The fifth chapter of the video documentary series can be viewed here. The series can also be viewed in its entirety on Netflix, or purchased directly at untoldhistory.com. Below is our transcribed text, written by Peter Kuznick, Matt Graham and Oliver Stone.
"Flourishing in peace, with sixty-seven million people gainfully employed, the most in our history, the United States today represents an achievement in good government, unsurpassed in the history of man. While at the throttle, controlling the wheels of our destiny, is a spirit encouraging ever-greater progress. Efforts on farming, industry, in science and business, that ensure the great majority a way of life that is physically gratifying and spiritually uplifting. The seed of our good fortune at root here: '...to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.'"
narrated by Oliver Stone...
Republican Dwight David Eisenhower was elected President in 1952 in a landslide win, carrying 39 states. The hero of World War II, gently but tough, labelling the ongoing Korean War as "useless", Eisenhower the General would end it and restore American confidence and optimism:
"Now we look forward to the future, with faith in ourselves, in our country, and in the creator, who is father of us all."
And with faith in the most powerful arsenal ever assembled.
Just three days before his election, the U.S. tested its first hydrogen bomb, on what had been the island of Elugelab [...the island was entirely wiped out; it does not appear in modern Atlases anymore. In its place was left a dark blue welt in the ocean, almost 2 miles across and deep enough to hold a 17-story building...]. The 65 ton device was too big to drop by plane. Elugelab burned for six hours under a mushroom cloud 100 miles across and then disappeared forever...
The 50s: Eisenhower, The Bomb & The Third World
Who was this new American President with a grandfather's face? At Potsdam he had opposed the atomic bombing of Japan, he had pushed hard for a second front to help the Soviets, and developed a friendly relationship with Soviet General Zhukov. Stalin held him in high regard:
"General Eisenhower is a very great man, not only because of his military accomplishments but because of his human, friendly, kind and frank nature."
He was the first foreigner to ever witness a parade in Red Square from the platform atop Lenin's tomb.
And six weeks after his inauguration in March 1953 a fresh opportunity presented itself - American's woke to the news that Joseph Stalin was dead. Despite his extraordinary brutality, most Russians revered him for the leading the nation to victory over the Nazis, and turning a backward Russia into a modern industrial state. While the public mourned, the new somewhat uncertain Soviet leaders, freed of the onerous ghost of a man who'd ruled their lives like an ancient Tzar for 30 years, decided to ease tensions with the capitalist West. They wanted to focus above all on improving their quality of life at home, and called for co-existence and peaceful competition. How would America's new leadership respond?
Winston Churchill, reelected to office a second time in 1951, had now seen 50 years of international diplomacy, from the golden age of European empires to the horrifying rise of fascism. But this new nuclear age held a special terror for the old man. He urged Washington to seize this unprecedented opportunity, and pressed for an international summit with the new Soviet leaders. He had hopes for Eisenhower; six weeks went by, silence. And then, Eisenhower eloquently spoke of peace:
"This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under a threatening cloud of war it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."
The Soviets, inspired, reprinted the speech widely. But then, two days later, an answer came back to Moscow from Eisenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles.
The "peace offensive" was a "peace defensive", taken in response to U.S. strength, and the communists were "...endlessly conspir[ing] to overthrow from within every genuinely free government in the world." It was insulting and the Soviets were perplexed, wondering whether it was the moderate Eisenhower or the hardline Dulles who spoke for this new administration.
The son of a Presbyterian Minister, Dulles had made a career on Wall Street in the 1920s and 30s as a lawyer for the corporate powerhouse Sullivan & Cromwell. Dulles never wavered in his commitment to protect US business interests, or in his hatred for communism. And despite his later vehement denials of any dealings with the Nazis, he worked for banker clients that helped secure more than a $billion in German bond sales in the U.S. He also dealt extensively with the IG Farben Corporation, a significant contributor to the Hitler regime. Dulles was set on the idea of an aggressive liberation of citizens under Soviet control:
"Everywhere I look around the world, the question is, what maybe we're going to lose next. We seem to be on the defensive, and they're on the offensive."
By this time, the Korean police action had become a two and a half year nightmare, a brutal land war of casualties and endless maneuvers for useless hillsides, elusive as the jungles of Vietnam 15 years later. Battling Soviet trained and equipped Koreans, World War II hero General Douglas MacArthur pushed north towards the Chinese broader, despite repeated warnings from Beijing, assuring Truman that the Chinese would never enter the war. In the late fall of 1950, hundreds of thousands of troops streamed across the Yalu River, sending allied forces reeling backward in a frantic retreat. Time Magazine called it the worst defeat the U.S. had ever suffered. Truman wrote in his diary: "World War II is here."
