Presidents in the F ifties
Truman Heats Up The Cold War by Henry Dong
A Review of Arnold Offner’s Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War (1945-1953)
Recent examination of American history during the Cold War has portrayed President Harry Truman as a hero in popular culture, a collected wartime politician who prudently preserved both America’s interests and security against domineering Soviet threats, the savior of the critical decade of power struggles following the collapse of the Nazi regime and the end of the Pacific War. But under more careful scrutiny, it becomes clear that although admirable, Truman’s policy making was shaped by his steadfast belief in American superiority and refusal to capitulate to different ideals; this exposition becomes the subject of Arnold Offner’s Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945-1953. In his work, Offner seeks to reveal the underlying nature of Truman’s narrow outlook, expose the complexity of international and Soviet-American relations, and finally, to discuss the global consequences of both Truman’s actions and ideology, reflecting – in a historical reference to King Pyrrhus’s Greek forces after the battle of Asculum – that “‘another such victory, and we are undone.’”1
To set the stage for discussion, Offner first introduces the complexities and characteristics of Truman’s upbringing and how they impacted his presidential outlook, as well as the actual circumstances leading up to Truman’s presidency. Born on May 8, 1884 in Lamar, Missouri, Truman would “emulate aspects of his father’s way of life,” including involving himself in politics, although disapproval from his father would foster his ambivalence towards powerful men.2 His own Missouri heritage resulted in what Offner has labeled “parochial nationalism and racism,” and these in turn resulted in his belief in American supremacy and the subsequent unwillingness to compromise during crises in the Cold War.3 Offner next recounts Truman’s surprising military success, his rise in politics, his election to the senate – albeit with the criticism that he was the product of a corrupt political machine – and his vice-presidency in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, commenting that Truman was a “relatively safe choice,” as he identified with Wilsonian internationalism, favored low tariffs, and wanted to foster foreign purchases of American goods.4 But when Roosevelt fell dead, Truman’s pre-existing “deep-seated” antipathy toward Soviets and concerns over Stalin’s actions was further exacerbated by the shaky wartime alliance he had inherited, which was marked by an ambiguous atomic policy and an escalating power rivalry.5 Truman, however, did seek an expedient peace, or at least wanted to resolve “rapidly converging issues” before they became a “seamless web.”6 During his presidency, Truman witnessed the end of the European war, but was dismayed by the “diplomatic swords” it brought as greater nations tried to carve up their weaker counterparts, fearing that he was “’the last man fitted to handle [the crises].’”7
Offner next takes the opportunity to discuss the years of Truman’s presidency immediately following the end of World War II and the events leading to worsening conflict. Truman indeed worried “about Soviet-American relations in May 1945,” but the period was also marked by the ongoing war in the Pacific and the issue of Japan’s surrender.8 In fact, at the outset of the Potsdam meeting, Truman’s chief concern appeared to be gaining “the swiftest, least costly end to the Pacific war;” his belief in his ability to end the war, however, created a mistaken expectation that he could shape peace on his own terms.9 The use of the atomic bomb for diplomatic purposes, to “‘out maneuver’ the Russians,” since no one else yet possessed nuclear weaponry, was intended to “preclude the need to share power during the postwar occupation of Japan.”10 By the end of 1945, Truman sought a pragmatic approach to world affairs, yet it is critical to note that his parochial nationalism still undercut any possible accord, and his own personal insecurities “set the stage for confrontation.”11 So in early 1946, Truman and his administration began to reformulate U.S. foreign policy, regarding the Soviet Union not as a difficult ally, but rather as a potential enemy who threatened America’s interests and world peace, consequently enacting a ‘get tough’ policy which was not interested in gaining Russian accord, but in attempting to get what the U.S. wanted “by insisting upon it.”13 And by spring 1946, U.S. policy makers began to see every Russian claim as a direct threat to national security. In one sense, before even George Kennan’s containment telegram and Winston Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech, Truman had already “made his personal declaration of Cold War.”12
With mounting Cold War hostilities, tensions were further aggravated by ideological conflict and differing motives as reflected by the division of Europe through the Marshall Plan, the standoff with the Berlin blockade, and the partition of Palestine and the creation of Israel, over objections – which were frequently violent – of Arabs living in bordering regions. Truman himself had stated that the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan, originally entitled the European Recovery Program (ERP), were intended to be “two halves of the same walnut,” but officials during the period from 1947-1948 sharply contested this idea.14 In the critical years following the end of World War II, Europe was in a state of economic instability, and U.S. officials concluded that rapid European industrialization was imperative to both the interests of America and Europe by staving off communist takeovers. The Marshall Plan, despite its shortfalls, was perhaps “the most enduring and inspiring foreign policy initiative” of the Truman administration, restoring European production and establishing a framework to effect Franco-German accord.15 But the Berlin blockade created uneasy tensions that were not quickly resolved. In the crisis, the Soviet Union blocked Western access to the sectors of Berlin under Allied control, intended to halt the formation of a powerful West-Germany; the U.S. responded in turn with a continuous airlift of food and supplies. Luckily for him, Truman had managed to turn the Berlin crisis – which ended up as a major defeat for Stalin – into a “presidential and international success.”16 However, the most troubling of the international junctures was the Palestine-Israel conflict. The creation of a Jewish state sparked outrage and bloodshed from its Arabic neighbors, so Truman played the role of the mediator between the two antagonizing parties, assisting in the creation of Israel yet distressed over Arab refusal to recognize the state and still expressing concerns for postwar territorial divisions and seeking to hold Israel to “diplomatic account to fulfill its agreements.’”17
Despite Truman’s initial resolve to find an expedient peace, he soon found himself entangled within a web of conflict as the Cold War went global and diplomacy in Asia reached an impasse with the presence of communism in both China and Northern Korea. In Asia – as in Europe – the Truman administration pursued a belligerent policy of containment that became “‘liberation’ or ‘rollback,’ with fearful consequences,” as Truman aimed to not only contain communism, but also eliminate it where it already existed.18 Truman saw Jiang Jieshi’s government in China as the “world’s ‘rottenest,’” yet simultaneously deplored Chinese communists and branded the party as murderers.19 Truman opposed dealing with Communists under any circumstance and never perceived China’s civil war as apart from America’s own Cold War with the Soviets. Because of Truman’s narrow perspective, resistance to alternatives, and monolithic view of communism, he resisted opening communications and diplomatic relationships with the People’s Republic of China (PCR). His administration involved itself more deeply than ever in China’s civil war in spring 1950 by “allowing the JCS [Joint Chief of Staff] to commit to Taiwan’s defense.”20 Yet even still, Truman “made his most fateful decisions during the Korean War,” which he attributed solely to “Soviet-inspired North Korean unprovoked aggression against South Korea.”21 Truman’s decision to intervene in order to preserve South Korea’s United Nations-recognized independence under U.N. auspices was founded his desire to protect his administration from criticism over another loss in Asia and belief that this new “aggression could not go unchecked.”22 Truman’s July 19th speech escalated a joint U.S./U.N. police action in Korea, the ideological battleground of Asia.
