Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight David, one of seven sons of David and Ida Eisenhower, was born October 14th, 1890, in Denison, Texas. He entered the US Military Academy in 1911, where he graduated in the upper third of his class in 1915. After two years with the 19th Infantry at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Eisenhower's career accelerated with the Army’s expansion for WWI.
By 1917, he had risen to the temporary grade of lieutenant colonel. Although he never went to France, Eisenhower commanded Camp Colt, the Army's tank corps training center at Gettysburg.
When the United States into WWII, Eisenhower took over the Army War Plans Division to draft a basic strategy for the war against the Axis. As a result of his efforts, Eisenhower was promoted to Commanding General, European Theater on June 25, 1942.
Soon after his arrival, he led British and American troops in North Africa during Operation TORCH. By the end of 1943, Eisenhower had conducted successful landings in Sicily and Italy and negotiated an Italian surrender.
Due to his successes, the Combined Chiefs of Staff named him Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force for the invasion of Europe. Codenamed Operation OVERLORD, the attack across was to be the decisive act of the World War II. The Germans were aware of the Allied force build-up in the United Kingdom and anticipated an attack somewhere on the French coast. It was Eisenhower’s job to surprise the Germans in the time and place of the landings. Complicating matters was the fact that the Allied resources were sufficient for only one invasion attempt. After painstaking planning, Eisenhower launched the invasion on June 6, 1944.
Following the beginning of the invasion, Eisenhower could to little but wait. In no way assured of success, he actually drafted letters both for the success and failure of the landing. However, the brave men on Gold, Sword, Juno, Omaha and Utah beaches managed to gain a solid beachhead by late afternoon. By the end of June, the Allies had moved nearly one million men and over 585,000 tons of supplies over the beaches. Following of the success of OVERLORD, Eisenhower launched a second landing in the south of France to trap the Germans in converging pincers and force them to retreat from France. Eisenhower remained in command of the Allied forces through the unconditional surrender given to him by General Alfred Jodl at the SHAEF headquarters in Rheims.
Following WWII, Eisenhower was appointed the Army’s Chief of Staff in 1945. In 1952 he was elected President of the United States. As president, he achieved a great deal including signing the treaty to end the Korean War, lobbying Congress to pass the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956 and enforcing school desegregation in Little Rock, Ark. Additionally, he signed legislation to create the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and oversaw the statehood of Alaska and Hawaii.
Dwight David Eisenhower (1890 - 1969)
Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower (14 October 1890 – 28 March 1969) was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. He had previously been a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II, and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe he had responsibility for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942–43 and the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1944–45, from the Western Front. In 1951, he became the first supreme commander of NATO.
Eisenhower was of Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry, and was reared in a large family in Kansas, by parents with a robust work ethic and religious background. As one of six sons, he was conditioned by a competitive atmosphere which instilled self-reliance. He attended and graduated from West Point, and later was married with two sons. After World War II Eisenhower served as Chief of Staff under President Harry S. Truman, then assumed the post of President at Columbia University.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: Life in Brief
Born in Texas and raised in Kansas, Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of America's greatest military commanders and the thirty-fourth President of the United States. Inspired by the example of a friend who was going to the U.S. Naval Academy, Eisenhower won an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Although his mother had religious convictions that made her a pacifist, she did not try to stop Eisenhower from becoming a military officer.
Popular War Hero
After graduating from West Point, Eisenhower experienced several years of professional frustration and disappointment. World War I ended a week before he was scheduled to go to Europe. After peace came, his career stalled. He did enjoy the personal fulfillment that came from marrying Mamie Doud in 1916 and having a son, John, in 1922. During the 1920s, he began to get assignments that allowed him to prove his abilities. He served as a military aide to General John J. Pershing and then to General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines. Shortly before the United States entered World War II, Eisenhower earned his first star with a promotion to brigadier general. After the United States entered the war, Eisenhower went to Washington, D.C., to work as a planning officer. He so impressed the Army's chief of staff, General George C. Marshall, that he quickly got important command assignments. In 1944, he was Supreme Commander of Operation Overlord, the Allied assault on Nazi-occupied Europe. In only five years, Eisenhower had risen from a lowly lieutenant colonel in the Philippines to commander of the greatest invasion force in history. When he returned home in 1945 to serve as chief of staff of the Army, Eisenhower was a hero, loved and admired by the American public. Acknowledging Eisenhower's immense popularity, President Harry Truman privately proposed to Eisenhower that they run together on the Democratic ticket in 1948—with Truman as the vice-presidential candidate. Eisenhower refused and instead became president of Columbia University and then, after the outbreak of the Korean War, the first Supreme Commander of NATO forces in Europe. In 1952, he declared that he was a Republican and returned home to win his party's presidential nomination, with Richard M. Nixon as his running mate. "Ike" endeared himself to the American people with his plain talk, charming smile, and sense of confidence. He easily beat Democrat Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and again in 1956.
