Fifty Years Ago
Winter of Discontent
By JT Dykman
On the Home Front
1951-1952 was indeed a "winter of discontent" for the United States. Americans were frustrated by a stalemated war in Asia that had ended the career of General Douglas MacArthur because he wanted to win it and had tarnished President Truman who only seemed to want not to lose it. Americans were being killed and wounded in a conflict without movement, and no end was in sight. Senator Joseph McCarthy, (R) Wisconsin, was at the height of his domestic anticommunist accusations and could ruin any citizen with a whisper. National primaries would begin in late winter to select the next President and both parties were in disarray. President Truman refused to say if he would run again and no other candidate predominated the Democratic Party. The Republicans were split between conservative isolationists led by Senator Taft of Ohio and moderates like Henry Cabot Lodge who were shaken by the defeat of Dewey in 1948 and believed that in order to win this time the party needed entirely new, less dogmatic, leadership.
A Time of Decision
As fall became winter in 1951 General Dwight D. Eisenhower was approaching the end of a year of duty as NATO's first supreme commander. During the previous twelve months he had led the fragile alliance from a powerless set of treaty obligations, largely ignored by its signatories since 1949, to an institution with a working command structure and troops in the field. The war in Korea had led the nations of Western Europe to fear a communist invasion on their own soil and to ask President Truman to name a commander to create an operating multi-national military force for their collective security under the terms of the NATO treaty. Eisenhower had accepted the assignment from Truman out of his profound sense of duty and not because he in any way wanted to leave his post as President of Columbia University to put on a uniform again.
Many people have failed to understand the depth of Eisenhower's lifelong perception of duty to the United States of America. It is clear from his diaries and correspondence that he accepted the NATO post only because he truly believed it to be America's best possible defense against Soviet imperialism. Every step he had taken throughout his military career had been governed by his sense of duty. During the winter of 1951-52 his belief in duty would be sorely tested.
"Draft Eisenhower" movements had sprung up in both parties in 1948 and again during 1951. Eisenhower had done his best to ignore them. He used a stock sentence in replying to correspondence. As a serving officer in a post vital to American security, he said, he could not be seen as seeking to advance any group as compared to another and would not therefore permit any semblance of partisan allegiance to be associated with his name. In some cases he even quoted Army Regulations (AR 600-10.18.)i forbidding partisan political activity by serving officers.
In early December, 1951, partially succumbing to pressures he could no longer ignore, Eisenhower authorized his close friend Clifford Roberts to organize a political advisory group of men he trusted to quietly keep him informed. Although the group put together by Roberts included many nationally known figures such as Lewis B. Maytag, golfer Bobby Jones, Milton Eisenhower, Ellis Slater and W. Alton ("Pete") Jones, none of them ever violated the confidentiality of the groupii. The strongest public proponent of the "Eisenhower for President" movement was Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. who used every tool he could muster to pressure the General to openly declare himself a Republican candidate. After months of argument, Lodge finally got Eisenhower to at least not repudiateiii a draft movement. At the same time the General made it clear that he would never seek the nomination. To Lodge, however, the agreement not to repudiate a draft movement meant acceptance and he moved ahead rapidly. In late December President Truman wrote to ask General Eisenhower, "I wish you would let me know what you intend to do,"iv and General Eisenhower replied, "I do not feel that I have any duty to seek a political nomination."v Neither man had yet fully made up his mind.
Before too long, however, General Eisenhower reconciled his commitment not to seek a political office by taking the position that he would be personally compelled to respond if calledvi to a higher duty. On January 6, 1952, Lodge forced the issue by entering Eisenhower in the New Hampshire Republican primary without Eisenhower's authorization. The press demanded a response. Eisenhower therefore issued a statement on January 7th that if offered the Republican nomination for the presidency, he would accept itvii.
For the next several weeks General Eisenhower held to his conviction of nonparticipation and rejected every attempt by his supporters to induce him to speak out on issues or even acknowledge his candidacy. Phrases such as, "I have never sought or desired a place in the political world,"viii are repeated in his letters to friends who urged him to speak out. Study of Eisenhower's correspondence and diary entries during the period between January 7th and February 11th lead one to conclude that his own intrinsic humility lead Eisenhower to doubt that a genuinely widespread popular movement existed. He was flattered by the importations of his friends, but unconvinced of substantial public support. Two events in the following few weeks would show him otherwise.
On February 11th the famous aviator and businesswoman Jacqueline Cochran arrived in Paris with a film entitled, "Serenade to Ike."ix Leaders of the draft Eisenhower movement, including Philip Young, Tex McCrary and John Hay Whitney had staged a rally in Madison Square Garden on February 8th and had urged Ms. Cochran to fly to Europe and show the picture to Mamie and Ike. The Garden had a rated capacity of 16,000 people, but at least 25,000 had shown up for the event and even the police and fire marshals of New York could not get anyone in the crowd to leave. Viewing the film had a profound effect on General Eisenhower. In his diary he wrote, "I've never been so upset in years." Ms. Cochran recalled that after the show she raised her glass in a toast "To the President of the United States," and Eisenhower burst into tears. It was the first tangible proof that America was calling him to a higher duty.
The second proof came on March 11th with the results of the New Hampshire primary. General Eisenhower won all the Republican delegates and soundly defeated Senator Taft (who had campaigned intensively in the state) by a vote of 50% to 38%. Announcing that he was "astounded" and "moved" by the results, Eisenhower told a reporter, "Any American who would have that many other Americans pay him that compliment would be proud or he would not be an American."x Convinced of being called to a higher duty, he announced his candidacy the next day.
iGalambos, Louis (Ed.), The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, volume XII, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1989. See letter 561. iiIbid. See letters 546 and 551 for Eisenhower's establishment of the group and his guidelines on its absolute confidentiality.
iiiIbid. See letter 538 to Lodge.
ivEisenhower, Susan, Mrs. Ike, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1996, page 262.
vIbid, Galambos, letter 571
viIbid, see letter 528.
viiIbid, see diary entry 592 in which Eisenhower express anger at Lodge's tactics, but explains his reasons for issuing the statement.
viiGalambos, (one, above) Volume XIII, letter 634.
ixDescriptions of these events and Eisenhower's reactions to it are found in Eisenhower (four, above, pages 264-266) and Galambos, (eight, above, pages 970-972).
xNew York Times, March 12, 1952.