Intended to portray President Truman in a new light, Offner’s book provides deeper insight into the workings of Truman’s mind, domestic issues, international crises, and most importantly, why and how Truman’s stubbornness resulted in increasing hostilities within Soviet-American relations and the less-than-expedient peace Truman had supposedly desired. Although Truman’s popularity plummeted during the immediate years following his presidency, historians have since praised his actions, “crediting his administration with reconstructing Western Europe and Japan, resisting Soviet or Communist aggression from Greece to Korea, and forging collective security through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”23 But the origins of the Cold War were nevertheless complex, and to “dismiss Stalin’s policies as the work of a paranoid is to greatly oversimplify” the plethora of factors at work.24 Historians now believe that Stalin “pursued a cautious but brutal realpolitik in world affairs” and desired pragmatic or opportunistic policies in such critical areas as Germany, China, and Korea.25 Similarly, new assessments on Mao and Chinese Communists reveal a willingness to work for cooperative relations with the U.S. that ended up denied by Truman’s refusal to deal with the PRC. The product of his parochial and nationalistic heritage, Truman’s policy making caused him to disregard dissenting views and demonize leaders who would not accord themselves with U.S. will, resulting in an intensified Soviet-American conflict. Truman lacked the qualities of a great leader; he “could not see beyond his immediate decision or visualize alternatives” and was unable to move the U.S. “away from conflict and toward détente.”26 His stalwart promotion of U.S. ideology and politics over all others locked America in a rigid, long term global conflict with a very narrow victory.
Arnold Offner himself was born in Brooklyn, New York, and is of Eastern European descent. His works specialize primarily in European conflicts – the origins of World War II, foreign policies and appeasement, American involvement in world affairs, and the transition to the Cold War and later years. Offner is Cornelia F. Hugel Professor of History at Lafayette College, the college providing a “supportive academic home in which [he could engage] in scholarly enterprise.’”27 Thus, it can be assumed that his education is thorough and his writings and teachings very specific. Because of his Eastern European heritage, Offner likely either experienced first-hand the crises emerging in Europe during the mid-20th century or was exposed to them through relatives, friends, or other connections. These experiences would have likely influenced his writings to provide a more expository view of the many incidents, but also perhaps to deplore the Soviet Union’s actions. Although in Another Such Victory, Offner does attempt to relate an objective perspective on a typically biased history of the origins of the Cold War by providing deeper insight into Truman, Stalin, and Mao, his personal relation to his subject matter may have distorted his writing.
Offner’s Another Such Victory was published in 2002 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University and is part of the Stanford Nuclear Age Series, though Offner himself relates that he has “worked on [the] book for a long time,” implying that he likely began his project in the 1990’s, when the Cold War had just ended in 1991.28 The period following the end of the hostile tensions and break-up of the Soviet Union most probably witnessed a sentiment of reflection, as authors sought to understand the beginnings of the 45-year-long conflict and looked back to assess how the attitudes of presidential administrations affected the length and nature of the hostilities. Offner decided to offer his own perspective to the public, saying that the origins of the Cold War were far too complex to be summarized or generalized briefly and suggesting that perhaps it was Truman’s own stubbornness and refusal to compromise with Communists that set a precedent for presidents to follow and led to continual increase of animosity, often nearly reaching a breaking point.
A current professor at Indiana University, Robert L. Ivie reviews Offner’s work in Rhetoric and Public Affairs and reaffirms Offner’s purpose of depicting Truman in a more candid manner and says that the book was not “written to confirm the current view of [Truman] . . . as a near-great president,” but rather, to hold him accountable for his own actions, to “cut Truman back down to size, arguing that he was a ‘parochial nationalist.’”29 Ivie understands that Truman inherited an uneasy presidency with a set of troubling circumstances standing on shaky ground and did succeed in guiding an isolationist country towards meeting postwar global responsibilities, but Soviet-American tensions became “fully militarized during Truman’s watch,” possibly due to Truman’s own shortcomings.30After discussing Truman, Ivie next draws a parallel to modern day attitudes of belligerency and unchecked American power; he says that Truman’s presidency perpetuates ideas of black and white categories and beliefs in U.S. supremacy to mismanage international relations and conflicts. Ivie likens “Trumanesque parochialism” to President Bush’s rhetoric of evil and predilection to frame the post-9/11 crusade against terrorists and tyrants.31
Meanwhile, J. Gary Clifford, a professor at the University of Connecticut, states in his review that Another Such Victory is a “critical revisionist portrait of Truman’s personal role in shaping U.S. foreign policy toward the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.”32 In his review, Clifford reflects positively on the book, saying that the “importance of the scholarship, the author’s careful voice of reasonable criticism, [and] the lucid writing style” give the book the ability to discuss Truman’s flaws and lend it a popularity that reaches beyond the reader and a universality that extends to “foreign policy publics.”33
Another Such Victory is a well-written, scholarly yet reader-friendly, analytical, and detailed account of not only the events of Truman’s term from 1945-1953, but also the reasons behind the Truman administration’s policies, which shaped following generations of history. Offner makes occasional reference to Truman’s surprising resolve and capacity, but the work as a whole still seeks to criticize Truman’s unprepared, inexperienced, and costly leadership, remarking that “despite Truman’s pride in his knowledge of the past, he lacked insight into the history unfolding around him.”34 Truman narrowed rather than broadened his already limited scope of options, and Offner makes this point frequently and well throughout the book. Offner succeeds in his claimed purpose and thesis – he is able to portray Truman in a more genuine, authentic manner without the undeserving praise that he is often associated with.
When considering liberal progress in regard to foreign policies, international relations, and the Soviet-American power struggle, it becomes clear that the 1950s were marked by dominant conservatism and a general American unwillingness to compromise even for the promise of global peace. Communism was an ever present threat in Europe, and Americans feared that Stalinist regimes and Soviet ideas would make their way to and contaminate the U.S., against all rationality. When Truman finally left office in 1953, Offner says that “the Fair Deal was dead, McCarthyism was rampant,” and the U.S. was left “on Cold War footing at home and abroad for years to come.”35 The Truman administration tried desperately to preserve the status quo in international politics and allow no leak of communism within any infrastructure of the American government or the American public; Truman himself was a narrow-minded nationalist – or as Offner put it, a parochial nationalist – who refused peaceful solutions at every turn, clinging instead to beliefs of the “superiority of American values and political-economic interests.”36 Simple containment turned quickly into rollback, and foreign policy entered a reactionary period as U.S. officials attempted to undermine all aspects of communism, even where it already existed. Truman narrowed American “perception of the world political environment,” resulting in intensified Soviet-American conflict, the beginning of Sino-American animosity, and a hastened division of Europe.37 He laid the framework for communism paranoia and extreme conservatism for world affairs.
