After he returned home, Eisenhower began jotting notes
for his report to the nation. He was still
struggling to manage public emotion by striking just the right balance of
confidence and fear. His notes urged
“caution,” yet affirmed, “We must be hopeful.”
Lest there be too much hope, he warned that the summit had not
“eliminated problems of world shaking importance.” Worried that he might have overdone the
caution, he added: “But we must not be
discouraged merely because our…” Then he
broke off and scratched out those last few words. Editing a draft, he softened claims of great
The speech in its final form reflected the same
uncertainty, as it straddled the ill-defined line between hope and caution,
between new-found peace and continuing cold war. In a public statement the same day, Eisenhower
warned that “the apparently sincere desire” of the Soviets to work out
differences “does not, of itself, warrant any relaxation of the mutual security
measures we and our allies of the free world are now pursuing.” No doubt he was wary of right-wing charges of
appeasement. But he was also continuing
his rhetorical campaign to energize the nation for further cold war by keeping
it balanced between excessive and insufficient fear, between hope for peace and
persistence in conflict. Skillful cold
war now required a rare promise of
Virtually all sources acknowledged that the summit had produced only one tangible result: a commitment to keep on talking. James Reston assured his readers that Eisenhower had aimed only “to revive the process of negotiation.” But there was little analysis of specific negotiable issues. Instead, the media treated negotiations as a symbol of a vaguely defined “live-and-let-live arrangement,” as Newsweek put it. The Washington Post expressed a common view that the West had agreed to “a sort of co-existence by stages.” There was now, a Scripps-Howard editorial explained, “an unwritten agreement to wage the cold war with politeness instead of insults.” The promise of more conferences was generally construed as a promise to continue the cold war truce and the cold war balance.
In these reports, images of a cold war truce, an endless round of negotiations, and a secure balance of power were used so interchangeably that they became virtually synonymous. The prospect of a balance of power secured by negotiations was enough to spark eschatological hopes for world peace: “victory over skepticism…may well go down in history”; “could make all the difference between a darkened, fearful world and one that will know what President Eisenhower has described as ‘a new dawn’”; “The world has but to stretch forth its hand to have peace and prosperity such as we have not dared to dream.” Under the shadow of the bomb, a negotiated truce preserving a balance of power could easily point to, or indeed become, the eschatological horizon.
There was little doubt, in the
Of course Soviet conciliation could be read in more
sinister ways. Newsweek quoted a memo from Eisenhower to Congressional leaders
warning that the Soviets were merely hoping to make time work for them by
accepting the status quo. Hightower
agreed that “one of the Russian purposes in coming here was to promote a freeze
of the present division of
Most sources agreed with columnist William Stoneman
that “Open Skies” was “bound to be taken primarily as a propaganda ploy,”
because it so obviously gave an advantage to the U.S. But many sources agreed with the San Francisco Chronicle: “The fact that the Soviets cannot easily be
imagined as accepting does not rob the gesture of its point, however. The world heard.” It “took from the Russians the ‘peace’
initiative they have so long held,” the Atlanta
Constitution explained. For Newsweek, the fact that “the Soviets
made no reply to Eisenhower's proposals” proved that the president had “shown
up the Russians.” The onus was now
Within the cold war framework, though, the new talk of peace was not just a psywar victory but also a source of anxiety. Newsweek worried about excessive optimism at home and abroad: “The American people may be so persuaded Utopia is here that pressures will mount to cut military spending and the draft, and bring soldiers home from overseas.…[NATO] faces its toughest fight yet: How to stop the tidal wave of optimism from the shores of Lake Geneva..…Is NATO Falling Apart?” James Reston cautioned that the Soviets were waiting for the time that western Europe, tired of cold war, would be tempted by “blandishments from the East.…Meanwhile they smile and smile, negotiate and negotiate, divide and divide.”
