual Security And The Military Budget


In 1955, while Eisenhower was making one last effort to rescue his ailing grand strategy, he was also contemplating a profound change in the nature of the cold war.  Just before he left for Geneva, he warned the NSC that the Soviets, unable to afford the arms race, were switching to economic and political methods in their quest for world domination:  “If the United States rejects this attitude and seems to prefer a military solution, it would lose the support of the world. … Thus our real problem is how we can achieve a stalemate vis-a-vis the Russian in the area of the non-military struggle.”  Although the arena of struggle was shifting, stalemate—not victory—was still the president's goal.[1]

“A Stalemate In The Non-Military Struggle”

This new front in the cold war looked like a new opportunity to Rockefeller, Jackson, Rostow, and the others who had initiated the “Open Skies” idea.  They were not interested in stalemate.  They still wanted to win the cold war.  So the “Spirit of Geneva,” which they inadvertently helped to create, was a bitter reality for them.  The public clamor for detente would make it harder for them to realize their goal of victory.  But if the military path to victory was blocked, they would seek another way.  While the president lay recovering from his heart attack, they went back to Quantico to map their new strategy

Soon after Eisenhower returned to the Oval Office, he received the Quantico II Report (written largely by the young Henry Kissinger).  “From beginning to end,” as Cary Reich describes it, the report “had the apocalyptic tone of biblical prophecy, conjuring scenarios that glistened with the fire and brimstone of geopolitical nightmare.”  It warned that Moscow’s new initiatives abroad engendered a “false sense of security.”  The Soviets still aimed at world domination by “capturing the Eurasian-African land mass piecemeal and by means short of a general war.”  If successful, they would “shatter the cohesion of the Free World and reduce the United States to an encircled and isolated position.  In such a position the U.S. might then be able to survive only at the cost of its way of life.”  To win the apocalyptic cold war battle, the report called for a 10 to 20 per cent increase in the U.S. military budget and a multi-billion dollar economic aid package for developing nations.[2]

Eisenhower and Dulles embraced the Conference’s approach and its premise:  The U.S. economy would continue to grow only if U.S. corporations continued to expand their reach, creating a firm infrastructure for a unified, ever-expanding global economy throughout the non-communist world.  By early 1955, the administration was committed to more public funding of this global development project throughout the third world, as an integral part of its mutual security program.[3]

On the economic as on the military front, though, Eisenhower and Dulles gave these themes a very different meaning than Jackson and his cohorts intended.  After reading the Quantico II report, the president warned a friend that the Soviet Union aimed to “use her own economic penetration to accomplish political domination” around the world.  He explained the problem in more detail to Dulles.  The U.S. was always on the defensive; the Soviets retained the initiative in economic just as much as in military competition.  But when the competition was military, fear of Soviet military moves had generated world support for the U.S.  Now that the Soviets had “determined to challenge with economic weapons,” pro-U.S. support might evaporate, giving the Soviets even more advantage.  The solution was to create economic as well as military associations with allies, to facilitate long-range planning:  “If we cannot organize to protect and advance our own interests and those of our friends in the world, then I must say it becomes time to begin thinking of ‘despairing of the Republic.’”[4]

From 1955 on, Eisenhower consistently argued for his mutual security program in such apocalyptic language.  His aim was not to eliminate the communists, but merely to stop their advance and thus prevent catastrophic change.  In March, 1956, for example, he asked Congress to approve a major increase in mutual security funding as a weapon of cold war.  Without it, “Soviet expansionism” would “disrupt and in the end dominate the free nations,” he warned.”[5]  He was chagrined to find his request receiving a less than enthusiastic reception. 

In the following year, the president stepped up his lobbying campaign.  In his State of the Union Address, he warned that the Soviet military danger lay only in the future, but the economic danger was clear and present; the Soviets “could defeat the free world regardless of our military strength.”  Foreign aid would turn the recipients into “bulwarks against communist encroachment.”[6] His chief rhetorical strategy was to equate opponents of his program, quite misleadingly, with old-fashioned isolationists seeking a “Fortress America.”  Foreign aid was “preventing the isolation of the United States,” he insisted.  “American alone and isolated cannot assure even its own security.”  Like the Quantico II Panel, he warned of “a beleaguered America, her freedoms limited by mounting defense costs, and almost alone in a world dominated by international communism.”  If communist influence grew, “our continent would be gradually encircled. … America cannot exist as an island of freedom in a surrounding sea of Communism.”  It was no longer possible to stop the communists through war; the only means left was mutual security.[7]

  Eisenhower used the same kind of language in speeches advocating lower tariffs.  Only free trade, he insisted, could provide “adequate economic defense against Communist penetration … [the] deadly peril impending.”  Higher tariffs would allow the Communists to lure the free nations “one by one into their spider web,” leaving the U.S. “isolated, encircled and at bay in a world made over in the image of an alien philosophy.”  This was “the gravest risk to our way of life.”[8]