The title of the work, Another Such Victory, makes reference to the famous Greek-Roman battle of Asculum, as mentioned earlier, and is significant because it represents a critical viewpoint, of which the dynamics become central to Offner’s argument. Offner advises the reader that before we, as Americans, “celebrate America’s victory in [the Cold War],” we would do well to remember the implications, cost, and long-term global struggle that strained the entire international community.38 And we would do well to remember that with such a dangerously close victory, we were very near to becoming “undone.”
Offner, Arnold. Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945-1953. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002. xii.
Offner, Arnold. 3.
Offner, Arnold. 5.
Offner, Arnold. 15.
Offner, Arnold. 17.
Offner, Arnold. 34.
Offner, Arnold. 46.
Offner, Arnold. 47.
Offner, Arnold. 72.
Offner, Arnold. 97.
Offner, Arnold. 101.
Offner, Arnold. 124.
Offner, Arnold. 152.
Offner, Arnold. 213.
Offner, Arnold. 244.
Offner, Arnold. 271.
Offner, Arnold. 305.
Offner, Arnold. 464.
Offner, Arnold. 464.
Offner, Arnold. 467
Offner, Arnold. 467
Offner, Arnold. 467
Offner, Arnold. ix.
Offner, Arnold. x.
Offner, Arnold. x.
Offner, Arnold. 470.
Offner, Arnold. xiv.
Offner, Arnold. xiii.
Ivie, Robert L. "Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945-1953 (review)." Project MUSE. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 June 2014. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/rap/summary/v007/7.2ivie.html>. 1.
Ivie, Robert L. 2.
Ivie, Robert L. 1.
Clifford, J. G. "Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945-1953 - Arnold A. Offner." Stanford University Libraries. Stanford University Press, n.d. Web. 06 June 2014. <http://www.sup.org/book.cgi?id=1790>. 1.
Clifford, J. G. 1.
Offner, Arnold. 470.
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Offner, Arnold. xii.
Offner, Arnold. xii.
Offner, Arnold. xii.
Ike in New Light by Austin Tung
A review of Geoffrey Perret’s Eisenhower
Although some remember Dwight D. Eisenhower as an average president who had little impact on American history, he served during a time of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union and faced many difficulties in order to maintain the semblance of peace. Eisenhower by Geoffrey Perret is a detailed biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s life from his birth to his death. This 600-page book covers the tiniest of details from Ike’s childhood to his time as a commander. Perret works to create an accurate record of Eisenhower’s life, free from any subjectivity. Eisenhower’s mother once told him that “nothing comes easy in life,” a motto that Eisenhower took to heart.1 Because Eisenhower did not come from a privileged family, he had to start from the bottom and work his way to the top; this persistence shows in his efforts to keep the peace. Perret’s Eisenhower analyzes how Eisenhower’s upbringing and character shaped the decisions he made during his presidency while describing the struggles he faced.
Chapters 1to 10 focus on Eisenhower’s youth and show how he was persistent even at a young age. Chapter one begins with Eisenhower’s birth in a shack in Texas, when the presence of an ominous storm during this birth foreshadowed both his coming greatness and the crises that he would face in his life. Eisenhower was in a constant race for superiority with his older brother Edgar, with the two constantly competing with each other over everything from who could climb the highest to who was the fastest; they were pitted against each other from the beginning. This rivalry with Edgar helped Dwight grow as a person by encouraging him to pursue self-improvement and made him develop the necessary work ethic that he would need when he joined the Army. These chapters discuss the beginning of Ike’s education and how lucky was to have been educated, especially having been born into a generation where “a free high-quality secondary education… was a watershed.”2 Perret’s description of Eisenhower’s high school years focuses on his struggle to be better than his brother Edgar at sports. Though he tried, he could never beat his brother when it came to the sports he loved and Ike lived constantly under Edgar’s shadow. Although he was unable to be the best in athletics, he excelled at academics and found subjects like history and math to be interesting. Upon graduation, Eisenhower was named “Best Mathematician,” and “Most Likely to Become Professor at Yale,” while Edgar was ironically thought to be “Most Likely to Become President.” This may have influenced the younger Eisenhower to run for president in order to finally show that he was the superior brother in the family.
Chapters 10 to 20 follow Eisenhower’s life at the West Point Military Academy and discuss his career as a soldier. Eisenhower describes West Point as the place in which “his life began.”3 He started as a lowly cadet and made his way through the ranks, eventually ascending to the position of colonel. He became first in rank during his years at West Point due to his sheer determination to be the best. After leaving West Point, he traveled throughout the world searching for opportunities to help define his legacy and his career as a soldier. His time at West Point showcased the natural authority that Ike commanded and his writing abilities. Although he is considered to be a soldier president, his time at West Point did not influence his domestic policies during his presidency; in fact, he even cut funding for the army and focused on the navy, much to the outrage of the army.
Chapters 20 to 30 show Eisenhower establishing his authority and accumulating an impressive list of achievements and titles. These chapters dealt with Eisenhower’s time during World War II, and focused on the stress he faced while making important decisions for the Allied forces. It is stated that Eisenhower smoked “his way through entire packs of cigarettes” to deal with all the stress he faced.4 He was deployed to England, where he set up a base of operations and in time became a five-star general - the highest rank in the army. He was named the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Forces and planned Operation Overlord, which was the Allied assault on Normandy in order to liberate Western Europe and invade Germany. Eisenhower was chosen to become Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Forces because of the many recommendations of his peers and tales of his military genius. However, Perret pointed out faults in Eisenhower’s military tactics. While he struggled to control entire armies and tried to effectively mobilize them to defeat Germany, he wasted much time and energy battling his allies instead of his enemies. Although Eisenhower’s strong personality made him a good military leader, it often caused conflicts with other military officials.
Chapters 30 to 45 begin to deal with the political side of Eisenhower and describe the road to his presidency. Although Eisenhower had never intended to run for president, he was provoked into running by his political opponents. Dwight D. Eisenhower was not going to run for president even though many people such as Thomas Dewey, governor of New York, and Frank Carlson, a senator from Kansas encouraged him to campaign; however, when he heard that Douglas MacArthur, a person he despised, was going after the presidency he immediately wanted to run in order to defeat him. Dewey even stated that “Eisenhower would never swallow having MacArthur as his Commander in Chief.”5 Eisenhower was successful in his campaign because he was a great speaker and writer, and was able to impress the crowds of voters with his speeches. He was officially elected president in 1952 and began his term in 1953. Even though during his first presidency he stated that he would only serve one term, he later changed his mind and served two terms. Eisenhower became the first president to reach the American public by using television broadcasting; although he initially had difficulty talking to a camera, he eventually overcome that obstacle and learned how to act natural. Eisenhower was defined as a person by being forced to the deal with the many situations during his presidency, which ranged from the U-2 spy plane crisis to the creation of the Interstate Highway System. The last chapters of the book focused on his life after the presidency and the legacy he left behind.