Cold war dualism also created the framework for the
one message that dominated
But what was the president's great achievement? Was it moving the world closer to peace by relaxing cold war tensions, or putting the Soviets on the defensive and moving the “free world” a step closer to cold war victory? There was no way to know for sure. The world seemed to be on the brink of peace, while it still remained on the brink of war. The image of the foes talking about peace pointed toward the possibility of a perfect static balance. But it also suggested the possibility of flexibility and change. Two routes into the future loomed ahead, yet both were in doubt. So the future was less predictable—which meant, in the discourse of apocalypse management, more dangerous—than ever.
The pervasive blending of hope and danger made
ambiguity the hallmark of all the reporting on
Yet the press masked the paradox by embracing the contrasting implications and denying any contradictions. The peace it celebrated was the enduring static balance that would signal cold war victory. With both peace and victory hinging on the same precarious superpower relationship, it was harder than ever to distinguish peace from war. Both were assumed to be processes of gradually enhancing stability and security. This fusion was easy to achieve because apocalypse management was assumed as both the means to and the substance of the ultimate cold war goal.
framework of apocalypse management enabled the
All this was very much what Eisenhower said in his own
public pronouncements. The press
reporting was, on the whole, just the way he wanted it. C.D. Jackson expressed it best at the time,
in a secret memo aptly titled, “The U.S. Public -- A Matter of
Orchestration”: “The American people
have in fact been extraordinarily docile and cooperative. They have rolled or oscillated with a
tremendous number of changing moods -- hard line, soft line, scowls, smiles,
tough words, peaceful words, and now the ‘spirit of Geneva.’” The
There was continuing public debate, sometimes bitter, about particular policies. But critics of the administration generally accepted its basic premises. They agreed that the three great apocalyptic threats had to be managed over the "long haul." And they agreed that this management was now the meaning of peace as well as war. They simply disagreed on the best means. Most critics accepted the nuclear buildup but wanted more conventional weapons as well, to prepare for "brushfire" wars. They saw these wars as ways to contain communism yet prevent a general apocalyptic war. In that sense they, like Eisenhower, were willing to use the military for apocalypse management; they simply wanted to prepare to use it more often and on a variety of scales.
By the late summer of 1955, the administration seemed
close to achieving the goal of Operation Candor: full control of public discourse, allowing
full freedom for whatever policy changes the administration desired. As Geoffrey Hodgson has written, “consensus
was settling like snow over
After 30 months in office, Eisenhower seemed to have
achieved the chief goals that had propelled him to run for president: rallying the nation around a united vision of
its purpose, and depriving Senator Robert Taft and the Taftite foreign policy
of power and influence. He had also
outlasted the McCarthyite crusade and become unchallenged as the dominant voice
in public discourse. So he was free to
make the unlimited
In fact, though, he had publicly abandoned both world peace and cold war victory as policy goals. His great discursive achievement was to have apocalypse management accepted as both the best way to wage war and the best way to bring peace. “Open Skies,” the man who made the offer, and the word peace that was so often on his lips—they all became the most concrete symbols of a new, eschatological hope that all apocalyptic threats might be managed securely forever. How did he and his new paradigm achieve such great popularity? Part of the answer lies in the immense personal appeal of the war hero who spoke the words. His honesty and sincerity seemed, to most Americans, beyond doubt. Of course many of his public utterances were untrue or deceptive, crafted for rhetorical effect. But the broad, general approach that he advocated in public was very much the same approach that he took in private.
The president set the tone for the whole executive branch of government. The imagery of apocalypse management unified the administration's public discourse just as the principles of the New Look unified its policy, and the two were integrally linked. If, and only if, the imagery was accepted, the policy's various elements joined together in a convincing logic. The policy, in turn, translated the new imagery and its attendant discourse into operational terms, making the imagery seem a plausible basis for policymaking, for national security, and for peace. So the administration could give a powerful impression of strong leadership steering the nation in a clear direction.