Eisenhower was a popular President throughout his two terms in office. His moderate Republican policies helped him secure many victories in Congress, even though Democrats held the majority in both the House and the Senate during six of the eight years that Eisenhower was in the White House. Eisenhower helped strengthen established programs, such as Social Security, and launch important new ones, such as the Interstate Highway System in 1956, which became the single largest public works program in U.S. history. Yet there were problems and failures as well as achievements. Although he secured from Congress the first civil rights legislation since the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War, he refrained from speaking out to advance the cause of racial justice. He never endorsed the Supreme Court's ruling in 1954 that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional, and he failed to use his moral authority as President to urge speedy compliance with the Court's decision. In 1957, he did send federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, when mobs tried to block the desegregation of Central High School, but he did so because he had a constitutional obligation to uphold the law, not because he supported integration. Eisenhower also refrained from publicly criticizing Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, who used his powers to abuse the civil liberties of dozens of citizens who he accused of anti-American activities. Eisenhower privately despised McCarthy, and he worked behind the scenes with congressional leaders to erode McCarthy's influence. Eisenhower's indirect tactics eventually worked, but they also prolonged the senator's power since many people concluded that even the President was unwilling to confront McCarthy.
Waging Cold War
Six months after he became President, Eisenhower agreed to an armistice that ended three years of fighting in Korea. Only on one other occasion—in Lebanon in 1958—did Eisenhower send combat troops into action. Yet defense spending remained high, as Eisenhower made vigorous efforts to wage the Cold War. He placed new emphasis on nuclear strength, which was popularly known as massive retaliation, to prevent the outbreak of war. He also frequently authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to undertake covert actions—secret interventions to overthrow unfriendly governments or protect reliable anti-Communist leaders whose power was threatened. The CIA helped topple the governments of Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954, but it suffered an embarrassing failure in 1958 when it intervened in Indonesia. Eisenhower avoided war in Indochina in 1954 when he decided not to authorize an air strike to rescue French troops at the crucial battle of Dienbienphu. Yet after the French granted independence to the nations of Indochina—Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam—Eisenhower used U.S. power and prestige to help create a non-Communist government in South Vietnam, an action that had disastrous long-term consequences. During his last years in office, Eisenhower also "waged peace," hoping to improve U.S.-Soviet relations and negotiate a treaty banning nuclear testing in the air and seas. But the Soviet downing of a U.S. reconnaissance plane—the U-2 incident of May 1, 1960—ended any hope for a treaty before Eisenhower left office.
After leaving office, Eisenhower had a mediocre reputation with most historians. Some even wondered whether a President who often made garbled public statements really understood most issues or whether staff assistants made the important decisions for this general in the White House. As time passed and more records from the Eisenhower administration became available for research, it became clear that Eisenhower was a strong leader who was very much in charge of his own administration. Historians still point to the limitations in Eisenhower's record in areas such as civil rights, and they debate the long-term consequences of his covert interventions in Third World nations. Yet his ranking is much higher, with many historians concluding that Eisenhower was a "near great" or even "great" President.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: Life Before the Presidency
Born on October 14, 1890, in a house by the railroad tracks in Denison, Texas, Dwight David Eisenhower spent his youth in the small farm town of Abilene, Kansas. His father, David, worked as a mechanic in a local creamery. His mother, Ida, a Mennonite, was a religious pacifist who opposed war. Eisenhower did family chores, delighted in hunting and fishing and football, and eagerly read military history. In 1911, he won an appointment to West Point, where he played football until he suffered a serious knee injury. His pranks, fondness for cards and smoking, and average grades earned him little respect from his teachers. They thought that he would be a good officer, but not a great one.
Rising in the Ranks
After graduating in the middle of his class—61st out of 164—Eisenhower spent the next few years at one disappointing station after another, beginning with a stint as a second lieutenant at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. It was there that he met and married Mamie Doud. At Camp Meade, Maryland, Eisenhower became friends with George S. Patton, Jr. Both Eisenhower and Patton published articles in 1920 advocating that the Army make better use of tanks to prevent a repetition of the static and destructive trench warfare of World War I. But Army authorities considered Eisenhower insubordinate rather than visionary and threatened him with a court-martial if he again challenged official views on infantry warfare.
Eisenhower was doubly fortunate when he was transferred to a new assignment in the Panama Canal Zone and got to work as executive officer for General Fox Conner, who appreciated Eisenhower's critical thinking about infantry warfare. Conner became Eisenhower's patron and arranged for a prized appointment that helped propel Eisenhower's career, as a student at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Eisenhower graduated first in his class of 245 officers, and he was quickly given important assignments. He served as an aide first to General John J. Pershing, commander of U.S. forces in World War I, and then to General Douglas MacArthur, the Army's chief of staff.
Eisenhower remained with MacArthur for seven stormy years. The two men were extremely different. They often disagreed, although Eisenhower, as the junior officer, still had to carry out the general's orders. Eisenhower loyally served MacArthur even when it meant dispersing the "Bonus Marchers," a group of unemployed veterans of World War I who protested in Washington, D.C., during the Great Depression. Despite their different styles, Eisenhower stayed with MacArthur when he moved to the Philippines in 1935 to organize and train the army of the Philippine Commonwealth.
From left to right, Captain T.J. Davis, General Douglas MacArthur, and Major Dwight D. Eisenhower are shown in formal dress at Malacanang Palace in Manila, the Philippines, 1935. Photo from the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library.
World War II Hero
After World War II broke out in Europe in 1939, Eisenhower returned to the United States and eventually played an important role in the Third Army's field maneuvers in Louisiana. These training exercises, in which more than 400,000 troops participated, revealed Eisenhower's talent for strategic planning and earned him a promotion to brigadier general. Only days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Eisenhower went to Washington, D.C., to work on U.S. war plans. Eisenhower impressed Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, a keen but stern judge of military ability who rarely spoke words of praise. Promotions and critical assignments followed quickly. In November 1942, Eisenhower commanded Allied troops that invaded North Africa in Operation Torch. The next year, he directed the invasions of Sicily and Italy. In 1944, he was the Supreme Commander in Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied western Europe. In only a few years, Eisenhower had risen from an obscure lieutenant colonel to a four-star general in charge of one of the greatest military forces in history.