Geoffrey Perret aims to not just document Eisenhower’s life, but to reveal the thoughts and motivations behind his decisions. By talking about his background in the military and his childhood rivalry with his brother, Perret helps readers understand why Eisenhower made the decisions that he did. He aspires to write a detailed biography of Eisenhower in an objective light while showing the struggles that Ike had to overcome in order while he was president. By not saying his personal opinion, Perret allows the reader to decide for themselves whether Eisenhower was a good or bad president. In addition, Perret aims to counter the excessive criticism of Ike that occurred immediately after his presidency; by keeping objective and showing the motivations behind Eisenhower’s actions, he wants to make people re-evaluate their opinions.
Perret is an American historian who graduated from Harvard College and University of California Berkeley. Perret grew up in an “Anglo-American theatrical family,” which meant he was immersed in a more artistic world that allowed him to freely develop his skills as a writer.6 He served in the army for three years, which may have influenced him to empathize with Eisenhower who also had an extensive military background. Perret has written several books focused on the military and several biographies of presidents. Perret’s books discuss different tactics of the military, and biographies of various presidents such John F. Kennedy, and Ulysses S. Grant. His own background in the military influenced his tendency to write about military strategy.
Eisenhower was published in 1999 after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War; these events may have influenced how Eisenhower was seen at the time. Attitudes toward Eisenhower became more sympathetic after the Cold War ended because the U.S. was no longer under the constant threat of a nuclear war. During the Cold War, Eisenhower was not seen as a “responsible president,” which was a result of the fears of most people. Because they thought that it was Eisenhower’s fault for not continuing the peace and making conflicts with the Soviet Union worse, many critics of Eisenhower blamed his decisions for endangering the U.S. However, his reputation had dramatically changed by 1994 because more people were able to see his presidency more objectively because they were not being directly affected by his decisions.
In David Jablonsky’s review, “Why I Like Ike,” he states that Perret creates a “comprehensive examination of the soldier-statesman” and covers Eisenhower’s life well.8 However, the review criticizes Perret’s style of writing which Jablonsky describes as “compelling, though tenuous.”9 Jablonsky applauds Perret for keeping an objective stance, telling the history as it is, and revealing little bias towards or against Eisenhower. Jablonsky admires how there were many opportunities for Perret to criticize Eisenhower, but he withheld his judgment instead and allowed the reader to evaluate that decision himself. Jablonsky also praises Perret’s skill in writing, stating that Perret has great skill lies in his ability to describe and analyze Eisenhower’s achievements while being able to identify faults in Eisenhower’s plans and tactics. “A Political Soldier” by Herbert Parmet criticizes Perret, saying that Eisenhower portrays Ike in too favorable a light. Parmet states that Eisenhower entered “his last month in office … subjected to humiliating and unprecedented abuse,” which is an aspect of his presidency that Perret never mentions. Parmet states that Eisenhower was not seen as a favorable president and was heavily criticized by most people, who thought that he was responsible for the continuation of the Cold War; he criticizes Perret because he failed represent this criticism accurately.
Eisenhower by Geoffrey Perret is a highly detailed book that covers the entirety of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s life. He starts the work with a youthful Eisenhower, full of life and potential, and ends with an old but accomplished Eisenhower at his death. When describing Ike’s childhood, Perret is able to dive below the image of youthful happiness and uncover the complexities that Ike faced; by showing how the two brothers were “forever fighting, and constantly [daring] one another to do dangerous things,”10 Perret gives a good analysis of how Eisenhower’s childhood affected him later on. The work as a whole is captivating and interesting, partially from the addition of seemingly insignificant details that add charm and a light-hearted tone to the book. During the account of Eisenhower’s time at West Point, Perret is able to offer refreshing insight on Eisenhower’s character and development by showing how Ike’s determination and resolve to be the best helped him consistently hold top positions in his profession. As Eisenhower rose in rank and status, and given more responsibility, Perret criticizes Eisenhower and reveal the struggles he faced as a Commander; he meticulously points out details such as Eisenhower smoking more during stressful times, which creates a detailed image for the reader. His use of diction and imagery helps the reader imagine that they are standing next to Eisenhower as he is organizing troops and mobilizing them in the North Atlantic Theater of World War II or making a tough decision about foreign policy. This descriptive language makes the book more interesting to read. Throughout the book Perret is able to achieve an objective stance, concerning himself with solely telling the truth of Eisenhower’s life. Eisenhower is revealed to be a diligent man who has overcome many struggles in order to keep the United States out of war. Although Perret describes the viewpoints of those who put him on a high pedestal as hero and great leader, at the same time he reveals his faults and shows that although he is a great man, he is not a perfect one. Eisenhower is shown to be susceptible to human vices just as much as any other person.
The 1950s was a time of liberalism for the United States. Eisenhower’s presidency was filled with major events, such as the Suez Crisis and the Space Race, which forced Eisenhower to react quickly in order to avoid the outbreak of war. Presiding over a period of the Cold War, Eisenhower attempted to do whatever was necessary to avoid nuclear war and adopted some liberal policies as a result. The overall economic prosperity of the 1950s was aided by Eisenhower’s policies; there was moderate economic growth, in which little inflation occurred and debt was kept at a minimum. In order to keep the economy stable while improving society, Eisenhower used a policy of dynamic conservatism. Even though he was a Republican and wanted to reduce deficit spending, he allowed many of the liberal agencies from the New Deal to continue to operate. This policy meant that he would be conservative on economic policy and liberal on human issues like unemployment relief. Perret agrees with this statement, saying that Eisenhower had to handle the major task of maintaining the unsteady peace during the Cold War while also maintaining prosperity. Although Eisenhower wanted peace, he could not back down in the Cold War because doing so would endanger national security. Perret states that Eisenhower was so stressed by the amount of problems that he had to deal with that during his oath of office in his second presidency, his advisors thought “Eisenhower was not looking forward to the next four years.”11
Geoffrey Perret’s Eisenhower captures the life of Dwight D. Eisenhower in a detailed chronological timeline. Eisenhower’s remarkable accomplishments and achievements are showcased in this work, but Eisenhower still appears down-to-earth and similar to the average man. Through his hard work and determination, Eisenhower accomplished what he states as “all the daydreams of [his] youth” and came to become president in a time of unsteady peace. By showing readers the change from Ike the child to Eisenhower in power, Perret allows readers to determine for themselves the wisdom or foolishness of Eisenhower’s policies.