Any president might have used such extreme words to foster support for an unpopular program.  But Eisenhower's private correspondence was equally alarmist.  He wrote to Swede Hazlett that if the U.S. did not help other countries “make a living … we are doomed to eventual isolation and to the disappearance of our form of government.”  He warned Senator Styles Bridges:  “I am convinced that the only way to avoid war – the only way to save America in the long run from destruction – is through the development of a true collective system of defense. … If we can get constructive work out of what we are doing abroad, we have got a real fighting chance of bringing this world around to the point where the Communist menace, if not eliminated, will be so minimized it cannot work.”  He refuted mutual security’s most powerful critic, Treasury Secretary George Humphrey, in similar tones:  “A country such as ours could not exist, alone, in freedom were we surrounded by a sea of enemies, which all would be if they were Communist-dominated.”  In “our island of freedom … many values that we have prized highly would disappear.”  To Humphrey he underlined that it was a matter of “protection of our own interests and our own system.”[9]

The president used similar language with C. D. Jackson, who certainly needed no persuading.  In April,1957, he wrote Jackson that opponents of foreign aid were “risking the security and safety of the country and of all its citizens.”  The U.S. could not cut funding for “the things that keep our ship of state safe and sound in this turbulent world.”  In his last year in office, Eisenhower still wanted Jackson to lead “a crusade for our country” to support mutual security against opponents who wanted “the course of retreat and, ultimately, national crisis… it would be for America and all the free world, a crushing defeat.”  Throughout his presidency, as Cook concludes, he “insisted that billions of dollars invested in mutual security development and military aid programs would save the American way of life.”[10]

A Self-Defeating Discourse

Throughout his second term, Eisenhower was immensely frustrated that Congress and the public resisted his calls for major increases in mutual security.  From his perspective, this looked like one more example of the complacency he had always decried.  Since his World War II days, he had claimed to see selfish individuals everywhere, putting their private desires above the public good.

The facts of the matter were more complex, however.  The strongest resistance to economic aid came Eisenhower's old nemesis, the Taft Republicans.  Yet that wing of his party was no longer powerful enough to carry the day on its own.  Why did other segments of the public join them in doubting the need for economic aid?  The answer lay largely in the president's own discourse.  Publicly, he never fully explained the many different goals he hoped to achieve with economic aid.  He framed the issue overwhelmingly in the simple terms of containing communism.  The public naturally heard his appeals as direct extensions of his calls for vigorous military competition against the cold war foe.  The differences between economic and military competition were easily lost in this process of oversimplification. 

Eisenhower's second inaugural address, in January, 1957, typified the alarmism and simplification that would plague his mutual security program throughout his second administration.[11]  “Rarely has this earth known such peril as today. … This is no time of ease or of rest,” he warned at the outset.  Although he briefly mentioned the peril of nuclear war, the bulk of the warning concerned the newly independent and developing nations:  “In too much of the earth there is want, discord, danger.”  Americans could not escape “this tempest of change and turmoil.” 

Change was threatening, according to the speech, because the whole world was divided:  “The divisive force is International Communism and the power that it controls.  That power, dark in purpose … strives to capture—to exploit for its own greater power—all forces of change in the world. … We look upon this shaken earth, and we declare our firm and fixed purpose—the building of a peace with justice.”  Change was linked to division, multiplicity, and fear; unity, consensus, and hope were functions of resistance to change.  The only way to overcome division, he argued, was through mutual security for all non-communist lands:  “No nation can any longer be a fortress, lone and strong and safe.” 

Eisenhower kept up the same theme as he pressed for mutual security in press conferences and speeches.  He praised foreign aid as the most important tool for “holding together the voluntary federation that must combat communism in the world”; it would strengthen the wall of friendly nations the U.S. was building to contain the enemy.  Therefore aid was “one of the cheapest ways we have of insuring the position in the world we want to maintain.”  The economic benefits of mutual security would create “those conditions of well-being which are in a very real sense a primary line of defense for the entire free world.”[12] 

Yet the president met strong resistance when he asked Congress for aid to neutral nations.  A public accustomed to his rigid dualism could not grasp his new idea of aiding neutrals.  Privately, early in 1956 he was already saying that “it might be not only cheaper, but a better and more effective way of obtaining our interests” to have some nations remain militarily neutral.  He still wanted the U.S. to demand of every nation “a moral, spiritual, and possibly a political commitment to our side, but not necessarily a military commitment.”  Some nations would want to remain militarily neutral in order to avoid making themselves vulnerable to communist attack, he told the NSC; to demand a military alliance might push them into the communist camp.  It would be better for them to join the global development project, resist communist encroachment, and thus promote the fortunes of international capitalism.[13] 

However, the president never clearly articulated the goals of the “global development project,” nor its intimate links with his apocalypse management policies.  So he let the familiar language of military competition dominate his public discourse, language laden with images of an apocalyptic battle between good and evil.  That discursive framework made military resistance to communism seem the only effective response to any threat.  It denied and obscured the complex argument underlying his policy recommendations.  When those recommendations often fell on deaf public ears, Eisenhower did not realize the extent to which his own discursive choices were at fault. 

Instead, he filtered the opposing views through his own ideology and assumed that they were motivated by selfishness and complacency.  Whenever he feared public complacency in fending off threats to the nation, the language he used for his rallying cries was always the military language of vigilant combat against the enemy.  Well into his second term, he was still urging on Dulles the need to convince the American people the “we must be vigilant, energetic, imaginative and incapable of surrender through fatigue or lack of courage.”[14]  Such language only reinforced the confusions that provoked resistance to his policies in the first place.  So he made it harder for the public to approve, or even understand, his calls for increased economic foreign aid.

