Study Guide

Milton S. Eisenhower in Eisenhower's Farewell Address

By Dwight D. Eisenhower

Milton S. Eisenhower

Milton Eisenhower was the fifth of David and Ida's seven sons. Like Ike, he grew up in modest circumstances, but he went on to stellar careers in academia and government. "Why isn't Milton more well-known?" you might ask. It remains one of those classic historical mysteries.

Eisenhower almost didn't make it to the age of 21; during his first year of college he nearly died during the flu epidemic of 1918 and came back home to recuperate. Once he recovered, he returned to KSU and impressed the university president with his brains and talent. After graduating, he joined the faculty, teaching journalism and English.

People just seemed to want to mentor this promising young man, and his connections landed him a job as a foreign service officer in Scotland. He loved his job, but when KSU prez William Jardine (no relation to Al) offered him a job in the Department of Agriculture, of which he'd just been appointed Secretary, he couldn't say no. It didn't hurt that his fiancé was living in D.C. at the time. They were married that same year.

Eisenhower got a good rep serving capably in the Agriculture Department during FDRs administration. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, there was an outpouring of racism against Japanese American citizens. On February 19, 1942, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, establishing the War Relocation Authority and ordering the relocation of Japanese living in the Western US to detention camps for the duration of the war. He asked Milton Eisenhower to direct the effort. (Eleanor Roosevelt, a great champion of civil liberties, was shocked when her husband issued the order but couldn't persuade him to revoke it.)

Milton was opposed to the whole idea as well, but his president asked him to serve and he accepted, thinking he might be able to carry out the order in as humane a manner as possible. He worked for three months trying to make the forced internment less horrible for the internees.

How about letting the women and children remain to run their homes and businesses? That idea was shot down. Could the Federal Reserve protect the assets of the internees until after the war? Nope. Maybe they could move to other states and be integrated into the local economies there rather than being isolated in camps? Governors protested by the dozens. Okay, maybe some could leave camp to go to work, and the college students could finish their studies? That one was a partial win. (Source)

After three months, he couldn't take the injustice anymore and resigned his position with the WRA to become an aide to the head of the Office of War Information. He advocated for allowing Japanese-Americans to serve in the war effort, which led in 1943 to the formation of an all-Nisei unit, the 442nd Infantry Regiment. While the fightin' 442nd were fighting and dying for their country, their families were interned in isolated camps under primitive and camped conditions, totally disrupting their lives and livelihoods. Well over 100,00 people were interned, 62% of them being American citizens.

If you look at this video, and you know anything about Nazi concentration camps, you'll be floored. Except for the inmates being better fed and clothed, the parallels are shocking: the stark barracks, the trains filled with internees only allowed to bring one suitcase with them to the camps; the barbed wire and guard towers; the forced labor.

Kudos to Milton for refusing to continue having any part in the mass incarceration. It took until 1988 for the government, under Ronald Reagan, to offer an official apology to the internees and offer $20,000 in reparations to each survivor for the losses they suffered under this inhumane and Bill-of-Rights-violating action.

Big Man on Campus

While Ike was a military genius celebrated across the world, his younger brother Milton was equally great at… educational administration. Sexy, we know, but for a long time Milton was much more famous than his older bro.

In 1943, Eisenhower left government service to become president of Kansas State University, his alma mater. Two other college presidencies followed: Penn State (1950-56) and Johns Hopkins (1956-67 and 1971-2). By all accounts, he was darn good at this college president gig, famously friendly and accessible to students. He left Penn State for Johns Hopkins in part for a fresh start after his wife's death in 1954, but also to be closer to his brother the president, who had just suffered a heart attack in 1955 and needed Milton's advice and counsel heading into his second term. (Source)

Being such a principled brainiac, as well as a fellow Eisenhower, he was a natural choice to advise Ike during his administration. He traveled to Latin America and the Soviet Union on his brother's behalf. Milton had written a speech or two hundred in his college prez days, and Ike asked him for help with his "Farewell Address," which Ike was obsessing over. They went back and forth for months with ideas and drafts, like this one, where you can see Milton editing Ike's speech like a pro. We especially love the note at top left: "can get teleprompter."

After his second retirement from Johns Hopkins, Milton stayed involved in foreign and domestic affairs, serving on a number of presidential commissions studying everything from Radio Free Europe to violence prevention. In 1974, he penned his memoir, The President is Calling, detailing his service to presidents from Roosevelt to Nixon. He died in 1985.

During his long career, Milton mastered the fields of education, diplomacy, education, journalism, and government. He'd even worked for the WRA but left most of the military stuff to Ike.

After all, younger brothers need something they can do better.