1. Perret, Geoffrey. Eisenhower New York: Random House Inc, 1999. 401
2. Jablonsky, David. "Why I Like Ike." Why I Like Ike 24 (2000): n. pag. Print.
3. Jablonsky, David. "Why I Like Ike." Why I Like Ike 24 (2000): n. pag. Print.
4. Parmet, Herbert. A Political Soldier. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
6. Perret, Geoffrey. Eisenhower New York: Random House Inc, 1999. 22
7. Perret, Geoffrey. 22
8. Perret, Geoffrey. 94
9. Perret, Geoffrey. 541
10. Perret, Geoffrey. 608
11. Hanley, Brian. "Writing Lives, Not Histories." Geoffrey Perret's Eisenhower and the Art of Biography (2000): n. pag. Print.
12."Miller Center." American President: Dwight David Eisenhower: Impact and Legacy. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2014.
13. Perret, Geoffrey. 45
14. Perret, Geoffrey. 20
Inside the Eisenhower Administration by Thomas Lee
A review of William Edwards’s Eisenhower the President
Few have had the opportunities and experience that William Bragg Ewald Jr. brings to the table when writing about Dwight D. Eisenhower. As a member of Eisenhower’s White House Staff from, Ewald has personally experienced Eisenhower’s preferred methods of administration and witnessed the events that defined his presidency. As a speech writer from 1954-56, assistant to the Interior Secretary from 1957-61, and research assistant to Eisenhower while he wrote his memoirs from 1961-65, Ewald has been through what he calls, “[life] through the Eisenhower presidency three times.”1 The amount of detail that Ewald includes in Eisenhower the President is stunning as he offers specifics that no other biographies of Eisenhower would be able to offer. In this book Ewald attempts to change the generic view on Eisenhower’s presidency of passivity, and replace it with a much more admirable image.
The work is split into four books; the first is appropriately titled Days of Dawning, and is about Eisenhower’s background, discussing both his accomplishments as “five-star General of the Army [and] … Supreme Commander of all the Allied forces in Europe during World War II.”2 As a more intimate recollection of Eisenhower, Ewald expands greatly throughout the book on Ike’s character and personality, holding him in high regard. He reviews the time of Truman’s presidency, a time where their relationship was not clearly positive or negative. The gray areas in their relationship are revealed, as Truman would often attack Eisenhower, but at times also appear to be friendly. As the predecessor to Eisenhower, Truman ended up influencing many of Eisenhower’s decisions based on what Eisenhower liked and did not like about Truman’s presidency. Although Ike did not plan on getting into politics, he was convinced by several to eventually campaign for the nomination and win in 1952. His political views did not change much from his First Inaugural Address to his Farewell Address. He sought peace at any cost, and believed a strong peacetime economy was essential to America’s defense. Ewald discusses an address by Nixon which was directed towards Eisenhower, challenging him to keep his financial records covered; A later report revealed that there was nothing wrong with Eisenhower’s financial activity. Ewald then discusses the dynamic of Eisenhower’s staff, calling Eisenhower was an organization man. He wanted all people to be efficient and wanted the technology around him to be instruments of efficiency. Ike was extremely demanding of his staff, which led to each member serving a crucial function and being aware of his or her individual role.
Book Two, Days of Sun, describes Eisenhower’s relationship with Earl Warren, and how he became Chief Justice. Eisenhower made a deal with Warren, exchanging the 70 California votes in return for a position of his choice in the new Eisenhower administration. Eisenhower had originally planned to put him on the “first vacancy on the Supreme Court,” but did not expect Chief Justice Fred Vinson to have a sudden heart attack and die.3 The next open vacancy was now the Chief Justice position. Eisenhower hesitated, deliberating between John Foster Dulles and Warren. However, Eisenhower chose Warren in the end, as he had promised to award Warren the next open position. Not appointing Warren as Chief Justice would have been regarded as a breach of faith, as Warren not only realized Eisenhower’s ability to appoint whomever he felt fit as Chief Justice, but also believed he was entitled to the position that Eisenhower had promised him. Eisenhower valued his reputation and also felt that Warren was entitled to the position. Ewald took a large portion of the book to review the different kind of records, including but not limited to manuscripts, interviews, and tape recordings. Ike’s preferred method of recording information was handwritten notes because having a third person there to write down whatever was said kept the record from being self-serving. Ewald then delves into the First Indochina War, further showing Ike’s character and thought process behind his decision making while retaining his original views – Ike emphasized the importance on peace. Furthermore, Eisenhower believed in the Domino Theory, the idea that if one country fell to Communism the surrounding countries would follow suit, but did not want to fight unless it was necessary. Direct American intervention never happened, aside from the 20 B-26 aircraft that the US supplied to the French, and the American letter to the new Vietnamese government made no commitments in an attempt to keep America somewhat distant from the war. The McCarthy hearings began afterwards in 1952, which displeased Eisenhower. Joseph McCarthy declared war on Ike, but in the end Ike’s shut down McCarthyism. The president wrote a series of letters criticizing McCarthy and even changing the executive branch’s policies in order to spite the paranoid senator. The focus then shifts back to Eisenhower’s administration; the staff worked like a well-oiled machine. The members worked well together as a team, as Ike inspired them to remain loyal. Ewald believed that intelligent and intellectual were two different words – intellectuals are those some would call book smart. They feel the need to sit down with others of their kind and dispense their knowledge. Intelligent people have innate brilliance. Ewald believed that Ike did not fit in with intellectuals.
The third book, Days of Shadow, progresses into the Cold War era. Emmet Hughes, a man who would become invaluable to Eisenhower later, wrote the Inaugural Address, and Ike decided to make a personal trip to Korea. After Stalin’s death on March 5th, 1953, Eisenhower made a speech that asserted “every gun made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies a theft from those who hunger and are not fed.”4 Eisenhower wished to switch funding from defense efforts to more domestic relief. This was recognized as a lasting effect that Eisenhower created: a “sunny upland of peace.”5 Hughes became increasingly displeased with the White House, and eventually left and returned to his original job at Time, Inc. Eisenhower eventually accepted Hughes’ departure and claimed that Hughes had given enough to the government that he should feel satisfied about his work in the government. Following this was a series of events involving Rockefeller, for whom Hughes would eventually write speeches. Ewald personally believed that this was the sole reason why Eisenhower did not like Rockefeller. Eisenhower then had to make a decision on the situation in Lebanon: would he send in troops? He wanted to avoid another mistake like the one Truman made, where Truman ordered defense spending with money that the U.S. did not have. Instead, Eisenhower wanted to increase defense spending in peacetime. Defense spending figures rose significantly during Eisenhower’s presidency, starting from $3 million a year at the end of Truman’s presidency to $14 million the next year and $161 million the year after that.
