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West Point is the military academy for the Army. WWI had been going on for almost a year when Ike graduated, and though he hoped to receive an overseas command, the war ended a week before he was scheduled to be deployed.
Mamie remained a faithful and dutiful military wife to Ike throughout his many overseas deployments and assignments. When he made it to the White House, she served as a model "homemaker," keeping the full-time job of managing the kitchen and house staffs, and making sure Ike had the time and space to relax at the end of his long and often stressful days.
Ike and Mamie's first son was born in 1917, but tragically died from scarlet fever at age three. Ike later called the death of his son "the greatest disappointment and disaster in my life, the one I have never been able to forget completely" (source). A second son, John, was born in 1922.
Ike went to military graduate school and graduated in 1926 at the top of his class.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur took Ike with him to the Philippines, where he served as a defense advisor to the Philippine government. Plus, he learned to fly and play golf.
Ike impressed Army bigwigs with his tactical prowess when he crushed it as a commander of the "Blue Army" at these war games.
After impressing Army commanders with his tactical plans of a North African invasion, Ike was puts in charge of the British and American forces who invaded Axis-held North Africa. The invasion was undertaken in place of an invasion of northern Europe, which the Soviet Union had called for in order to take some pressure of the Western Front, but which certain Allied commanders thought was premature. Operation Torch was eventually a success, and set the stage for the invasion of Italy. The Nazis learned what was coming for them. Nazis—we hate those guys.
Ike was put in charge for planning the invasion of Nazi-occupied France, code-named Operation Overlord. The invasion was preceded by a brilliant misinformation campaign called Operation Bodyguard, which made the Nazis believe the invasion was to land somewhere other than Normandy. Even when the Allies actually landed at Normandy, Hitler was so bamboozled he still thought it could be a distraction from the real invasion.
Operation Overlord was an epic, bloody success. Some 150,000 troops landed on a fifty-mile length of France's Northern coast in a single day. Ike famously had to make the decision to launch the invasion in spite of conflicting weather reports. It was the beginning of the end of the war.
Hitler had committed suicide a week earlier, so his named successor, Karl Dönitz, had to be the guy to surrender on behalf of the German people. On May 7, he signed an official declaration of surrender in Reims, France, while Ike sat in an adjoining room. The Soviets wanted to get a photo op too, so the ceremony was repeated the next day in Berlin so everybody got a fair chance at humiliating the Nazis.
Together, the two bombings killed somewhere between 125,000-250,000 people, mostly civilians. Notably, Eisenhower was opposed the use of the nuclear bomb, believing the Japanese were already defeated and were simply looking for a way to surrender while preserving their honor. (Source)
Japan quickly surrendered after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and with that WWII was officially over. Cue the ticker-tape parades and random kisses in the street.
Ike's position as President of Columbia University was largely ceremonial and symbolic. He had to take a leave of absence to head up NATO, and officially resigned to campaign for President of the United States, something of a step up from University President, if you ask us.
The Korean War (or as North Korea calls it, "the Great Patriotic War of Best Korea Against Imperialist Capitalist Pig Korea")started when the Soviet-backed North Korean government invaded the United States/ United Nations- backed South Korea, the two Koreas having been split up at the end of WWII. China became involved as well once it became clear the North Korean forces needed backup against the superior American air and fire power.
Since he had already been Supreme Commander of a multi-national force in WWII, it seemed natural for world leaders to turn to Ike as the Korean War started looking really ugly and the future of the Cold War was looking more dangerous by the day. Ike accepted the appointment, because who's going to say no when the free world needs you? Not Duckpin, that's for sure.
Ike won the 1952 election against Adlai Stevenson, partially because of his stature and standing as one of the most powerful and successful American leaders of the 20th century, but also because of some of the most advanced jingle technology known to humanity at the time. This is must-see TV.
In part by threatening the use of nuclear weapons, Ike managed to get the north and South Korean governments to sign an armistice, which is basically a ceasefire. The armistice created the infamous and ironically named Korean Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, along the 38th parallel on the Korean peninsula. Technically, the two Koreas are still at war to this day, thanks to the Kim family.
Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was unhappy with British oil companies operating in his country, and his government eventually threatened to expel the British and nationalize their assets. Ike, in support of Britain against what was perceived as a Communistic threat (to all that sweet, sweet crude oil), ordered the CIA to overthrow Mosaddegh and install Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, whose brutal rule eventually led to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which everyone should have seen coming from a mile away.