A Self-Defeating Policy

The president's frustration was compounded when many of the economic aid programs that were initiated failed to achieve their objectives.  By focusing on public resistance to his policies (which certainly never disappeared), he could avoid seeing the internal weaknesses that accounted for much of the failure.  Kaufman sums up the failure:  “Policy experts ignored the possibility of incompatible goals in foreign assistance.  As a result, the administration failed to bring about significant economic and political changes or to realize its other objectives abroad. … There is little indication that Third World governments were politically more stable or democratic or even that they were more friendly to the United States.”  Nor, he adds, is there evidence that most of the people in those nations became more prosperous.[15]

The administration's goals were, as so often, incompatible.  The overriding goal was to protect global capitalism from the threat of communism.  Therefore capitalism itself would have to be expanded:  “To develop private enterprise in these [underdeveloped] areas had always been a part of our foreign policy,” Eisenhower told the NSC.  Public funds not only could, but should, be used to encourage and protect private investment. To promote private investment, projects had to aim for, and be evaluated in terms of, increased private profits rather than public benefits.  Moreover, since private capital would shy away from areas that might move toward socialism, the U.S. had “to see that by virtue of our military assistance program these countries have forces strong enough to assure internal stability” — i.e., to suppress potentially socialist movements — as well as “sufficient forces to prevent enemy infiltration of their borders.”[16]

To assure stability, defend borders, and keep a political tilt toward the west, aid money was funneled primarily to political and military elites rather than democratic movements.  Gaddis finds this the administration's most significant “failure of vision”:  “Because the administration had so little faith in the ability of non-communist nationalism to sustain itself, it resorted to frantic and overbearing attempts to shore it up, in the process appearing to violate the very principles of sovereignty and self-reliance it was trying to preserve.”  Challenged on this point at a press conference, though, Eisenhower was ready with an explanation:  “You must put your eye on the main danger.  The main danger today is imperialist communism … not from a local man who is exercising power, maybe even in dictatorial fashion.”  This answer left no doubt that the cumulative result of the administration's efforts was also its intention:  to sustain the status quo, not to promote structural change.[17]

As Eisenhower wrote to former vice-president Henry Wallace, U.S. aid had to avoid raising resentment by avoiding both a growing gap of rich versus poor and a growing impression of belligerent imperialism.[18]  But the administration's policies were bound to increase resentment.  With investment capital controlled by a small elite in each nation, the gap between rich and poor was more likely to grow than shrink.  Although U.S. rhetoric spoke of letting each nation develop its own economic and political model, the de facto demand that all accept something like the U.S. model often gave the impression of belligerent imperialism.  Policies that fostered resentment helped communists and other anti-Western nationalist forces build support for alternatives to U.S. - style democratic capitalism. Support for military neutralism, meant to promote stability, encouraged some nations to play off the U.S. against the Soviets.  So the more Eisenhower built a constituency for economic aid, the more he undermined the goals he hoped to achieve.

Foreign Military Aid

As the second term progressed, the domestic public was not nearly as deaf to the president's pleas as he claimed.  Congress came to understand his arguments, and often approved his requests, for economic foreign aid.  By the end of his second term, the House Foreign Affairs Committee was actually budgeting more than the administration requested for foreign economic aid.[19]  Yet Eisenhower remained frustrated, because what he wanted most was U.S. military aid to foreign governments.  Although he spoke so often about “economic aid,” most of the money funneled through the mutual security program was used for military purposes.  He expected that this would allow him to pursue his fundamental goal of cutting the U.S. military budget.  But the military piece of the program came under the harshest criticism. 

Indirectly, this was a criticism of apocalypse management.  “What many congressmen protested most,” as Kaufman explains, was “the program’s lack of any guiding concept other than the negative one of stopping the spread of communism, and thus its continued emphasis on military rather than economic assistance.”[20]  So the great debate of his second term was not about whether to support mutual security, nor about whether the economic approach to mutual security was valuable.  Rather, the question was how to distribute the tax dollars that went for military purposes:  How much should go to the U.S. military establishment, and how much to the military of other nations?  To most of Congress and the public, the answer was simple.  More money should be spent for military security, but the vast bulk of that money, and the material it bought, should go into American hands.

The president disagreed. “The effort should not be to balance exactly each Soviet capability,” he argued.  The U.S. needed only enough strength to destroy the Soviet Union with certainty. Meanwhile, the U.S. should build up the military forces of other anti-communist nations, so that they could take on the burden of fighting “to protect the forward boundaries of freedom,” as he said in his 1959 State of the Union address.  Senator Carl Hayden echoed the basic point back to Eisenhower in a private conversation:  “If ever we have to fight another I would rather see plenty of people of other nationalities bearing part of the brunt – rather than to have all of it fall upon American boys.  The President said that was the kernel of the whole thing.”  “What troubled the President is that, in America’s anxiety to make the free world safe¼we tend more and more to get other people into the habit of expecting us to pick up the responsibilities and the costs.” [21]

Cost was still uppermost in Eisenhower's mind.  The New Look, which was supposed to keep military spending in check, was having quite the opposite effect.  The military services’ competition for new nuclear weapons and delivery systems kept the military budget spiraling upward.[22]  The president hoped to solve that problem by paying other nations to do the fighting.  It should have been “the easiest proposition to sell the American people that you could hire Korean soldiers for less than you could maintain an American soldier in Korea,” he complained to Treasury Secretary Humphrey.  Everyone foresaw catastrophic danger, he wrote to Paul Hoffman, but it could come in two ways.  “All defense experts” agreed that the U.S. had to “bind the free world” together against communism or “we will eventually be destroyed.”  Yet there was an equal danger that excessive government spending would lead to “some form of socialism … I classify myself with those that oppose the kind of government spending in which we are now indulging.”  If military spending went too high, “everything he stood for would ‘go down the drain,’” he warned Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy.[23] 