By dealing sympathetically with Allied leaders, Eisenhower achieved the cooperative effort that enabled him to launch the D-Day invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944. His terse decision, "Okay, let's go," despite the chance of poor weather won admiration from the Allied leaders and the troops that risked—and gave—their lives on the beaches of Normandy.
Operation Majestic [ edit | edit source ]
Eisenhower consulted his friend and fellow member of the Council on Foreign relations, Nelson Rockefeller for help with the alien situation. Eisenhower and Rockefeller began planning the secret structure of alien task supervision which was to become realized within one year. The idea for MJ-12 was thus born. It was Nelson's Uncle Winthrop Aldrich who had been crucial in convincing Eisenhower to run for President. The whole Rockefeller family and with them the Rockefeller empire had solidly backed Ike. Asking Rockefeller for help with the alien presence would, according to Bill Cooper “turn out to be the biggest mistake Eisenhower ever made for the future of the United States and most probably all of humanity.” Α]
Within one week of Eisenhower's election he had appointed Nelson Rockefeller chairman of a Presidential Advisory Committee on Government Organization. Rockefeller was responsible for planning the reorganization of the government. New deal programs went into one single cabinet positions called the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. When Congress approved the new cabinet position in April of 1953, Nelson was named to the post of Undersecretary to Oveta Culp Hobby. Α]
The audiovisual collection of the Eisenhower Presidential Library holds a substantial collection of photographic prints that offers a significant, primary documentary resource relating to the life and times of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Most photographic materials in the holdings of the Eisenhower Presidential Library were received as part of manuscript collections and are arranged and identified by the name of the donor. The still photograph collection documenting the World War II period consists primarily of U.S. Army Signal Corps photographs supplemented largely by photographs donated by individuals such as General Courtney H. Hodges and General Floyd L. Parks, and by such corporate entities as the Des Moines Register Tribune newspaper. Most of the photographs documenting the presidential years were taken by the National Park Service or the U.S. Naval Photographic Center. The Library has also accumulated, however, a large number of photographs from various presidential committees and from associates of President Eisenhower such as James C. Hagerty and Edward L. Beach.
When submitting photograph requests, please list as much information as possible regarding the occasion, subject, date, individuals involved and geographical location. Requests can be made via [email protected] or by calling the Library at 785-263-6700.
There is a large selection of photographic images found throughout the Library's website. The majority of the images are in the public domain. Copyrighted images will be annotated and are restricted to online viewing only.
Notations such as NPS, USA and USN, refer to the photographer origin (ie. National Park Service, United States Army Signal Corps, and United States Naval Photographic Agency) who photographed Eisenhower throughout his career. As government agencies these images are considered in the public domain.
World War II, Holocaust (WARNING: contains graphic photographs)
How Do Historians Evaluate the Administration of Dwight Eisenhower?
Mr. Greenstein is a professor of politics at Princeton.
Dwight David Eisenhower is the least well understood of the modern presidents: enormously popular with the American public from his time as supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II through his death in 1969, but long held by analysts of American politics to have been a non-performing president.
A poll of specialists on the presidency conducted the year after Eisenhower stepped down relegated him to the rank of nineteenth-century nonentities like Chester Arthur. Within two decades, however, a transformation of Eisenhower's reputation had begun in the scholarly literature. As the inner records of his presidency came into the public domain, an Eisenhower emerged who was far removed from the image he cast as figurehead president -- giving the lie to the 1950s joke that it would be terrible if Eisenhower died and Vice President Nixon became president, but infinitely worse if Sherman Adams (Ike's stony-faced chief of staff) died and Eisenhower became president.
How interesting to discover, in the declassified record, that Eisenhower really was president -- a skilled political operator with an interesting and complex personality who engaged in the kinds of politicking that many believed he left to subordinates. But he politicked in a nonstandard manner, with an indirect approach that preserved his popularity by leaving it to his subordinates to carry out his administration's most controversial policies.
Eisenhower's oblique style would be hard for modern presidents to emulate. Behind-the-scenes leadership works better for a deeply trusted national figure who earned the nation's confidence in a non-political role than for a leader whose public support depends on day-to-day results. It does not serve less conservative presidents with more ambitious domestic aims. It also is less likely to succeed in the goldfish bowl of contemporary Washington. Still, Eisenhower's practice of down-playing the divisive side of presidential leadership and accentuating the president's ecumenical responsibilities can be politically rewarding even today, if appropriately adapted.
ORGANIZATION OF THE PRESIDENCY
No other chief executive entered the White House with the organizational experience of the commander of the Normandy invasion, and none has put comparable effort into making his White House work: For example, Eisenhower's process for national security policy planning. Eisenhower initiated a procedure in which the top planners of each of the agencies represented in the National Security Council met regularly to flush out policy disagreements, which were spelled out in option papers, sometimes in parallel columns, and debated and resolved at the NSC's weekly meetings. Eisenhower himself made decisions in the presence of small groups of aides in the Oval Office, not in NSC meetings.