Book Four, How Swift How Secretly, discusses events in the Cold War. The successful launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik sparked the space race and panic about the Soviet Union during this time, and Ike failed to win the 1958 re-election. In the end, however, “Eisenhower got his surplus - $269 million.”6 Eisenhower had achieved his goal of eliminating the deficit. However, the economy recovered too quickly, and in two years the $13 billion deficit became a quarter billion dollar surplus, which then plummeted by the third year. Dissatisfaction from John F. Kennedy and the Democrats became more and more extended, now with getting Nixon and various other Republicans involved. Nixon’s campaign came next, which faced two unfortunate events. On August 17, he banged his right knee against a car door and was put into a hospital until September 9 because of an infection, causing him to cancel some of the planned trips he had for his campaign. The second unfortunate event was a televised debate between Nixon and Kennedy. Kennedy rattled Nixon, who looked pale and unprepared for the onslaught. Nixon’s defeat was marked by two factors from Eisenhower: his fatal bequest of negativism and his ambivalence. Eisenhower had turned Nixon into a defender rather than an attacker, a position where it is so easy to get stuck on the losing side, trying to defend his main statement that “America has not been standing still.”7 The second was ambivalence, which Eisenhower denied. Although various things such as Nixon’s indirect attacks on Eisenhower led Ike to be rather unappreciative of Nixon, Eisenhower probably wanted Kennedy to lose more than Nixon. Ultimately, Nixon’s defeat was also Eisenhower’s.
In Eisenhower the President, Ewald shows a different side to Eisenhower than usual. Most critics of Eisenhower regard him as a passive and ineffective president, who was only likable on the surface. They believe that Eisenhower had little effect on domestic and foreign affairs. Ewald, instead, portrays Eisenhower as a president who was fit for the job: smart, in control, intelligent, and more. Ewald believed – and supported with his stories – that Eisenhower was a powerful president who was also motivated, eliminating anyone who stood in the way of his ideals and political decisions. Ewald uses his personal experience with Eisenhower to show his audience Eisenhower’s true nature rather than only aspects that the media decided to publish or make known. Ewald often uses his personal experiences with Eisenhower to refute many of the critics’ claims on Ike; he is able to give more in-depth accounts on Eisenhower to show how he successfully shut down McCarthyism. The years that Eisenhower served as president were good years, marked by peace and a stable economy.
Ewald’s relationship with Eisenhower influences his view on his administration. As a part of Eisenhower’s White House staff, he would not want to be seen as part of a lackluster presidency. He uses these personal accounts with Eisenhower to highlight the greatness of the administration and counter the criticism that Eisenhower received for his time as president. Instead of showing a passive, out of date president, many of Ewald’s stories recall an angry or assertive Eisenhower. For example, when looking over a memoir, he argued that the recorder did not record what he said correctly. “When the President read this direct quotation, he angrily crossed it out. ‘I never said anything like that!’”8 Even with rather small incidents like this readers can see Eisenhower asserting himself and not allowing such a memory to go on any further. He decides to cross out the quote on the spot and clear up any potential misconception without hesitation. Getting heated over an incident like this, the audience can only wonder just how angry Eisenhower could become over matters of national importance. All of this is made possible by Ewald’s selection of stories he remembers to incorporate into this book in order to show Eisenhower as an aggressive yet reasonable president.
Because Eisenhower the President was published in 1981, Americans may have been more critical of Eisenhower because of the Cold War. The Cold War finally ends in the beginning of the 1990s, but at the time this book was published, people still felt strongly about it. Looking at how the US got into its position stems back all the way to Eisenhower’s presidency, and if they felt that they were not in a favorable spot, it might have been seen as the product of Eisenhower’s incompetence. The results of Eisenhower’s decisions and policies would definitely have been evident so that the people living in the 1980’s would have an idea of how Eisenhower affected their lives, for better or for worse. Ewald’s bias also contributes to his motivations for writing this book; an advocate of Eisenhower’s policies and presidency as a whole, he wrote this book to challenge opinions in that Eisenhower was an inactive president and convince people that Eisenhower was an assertive president.
A review by Lilian Faderman focuses on the fact that Ewald was heavily biased as a result of his participation in the White House staff. The style and arrangement of Ewald’s writing is confusing and hard to follow, making it hard to understand Ewald’s point. Because the book is not told in chronological order, the reader must piece together the information to better understand some of the stories. Faderman believes that the heavy bias in favor of Eisenhower is understandable but makes the book unbalanced. Some parts of the book are too heavily influenced by Ewald’s bias to be credible. Faderman criticizes the continual stress that Ewald places on the fact that he helped Eisenhower greatly while Eisenhower was writing his memoirs. He even explicitly references the books by their titles, and these memoirs reveal that William Bragg Ewald Jr.’s name is nowhere to be found. This further detracts from the credibility of the book. Faderman agrees that the bias is too much at some points; for example, Ewald does not even consider the possibility that “Eisenhower ordered the assassination of Lumumba.”9 This blatant denial shows the extent to which Ewald is willing to ignore Eisenhower’s less than ideal decisions.
Ewald definitely presents an interesting read with this arrangement. Being essentially a collection of stories presented in a confusing order, leaves room for interpretation, and leaves the reader to wonder if the intended message was received. The bias is extremely evident; Ewald’s lack of criticism about Eisenhower causes the reader to be rather skeptical about the degree of historical accuracy this work achieves. With nothing but praise for Eisenhower in this book, it is almost impossible for a president to be perfect in the way he deals with every situation. Ewald’s attempts to shift the general audience’s view on Eisenhower to a more positive light does not do well because of the lack of criticism for Eisenhower. This unbalance leaves the reader feeling empty, wishing to know about the mistakes or things Eisenhower was scrutinized for in order to evaluate whether the pros of Eisenhower’s presidency outweigh the cons.
The 1950s were a time of conservatism and stasis. Eisenhower often hesitated to make any decisions regarding foreign conflict, and continued the New Deal policies. Events such as the Indochina War and the Korean War were dealt with extremely caution, as Eisenhower essentially watched the events unfold before deciding on whether or not to intervene. Eisenhower’s actions in times of war when others were in need of American aid were extremely isolationist; Ike wanted nothing to do with any foreign wars unless it was absolutely necessary to get involved. Furthermore, he did not decide for himself what was absolutely necessary – often he would wait for Congress to declare that the United States needed to make a move. Although Ewald shows many sides of Eisenhower’s temperament, these characteristics usually do not pertain to foreign or domestic policies, neither of which Eisenhower severely revised. Ewald probably would not agree with this assessment, as he focuses more on understanding Eisenhower as a person rather than understanding the actions of Eisenhower’s party.
Eisenhower is often seen as a passive president, known mostly for the Eisenhower doctrine, but Ewald’s Eisenhower the President tries to change that perspective. Eisenhower’s character is discussed much deeper than usually discussed and can only be learned of by someone close to him. Ewald offers the best of a political figure in the White House during the Eisenhower administration and having spent a large amount of time around Eisenhower was made able to thoroughly judge Ike’s spirit. A final wish Eisenhower may have had for future generations is “may you live in uneventful times.”10
Ewald, William. Eisenhower the Presiden: Crucial Days, 1951-1960. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1981. 1
Ewald, William. 21
Ewald, William. 79
Ewald, William. 226
Ewald, William. 227
Ewald, William. 293
Ewald, William. 309
Ewald, William. 90
"EISENHOWER THE PRESIDENT: Crucial Days: 1951-1960 by." Kirkus Reviews. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 June 2014.