Throughout his second term, Eisenhower continued to warn that the U.S. could become “a highly regimented society of an armed camp,” “what is euphemistically called a controlled economy, but which in effect would be a garrison state.”  To Senator Stuart Symington, a leading voice for greater military spending, he insisted that “permanent maintenance of a crushing weight of military power would eventually produce dictatorship.”  So he never gave up trying to control military spending by calibrating public fear at just the right level between “complacency” and “hysteria.”[24]

“Appearances Are As Significant As Realities”

Eisenhower could never understand why Congress and the public insisted on raising the U.S. military budget rather than building up the military in other nations.  He could never understand that his own language over so many years was a key factor, perhaps the most important factor of all, in raising the fears that generated public support for American weaponry in American hands.  The apocalypse management paradigm required a discursive frame that would place the U.S. in danger from constant, unpredictable, uncontrollable change.  Yet it also required an assurance of safety in the face of that change.  It created a contradictory demand for a world that was somehow static, while yet running out of control. 

The best way to satisfy both of these demands was to depict the cold war as a series of contests or races, pitting the U.S. against the communists on any number of fronts.  In each of these races, the U.S. could be depicted as behind (or potentially falling behind) and therefore endangered by dynamic movement, yet destined by a fixed certainty to surpass the communists.  Both images legitimated the apocalypse management paradigm, both were reassuringly familiar, and the combination of the two was the most reassuring of all.  So the public demanded images of accelerated movement—“catching up” and outdoing the enemy—as the only convincing symbols that static security was being guaranteed.  Security therefore came to depend on quantifiable measures of progress toward superiority.  How else could people feel confident that the U.S. was indeed keeping itself safe from danger?

Eisenhower understood this.  He “stressed the importance of picking out the phases of activity in which we should undertake to compete with the Soviets, and to beat them.  We should not try to excel in everything.  He added that psychological as well as technical considerations are important – at times appearances are as significant as realities, if not more so.” To sell his program to the public, he often reduced the cold war to a head-to-head military battle between the superpowers.  Since nuclear weapons were “almost certain” to be used “in any future global thing,” he explained, “we would be foolish indeed to be behind anybody else.”  He approved a wide variety of missile development projects, because of the “large psychological factor” if the Soviets developed missiles first.  He also embraced the space race as an arena of contest for psychological reasons.[25]

By promoting mutual security in the same language of cold war contest, the president ended up inadvertently weakening his own case and fostering the opposition that angered him so much.  In the early part of his second term, there was significant resistance to purely economic aid.  He could not counter it effectively, because his language of military confrontation did not fit the field of economic competition.  There were no simple quantitative measures to say what would count as victory, nor to answer the crucial question:  “Who is ahead?” 

Moreover, the public did not see the races intertwined in the complex ways that Eisenhower took for granted.[26]  For him, the ends and means were inseparable; for most of the people he led, they were eminently separable. They could easily accept at face value some of the threats the president described, while remaining skeptical about others.  They accepted his goal but felt free to disagree about the means he was using to achieve that goal. 

When the various perils were treated as separate and distinct, it was possible, and perhaps inevitable, to prioritize them.  Some races became more important than others.  Most people had no doubt that the preeminent race was the most easily quantified one:  the arms race.  It was easy enough to assume that the best defense against every threat was a bigger, better, more technologically advanced military establishment.  This was certainly a message that the administration had been repeating over and over again since January, 1953.  However, traditions of unilateralism and trust in products “made in USA” reinforced the widespread feeling that only U.S. weapons in U.S. hands could keep the U.S. safe.  Hence the growing movement in Congress to boost economic foreign aid but cut military foreign aid. 

Eisenhower could never see how much he himself was to blame for resistance to his policies on the military budget and foreign military aid.  Instead of searching for new language to explain new policies, he persisted in framing everything within the apocalypse management paradigm, hoping as always to raise public fear yet control it at the optimal level.  Craig Allen observes that “fear management was a backward public relations strategy, but one Eisenhower was forced to used repeatedly in his second term.  Sputnik was not the only reason.”[27]  During his second term, there were indeed many crises, not only abroad but also domestically (race relations and economic cycles), that evoked emotions he hoped to manage.  But when it came to military spending, Sputnik was a crucial turning point.

 “We Could Fall Behind”

After the Soviet Union launched the first earth-orbiting satellite, on October 4, 1957, the public clamor for more military spending rose to a level Eisenhower was totally unprepared for—and unprepared to accept.  A few days after the Sputnik launch he reviewed his “broad philosophy” with aides:  “If the budget is too high, inflation occurs, which in effect cuts down the value of the dollar so that nothing is gained and the process is self-defeating.”  Yet he could not get this message across to the public. Since he did not understand how much Sputnik had frightened the public, he never offered the public enough reassurance to make his own view seem reasonable.[28]