When it comes to use of the bully pulpit, Eisenhower is a negative role model. His pre-existing public support made it unnecessary for him to sell himself, his hidden-hand leadership style reduced his interest in public persuasion, and, to top it off, he was an earnest, but uninspiring, speaker. Eisenhower's shortcomings as a public communicator proved costly in the tempest of allegations that his administration had allowed a"missile gap" to develop favoring the Soviet Union. Eisenhower's lack of success in refuting that charge brought Kennedy into the White House pledging to remedy a non-existent deficiency and pressing on with a massive increase in the nation's nuclear arsenal.
Unlike the many leaders primarily concerned with maneuver, Eisenhower was most attentive to policy. As a veteran strategist, Eisenhower's response to an emerging problem was to reach for a governing principle. Of the eleven presidents from FDR to Clinton, only Nixon compares to Eisenhower in the extent to which his leadership was informed by explicitly defined policies. By the end of his first year as president, Eisenhower and his national security team had framed what came to be known as the"New Look" -- a national security strategy that relied on deterrence rather than conventional forces to hold the line against international communism while maintaining a thriving economy.
Eisenhower's preoccupation with policy was strikingly displayed in the internal debate over whether to employ American military power in Indochina in the 1954 Dien Bien Phu crisis. At the first NSC meeting after it became known that the French forces at that garrison had been besieged by the Vietnamese communists, Eisenhower opened the discussion with an incisive act of policy analysis:"This war in Indochina would absorb our troops by the divisions!" In the months that followed, he drew on the rationale of the New Look to insist that it would be foolish to squander the nation's resources on a peripheral conflict, when its real adversaries were China and the Soviet Union, a rationale clearly not followed by his immediate successors.
Eisenhower also had formidable intellectual strengths. He had a gift for lucid written expression markedly at variance with the famously jumbled syntax of his press conferences, a capacity to cut to the core of problems, and an ability to arrive at persuasive assessments of complicated problems. Eisenhower was less articulate than a number of his aides, but in the end he was the one who resolved contentious issues, not just because he was president but also because his aides respected him for his sound judgment.
Eisenhower had a temper that could burst forth like a summer thunderstorm, but that subsided just as rapidly. He also had a quality that has come to be called"emotional intelligence," the ability to turn one's feelings to constructive purposes and prevent them from impeding the performance of one's responsibilities. In this strength he contrasts with such emotionally flawed presidents as Richard Nixon, whose suspicion and anger led him to take actions that doomed his presidency, and, of course, Bill Clinton, with his famous lack of self-control.
Eisenhower's capacity for dispassionate leadership derived in part from his sound emotional makeup, but it also was a result of his pre-presidential experience. Having made his mark before becoming president, Eisenhower had no need to prove himself in the White House -- an equanimity illustrated in a memory recalled by his brother Milton, who was president of Penn State University during the first term of the Eisenhower presidency. In 1955, Ike was the Penn State commencement speaker. To Milton's distress, storm clouds began to brew on the morning of the outdoor ceremony. When Milton asked his brother for advice, Ike's reply was,"Milton, I haven't worried about the weather since June 6, 1944."
Articles Featuring Dwight D. Eisenhower From History Net Magazines
Whether it is commuting to work, embarking on the great American road trip or something as simple as receiving a product that has wended its way across hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles of highway, nearly everyone in America benefits from the Eisenhower Interstate System on a day-to-day basis. Most Americans, however, do not know the history behind one of the country’s greatest public works projects, and fewer still understand the motivation of the man whose personal experience and vision brought the massive and challenging project to fruition. The story of the creation of the Interstate Highway System spans two world wars and the life of one of America’s most famous leaders.
In 1919, following the end of World War I, an Army expedition was organized to traverse the nation from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. The First Transcontinental Motor Convoy (FTMC) left the nation’s capital on July 7, following a brief ceremony and the dedication of the ‘Zero Milestone’ at the Ellipse just south of the White House. Joining the expedition as an observer was a young lieutenant colonel, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Only eight months earlier the Allied powers and Germany had signed an armistice ending World War I, a conflict that is today synonymous with savage trench fighting, the chilling call to ‘fix bayonets!’ and so many blighted and blood-soaked fields. Yet as Secretary of War Newton D. Baker noted during the FTMC’s ceremonial send-off: ‘The world war was a war of motor transport. It was a war of movement, especially in the later stages….There seemed to be a never-ending stream of transports moving along the white roads of France.’
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Baker’s important observation factored directly into the departing convoy’s primary objectives. As stated in one official report, those objectives included: ‘To service-test the special-purpose vehicles developed for use in the first World War, not all of which were available in time for such use, and to determine by actual experience the possibility and the problems involved in moving an army across the continent, assuming that railroad facilities, bridges, tunnels, etc., had been damaged or destroyed by agents of an Asiatic enemy.’
At its starting point, the massive convoy consisted of 34 heavy cargo trucks, four light delivery trucks, two machine shops, one blacksmith shop, one wrecking truck, two spare-parts stores, two water tanks, one gasoline tank, one searchlight, one caterpillar tractor, four kitchen trailers, eight touring cars, one reconnaissance car, two staff observation cars, five sidecar motorcycles and four motorcycles, all of which were operated and maintained by 258 enlisted men, 15 War Department staff observation officers and 24 expeditionary officers. By the time the expedition reached San Francisco on September 6 — 62 days after setting out, the convoy had traveled 3,251 miles, at an average of 58.1 miles per day and 6.07 miles per hour.