No, it wasn't a new hair style or the shorter jacket. His "New Look" for American foreign policy largely centered around the buildup of a nuclear arsenal to deter Soviet aggression instead of maintaining an expensive standing army, as well as the use of the CIA to "manage" Communist threats around the world. His 1953 budget reflected these priorities.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment made public school segregation unconstitutional, and ordered the schools to desegregate "with all deliberate speed." Eisenhower was faulted for his lukewarm support of the decision. He said, "The Supreme Court has spoken and I am sworn to uphold the constitutional processes in this country; and I will obey." (Source)
Some people thought Ike was vulnerable to suggestions that the Civil Rights Movement was infiltrated or influenced by communists. Four years later, he got to redeem himself with his civil rights act and by forcing integration of a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Code-named PBSUCCESS, which for some reason makes us think of an awesome peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the Guatemalan coup d'état was easily one of the stupidest decisions of the Cold War. President Jacobo Árbenz had been democratically elected in 1950, and was enacting moderate land and social reforms to help poor Guatemalans, who had been exploited for generations by foreign companies, most notably the United Fruit Company. The UFC (no relation to the cage-fighting league) lobbied Truman's administration, and later Eisenhower's administration, to intervene, and Eisenhower gave the orders to install the brutal Carlos Castillo Armas as president. Guatemala has been one of the world's longest running catastrophes ever since.
The Formosa Resolution basically said that the United States would come to the aid of the government of The Republic of China, which was operating in exile in Taiwan (then called Formosa). Once signed, the resolution prompted the Chinese Communists to negotiate and eventually agree to stop bombings and attacks. Diplomacy: the shiny new alternative to warfare.
This boring-sounding bill authorized the construction of the Interstate Highway System. Eisenhower had personally participated in the 1919 Army Convoy across the country, which was basically a demonstration of how awful the country's roads were at the time. After he saw the well-constructed and useful German Autobahn during WWII, he pushed for the construction of a comparable network of highways that could be used for national defense. Next time you make it from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon in under 46 hours, you know who to thank.
Israel, Britain, and France all invaded Egypt to regain control of the newly nationalized Suez Canal, because that's how the world used to work once upon a time. Ike thought the invasion was rash, foolish, smacked of colonialism, and threatened a larger conflict in the region. He refused to support the invasion, and essentially condemned it. This humiliated the three countries involved, and strengthened Egyptian President Nasser.
Condemned to live forever under the shadow of its more famous sibling, Lyndon Johnson's Civil Rights Act of 1964, this legislation established a Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department and empowered the federal government to get court injunctions against states who were interfering with voting rights. In one of those can't-make-it-up ironies of history, the bill was watered down at the insistence of southern Democrats led by… LBJ himself.
Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus (yes, that was his real name, we had to double check) ordered the Arkansas National Guard to support segregationists who were blocking African American students trying to attend previously segregated schools. After sizing up the situation, Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne marching up the streets of Little Rock to escort the children to class. Unfortunately, they didn't parachute into Little Rock, which could have been an even awesomer victory for civil rights.
When the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957, everybody freaked out. So Ike authorized the creation of DARPA for military space research, and then NASA for peaceful space research. The space race was off and running, not only setting the stage for space exploration, but also the development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). As a bonus, DARPA eventually created the internet.
It was a blow to Eisenhower's longed-for legacy as a peacemaker when, two weeks before a scheduled summit with the American, Soviet, French, and British heads of state, the Soviets shot down an American U-2 spy plane and captured its pilot, Gary Powers. (Stephen Spielberg made the movie Bridge of Spies about the incident.)
The U.S., not realizing that Powers had been captured alive (the Soviets were mum about it), concocted a cover story about a lost weather plane, yadda yadda. When Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev revealed that, guess what, they'd captured Powers, an embarrassed Eisenhower was forced to admit the espionage missions. (Not like the USSR hadn't been doing it for years, too.) Needless to say, not much peacemaking happened at the summit. Instead, Cold War tensions increased.
After a long and successful career, it was time for Ike to hang up his hat and take a load off for once. But before he went out the door, he had to give America some advice and some gentle warnings.
Golf; raising cattle; painting; advising Kennedy and LBJ, memoir-writing.
Did we mention golf?
Having suffered from heart ailments for years, Ike died of congestive heart failure at the age of 78 surrounded by Mamie and his children at Walter Reed Army Hospital. His body was interred in Abilene, Kansas outside the Eisenhower Presidential Library.