MacArthur repeatedly, and Truman separately, threatened to use the Bomb. General Curtis LeMay volunteered to direct the attacks and, unknown to the public, American and Soviet pilots were engaging in direct air warfare, the only extended combat between the two sides during the Cold War. The drama of Truman firing MacArthur for insubordination, and the shock of seeing their all-powerful military failing to defeat ill-equipped Chinese peasants, drove Truman's popularity to a record low with the public of just 22%. With no victory in sight the UN forces pounded month after month the North and the South with unrelenting conventional air bombing, similar to the campaign visited upon Japan five years earlier. The weapon of choice was napalm. Almost every major city in North Korea was burned to the ground, and little was left standing in the South.
The Joint Chiefs and National Security Council endorsed atomic attacks on China, and Eisenhower and Dulles made sure the Communist leaders knew of these threats.
Although Mao Zedung was imagining a world-wide conflict, Stalin in the summer of 1951 pushed the North Koreans to the bargaining table, but negotiations dragged on for two more years. Despite some progress at the negotiations, and the Soviet peace initiative after the death of Stalin, Eisenhower now threatened to widen the war. He suggested to his commanders that the Kaesong area in North Korea might be a good place to showcase America's new tactical atomic bombs. The Joint Chiefs and National Security Council endorsed atomic attacks on China, and Eisenhower and Dulles made sure the Communist leaders knew of these threats.
The U.S. also began bombing the dams near Pyongyang, North Korea, causing enormous floods and destroying the rice crop. The Nuremberg Tribunal had condemned similar actions by the Nazis in Holland in 1944 as a war crime. With casualties skyrocketing on both sides, an armistice was signed in July of 1953, dividing the country exactly where the war had begun three years earlier. The U.S., despite claims of stopping communism, was perceived as having lost because it had not won. Vice President Richard Nixon would later insist that Eisenhower's nuclear threats had worked brilliantly, teaching him the the value of unpredictability and inspired Nixon's own "Madman" thesis which he applied to Vietnam less than twenty years later.
What was clear was the message to Asians who tried to challenge US interests - some three to four million Koreans lay dead out of a population of thirty-four million, 10%, as well as over a million Chinese and thirty-six thousand Americans. China had stood up proudly to the Americans, as the Vietnamese later would, enhancing their international prestige. But American would block China's entry to the United Nations until 1971.
The Soviets, by comparison, looked weak, widening their gulf with China. As for the U.S., it was Churchill who grasped the real meaning:
"Korea does not really matter now. I've never heard of the bloody place until I was 74. Its importance lies in the fact that it has lead to the rearming of America."
The defence budget had grown four times [from $12.8 billion in 1947] to almost $50 billion, and military spending would hover at more than 50% of the U.S. budget for the rest of the 1950s. Under Eisenhower, a permanent war economy was to be achieved. Put another way, it was not just General Motors that was good for America, anti-communism was good for business.
During his campaign, Eisenhower had in fact done little to lower the Cold War temperature, fanning the flames of anti-Sovietism with calls to move beyond the Democrat's containment, to a Republican liberation of the Eastern Block. Although he despised the venomous anti-communist Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy, and privately deplored his tactics, he backed down during the campaign from defending his mentor, General George Marshall who, McCarthy accused of virtual treason for "losing China" as Secretary of State, [as framed in that famous McCarthy rant]:
"Even if there is only one communist in the State Department, that would still be one communist too many."
Marshall refused to respond and told Truman that, if at this point in his life that he had to explain he was not a traitor, it was hardly worth the effort. But it wasn't long before he resigned as Secretary of Defence. From 1950 on, McCarthy made headlines:
"I have here in my hand a list of two hundred and five, a list of names who I've made known to the Secretary of State, as members of the Communist Party, who are nevertheless still working and shaping policy in the State Department."
The next day, in another state, he lowered his number to fifty-seven.