It was truly an unprecedented undertaking in every regard, and although the mission was a success, the numbers were disappointing if not dismal. According to a report by William C. Greany, captain of the Motor Transport Corps, the convoy lost nine vehicles –‘so damaged as to require retirement while en route’ — and 21 men ‘thru various casualties’ (mercifully there was no mention of fatalities). During the course of its journey, the convoy destroyed or otherwise damaged 88 ‘mostly wooden highway bridges and culverts’ and was involved in 230 ‘road accidents’ or, more precisely, ‘instances of road failure and vehicles sinking in quicksand or mud, running off the road or over embankments, over-turning, or other mishaps due entirely to the unfavorable and at times appalling traffic conditions that were encountered.’
The after-action report of Lt. Col. Eisenhower, one of the 15 War Department staff observation officers, noted: ‘In many places excellent roads were installed some years ago that have since received no attention whatsoever. Absence of any effort at maintenance has resulted in roads of such rough nature as to be very difficult of negotiating.’ Even more vexing, many of what otherwise would have been considered ‘good roads’ were simply too narrow for military vehicles. Others were too rough, sandy or steep for trucks that in some cases weighed in excess of 11 tons. Eisenhower claimed, ‘The train operated so slowly in such places, that in certain instances it was noted that portions of the train did not move for two hours.’
The July 30 entry in the FTMC’s daily log, for example, shows it covered 83 miles in 10 hours through Nebraska, not exactly burning up the track but a good clip nonetheless at about 8 miles per hour. Just three days later, however, the convoy became mired in ‘gumbo roads,’ which slowed the rate of progress to 30 miles in 10 grueling hours — at one point even causing 25 of the expedition’s trucks to go skidding into a ditch. ‘Two days were lost in [the] western part of this state,’ Eisenhower later recorded.
For all involved, the military convoy was a learning experience, a sharp illustration of the disrepair and, more often than not, complete lack of highway infrastructure in many areas of the country, particularly the heartland. The majority of the nation’s roads and highways were simply a mess. Even the Lincoln Highway, the most famous transcontinental highway of its day, had been described as nothing more than ‘an imaginary line, like the equator’!
Eisenhower’s experience with the FTMC provided him with great insight into the logistics of moving large quantities of men and materiel across vast stretches of land and convinced him of the necessity of building and maintaining the infrastructure to do so more efficiently. Yet, as educational as his experience with the convoy had been, it would be dwarfed by the greater and far more serious challenges of World War II.
In November 1942, 21 years after the FTMC and nearly a year after the United States had entered the war, Eisenhower was appointed to command Allied forces in Operation Torch, aimed at evicting the Axis powers from North Africa.
There was much about Operation Torch to dislike from a command standpoint. Given the physical geography and the incredibly poor infrastructure of the lands he and his forces were invading, the operation was a logistical nightmare. Torch required three amphibious landings spread over 800 miles: at Casablanca, on the western coast of Morocco, and at Oran and Algiers, along the Algerian coast in the Mediterranean Sea. Each group was to hit the ground running and make all due haste east, toward the ultimate goal of Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. Unfortunately for the Allies, North Africa was not well suited to the rapid movement of military convoys. The Atlas Mountains, where elevation at places exceeds 13,000 feet, spanned virtually the entire area of operations, and the infrastructure, where it existed, was generally poor at best.
The fact that Casablanca was more than 1,000 miles west of its objective meant a longer, more vulnerable supply line and much slower going when speed was essential. According to historian Stephen Ambrose, many, including Eisenhower, ‘could see no good reason to terminate the seaborne phase of the amphibious assault 1,000 miles away from the objective, which itself was on the coast and could be reached quicker on ship than on foot.’ Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, however, was concerned that if all three landing sites were within the Mediterranean it might tempt Adolf Hitler to invade Spain, giving him the opportunity to blockade the Straits of Gibraltar and strangle the seaborne Allied supply lines.
The race to reach Tunis before it could be reinforced with Axis troops found the Allies at a decided disadvantage. Axis troops moved with ease through Benito Mussolini’s Italy and onto Sicily, approximately 150 miles off the Tunisian coast, little more than a long ferry ride. The Allies, according to Ambrose, were, by comparison, ‘dependent on unimproved dirt roads and a poorly maintained single-track railroad.’ When the Allied heads of state began to lament the slow advance, Eisenhower barked back that, in spite of commandeering every vehicle that would move, he was hindered by the complete absence of organized motor transport. Moreover, the Luftwaffe’s strong presence over the Mediterranean prevented shipping supplies that far into the sea.
According to Ambrose, Eisenhower privately confided to Marshall that his situation was so hodgepodge and patchwork it would ‘make a ritualist in warfare go just a bit hysterical.’ Some did others got creative. Lieutenant General Sir Kenneth Anderson of the British First Army became so fed up with the logistical situation that he resorted to bringing supplies into the Tunis area by pack mule. Every bit as slow and obstinate as the four-wheeled alternative, a good mule was at least much less likely to break down in the mountains.
