HISTORIANS are having a field day with the vast collection of papers relating to the Eisenhower years that now are being opened. The most valuable collections are in the Eisenhower Library at Abilene Kansas, and many are in Eisenhower's own words. There also are papers in other places from cabinet officers and others associated with the president that provide valuable insights into the Eisenhower mind and record. He was a prolific writer himself, of letters, diaries, memoranda and directives. His critics thought him lazy and often indifferent while in the White House. The papers present an entirely different picture of the man, full of energy, conviction and concerned for the future of the country.
They leave no doubt that he had limited experience in economic, business and governmental affairs. They show a concern for the welfare of all the people in a vague sort of way. But they also reveal an intensely warm personality with strong moral values that attracted overwhelming votes of approval in 1952 and 1956 and almost surely would have done so again in 1960 if he could have been a candidate. That he was often misunderstood was obvious. Cliches were part of his being. Yet the papers leave no doubt that he did think for himself and that he invited strong personalities to help him.
Blanche Wiesen Cook has presented much new information in her book with the terrible title, The Declassified Eisenhower. The dust-jacket subtitle -- A Divided Legacy of Peace and Political Warfare -- indicates her own ambivalence toward her subject. She first regarded Eisenhower as "a President who did little and understood less" but concluded that he was "the most undervalued and misunderstood statesman of the twentieth century." At the same time, she thought that he was the embodiment of Henry Luce's American Century, bent on "the globalization of America."
Her enthusiasm for Eisenhower began when she became convinced of his sincere and overriding conviction that peace had to be maintained, that nuclear war was simply unacceptable. Immediately after World War II, Ike had a close personal relationship with Marshal Zhukov, who he thought would succeed Stalin, that convinced him it would be possible to work with the Soviets. He was disillusioned later, but much later than many cold warriors, and even at the height of the Cold War he tried to establish better relationships with Moscow. In 1951 at Geneva, he told Nikolai Bulganin and V. M. Molotov in a private conversation that "whereas once it was said that wars began where diplomacy fails, diplomacy must now begin because war has failed."
While doing everything possible to avoid a general war, the president was almost reckless in fighting communism in border areas, such as Guatemala, and encouraging all kinds of secret and subversive warfare against communism, Cook alleges. He did not create the "warfare state," she acknowledges, and he was always fearful of the military-industrial complex. Yet he "presided over the formation of every major institutional change that enthroned the military-industrialist." But while Ike restrained the military-industrialists, his successors turned them loose, she says. Cook gives Ike much higher marks in the international field than his successors.
At home, the president was a political moderate. She says that he rejected the notion that the middle of the road was a fence-sitting operation: "It was difficult to maintain, he acknowledged, but it could "in itslef be a revolution.' He understood that his position incited "the hatred and enmity' of all 'extremists.' "When his conservative brother Edgar accused him of tolerating New Deal policies, the president wrote: "Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. . . . Their number is negligible and they are stupid."
At another time, the president wrote in a memorandum to an aide that "if the Right Wing really captures the Republican Party, there simply isn't going to be any Republican influence in this country within a matter of a few brief years. A new Party will be inevitable."
With all her new facts, Cook has written a disappointing book. She exhibits little understanding of the era about which she writes. She follows the revisionist thesis that the Cold War was manufactured in the West, that American capitalists set out to capture the genial Ike, turn him against his friend Zhukov and fight communism so that they could develop more markets for their goods around the world. History is never so simple and few conspiratorial theses are accurate. Cook even goes so far as to declare that "in 1950 United States foreign policy required the war in Korea. 'Communist aggression' in Korea assured the cold war's future." While she repeatedly condemns Western actions toward Moscow, there is not a reference to the bitter postwar disagreements over Poland, the purges in Eastern Europe, the overthrow of the Czechoslovakian government, the struggles over Berlin. It is like writing about the Civil War but failing to make any reference to slavery.