Although he stayed silent when it mattered, Truman, in one of his finest speeches, deplored the mood and hysteria he had done so much to create:
"I'm gonna tell how you how we're not gonna fight communism. We're not gonna transform our fine FBI into a Gestapo secret police, that's what some people would like to do. We're not gonna try and control what our people read and say and think. We're not gonna turn the United States into a right-wing totalitarian country in order to deal with a left-wing totalitarian threat. In short, we're not gonna end democracy. We're gonna keep the Bill of Rights on the books."
But throughout the 1950s, political debate essentially continued to vanish in the United States, as Eisenhower never publicly attacked the extremist tactics of either the Red Scare, or the Lavender Scare that targeted gays and lesbians.
Behind the scenes, the real power was being exercised by Director J. Edgar Hoover, who had Eisenhower's full support - tapping telephones, opening mail, installing bugs, breaking into offices and safes. Hoover often played up the phoney threat of a surprise Soviet attack in the U.S., and in 1956 briefed Eisenhower on the spectre of a dirty bomb unleashed in Manhattan, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Hoover was totally convinced communism was behind the black civil rights movement from World War I on, and had spied on every single black leader since. His FBI was busy on a number of other fronts, leaking information to its high-level assets in the press, and launching in 1956 a program called COINTELPRO of dirty tricks designed to disrupt ultimately some 2,300 left-wing organizations.
The purpose of of the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings was to convince Americans to accept the principle of betrayal as a norm of good citizenship.
By 1960 the FBI had begun investigations of more than four hundred thousand individuals and groups, all with Eisenhower's support. Patriotic pageants and loyalty oaths pock-marked the landscape - paranoia was rampant. J. Edgar Hoover in an address to Congress:
"Communism, in reality, is not a political party. It is a way of life, an evil and malignant way of life. It reveals a condition akin to disease that spreads like an epidemic, and like an epidemic, a quarantine is necessary to keep it from infecting this nation."
As second, more damaging, set of hearings began (House Un-American Activities Committee); artists and citizens were hauled before the Committee in order to name names. To writer Mary McCarthy, the purpose of the hearings was not to combat subversion but to convince Americans to accept the principle of betrayal as a norm of good citizenship - it worked. Renown muckraking journalist I.F. Stone had earlier denounced the attempt to turn a whole generation of Americans into stool pigeons. The perception of our heroic World War II ally was now deeply tarnish in the U.S. by the Berlin Airlift, the spies, the Korean War, and the further revelations of the brutality of the Stalin purges.
But the Red Scare was far more damaging to America. It certainly decimated the legal Communist Party USA, whose membership had dropped from eighty thousand in '44 to less than ten thousand by the mid 50s, with probably fifteen hundred of them FBI informants. More importantly, the Red Scare eviscerated the US left, the labor unions, and political and cultural organizations which had spurred the reforms of the New Deal 1930s and 40s. With the exception of the civil rights and anti-nuclear movements, left-wing dissent and progressive reform throughout the 1950s would remain silent, and the labor movement would never recover. To this day, the Eisenhower '50s are remembered as an era of the lonely, sad capitalist corporation man and his grey flannel conformity.
He told a reporter in 1955 that he considered nuclear weapons to be "as available for use as other munitions".
Fearing defence spending would bankrupt the country, Eisenhower and Dulles called for a new look defence policy that would cut the size of the army and rely on cheaper nuclear weapons, "to be used as would other munitions", based on the assumption that any war with the Soviet Union would become a full-scale nuclear one. Though he had once abhorred atomic weaponry, Eisenhower told the British Ambassador, "I'd rather be atomized than communized.", as he set out to convince a wary public that there was no difference between conventional and nuclear weapons. He told a reporter in 1955 that he considered nuclear weapons to be "as available for use as other munitions". Churchill was shocked. So was Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist James Reston, who wondered why not a single Congressman questioned Eisenhower's commitment to "sudden atomic retaliation" without Congressional approval.
In August of '53 the Soviets exploded a 400 kiloton proto-hydrogen bomb in Kazakhstan, shocking the world. They seemed to have closed the gap and were now only ten months behind the American H-bomb effort. In December of '54, Eisenhower ordered 42% of atomic, and 36% of hydrogen bombs deployed oversees, closer to the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, he and Dulles intensified their efforts to vanquish the taboo surrounding the use of nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, he and Dulles intensified their efforts to vanquish the taboo surrounding the use of nuclear weapons. As early as December 1953, Eisenhower unveiled his "Atoms for Peace" program, in a speech at the UN, mesmerizing the thirty-five hundred delegates:
"If the peoples of the world are to conduct an intelligent search for peace, they must be armed with the significant facts of today's existence."
