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 success at Geneva and stressed that peace required not only hope, but  “prudence and caution.”  “All of us,” he wrote in his own hand, “must continue to sacrifice for what we believe to be best for the safety of ourselves and for the preservation of the things in which we believe.” Preservation was still the key goal and emotion manage a central means to that goal. But the president was having trouble figuring out how to achieve it.[1]

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.”[2]  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 U.S. compromises in the future.  But Eisenhower made it clear that those compromises would be on peripheral matters only.  On the fundamentals, he was announcing himself as dedicated as ever to the peace that was also victory. 

“The Spirit Of Geneva

The U.S. news media bestowed a variety of symbolic meanings on "Open Skies" and on the Geneva summit as a whole.  But there was a general consensus on some points.  Though no agreements had been reached, none had been expected.  One cartoon showed “peace” with one foot inside a door, with the caption:  “All that was hoped for.”  To nearly all press observers, though, that foot was of immense importance.  A New York Times headline summarized the universal view:  “TWO CAMPS AGREE TENSION IS EASED.”[3] 

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.[4]

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.[5]

There was little doubt, in the U.S. media, that the U.S. had wanted peaceable relations all along and was always ready to make compromises.  The new mood of peace could have come only from the changes in the other side.  How to explain this unexpected new enemy behavior?  The Times’ C.L. Sulzberger credited it to a new Soviet “realism…Russia now appears to want détente.’”  The Hartford Courant ascribed the change to the Soviets’ “healthy desire to back away from destruction in an atomic war.”  John Hightower saw the Soviets trying to “normalize” relations, “accepting the inevitability of what they cannot change in the West.”[6] 

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 Europe and the development of a prolonged period of ‘peaceful coexistence.’”  Despite the new “spirit of Geneva,” the U.S. media were unanimous in insisting that the cold war still had to be waged with unabated fervor.  Newsweek warned that “the diplomats and the soldiers alike were and are convinced that the Russians have not basically altered their objectives.”  The New York Times agreed that the Soviet leaders “showed no sign of yielding on the hard issues that cleave the free and Communist worlds.…The free world must continue to conserve our strength.”[7]

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.[8]  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 wholly on Moscow, all sources agreed.  “Up to the Kremlin,” a Newsweek headline declared; Geneva had created a new atmosphere in which to settle basic cold war issues “—if the Reds really want to.”  The New York Daily News crowed:  “The West unquestionably.…put the Kremlin on one of the hottest spots it has ever yet occupied.” [9] 

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.”[10] 

“The Face Of A Man Of Peace”

Cold war dualism also created the framework for the one message that dominated U.S. media reports of Geneva:  “Eisenhower Dominant Figure at Parley; Keeps Grin in Action,” a St. Louis Post-Dispatch headline exclaimed.  Every outlet shared the sentiment of the Chicago Daily News:  “If the Geneva meeting can be called a success, it is largely due to the personal performance of our President.”  “Above all,” said Time “the watching world saw in Ike the face of the U.S. as it had never seen it before.  It was the face of a man of peace, in whom there were no thoughts of aggressive war.”  Drew Middleton explained that Eisenhower’s “particular brand of humanity…his fresh ebullient sincerity…has gone a long way toward banishing the picture of the United States as a trigger happy giant, which has been too prevalent too long in Europe.”  As proof of Eisenhower's pivotal role, there was much attention to the international press coverage.  The U.S. peace proposals, said the Christian Science Monitor, were “winning among America’s allies an acclaim which shows that they seem to them almost millennial.”[11] 

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 Geneva.  A hesitant Times’ editorial summed up the tone:  “Except for some mutual expression of goodwill, [the summit] leaves us about where we were before.”  Yet the conference was not therefore futile, it concluded:  “President Eisenhower, perhaps, won the moral victory at Geneva, if there was such a victory.”  Nobody could doubt his sincerity for peace.  But “we cannot disarm, we cannot wholly trust any agreement with Soviet Russia, until the Iron Curtain is down and freedom established on Soviet soil.…But a third world war would be no solution.  A modus vivendi to avoid that frightful tragedy is essential and we now seem a little closer to it.”  The apocalyptic hopes stemming from Geneva gave this uncertainty an apocalyptic cast too.  The Richmond Times-Dispatch laid out the alternatives starkly:  “A plan so far-reaching as this could if properly worked out be the means of saving civilization.  Ineptly and stupidly handled, it could mean the world’s destruction.”[12]

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.  