  The president wanted to dismiss the panic as political maneuvering.  Fear could work in the Democrats’ favor, as they attacked the administration for being “weak” on national security.  The Pentagon and military-industrial forces, who were constantly lobbying for higher military budgets, were making an alliance of convenience with the Democrats.  However, the deepest root of the fear lay in the nearly five years of frightening cold war rhetoric purveyed by the president and his administration.  The president had taught the nation to see the “free world” as an island protected by a dike that might spring a leak at any time.  To millions of Americans, Sputnik seemed to pierce the dike, and the hole had to be filled immediately.[29]

A few weeks later, the Sputnik panic was reinforced by news stories about a frightening report on inadequate U.S. military preparedness, from a high-level panel chaired by H. Rowan Gaither, Jr.  The Washington Post  informed readers that it “portrays a United States in the gravest danger in its history.”  The report created the immensely influential image of the “missile gap” — the (ultimately erroneous) claim that the Soviets would soon be able to defeat the U.S. in a war of nuclear-armed missiles.  Eisenhower might have explained to the American public that the Soviet Union would face sure destruction if it attacked the U.S.  But he declined to make that case because he would have to reveal information gained from the U-2 spy flights.  He decided to withhold that information so that he could continue the flights.[30]

  When the president received the Gaither report, he reminded its authors that the inflation triggered by massive military spending would discourage investment; so would the higher taxes needed for higher federal budgets: “To retain a free enterprise system we must retain incentives. … The group’s study had not embraced these complications.  This to his mind was the most difficult problem.”  As always, Eisenhower linked this problem to the need for a “long haul.”  The U.S. needed a cold war effort “designed for indefinite use and endurance” (or at least for 50 years, he was still telling the NSC near the very end of his presidency).  Americans would “carry a challenging load for a couple of years.  But it is very hard to obtain the commitments to indefinite burdens.”  He worried that “if our country gets sick of its tax burdens, defense will suffer.”[31]

The president also told the Gaither Committee what he had told so many others:  “We must educate our people so they will support what is required.  The difficult thing is that, in our democracies, we can apparently only do this with crisis, and we do not think government by crisis is the right process.  The crux is, therefore, how to keep up interest and support without hysteria.”  Just two weeks after the first Sputnik launch, while he grappled every day with the public sense of panic, he wrote privately:  “The public has not become sufficiently conscious of the gravity of the growing Soviet capabilities.”[32]   

This seemed to be his foremost concern as he prepared his public statements.  In major addresses following the Sputnik launch, while he claimed to be trying to ease the panic, he used words that were bound to increase it.  Just a month after Sputnik he equating Khrushchev with Hitler and warned the nation:  “It is entirely possible that in the years ahead we could fall behind.”  In the State of the Union address for 1958, he worried aloud whether the public had the will to build a military “shield behind which the patient constructive work of peace can go on.”  A few months later he told a press conference that “we have got to be ready to pay those defense costs for the next 40 – 50 years.”[33]  

“The menace of communist imperialism” had “almost unlimited power,” he warned the Republican National Committee.  “Our national survival and human liberty are at stake.”  “Peace, national safety—survival itself—demand of America strength in its every aspect,” he told the nation’s newspaper editors.  The military shield was a mechanism to bind the American people “into one solid, effective machine, to make certain that danger shall not threaten us.”  If the shield of peace failed, he said to midshipmen at Annapolis, “the consequence of failure could be the destruction of nations—possibly even the disappearance of our civilization.”[34]

In notes for his 1959 State of the Union address, Eisenhower wrote revealingly:  “Our security establishments, while built against the possibility of emergency or to prevent emergency, are still as of today part of our daily life.”  Daily life, he implied, had become a permanent state of emergency.  In the address itself he muted the point:  “The threat we face is not sporadic or dated: It is continuous.”  He called for limits on military spending, yet at the same time he endorsed “the never-ending replacement of older weapons with new ones.”  The president’s response to Sputnik was, as so often, to call for two quite opposite courses of action at the same time.[35]

Conflicting claims of domestic and international audiences further complicated the problem.  The administration had steered NATO to reliance on nuclear weapons by promising to use them to deter, not to fight a war.  The allies would feel reassured only if the administration’s policies seemed to carry out this promise.  Yet the administration's domestic rhetoric promised overwhelming U.S. nuclear strength, staying ahead of the Russians in every respect, and making credible threats to use its superior arsenal if necessary.  The allies wanted an unusable nuclear arsenal, the U.S. public wanted one that was eminently usable, and the administration felt pressed to satisfy both demands.  The result was the insoluble dilemma that Eisenhower articulated to the NSC:  “How to inform our own people in a logical way of our military capabilities, without at the same time scaring our allies to death. … In terms of setting forth our military capabilities before the world, we were damned if we did and damned if we didn’t.”[36]

Eisenhower ran into a similar dilemma when Khrushchev threatened to sign a separate peace treaty with East Germany, which could have terminated Western rights in and access to West Berlin.  In the U.S., Ambrose recalls, there was public clamor for the government “to take the offensive in the cold war, to stop reacting and start acting.  Many were eager to shoot the way through to Berlin and teach the Soviets a lesson. … Wherever he turned, Eisenhower was confronted with the charge that he, the man most responsible for it, had neglected the nation’s security. … People had become afraid, and in their fright their instinctive response was to strengthen their military.  Although they trusted Ike, they were confused by his policies.”[37]  They had good reason to be confused, for the president never tried to explain policies that were intended to accomplish contradictory goals simultaneously. Trying to walk a middle path, he ended up satisfying nearly everyone a little bit but no one completely.