Ewald, William. 324
Unmatched Power by Andrew Jeng
A review of Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate
On the eve of the birth of the United States, the Founding fathers decided that the House of Representatives alone would be subject to the dangers of mob rule, so they created an institution meant to check not the power of the few, but the power of the many—the Senate. To this institution, the framers of the Constitution bestowed the power over presidential impeachments and ratify presidential appointments and treaties. The Framers erected many additional defenses against mob rule—six year terms, higher age requirements—in the hopes that “nothing could ever pierce it.”1 However, over the years, its rigid rules, its seniority system, and its vehement opposition to civil rights, and its decay under a line of powerful presidents transformed the once-powerful Senate into an object of ridicule. Robert A. Caro’s book The Years of Lyndon B. Johnson: Master of the Senate narrates the rise and fall of the Senate’s power and influence, and how its structure was revolutionized by one man—Lyndon B. Johnson.
Caro’s work begins with the history of the Senate, which was created by the Founding Fathers as a dam against the popular will. During the age of the “Great Triumvirate”— Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and Daniel Webster— Americans hailed the Senate as the center stage of American history.2 The public acknowledged senators as prominent orators, and the Senate a sources of inspiration for democracy. However, the power of the Senate deviated from the role the Founding Fathers envisioned for it with the arrival of the Gilded Age. Allied with the robber barons, the Republican-controlled Senate reached the zenith of its power by granting economic and political benefits in exchange for “contributions” and “favors”. Bribes and scandals caused popular opinion of the institution to plummet to the point where the Senate no resembled a stage for democratic debates, but a battleground for petty intrigues. Despite the emergence of progressive Presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, the Senate remained stubbornly unyielding to the advocates of social justice. During the Second World War, the Senate’s reluctance to aid the Allies along and exposure of corruption within Congress lowered public opinion of the Senate “to a point at which it was little more than a joke.”3 The Senate was most notable for its seniority system, which led to decades of dominance by Southern senators nicknamed “old bulls.” The old bulls maintained a rigid bulwark against the growing tide of civil rights, and the bulwarks still stood when Lyndon B. Johnson entered the Senate in January, 1949.
Due to a family history of heart failures, Johnson above all feared not making a name for himself before his death. Lyndon B. Johnson began his political career in the House of Representatives. In 1941 he was defeated by Texas Governor W. Lee O’Daniel in the Texas Senatorial election. In the election of 1948—Johnson’s last chance of becoming a Senator— he raised the stakes and relinquished his seat in the House, running an “all or nothing” campaign against Coke R. Stevenson, and defeated Stevenson by immorally “stealing” tens of thousands of votes. However, Johnson’s luck began to run thin when his impatience at the Senate’s seniority system caused the “old bull” Tom Connally to reject his request to join the Committees of Finance and Foreign Relations. Downed by this blow, Johnson devised a new strategy, one he employed during his years in the House—manipulating powerful men with his charisma. Like schoolchildren, Johnson learned his “three Rs”—Roosevelt, Rayburn, and Russell—in order to quickly maneuver through the House into the Senate.4 By respectfully approaching Senator Russell for advice, LBJ slowly gained his trust, and those of the Southern Bloc. However, to completely win Russell over, Johnson must devoted himself to the southern “cause”. In his maiden speech in the Senate, the new senator passionately defended the filibuster, a weapon commonly utilized by the South to prevent unwanted bills from passing. In addition, Johnson criticized the methods of civil right advocates as too extreme. Johnson’s role as a defender of Southern filibustering, in addition to Russell and LBJ’s mutual love for baseball, quickly elevated Johnson to the status of confident and protégé. With his position in the Southern Bloc secured, LBJ shifted his attention back to his home state Texas, where he sought to ally himself with powerful businesses and companies in order to win a seat in the Senate. To do so, Johnson set his sight on Leland Olds, the chairman of the Federal Power Commission, who had fought against the large oil businesses in Texas. Taking advantage of Olds’s early works that vaguely echoed communist ideas, on September 28th, 1949, Johnson plotted a trap to discredit Olds—a subcommittee meeting filled with Olds’s enemies to accuse him of affiliating with communism—in order to prevent Olds’s renomination as chairman of the Federal Power Commission. The plan succeeded and ended Olds’s political career, effectively propelling Johnson as he gained the support of Texas’s most powerful businessmen. Johnson quickly climbed the ladder in the Senate by allying himself with powerful old bulls and demonstrating his genius in turning potential enemies into powerful allies.
Proved to be an ally to the South, Johnson obtained Russell’s consent to create the Subcommittee of Preparedness Investigations. The committee vaguely dealt with scandals and corruption in the military, yet it utilized pompous language to acquire fame for Johnson. As Johnson’s power and popularity grew, his aspired to become a party leader. In truth, “a Senate ‘Leader’ had little power to lead even on the Senate floor” due to the unwillingness of the liberal North and the conservative South to compromise. More often than not, this led to disaster and the defeat of the leaders.5 Undeterred, Johnson rose to the occasion in 1952 and became the youngest majority whip leader, effectively making himself an invaluable asset by dealing political information within the Senate. With Russell’s aid and the support of the Southern Bloc, Johnson soon became the youngest minority leader at the age of 44 when the Republicans overturned the Democrats in Congress. Sensing that his authority was restrained by the rigid rule of seniority in the Senate, Johnson developed a system of trading and shifting positions within the Senate to pump young Democrats into important committees, thus securing their loyalty and reinvigorating the Senate. Another example of Johnson’s masterstroke happened when Eisenhower criticized the Democrats’ secret agreement with the Soviets during the Yalta Conference. However, the president had no intention of repudiating the Yalta commitments in fear of losing American rights to occupy Berlin. LBJ increased the Democrats’ power by convincing the party to ally with a Republican President against the Republicans, who urged Eisenhower to repudiate the Yalta commitments altogether. By winning over Senator Wayne Marse, Johnson acquired the crucial votes he needed to ascend to Majority Leader in 1955, becoming the youngest Majority House Leader in Senate history.
