Veteran journalist Evan Thomas explodes the stereotype of Dwight D. Eisenhower as "Granddad in a golf cart" in a readable new biography of the 34th president, Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World. Far from being "the do-nothing, platitude-spouting, syntax-mangling, over-the-hill oldest man ever to occupy the White House," writes Thomas, Eisenhower was a canny card player and master manipulator who used the threat of nuclear war to preserve world peace.
See also: Bill O'Reilly's new book Killing Kennedy is intriging.
We asked Thomas — who wrote more than 100 cover stories on wars, scandals and presidential elections in his 24 years at Newsweek — to explain how the "outwardly amiable but inwardly seething" Eisenhower managed to "safeguard his country and possibly the rest of mankind from annihilation."
Allan Fallow: What got you interested in Eisenhower?
Evan Thomas: I was talking to John Newhouse, who knew Andrew Goodpaster, Ike's staff secretary (and really his national security adviser). Goodpaster had confided in Newhouse, "You know? All these years Eisenhower never told me whether he would have used nuclear weapons or not."
And I thought, "Wow! Here's the first guy with the power to destroy the world, and he's never going to tell anybody whether he's going to use it." It's logical, when you think about it: How can you have a good deterrent if you tell people when you plan to use it?
AF: Did bottling things up like that cause his health problems?
ET: Absolutely. Stress has to go somewhere, and his went to his stomach. Eisenhower projected this aura of calm strength, but his stomach was tearing him up inside. When he had to give an important speech — like his "Chance for Peace" speech in April 1953 — his stomach acted up so much he could barely finish it. His hands gripped the lectern. He started sweating. He began skipping pages. The aides watching him wondered, "Man — is this guy gonna make it?"