Although the Allies failed to beat the Axis reinforcements to Tunis, they did eventually win the race to resupply. Germany was so invested in stalemating the Soviet Union along the Eastern Front that the materiel it was allocating to Afrika Korps represented little more than the barest scraps of an almost incalculably vast resource pool. Ultimately, the fact that Allied supplies had to travel much greater distances to the front weighed little against the sheer volume of output coming from American production capacity at its peak. Operation Torch was a success, albeit belatedly. With French North Africa free from the Axis powers, Eisenhower and the Allies were finally able to turn their attention toward the big picture, namely a full-scale Allied invasion of Europe the following year.
As harrowing and dramatic as any single event during the war could be, D-Day was also, by its very nature, only the beginning of the Crusade in Europe (as Eisenhower later titled the memoirs of his experience in-theater). As jubilant as the Allied forces were after having successfully penetrated Hitler’s so-called Atlantic Wall — the layered network of coastal defenses protecting occupied France — there was an even greater challenge facing them on the other side. Several hundred miles of terrain, which the Wehrmacht had occupied for nearly four years, remained between the Allies and their ultimate objective, Berlin. Much of the worst fighting still lay ahead — not far ahead, either.
Normandy’s famous hedgerows stymied Allied advances almost from the beginning. The densely packed hedgerows and narrow roads slowed tank movements to a crawl, making them easy pickings for German units wielding the Panzerfaust (an early model of rocket-propelled grenade). The great majority of the advancing, therefore, had to be done piecemeal by slow-moving infantry. Nearly two months later, all that the Allies had to show for their efforts to push farther into the Continent was a skimpy front 80 miles wide, extending 30 miles inland at its deepest points. In an ominous throwback to World War I, commanders again began to measure their advances in yards instead of miles.
Once the Allies emerged from hedgerow country, however, the terrain significantly opened up. Lieutenant General George S. Patton was the first to break out, on August 1 by the 6th he was halfway to Paris. ‘The nightmare of a static front was over,’ Ambrose wrote. ‘Distances that had taken months and cost tens of thousands of lives to cross in World War I’ were being crossed in mere hours with minimal casualties. Even so, isolated sections of terrain proved nearly impassable. According to Ambrose, the Hrtgen Forest, ‘where roads were nothing more than forest trails,’ and the Ardennes Mountains, with their ‘limited road network,’ were hell on both tanks and infantry. There would be further setbacks not attributable to infrastructure, primarily the German counteroffensive at the Battle of the Bulge, but the Allies were headed full-bore for the Rhine, while on the Eastern Front the Red Army was bearing down on Berlin.
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It was not until the Allies broke through the Western Wall and tapped into Germany’s sprawling autobahn network that Eisenhower saw for himself what a modern army could do with an infrastructure capable of accommodating it. The enhanced mobility that the autobahn provided the Allies was something to behold, and years later was still cause for reminiscing. ‘The old convoy,’ Eisenhower wrote, referring to his experience with the FTMC, ‘had started me thinking about good, two-lane highways, but Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land.’
Eisenhower’s experience commanding and directing the movements of massive quantities of troops and equipment, added to his early experience with the FTMC, strengthened his recognition that America was sorely lacking in a national highway defense system. In a situation requiring the mass exodus of an entire city or region or the urgent mobilization of troops for purposes of national defense, the federal government, to say nothing of state and local entities, would have been hard-pressed to adequately respond. Moreover, the need for such critical infrastructure became that much more urgent as the Soviet Union eagerly stepped into the power vacuum created by the fall of Nazi Germany. The idyllic Allied notion that all would be right with the world following the death of Hitler and the smashing of the German armies quickly gave way to the painful realization that there is always reason to remain prepared, always someone else to fight.
Not surprisingly, therefore, when Eisenhower became the 34th U.S. president in 1953, he pushed for the building of an interstate highway system. Although Congress had first authorized a national highway system in 1944, it had always been woefully underfunded. Throwing the full weight of his presidency behind the project, Eisenhower declared to Congress on February 22, 1955: ‘Our unity as a nation is sustained by free communication of thought and by easy transportation of people and goods. The ceaseless flow of information throughout the Republic is matched by individual and commercial movement over a vast system of interconnected highways crisscrossing the country and joining at our national borders with friendly neighbors to the north and south.
‘Together, the uniting forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear — United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts.’
More than a year later, on June 29, Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, guaranteeing full, dedicated funding for the project. The National Highway Defense System (NHDS), as it was initially known, has been referred to as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the United States,’ among other such notable structures as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hoover Dam and the Panama Canal. What sets the NHDS apart from those wonders, and what Eisenhower addressed as one of its greatest selling points, is the fact that it truly has strengthened and enhanced the Union (including noncontiguous states Alaska and Hawaii, as well as the territory of Puerto Rico). Only the Panama Canal, which similarly made the United States more accessible to itself by greatly reducing the time required to ship goods from coast to coast, can claim anything approaching a similar distinction.
The scope of the NHDS is underscored by its individual components. The longest east-west route, I-90, stretches more than 3,000 miles, linking Seattle to Boston. I-95 serves a similar end for north-south travel: Extending from Miami to Maine, its nearly 2,000 miles of highway cross through 15 states — including all 13 of the original colonies — and the District of Columbia. (It is also estimated to have been the most expensive route to construct, at a cost of nearly $8 billion.) Texas boasts the most interstate mileage within a single state, with more than 3,200 New York claims the most interstate routes, with 29. California is second in both categories, with just under 2,500 miles of interstate on its 25 routes.