The triumph of apocalypse management should also be credited, in part, to the power of the news media, which now took the linguistic scaffolding of apocalypse management for granted. The press never spelled out its axioms explicitly. No journalists warned the nation of this dramatic new turn in its public discourse or offered any analysis of its deeper implications. It all merely happened. Certainly the nation’s political elite had a disproportionate influence on the news media and therefore on public discourse. And any language promoted by Eisenhower would probably have been triumphant, simply because of his personal popularity and prestige.
It would be wrong, though, to view the domestic public as merely passive recipients of language and policies imposed by the power elite. The public was not forced to accept the new paradigm. Ordinary citizens by the millions had to participate in the process, actively appropriating the president's language and integrating it into their worldview. Their willingness to do so testifies to the intrinsic appeals of the new discourse.
Apocalypse management appealed because it offered both innovative change and familiar continuity in public discourse. Traditional discursive modes could be invoked convincingly because there was no conscious recognition that they had been eclipsed by a new mode. Neither the president nor his advisors, nor anyone else, consciously set out to create a distinctive new paradigm. The content of their unifying vision and purpose had been determined more by chance than by design. Simply by meeting immediate problems from day to day, they managed, through some combination of talent and luck, to succeed most impressively.
As a candidate, Eisenhower had promised to move the
nation beyond the Truman administration's seeming acceptance of cold war
stalemate. The public now expected
something new—but only in the sense of a change from Truman’s policies. Those policies were frustrating because they
denied the traditional view of the proper
The challenge now was to legitimate a New Look that did not intend to fulfill that promise. The president had to say that he was going forward to a new policy, yet also going backward to pre-cold war days, when in fact he was doing neither; he was only using new words to legitimate what was essentially a continuation of existing policy. And the new words had to seem to grow naturally out of familiar widely-held traditions.
This was a daunting challenge, but the apocalypse management paradigm allowed Eisenhower to succeed masterfully. It both encompassed and transformed at least four familiar images of the goal and purpose of American public life: apocalyptic purity, a liberal international commonwealth, a “realistic” balance of power, and an isolated life of domestic tranquility. The New Look offered an image of strong, confident, highly rational leaders preserving domestic tranquility by deftly blending threats of apocalyptic war, hard-headed “realist” power plays, and calm, flexible Wilsonian negotiation. The intertwined images of disarmament negotiations and “massive retaliation” seemed to satisfy, and thus unify, the demands of all four strands. The promise of "more bang for the buck" certainly made sense in terms of all four. And the president could present himself as a man of peace in the language of all four traditions, using all of them as expressions of a millennial hope for eternal peace and security.
Apocalypse management succeeded in part by harmonizing
the contradictions among the familiar traditions. Apocalypticism assumes that all good is on
“our” side and all evil on the other; “realism” is based on the Augustinian
premise that “we” are sinners too, though “our” sin is held in check by an
orderly political process. Eisenhower
avoided this contradiction by assuming that selfishness in the “free world” was
channeled into economic acquisitiveness, never into military aggression. In terms of national security policy, he
generally depicted the
Another contradiction was even more basic. Liberal internationalism and apocalypticism both call for a global transformation, moving the world from a current state of conflict to a future state of harmony. “Realism” and “isolationism” both begin from the premise that peace means protecting an existing state of affairs that already reigns on one’s own side of the border. The president's language seemed to transcend this contradiction. Every potential movement of the “free world” defensive perimeter was assumed to signal apocalyptic threat. Thus every confrontation along the perimeter became an apocalyptic crisis, which had to be managed at all costs. So the language of dynamic confrontation served to underscore the fundamental goal of preserving the status quo. As John Spanier has observed: “The only kind of dynamism the country could afford was verbal dynamism. And this was all the people seemed to want.”
By providing a sense of safety, the new language of peace and restraint made cold war words and images seemed even more familiar, stable, credible, and desirable, because they were now embodied in such a seemingly unified body of discourse, articulated by such a calm and reassuring leader, enacted in such a comprehensive and plausible strategic policy. Eisenhower's public language blended reassuring words of optimism with words of anxiety. His discourse and policies seemed to promise change without risk, the greatest possible gain with minimal pain. There was apparently no need to choose between conquest and chaos. No matter what any individual feared or hoped for, and no matter how contradictory those hopes and fears, apocalypse management could plausibly claim to be the answer. So his policies seemed the only sensible course to follow. And his grim warnings made the alternatives seem too dangerous to consider.