 “Less Buttering And More Gunning“

Despite his constant complaints, Eisenhower did accept a higher U.S. military budget.  Just a few days after Sputnik was launched, he warned Dulles that he would cut domestic spending in order to fund a military buildup.  The author of the most detailed study of the Gaither Committee finds that, contrary to a common view, “Eisenhower did not dismiss the Gaither report.”  Although he rejected recommendations for fallout shelters and more conventional forces, he accepted recommendations for more missiles, more spending on continental defense, and a study of increasing capabilities for limited war.[38]  

Roman concludes that these military “policy outcomes do not appear to be ‘resultants’ of a bargaining process but rather were a conscious choice made by President Eisenhower.”  His most decisive choice was to retain the New Look strategies, which depended on overwhelming military superiority.  In 1957, when some in Congress called for cutting the military budget, he warned Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn that cuts “would endanger our country and the peace of the world.”  If a choice had to be made between risking too much or too little spending, he would opt for risking too much.  If a choice had to be made between too much public zeal for military spending and too much public complacency, he would opt for zeal.[39]

Eisenhower explained to his Cabinet that his choice was required psychologically, even if not militarily:  “We just have to do with a little less buttering and more gunning … to win the propaganda battle. … We have forgotten some of the techniques of presentation.”  He told Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy that he was thinking about “what is the figure that will create confidence. … The President said that he thought that about two-thirds of the supplementary funds are more to stabilize public opinion than to meet real need for acceleration.”[40]  There were other kinds of confidence to consider, too.  He told McElroy that the “feeling of greater confidence in the security sphere might go over into economic confidence as well,” because investors would trust that their returns would not be eaten up by inflation.  Then there was the confidence that allies placed in the U.S. nuclear umbrella.  Eisenhower and Dulles wanted to show firm resolve because, as Wenger says, they “came to learn that as long as allies believed in the value of military superiority, that measure of status would remain important psychologically and politically.”[41]

For all these reasons, Eisenhower's desire to limit the military budget ran into direct conflict with the military and emotion management requirements of the New Look.  Trapped between his crusading anticommunism and his attraction to Humphrey’s brand of fiscal conservatism, he could not take a clear stand.  In this context Emmet Hughes called him “a man divided against himself.”  But the president ended up looking inconsistent because he stuck consistently to his strategy of apocalypse management.  From within this paradigm, it was not only logical but necessary to seek a way to stave off both communism and capitalist insolvency.  Eisenhower never expressed doubt that there was a perfect budget figure that would solve his problems.  He simply never found that perfect figure, because apocalypse management was a strategic vision divided against itself, calling for both more and less military expenditure at the same time.[42]

The resulting confusion reinforced the public’s sense of instability, which the president identified as the nation’s overriding problem.  By the late 1950s, the public’s readiness to fear destabilizing change as a harbinger of apocalypse proved the power of the apocalypse management paradigm.  There was something familiar, even paradoxically reassuring, about the idea that new developments were creating new, unpredictable emergencies for the United States. 

The Farewell Address

This was the underlying message of Eisenhower’s Farewell Address.  The address is usually remembered for its warning “against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex … the conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry …  felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government.”  Few who quote these words go on to quote the next words:  “We recognize the imperative need for this development. … Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action.””  Taken in the context of the entire speech, the famous warning becomes compelling evidence that Eisenhower held on to the contradictory goals of apocalypse management to his last day in office.[43]

His discursive frame was the old, familiar, stark dualism.[44]  Although the president urged Americans to be “strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice,” that goal was still only an eschatological horizon.  The danger of the communist foe, “a community of dreadful fear and hate[,] … promises to be of indefinite duration.”  So actual policy and daily life had to focus fully on the “prolonged and complex struggle” to prevent dangerous change.  Eisenhower confessed that he lay down his responsibilities in the area of disarmament “with a definite sense of disappointment.”  Yet he implicitly denied any responsibility for the failure by contrasting the purity of his motives with the motives of the true culprit:  “a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. … I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.  Happily, I can say that war has been avoided.” 

The address never suggested that the military-industrial complex, and the nuclear weaponry it produced, were intrinsically evil.  On the contrary, it clearly implied, they were good because they served to stave off the most threatening evils for an indefinitely long future.  They would be evil only if they were used in a catastrophic war or grew expensive enough to drag down the capitalist economy.  The only goals of practical importance were the various ways to stave off war, communism, and economic collapse.[45]

Eisenhower left office as he had entered it, presenting himself as a lone voice discerning and crying out the dangers that beset an unwary, because all too selfish, nation:  “We must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow.  We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage.”  To the end of his presidency, the central issue remained the spiritual struggle between selfish greed and self-disciplined sacrifice.  If selfishness won out, democracy would die and the world would be engulfed in “dreadful fear and hate.”  On the other hand, if the military-industrial complex avoided the temptations of greed, it would play a vital role in managing apocalyptic threats indefinitely.  In his typical fashion, though, the president embedded his hopeful vision in words so alarming that they were bound to undermine the sense of national security he aimed to enhance. 

Notes to Chapter 11


[1] NSC, 6/30/55, FRUS 1955-1957, 20: 145, 152.  Dulles agreed with Eisenhower on the new arena of struggle:  “It is going to be very difficult to stop Communism in much of the world if we cannot in some way duplicate the intensive Communist effort to raise productivity standards”: Dulles to C. D. Jackson, 8/24/54, quoted in Brands, Cold Warriors, 23 (see also ibid., 130-131). 

