Ira Chernus  

General Eisenhower: Ideology and Rhetoric



Introduction 1

Pt. I The War and Its Aftermath

1 Supreme Commander: World War II 25

2 Head of the Occupation of Germany 49

3 Eisenhower and the Soviets, 1945-1947 67

Pt. II Chief of Staff

4 Developing Ideology 83

5 The Story of the Postwar World 99

6 The Uses of Symbolism 123

7 Chief of Staff: Conclusions 147

Pt. III President of Columbia

8 The Private Discourse 161

9 The Public Discourse 187

10 The Meaning of Peace 205

11 President of Columbia: Conclusions 223

Pt. IV Toward the White House

12 Supreme Allied Commander, Europe 237

13 Presidential Candidate: 1952 269

Conclusion 291

Notes 307

Bibliography 351

Index 361



It was the longing for clarity, in others and in himself, that led Eisenhower to be an ideologue. His passion for a clarity that would banish all ambiguities was a line of defense, perhaps the primary line of defense, against his innate alarmism and his fear of a rapidly changing world. He assumed that his audiences would instantly recognize and share his sense of living in an unfamiliar, bewildering, frightening country. His ideological language conjured up appealing (if largely illusory) images of a bygone era of clearly defined, universally shared American values. He employed a long series of metonymical catchwords, each of which denoted the whole system of values. And he was always ready to offer his own personal hopes and fears as synechdocal signs representing the hopes and fears of the nation.

He was determined to interpret every facet of the contemporary scene, and indeed of human life, as a manifestation of the universal spiritual civil war. All the spokes of his discourse could be logically interlinked because all stemmed from a single hub, the "age-old battle" between selfishness and self-restraint. Despite his occasional gestures of intellectual humility, his discourse exuded an air of certainty. Everything had to be woven into the system (as loosely articulated as it was) and circumscribed within its absolute demarcations between truth and falsehood, right and wrong. Therefore all realities had to be dichotomized; everything had to be treated only in relation to its absolute opposite. Dichotomozing and polarizing were the only path he could see leading to clarity. In political terms, freedom, capitalism, and "the American way" could be meaningful only if pitted against their absolute opposites. Hence the need to construct discursively an imminent foreign and domestic "Red menace," so that the nation could be called to make a decisive choice between the opposites.

Certainly his self-proclaimed philosophy of the "middle way" could never mean a compromise between the superpowers or their respective ideological systems. The "middle way" was rather the "American way," the polar opposite of everything that the Soviets symbolized in Eisenhower's discourse. It represented the ideal of a life of perfect rational balance, based on a perfectly clear and ordered set of ideas. This ideal was translated into geopolitical terms in the language of containment. Perfect containment promised a world permanently divided into two immutable spheres of influence and hence perfectly balanced—a world of immutable stability.

Eisenhower's discourse of peace would allow no genuine interchange between the two great nations; it denied the possibility of harmonious interaction so basic to the Wilsonian internationalist ideal. It used Wilsonian language only as a tactic to insure that there would always be a firm Augustinian wall between the realm of order and the realm of chaos. This meant that there could be no dynamic give-and-take between the superpowers. That was unacceptable because it would be unpredictable, leading to uncontrollable changes in the world situation,. The outcome of any interchange had to be guaranteed in advance to conform to the universal goals that Eisenhower held inviolable. The outcome had to reinforce existing realities, not create new ones. It had to insure that all fundamental change was held in check, because any such change threatened an apocalyptic overthrow of the existing reality.

As a speaker and writer, Eisenhower entered into an implicit contract with his audiences, and the common coin of that contract was their common fear. He was responding to the fears of others with words that he claimed were clear and hopeful. His awareness of growing fear impelled him to speak confidently about a better future. But the process also worked simultaneously in reverse: his language of hope promoted an ever greater sense that the American system was under deadly attack and needed Herculean efforts merely to secure its survival. The more he spoke of the need to protect the American system, the more firmly he constructed that system out of an unending series of purported threats to its very existence. The language of stability and control had to construct the very fears of instability it was designed to control. The crusade to abolish all enemies insured that the nation would view itself as an island surrounded by a sea of enemies. So hopeful and frightening words generated each other in a vicious circle. In this way, as Robert Ivie has argued, Eisenhower's cold war rhetoric contributed powerfully to what H.W. Brands, Jr., has called the "national insecurity state." "In short," Ivie concludes, "Ike’s rhetorical legacy as a cold warrior was to institutionalize an age of peril.…Eisenhower sanctioned—and thereby helped to perpetuate—a cultural pathology of peril."

As he spoke of duty, the prevention of chaos, the preservation of civilization, the "middle way," global stability, and the "wall of peace," he made it clear that stasis, not dynamism, was his ideal. And this ideal flowed directly from the hub of his discourse: the demand for self-restraint in the eternal, internal spiritual battle. If peace, freedom, and all the other "god terms" were virtues, and if political life were to be virtuous, they had to bear the hallmark of every virtue. They had to be ways of preventing the bad things inside every human being from bursting out, ways of permanently managing the ever-impending internal apocalypse.