The structural achievements involved are no less staggering than the numbers. Although the ‘highway’ is often declaimed as an eyesore at worst and bland at best, the NHDS is actually composed of many unique wonders of modern engineering and ingenuity. Some of the most spectacular cross large bodies of water or ride alongside the Pacific Coast. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay, Fla., a so-called cable-stayed bridge, has been lauded by The New York Times for its ‘lyrical and tensile strength’ — indeed rows of small cables attached to two single-column pylons support the weight of the bridge below ‘like the strings of a harp.’
Several interstate routes in California and Hawaii hug the coasts, offering panoramic views of stunning Pacific seaside vistas to passing motorists.
Other achievements in interstate construction are closely associated with the ‘Not In My Backyard’ movement. Many urban areas have ‘gone green’ in recent decades, improving their routes to meet increased environmental concerns and the aesthetic needs of citizens some projects were even forced to halt construction entirely until such concerns were addressed in advance. Worries about the safety of the endangered and much beloved Florida panther led to the construction of special underpasses along Alligator Alley, the portion of I-75 that connects Naples and Miami in Florida, allowing panthers and other wildlife to cross safely beneath the flow of traffic. One section of I-10 in Arizona that opened in 1990, the Papago Freeway, runs beneath side-by-side bridges that form the foundation for a 12-hectare [29.6 acre] urban park,’ according to Richard F. Weingroff, a former official at the Federal Highway Administration. Known as the Margaret T. Hance Park, the space was conceived as a unique solution to the vexing problem of how to maintain connections between neighborhoods divided by the interstate. In other areas, simpler concerns required simpler solutions, such as tree-lined medians, noise-reducing berms and walls, lowered speed limits and prohibitions against large trucks.
A frequent complaint leveled against the NHDS is that it has stripped the adventure and romanticism from long-distance traveling. Upon the completion of I-40 (Barstow, Calif., to Wilmington, N.C.), the late CBS News commentator Charles Kuralt observed: ‘It is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything. From the Interstate, America is all steel guardrails and plastic signs, and every place looks and feels and sounds and smells like every other place.’ While the criticism is to an extent justified, it is also true that the NHDS directly serves nearly every major metropolitan area (as well as countless smaller areas of population) and is home to, or otherwise conveniently located near, thousands of tourist destinations across the country.
Some of the most intriguing and impressive tourist stops are those that are not content to simply nestle alongside the highway, but those that, like the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument, literally straddle it. The Archway Monument, a 1,500-ton structure spanning 308 feet acrossI-80 in Kearney, Neb., is a celebration of frontier culture designed to resemble a covered bridge. Built to honor the thousands of pioneers who had followed the arduous route from Missouri to the West Coast during the 19th century, the Archway Monument is a living bridge to history over a modern river of asphalt, a testament to the wisdom of and need for well-planned, well-constructed infrastructure. Eisenhower would have approved of the symbolism.
Whatever else these features may be in and of themselves, they are ultimately incidental to the system’s much more vital main purpose. The NHDS, according to a 1996 report written by Wendell Cox and Jean Love 40 years after Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, was conceived and marketed as the best possible way to facilitate ‘the quick and efficient movement of military equipment and personnel’ in the event of a Soviet invasion or nuclear strike. Inspired by the autobahn, Eisenhower envisioned multilane highways — ‘broader ribbons across the land,’ as he called them — yet even at its narrowest points, the system can still accommodate all but the most cumbersome wheeled or tracked military vehicles. Also, most military bases are situated within close proximity to the NHDS, adding to the already unequaled in-country response capability of the U.S. armed forces — a fact that is every bit as comforting as the fact that there has never been occasion to use this capability to its utmost.
One widely held dual-use-related belief is that one out of every five miles of the NHDS is mandated to be straight and level, capable of functioning as an emergency airstrip. Aside from the fact that, according to Weingroff, ‘no law, regulation, policy, or sliver of red tape requires that one out of every five miles of the interstate highway system be straight,’ it is virtually impossible from an engineering standpoint. The NHDS is composed of nearly 50,000 miles of road, meaning that almost 10,000 miles would need to be straight and level to conform to the supposed one-in-five-mile rule, a figure that is wildly unrealistic. In addition, from an aerial standpoint, an airstrip every five miles is superfluous, given the speed at which modern aircraft travel. Although there are long and level stretches of highway that could function as an emergency landing strip in a pinch, they are nowhere near as evenly parceled out as the one-in-five-mile rule would suggest. (The use of highway infrastructure for an airstrip is not unheard of, however: Nazi Germany did use limited stretches of the autobahn for such purposes during World War II.)
One cannot discuss the NHDS without also mentioning its impact on the U.S. economy. It is, quite literally, the economic engine that drives this country’s prosperity. No other industrialized nation has such a sprawling and comprehensive system of roadways, though many are now seeking to emulate the U.S. model as a means toward becoming more competitive in the international marketplace. One look at the figures in the Cox and Love report and it is not hard to understand why. By 1996 the interstates, comprising just over 1 percent of the miles of public road in this country, carried ‘nearly one-quarter of the nation’s surface passenger transport and 45 percent of motor freight transport.’ During the course of its first 40 years, the system was responsible for an increase of ‘approximately one-quarter of the nation’s productivity.’ Highway transportation and directly related industries accounted for more than 7 million jobs.