[2] Reich, Rockefeller, 626.

[3] See Cook, The Declassified Eisenhower, 304-309; Dockrill, Eisenhower's New-Look, 169.

[4] Eisenhower to Lewis Douglas, 1/2/0/56, PDDE 16 :1967; Eisenhower to Dulles, 12/5/55, PDDE 16: 1921-1922.

[5] Special Message to Congress on the Mutual Security Program, 3/19/56, quoted in Kaufman, Trade and Aid, 67.

[6] State of the Union Address, 1/9/58, PPP, 1958, 6, 15, 10.  See also, e.g., Address to National Conference on the Foreign Aspects of National Security, 2/25/58, PPP, 1958, 183; Statement on Mutual Security, 7/2/58, PPP, 1958, 520; Press Conference, 8/6/58, PPP, 1958, 591.  On one occasion, Eisenhower said:  “The underdeveloped countries need the help we can give, and I am convinced that we will go down within a short span of time if we do not give them this help”:  Ambrose, Eisenhower, 553.

[7] State of the Union Address, 1959, PPP, 1959, 8; Remarks to League of Women Voters, 5/1/57, PPP, 1957, 319; Special Message to Congress on the Mutual Security Program, 2/19/58, PPP, 1958, 160; Special Message to Congress on the Situation in the Middle East, 1/5/57, PPP, 1957, 25; Radio and TV address on the Mutual Security, 5/21/57, PPP 1957, 386-387.

[8] Address to National Conference on International Trade Policy, 3/27/58, PPP, 1958, 244, 248, 250; Special Message to Congress on the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Program, 1/30/58, quoted in Kaufman, Trade and Aid, 123.  See also, e.g., Remarks to the Advertising Council, 5/6/58, PPP, 1958, 377; Address at a Dinner Sponsored by the Committee for International Economic Growth and the Committee to Strengthen the Frontiers of Freedom, 1/2/60, cited in Kaufman, Trade and Aid, 203.

[9] Eisenhower  to Hazlett, 8/3/56, PDDE 17: 2228; Memorandum of Conference, 5/21/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, box 24, “May ’57 Miscellaneous (2)”; Eisenhower to Humphrey, 3/27/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 22 “Mar ’57 Miscellaneous (1).”  Eisenhower urged Humphrey to “do our duty like men.”

[10] Eisenhower to C. D. Jackson, 4/30/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 23, “April 1957 Miscellaneous (1)”; Eisenhower to C. D. Jackson, 5/14/60, quoted in Cook, The Declassified Eisenhower, 339.

[11] The text is in PPP, 1957, .

[12] Press Conference, 8/21/57, PPP, 1957, 621; Press Conference, 3/13/57, PPP, 1957, 197; Press Conference, 5/8/57, PPP, 1957, 328; Remarks to the Governors of International Financial Institutions, 9/23/57, PPP, 1957, 685.

[13] Memorandum of Conference, 3/13/56, FRUS 1955-1957, 19: 239; NSC, 2/27/56, FRUS 1955-1957, 19: 202.

[14] Eisenhower to Dulles, 3/26/58, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 31, “DDE Dictation March 1958.”  Dulles agreed with the president.  That same month, he urged a SEATO conference to make “our peoples feel a very real sense of danger. …That, and that alone, is the source of the authority which we require to make ourselves safe and secure”:  Lyon, Eisenhower, 819.  See also, e.g., Eisenhower to Frank Altschul, 10/25/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 27, “DDE Diary October 1957”; Eisenhower to John Olin, 11/4/58, PDDE 19: 1188. 

[15] Kaufman, Trade and Aid, 10.

[16] NSC, 2/27/56, FRUS 1955-1957, 19: 216; NSC, 1/3/57, FRUS 1955-1957, 19: 397. 

[17] Gaddis, Strategies of Containment, 182; Press Conference, 7/2/58, PPP, 1958, 515. 

[18] Eisenhower to Henry Wallace, 12/1/56, PDDE 17: 2431.

[19] Kaufman, Trade and Aid, 170.

[20] Ibid., 71.  See also ibid., 135, 140, 168, 170, 175, and Dockrill, Eisenhower's New-Look, 175, 225.

[21] NSC, 10/30/58, FRUS 1958-1960, 3:145 (see also, e.g.,  Legislative Leadership Meeting, 2/17/59, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 39, “Staff Notes February 1959 (2)”); State of the Union Address, 1/9/59, PPP, 1959, 8; phone call to Senator Hayden, 8/29/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 26, “August 1957 – Telephone Calls”; Memorandum of Conference, 11/18/59 (dated 1/20/60), AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 45 “Staff Notes Nov. 1959 (2).”

[22] See Herken, Counsels of War, 126; Brands, “Age of Vulnerability,” 988. 

[23] Phone call to Secretary Humphrey, 8/20/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 26, “August 1957 – Telephone Calls”; Eisenhower to Paul Hoffman, 3/8/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 22, “Mar ’57 Miscellaneous (4)”; Dockrill, Eisenhower's New-Look, 218.