After Johnson became the Majority Leader, he acquired the power to control the flow of legislation, and became an effective Majority Leader by quickly passing favorable bills. Never content with his current status, Johnson’s next goal was the presidency, which meant that he had to bridge the gaps between Democratic factions to ensure his nomination. However, his attempt for nomination in 1956 ended in failure due to Johnson’s lack of support beyond the Senate. Defeated, Johnson recognized that he must pass a civil rights suit in order to garner the support he needed outside of the Senate. Using all of his powers—scheduling, persuasion, intimidation—Johnson planned to ram a moderately liberal bill through the Senate in order to gain the liberals’ support. After consulting Russell, whose own run at presidency ended in failure in 1952, Johnson received the support of the Southerners, who recognized the need for Johnson to pass a civil rights bill in order to have a chance at the presidency. After drafting the Civil Rights Act of 1957, Johnson came to the conclusion that the bill must be weakened to almost nothing but Provision IV, which concerned black suffrage to have any chance of passing. Although many of the liberals bristled at the weakened bill, moderates supported the bill, hailing it as a beacon of hope for future civil rights legislation. On August 2nd, 1957, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 passed both Houses, becoming the first success for the civil rights movement since the 15th amendment in February 3rd, 1870. After the bill passed, Johnson came under attack from infuriated Republicans who accused Johnson of stealing the limelight of civil rights issues, and Democratic liberals, who criticized the bill for lacking substance. However, these attacks made little to no difference to Johnson, whose control over senators is so secured he “let reporters know how cleverly he manipulate them.”6 After three years of dominance, Johnson decided to gamble on his career by running for vice presidency alongside the president nominee John F. Kennedy. On November 5th, 1960, Johnson relinquished his position in the Senate and became the vice president, and soon lost his power in the Senate as a result of his new affiliation with the executive branch. Caro states that LBJ’s years in the Senate were his happiest, and there hasn’t been another “master of the Senate” since.
Caro’s work primarily deals with the Senate and how Lyndon B. Johnson changed it. Charismatic to his supporters yet intimidating to his opponents, Johnson proved himself the “master of the Senate—master of an institution that had never before had a master… and has not had one since.”7 Caro’s assertion that Johnson was the greatest Senate leader is well founded since he not only rid the Senate of the seniority system, but also passed civil rights bill despite opposition from the Southern Democrats, achieving a feat unheard of since President Ulysses S. Grant passed the15th Amendment. A genius of one-on-one persuasion, Johnson fully utilized his charm to ascend in politics with a velocity never seen before.
Caro developed his writing style during his years writing for the school magazine at Princeton. After graduation, Caro worked as a reporter in what is now the Home News Tribune, developing his method of interviewing hundreds of people required to synthesize The Years of Lyndon Johnson series. Once a member of the Democratic Party at the county level, Caro quickly grew disillusioned with politics, and contented himself with simply writing about politics. Inspired by a lecture on New York’s urban planner Robert Moses during his years at Harvard, Caro wrote The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, which narrated Robert Moses’s rise to power. The book served as a launch pad for Caro’s works, which were all about politicians and how they acquired and utilized power. Master of the Senate proved to be objective, both praising LBJ for his genius at manipulation and criticizing him for the unscrupulous way he operated during the Senatorial election of 1948 as well as his flawed character. It took Caro more than a decade to complete Master of the Senate, the main purpose of which was not to portray Johnson as the president who failed in Vietnam, but as the powerful Senate Leader who, upon reinvigorating the Senate with fresh recruits, “[worked] a revolution in the ancient system.”8
In his review “The Great Societizer”, Phillip A. Klinkner of the journal The Nation praises Caro as a “gifted and passionate writer” whose writing reflects his thorough understanding of twentieth century political history. 9 Klinkner compares Caro’s work to the “four basic food groups; they both give you what you need along with much, much more.”10 Another review from the Journal of American History by H.W. Brands deals less with the contents of Caro’s book, and more about Caro himself. Describing Caro’s writing as a melting pot of interviews, Brands recognizes how Caro reveals Johnson’s character through hundreds of primary and secondary hand sources. Brand juxtaposes Johnson and Caro in their fascination with power, demonstrating the persuasiveness of Caro’s work, while debating whether Johnson sought power merely for dominance or for an unexplained higher purpose. Klinkner’s review proves that Master of the Senate is not only a thick, but also worthwhile for readers to enrich their knowledge of the Senator Lyndon B. Johnson.
Master of the Senate proves to be no easy task to digest, since Caro meticulously details every aspect of Johnson’s life from his climb up the Senate ladder to his parking methods in the Senate parking lot. However, everything Caro writes about pertains to power, since according to him, no one was more adept at acquiring power than Johnson, and no one was more eager to flaunt it. Caro held a dichotomous view of Johnson, as both a conservative member of the South, and the leading advocate for black civil rights. However, Caro explains that civil rights legislations were merely stepping stones for Johnson, because only by allying himself with the Northern liberals could Johnson have any chance of receiving a Democratic presidential nomination. In addition, Caro uses Johnson’s family history of heart failures to explain his insecurity as well as the source of his ambition and impatience. LBJ always feared dying like his father, a poor, unsuccessful farmer, and this fear forced him to resort to stealing votes in his gamble for a seat in the Senate. Caro also reveals the real Johnson, not the one Americans saw in the White House, but the passionate, brusque, humorous, and racist Johnson. Despite Johnson’s support for liberalism, Caro portrays LBJ as a prejudiced man who often used racial pejoratives. For example, Johnson once directed his driver Robert parker to “just pretend [he was] a goddamn piece of furniture.”11 But no matter where Johnson’s true allegiance lied, he needed to pass a civil rights bill that would satisfy the liberals without antagonizing the South. The LBJ of the Senate is, in Caro’s words, “very different from the man Americans would later come to know as President.”12 It was not until LBJ became the vice president, a role seemingly devoid of any power but that of breaking ties in the Senate, did he realize that he made a terrible mistake. Regardless, Johnson is perhaps among the greatest senators who ever lived, not only because of how he utilized his power, but also because of how he amassed it.
Headed by President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon from 1953 to 1961, the 1950s was an era of conservatism. The Senate vetoed almost every civil rights legislation, and the one that did pass—the Civil Rights Act of 1957—was merely “half a loaf” meant to stifle liberals while bringing them to Johnson’s side.13 The Southern bloc led by Richard Russell dominated the Senate, and consistently used filibuster to remove unwanted bills.
Master of the Senate portrays Johnson as a genius in his own right, as a man capable of “holding his Southern support while antagonizing northern liberals as little as possible“ all to fulfill his own agendas.14 Caro’s Johnson is no saint, yet the villain of the Senatorial election of 1948 was ironically the hero of the civil rights cause. Nevertheless, it was through sheer talent and boundless ambition that made Johnson the one and only master of the Senate.
1. Caro, Robert. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate. New York: Random House, Inc., 2002. 11.
2. Caro, Robert. 16.
3. Caro, Robert. 77.
4. Caro, Robert. 163.
5. Caro, Robert. 358.
6. Caro, Robert. 1020.
7. Caro, Robert. xxii.
8. Caro, Robert. 565.
9. Klinkner, Philip A. "The Great Societizer." The Nation. N.p., 2 May 2002. Web. 06 June 2014. 14.
10. Klinkner, Philip A. "The Great Societizer." The Nation. N.p., 2 May 2002. Web. 06 June 2014. 14.
11. Caro, Robert. 717.
12. Caro, Robert. xvi.
13. Caro, Robert. 1003.
14. Caro, Robert.786.