The beatification of President Dwight Eisenhower continues in this keen character study.
Often viewed as trustworthy but bland, Eisenhower didn’t let on what was really roiling behind the comforting exterior, as Thomas (Writing/Princeton Univ.; The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898, 2010, etc.) effectively argues in this chronological look at his presidency. In fact, atomic war loomed: The hydrogen bomb was being routinely tested to the obliteration of Pacific atolls, while the Joint Chiefs of Staff were itching to provoke the Soviet Union and hot spots in Korea, China, Suez and Berlin were offering an opportunity. If anyone knew the devastation of war, Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower certainly did. While he avoided initial calls to jump into the presidential fray, he was convinced that only he could keep the country secure and at peace; he assumed the duty personally, and the physical burden ruined his health. Thomas emphasizes Ike’s mastery at bridge, not because he had consistently good hands but because he could bluff. As he had learned through his World War II strategic command, he promoted an all-or-nothing approach to crises, standing cautious yet willing to throw everything in if required for victory. Tellingly, he moved the stockpiling of atomic weapons from the civilian Atomic Energy Commission to the military, and he did not concern himself with alleviating public hysteria over the threat of atomic warfare. Yet from crisis to crisis, he maintained a “healthy skepticism about the grandiose schemes of the military,” leading him to close his presidency with his haunting warning about the “military industrial complex.” Thomas ably demonstrates how operating through indirection became Ike’s effective peacekeeping strategy.
An astute, thoroughly engaging portrayal.