Ira Chernus  


Ira Chernus, Apocalypse Management: Eisenhower and the Discourse of National Insecurity, ( Stanford University Press, 2008)

The table of contents, with links to the full text, is at the bottom of this page. Here is a brief overview:

"By mid-1955, Eisenhower had achieved what Blanche Wiesen Cook sees as his true legacy: "Eisenhower introduced all the elments of detente while he pursued all the imperial acitivities demanded by the global ideology of the American Century." But this does not mean that he was, as historians like Piers Brendon claim, "a man divided against himself." Within Eisenhower's ideology, there was no contradiction. Eisenhower's most lasting achievement was to teach the nation to pursue both détente and triumph and to see them as equally valid expressions of a single national goal. By mid-1955, that goal had been clearly announced by leaders and media pundits and embraced by a vast majority of the population. It could be called either victory or peace, because there was no longer any meaningful difference between the two terms in public discourse. Both had become interchangeable labels for the true goal of U.S. cold war policy: apocalypse management.

In this discursive pattern, the cold war was still a crusade, because it was waged against evils defined in apocalyptic terms; communism and nuclear war both threatened to destroy the nation utterly. But the traditional apocalyptic solution of eliminating evil was now ruled out. The threats had to be accepted as permanent facts of life. The best to hope for was to contain them, in order to preserve the precariously balanced status quo. As long as every apocalyptic danger was skillfully managed, all could be kept safely under control, and the nation would be secure. So the overriding goal was defensive: "to save freedom…to make sure that there can be no move against us." Enduring stability was the only kind of victory to hope for, and the only kind of permanent peace. Victory, peace, security, and stability became virtually synonymous words, because all were different ways of describing both the process and the results of endless apocalypse management.
This book tells the story of how Eisenhower and his administration created, almost by accident, the new paradigm of apocalypse management and how that paradigm came to dominate cold war discourse in the United States."

This book also tells the paradoxical outcome of that story. At the end of eight years, Eisenhower left his nation not at peace but at war. Although the war was largely a cold one, blood had been shed during his years in office, and the seeds of a massive hot war in Vietnam had been sown. Therefore, he left his nation's situation in the world not more, but less, stable. And the awareness of growing instability left the nation not more, but less, secure - less certain that there could be any meaningful victory in the cold war. These paradoxes were not merely the result of inept policies. They flowed inevitably from the very way that the president taught the nation to talk about national security. The discursive structure of apocalypse management defined the nation's problems in a way that made them insoluble. The policies and discourse of the national security state combined to insure a continuing state of national insecurity, which H. W. Brands has aptly called "the national insecurity state."

Apocalypse management emerged from the encounter between Eisenhower's ideology and the new technology of nuclear weapons. The book focuses largely on how Eisenhower dealt with nuclear weapons issues, both in formulating his New Look strategy and in giving speeches that created the image of a president dedicated to disarmament and peace.


Introduction: On Eisenhower And Discourse

Part I: The Origins Of Apocalypse Management

1 Ideological Foundations

2 "The Chance For Peace"

3 Candor And Korea

4 The New Look And "Atoms For Peace"

Part II: The Trials Of Apocalypse Management

5 The Trap

6 The President And The Bomb, 1953 - 1955

Part III: The Triumph Of Apocalypse Management

7 The Formosa Straits Crisis

8 "Open Skies"

9 The Spirit Of Geneva

Part IV: The Ironies Of Apocalypse Management

10 Beyond Geneva

11 Mutual Security And The Military Budget

12 The President And The Bomb, 1956 - 1960

13 The Ironies Of Disarmament

Conclusion: The National Insecurity State