  The discursive framework of apocalypse management enabled the U.S. media to create this picture of the summit.  The picture, in turn, legitimated and reinforced the pervasive influence of the framework.  Geneva made it journalistic good form to call the U.S. goal world peace rather than victory.  Once peace became the universal purpose, hope became a required element in cold war discourse.  The cold war had to be treated more as a regrettable necessity than a welcome opportunity, more a way to prevent the bad than to gain the good.  The bad might be present forever, it seemed.  The uncertainty, and hence the danger, would continue.  Optimism flowed from the Geneva summit only because of the new possibility of an endless static balance.  That was now the best to be hoped for, the only kind of security the nation might ever know.  The press reports of late July, 1955, made static balance the substance of “the spirit of Geneva.”

The Triumph Of Apocalypse Management

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 Geneva summit brought Eisenhower to his highest popularity rating ever.[13]  

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.[14] 

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 U.S. politics.”[15]  With all sides accepting the same discursive premises, it seemed that no other premises were possible. Thus the criticisms of and debates about Eisenhower’s specific policies actually strengthened the consensus.  With policy and discourse reinforcing each other, it was easy to assume that (as the president often told his advisors) all fundamental issues were permanently settled.  There were no major conflict points actively being contested, so there seemed little for American politicians to debate about.  And there were no competing words with which to debate. 

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 U.S. commitments to a global war against communism that the Taft wing of his party hoped to prevent.[16] At the same time, the president was widely seen as a peacemaker.

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. 

A Synthesis Of Language

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 U.S. role in world affairs:  move the world toward peace, but when involved in war win it quickly and decisively, interpret the victory as a step toward world peace, and return the nation rapidly to its own peaceful calm stasis.  Eisenhower had been such a popular candidate largely because he persuasively promised to set the nation back on its traditional path. 

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.[17]  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 U.S. as an innocent “American Adam,” trying only to protect itself from unprovoked attack.  Thus he could use apocalyptic moral dualism to reinforce the traditional stance of a “realist” empire defending itself from the barbarians.[18] 

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.”[19] 

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

[1] Speech notes and drafts in AWF, Speech Series, Box 13, “Report to the Nation on Geneva 7/25/55.” 

[2] 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 questions on Geneva:  Press Conference, 7/27/55,  PPP, 1955, 731 ff.

[3] 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.”

[4] San Francisco Chronicle, 7/24/55, 1; Newsweek, 8/1/55,17; Washington Post quoted in SLPD, 7/25/55, 1B; Scripps-Howard editorial quoted in SLPD, 7/25/55, 1B.  The Washington Post article assure readers that the president had not “participated in any give away.” 

[5] 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.

[6] 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.”

[7] 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. 

[8] 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.

[9] San Francisco Chronicle, 7/22/55, 12; Atlanta Constitution quoted in Time, 8/1/55, 26; Newsweek, 8/1/55, 15, 17, 18; New York Daily News quoted in Time, 8/1/55, 26. 

[10] 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.

[11] 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.

[12] NYT, 7/24/55, IV: 8; Richmond Times-Dispatch quoted in SLPD, 7/25/55, 1B.  Reactions in Congress were especially ambiguous and uncertain; see, e.g., SLPD, 7/23/55, 1A; Newsweek, 8/1/55, 15, 18.

[13] C. D. Jackson, “The U.S. Public -- A Matter of Orchestration,” August, 1955, WHCF, Confidential File, Subject Series, Box 61, “Rockefeller, Nelson (5)”; Pach and Richardson, The Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 112.  The Eisenhower administration's control of foreign policy discourse during the months after Geneva was probably the fullest control any administration achieved throughout the cold war era.

[14] 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."

[15] Hodgson, America in Our Time, 74.  Robert Dallek interprets much of Eisenhower's foreign policy as a veiled means of promoting domestic consensus:  “in part a kind of symbolic politics in which the world outside facilitated cultural change within”: The American Style of Foreign Policy, 220.

[16] 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:  America, Russia, and the Cold War, 141.

[17] 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:  LaFeber, America, Russia, and the Cold War, 141.  

[18] Eisenhower did sometimes share Dulles' concern for war by miscalculation, which implies the U.S. and the Soviet Union as two competitors in the same game, each maneuvering for its own advantage, making each equally complicit in causing war.  Although this view sometimes shaped Eisenhower's short-term tactical decisions, it rarely shaped his fundamental policy decisions.  

[19] Spanier, American Foreign Policy Since World War II, 103.