Probably no American president was more thoroughly versed in matters of national security and foreign policy before entering office than Dwight David Eisenhower. As a young military officer, Eisenhower served stateside in World War I and then in Panama and the Philippines in the interwar years. On assignments in Washington and Manila, he worked on war plans, gaining an understanding that national security entailed economic and psychological factors in addition to manpower and materiel. In World War II, he commanded Allied forces in the European Theatre of Operations and honed his skills in coalition building and diplomacy. After the war, he oversaw the German occupation and then became Army Chief of Staff as the nation hastily demobilized. At the onset of the Cold War, Eisenhower embraced President Harry S. Truman’s containment doctrine and participated in the discussions leading to the 1947 National Security Act establishing the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, and the Department of Defense. After briefly retiring from the military, Eisenhower twice returned to public service at the behest of President Truman to assume the temporary chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then, following the outbreak of the Korean War, to become the first Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, charged with transforming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into a viable military force. These experiences colored Eisenhower’s foreign policy views, which in turn led him to seek the presidency. He viewed the Cold War as a long-term proposition and worried that Truman’s military buildup would overtax finite American resources. He sought a coherent strategic concept that would be sustainable over the long haul without adversely affecting the free enterprise system and American democratic institutions. He also worried that Republican Party leaders were dangerously insular. As president, his New Look policy pursued a cost-effective strategy of containment by means of increased reliance on nuclear forces over more expensive conventional ones, sustained existing regional alliances and developed new ones, sought an orderly process of decolonization under Western guidance, resorted to covert operations to safeguard vital interests, and employed psychological warfare in the battle with communism for world opinion, particularly in the so-called Third World. His foreign policy laid the basis for what would become the overall American strategy for the duration of the Cold War. The legacy of that policy, however, was decidedly mixed. Eisenhower avoided the disaster of global war, but technological innovations did not produce the fiscal savings that he had envisioned. The NATO alliance expanded and mostly stood firm, but other alliances were more problematic. Decolonization rarely proceeded as smoothly as envisioned and caused conflict with European allies. Covert operations had long-term negative consequences. In Southeast Asia and Cuba, the Eisenhower administration’s policies bequeathed a poisoned chalice for succeeding administrations.
Richard V. Damms
Not many bilateral relationships in modern world history have as many twists and turns as the one shared by the United States and Germany. Their relationship has waxed and waned like few others: from mild indifference to faint and uncomplicated appreciation in the 18th and 19th centuries, to growing awareness, rivalry, and then outright hostility in the early 20th century, to codependent enabling and then horrific existential conflict in the mid-20th century, and finally to occupation, reconstruction, and mutually supportive and global-stabilizing friendship after 1945. With early trajectories that informed and mirrored each other, the paths of the United States and Germany eventually collided in the First World War, a conflict born of issues that were only half-resolved in its immediate aftermath. The outbreak of the Second World War laid bare the incompleteness of the Versailles settlement, leading to the complete and utter destruction of German civil society and ushering in an era of American supremacy in the Western world. The United States’ ambitious effort to reconstruct German society along American lines defined the relationship during the postwar period, but a turn toward nationalism in both countries in the early 21st century resurrected old questions and fears.
The 1950s have typically been seen as a complacent, conservative time between the end of World War II and the radical 1960s, when anticommunism and the Cold War subverted reform and undermined civil liberties. But the era can also be seen as a very liberal time in which meeting the Communist threat led to Keynesian economic policies, the expansion of New Deal programs, and advances in civil rights. Politically, it was “the Eisenhower Era,” dominated by a moderate Republican president, a high level of bipartisan cooperation, and a foreign policy committed to containing communism. Culturally, it was an era of middle-class conformity, which also gave us abstract expressionism, rock and roll, Beat poetry, and a grassroots challenge to Jim Crow.
Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence Speech” of July 1979 was a critical juncture in post-1945 U.S. politics, but it also marks an exemplary pivot in post-1945 religion. Five dimensions of faith shaped the president’s sermon. The first concerned the shattered consensus of American religion. When Carter encouraged Americans to recapture a spirit of unity, he spoke in a heartfelt but spent language more suitable to Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency than his own. By 1979, the Protestant-Catholic-Jewish consensus of Eisenhower’s time was fractured into a dynamic pluralism, remaking American religion in profound ways. Carter’s speech revealed a second revolution of post-1945 religion when it decried its polarization and politicization. Carter sought to heal ruptures that were dividing the nation between what observers, two decades hence, would label “red” (conservative Republican) and “blue” (liberal Democratic) constituencies. Yet his endeavors failed, as would be evidenced in the religious politics of Ronald Reagan’s era, which followed. Carter championed community values as the answer to his society’s problems aware of yet a third dawning reality: globalization. The virtues of localism that Carter espoused were in fact implicated in (and complicated by) transnational forces of change that saw immigration, missionary enterprises, and state and non-state actors internationalizing the American religious experience. A fourth illuminating dimension of Carter’s speech was its critique of America’s gospel of wealth. Although this “born-again” southerner was a product of the evangelical South’s revitalized free-market capitalism, he lamented how laissez-faire Christianity had become America’s lingua franca. Finally, Carter wrestled with secularization, revealing a fifth feature of post-1945 America. Even though faith commitments were increasingly cordoned off from formal state functions during this time, the nation’s political discourse acquired a pronounced religiosity. Carter contributed by framing mundane issues (such as energy) in moral contexts that drew no hard-and-fast boundaries between matters of the soul and governance. Drawn from the political and economic crises of his moment, Carter’s speech thus also reveals the all-enveloping tide of religion in America’s post-1945 age.