[24] NSC, 2/4/60, quoted in Ambrose, Eisenhower, 563; NSC, 5/1/58, quoted in Rosenberg, “The Origins of Overkill,” 163; Beschloss, Mayday, 154.  See also, e.g., Eisenhower to Robinson, 3/24/58, PDDE 19: 795; Eisenhower to Richard Russell 3/8/59, cited in Ambrose, Eisenhower, 517; Eisenhower to Richard Mellon, 10/6/58, PDDE 19: 1135; Address at Madison Square Garden, 10/25/56, PPP 1956, 1025; Remarks to the Advertising Council, 4/2/57, PPP 1957, 236; Remarks to League of Women Voters, 5/1/57, PPP 1957, 315.

[25]; Memorandum of Conference, 2/4/58, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 30, “Staff Notes February 1958”; Press Conference, 6/5/57, PPP, 1957, 435.  On the space race, see Osgood, Total Cold War, chapter 8.

[26] On Eisenhower's failure to convey to the public of the logic underlying his policies, see Bose and Greenstein, “The Hidden Hand vs. the Bully Pulpit.”

[27] Allen, Eisenhower and the Mass Media, 152.

[28] Memorandum of Conference, 10/31/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series,  Box 27 “October ’57 Staff Notes (1).”  On Eisenhower underestimating public fear, see, e.g., Snead, The Gaither Committee, 12; Bundy, Danger and Survival, 34.

[29] See Brands, “The Age of Vulnerability,” 989; Roman, Eisenhower and Missile Gap, 148; Henry, “Eisenhower and Sputnik”; and the discussion of “moral panic” in Ungar, The Rise and Fall of Nuclearism.  Roman (130) notes that Eisenhower’s response to Sputnik backfired politically because his “attempts to reassure the public seemed only to confirm the Democratic charges” that the administration was not spending enough on the military.

[30] Washington Post, 12/20/57, quoted in Bundy, Danger and Survival, 335.  See Ambrose, Eisenhower, 434; Snead, The Gaither Committee, 180.

[31] Memorandum of Conference, 11/6/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 28, “November 1957 Staff Notes”; NSC, 12/8/60, FRUS 1958-1960, 3: 506; Memorandum of Conference, 11/16/59, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 45, “Staff Notes Nov. 1959  (3).”  See also Eisenhower to Dulles phone call, 3/26/58, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 31  “Telephone Calls March 1958” (“blood, sweat and tears were necessary for the next 40 years”); NSC, 12/6/58, FRUS 1958-1960, 3:163. 

[32] Memorandum of Conference, 11/6/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 28, “November 1957 Staff Notes”; Eisenhower to Frank Altschul, 10/25/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 27, “DDE Diary, October 1957.”

[33] Radio and TV address on “Our Future Security,” 11/13/57, PPP, 1957, 809; Radio and TV address on Science in National Security, PPP, 1957, 794; State of the Union Address, 1/9/58, PPP, 1958, 3; Press Conference, 4/23/58, PPP, 1958, 338.

[34] Address to Republican National Committee Dinner, 5/6/58, PPP, 1958, 379; Address to American Society of Newspaper Editors, 4/17/58, PPP, 1958, 326; Remarks to United States Chamber of Commerce, 4/30/58, PPP 1958, 365; Address at U.S. Naval Academy, 6/4/58, PPP 1958, 452.

[35] Notes on state of union, 12/8/58, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 38, “Staff Notes December 1958 (2)”;  State of the Union Address, 1/9/59, PPP, 1959, 8. 

[36] NSC, 12/12/57, quoted in Wenger, Living With Peril, 165.

[37] Ambrose, Eisenhower, 516, 517, 555, 562.

[38] Eisenhower to Dulles, 10/14/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 28, “October 1957 DDE Dictation”; Snead, The Gaither Committee, 154.  Snead (160) points out that  “Eisenhower eventually accepted recommendations from his advisers to create a missile force substantially larger than the one proposed by the Gaither committee.”  See also Rosenberg, “Origins of Overkill,” 173; Roman, Eisenhower and the Missile Gap, 193.

[39] Roman, Eisenhower and the Missile Gap, 204; Snead, The Gaither Committee, 77.  Several of Eisenhower's biographers lament the result.  Cook, The Declassified Eisenhower, 299:  “One of the more bitter ironies of our recent history is the extent to which Eisenhower's presidency would help to create and to promote the very military-industrial complex he sincerely deplored”; Brands, “Age of Vulnerability,” 988:  “More than any administration before or after, Eisenhower's promoted the growth of the military-industrial complex he decried”; Lyon, Eisenhower, 810:  “He turned his back upon school and hospital construction, welfare, urban development, housing, and other civil needs, but he approved a peacetime record for spending on military hardware at home and military assistance abroad.”

[40] Cabinet meeting, 10/18/57, quoted in Brendon, Ike, 348; Memorandum of Conference 12/5/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series,  Box 29, “Staff Notes Dec. 1957.”  See also Memorandum of Conference, 11/6/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series, Box 28, “November 1957 Staff Notes.”

[41] Memorandum of Conference 12/5/57, AWF, DDE Diaries Series,  Box 29, “Staff Notes Dec. 1957”; Wenger, Living With Peril, 146.

[42] Hughes, Ordeal of Power, 238. See Zamouras, “Eisenhower's Foreign Economic Policy,” 182.  

[43] Farewell Address, 1/17/61, PPP, 1960-1961,1035-1040.

[44] The president's brother Milton called the speech “about as 100% Eisenhower as you can get”:  Melanson, “The Foundations of Eisenhower's Foreign Policy,” 59.

[45] See Ivie, “Eisenhower as Cold Warrior,” 20.