Notes to Chapter 9
Speech notes and drafts in AWF, Speech Series,
White House Statement, 7/25/55, PPP, 1955, 725. At the first post-Geneva press conference, his
opening statement scaled back the eschatological promise again. He would offer “no certainty of a new
era.” It was only “possible that
something to the great benefit of man may eventuate.” The press corps was not eager to get a more
precise reading. There were virtually no
 NYT, 7/24/55, IV: 3, I: 1. A Denver Post headline (7/26/55, 1) epitomized a common related theme: “Big 4 Talks Trim War Danger.”
 New York Herald-Tribune quoted in SLPD, 7/24/55, 2C; SLPD, 7/24/55, 2D, and 7/22/55, 2B; Atlanta Constitution quoted in Time, 8/1/55, 26.
 NYT, 7/23/55, 16; Hartford Courant quoted in SLPD, 7/25/55, 1B; SLPD, 7/22/55, 4A. The Times (7/24/55, 1) noted “a striking contrast between the words of President Eisenhower a few months ago, when he called for acts proving Soviet sincerity, and the statement he made here that he…[was] convinced of their sincere desire for peace.”
 Newsweek, 8/8/55, 18; SLPD, 7/24/55, 1A, 6A; Newsweek, 8/1/55, 17; NYT, 7/24/55, IV: 1; NYT, 7/26/55, 1, 24. Many sources reported that "Open Skies" had been spawned by the concerns of the military, originating in the JCS office or the Air Force; see, e.g., SLPD, 7/23/55, 2A; Time, 8/1/55, 17. This story was so widely reported that it must have been planted by high-level administration sources (perhaps to deter journalists from seeking the true origins of the plan) or by military sources seeking to claim credit for the success.
 SLPD, 7/24/55, 1D. The Chicago Tribune was predictably vehement in criticizing Eisenhower: “This plan was put forward not to be accepted but to be rejected.…We are to prove Russian insincerity by demonstrating our own insincerity”: quoted in Time, 8/1/55, 26.
 Newsweek, 8/1/55, 18 and 8/15/55, 32; NYT, 7/24/55, IV: 8. See also Time, 8/8/55, 18; San Francisco Chronicle, 7/25/55, 19.
 SLPD, 7/22/55, 2A; Chicago Daily News quoted in SLPD, 7/24/55, 2C; Time, 8/1/55, 17; NYT, 7/24/55, IV: 3; Christian Science Monitor, 7/23/55, 18. Times’ Columnist Arthur Krock reported that Eisenhower had “outmaneuvered the Soviets at several points, and his passionate sincerity in the quest for peace was never more effectively displayed”: NYT, 7/24/55, IV: 8. His colleague C. L. Sulzberger found the Soviets “impressed by the stark simplicity and grandeur of his views”: NYT, 7/25/55, 18.
NYT, 7/24/55, IV: 8;
C. D. Jackson, “The
 Many critics also claimed that a conventional buildup would stimulate rather than depress the economy. For a good summary of the criticisms in their political context see Reichard, "The Domestic Politics of National Security."
As Walter LaFeber points out, this fundamental shift in the Republican Party
would allow Eisenhower's Republican successors, from Nixon to the Bushes, to
pursue the same global reach:
Eisenhower's tremendous ability to blend opposites in his public image was a
key to his public appeal, as Crable argues in “Ike: Identification, Argument, and Paradoxical
Appeal.” By 1955, two-thirds of
self-identified liberals saw him as a liberal, while two-thirds of
conservatives saw him as a conservative:
Eisenhower did sometimes share Dulles' concern for war by miscalculation, which
 Spanier, American Foreign Policy Since World War II, 103.