Indirectly related industries have felt the uptick, as well. In the restaurant business alone, employment ‘has increased more than seven times the rate of population growth,’ according to the Cox and Love report. By making ‘`just in time’ delivery more feasible’ while simultaneously reducing tractor-trailer operating costs by as much as 17 percent compared with other roadways, the NHDS has played a major role in making the electronic marketplace a workable phenomenon for all parties involved: retailers, delivery companies and consumers alike. Perhaps the most telling figure is the return rate of $6 for every $1 spent on highway construction. Consider also that in the 10 years since those figures were generated, several factors — population expansion, the advent of e-commerce, our national reluctance to fly following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — have conspired to place an even greater share of traffic onto our nation’s highways. The many differences separating 2006 from 1996 notwithstanding, the conclusion of the Cox and Love report concerning the economic impact of the NHDS remains as true today as the day it was written: ‘By improving inter-regional access, the interstate highway system has helped to create a genuinely national domestic market with companies able to supply their products to much larger geographical areas, and less expensively.’
For most of us, though, the dual-use military features and the economic benefits of the NHDS are barely an afterthought. The interstate is a way to get to work, to go downtown, to shave 30 minutes off the drive to grandma’s house. Often it is the backbone of that uniquely American pastime, the road trip. Sometimes it’s just a headache. Occasionally it becomes a lifeline out of harm’s way.
In 1990 the National Highway Defense System was renamed the Dwight David Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways under an act of Congress signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. As tributes go, it was perfectly appropriate. ‘Of all his domestic programs,’ Ambrose wrote, ‘Eisenhower’s favorite by far was the Interstate System.’
For all its detractors’ criticism, the interstate system, more than any other project in the past 50 years, has encouraged an unprecedented democratization of mobility. It has opened up access to an array of goods and services previously unavailable to many and created massive opportunities for five decades and three generations of Americans. It has made the country more accessible to itself while also making it safer and more secure, outcomes that in almost any other undertaking would prove mutually exclusive. ‘More than any single action by the government since the end of the war, this one would change the face of America,’ Eisenhower wrote in 1963. ‘Its impact on the American economy — the jobs it would produce in manufacturing and construction, the rural areas it would open up — was beyond calculation.’ The clarity of his vision and the resiliency of his words are inarguable. The Eisenhower Interstate System has grown to be valuable beyond its original intent and is a lasting tribute to American ingenuity, ability and strength of purpose.
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This article was written by Logan Thomas Snyder and originally published in the June 2006 issue of American History Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to American History magazine today!
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight David Eisenhower was the thirty-fourth President of the United States.
Eisenhower was born on October 14, 1890, in Denison, Texas. When he was two years old, his family moved to Abilene, Kansas. He graduated from Abilene High School in 1909. Eisenhower worked two years at a creamery and assisted his parents in providing for his family. In 1911, Eisenhower enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He graduated in 1915 as a second lieutenant in the United States Army.
Following his graduation from West Point, Eisenhower spent the next forty-three years in the military. He became an expert in tank warfare and served as the commander of Camp Colt from 1917 to 1918. The camp was a tank training school in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. By the early 1930s, Eisenhower had become the senior aide to General Douglas MacArthur, the chief of staff of the United States Army.
Eisenhower worked closely with MacArthur throughout the 1930s and served as a military adviser to the Philippines government. By 1941, Eisenhower had become the chief of staff of the Third Army and had attained the rank of brigadier general. As the United States' entered World War II in 1941, Eisenhower was recognized as one of America's best military leaders.
In 1942, Eisenhower became the commanding general of U.S. forces in Europe, and in 1943, he served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe. Eisenhower directed the Allied invasions of North Africa (1942), Sicily (1943), Italy (1943), and France (1944). Under Eisenhower's direction, the United States military and its allies were victorious in Europe. At the end of World War II, Eisenhower became the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and held that position from 1945 to 1948.
In 1948, Eisenhower retired from the United States Army. Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party recruited Eisenhower for the presidency, but he refused to run for office. Instead, he served as the president of Columbia University from 1948-1950. In 1950, Eisenhower agreed to become the supreme commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's military forces in Europe.
In 1952, Eisenhower agreed to become the nominee of the Republican Party in the presidential election. Eisenhower received the nomination over two other Republicans, Thomas E. Dewey of New York and Robert A. Taft of Ohio. In the actual election, Eisenhower easily defeated Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic Party's candidate. Ohioans overwhelmingly supported the Republican Party in this election and gave control of both houses of the Ohio legislature to the Republicans. As to major statewide offices in Ohio, the Democrats won the governor's seat. Eisenhower defeated Stevenson again in 1956 and won a second term as president.
As president, Eisenhower accomplished a great deal. Domestically, he supported the Civil Rights Movement. He enforced the Supreme Court's decision of Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas and helped desegregate schools across the United States. Eisenhower also authorized the construction of an interstate highway system and an increase of the minimum wage. While Eisenhower strongly opposed communism, he refused to engage in the hunt for communists in America led by Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin and others.
Eisenhower's foreign policy centered on the Cold War. The president tried to ease tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union and met with the premier of the Soviet Union on two separate occasions. At the same time, Eisenhower attempted to stop the spread of communism. He promised aid to any nation facing the threat of communism. As an example of this policy, Eisenhower sent American soldiers to South Vietnam to serve as military advisers.
In 1960, Eisenhower could not seek a third term as president. An amendment to the United States Constitution limited a president to two terms in office. Upon completing his term in 1961, Eisenhower retired to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He died on March 28, 1969.