He promised "energy too cheap to meter", at home and abroad, ignoring scientists' warnings of the dangers of proliferation. Over the years, the administration would propose initiatives to use nuclear bombs for planetary excavation, or creating harbours in Alaska, freeing inaccessible oil deposits, creating underground reservoirs, producing steam, desalinating water. There were schemes to blast a bigger and better Panama Canal, and to alter weather patterns, and even melt the polar ice caps.
But when a massive hydrogen bomb test in the Marshall Islands in March of '54 went awry, and contaminated Islanders and Japanese fishermen, international outrage ensued. The word 'fallout' entered the lexicon and opposition to nuclear testing grew globally. New organizations were spawned. People marched in the streets once more. The respected non-aligned Indian president, Nehru, publicly denounced U.S. leaders as "...dangerous, self-centred lunatics, who would blow up any people or country who came in the way of their policy".
Eisenhower told his National Security Council "everybody seems to think that we are skunks, sabre-rattlers, and war-mongers." Dulles worried that comparisons were being made between the American and Nazi military machine. But Eisenhower could still speak eloquently and be believed [from an address during the Eleven Nation Tour, December 1959]:
"I come here representing a nation that wants not an acre of another peoples' land, that seeks no control over another peoples' government, that pursues no program of expansion in commerce or politics or power of any sort at another peoples' expense."
There were other reasons besides the nuclear buildup for Nehru's denunciation of U.S. leadership in the world. Nehru knew more than the American public knew. He knew that Eisenhower was not telling the truth.
From a Newsreel in 1953:
"In Iran, Britain suffered another reversal with the nationalization of its huge oil industry, and confiscation of its properties, amid scenes of violence."
The British turned for help to the CIA with tales of Mid-East oil coming under Soviet control. This oil rich region, from the Caspian to the Persian Gulf, unlike Korea, was critical to Western interests.
Democratically elected, immensely popular, Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, was the first Iranian to win a doctor of laws degree from a European university. Time Magazine named him 1951s Man of the Year. He inspired the Arab masses throughout the region, who pulsated with nationalist fever, ready to take over their own affairs.
Dulles and his brother Allen, who was now head of the CIA, knew Mosaddegh was not a communist, but feared a takeover by the small [Iranian] communist party and, with Eisenhower's full approval, deployed the CIA to get rid of the "...madman Mosaddegh", line up journalists, military officers, members of parliament and, ominously, the services of the extremist "warriors of Islam", a terrorist gang. In August of '53, organized mobs caused chaos in Tehran, spreading rumours that Mosaddegh was Jewish and communist. The CIA and British Intelligence paid street thugs to destroy mosques - among the rioters was Ayatollah Khomeini (future Supreme Leader of Iran). Mosaddegh, and thousands of his supporters, were arrested for treason, some executed.
Reinstating the Shah on the throne, the U.S. turned on the financial spigots for the next twenty-five years, creating its strongest military ally in the Middle East. Cutting down the British share, five U.S. oil companies (Standard, Mobilgas, Chevron, Texaco, Gulf) received 40% ownership of a new consortium.
Though celebrated in the Western media as a great victory, the downside would be enormous. Instead of seeing a change of attitude at Stalin's death the Soviets would perceive the U.S. imposing another puppet government on a nation with which it shared a two thousand kilometre border. Along with the NATO alliance, they now saw a Western strategy of encirclement.
"Blowback" is an espionage term for the violent unintended consequences of a covert operation on the civilian population of the aggressor nation. And in this case, the United States, despite temporary success, and a new supply of oil, had outraged the citizens of a proud nation. It may have taken twenty-five more years for blowback to manifest, but in 1979, it did. Fed up with fixed elections and the repression of SAVAK, the despised intelligence agency given to torture, the people revolted embracing the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini and forced out the Shah. The Iranian coup would poison U.S. relations with the Iranian people for another thirty years, into the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
The CIA had now come into its own, and the next year organized the overthrow of Guatemala's popular leader Jacobo Arbenz Guzman who challenged the giant U.S. commercial interest in his impoverished Central American nation. Dulles believed Arbenz was secretly a communist, and if not stopped, would invite Soviet infiltration into the region. In reality, communist influence was minimal, a party of approximately four thousand members. Dulles:
"The future of Guatemala lies at the disposal of leaders loyal to Guatemala, who have not treasonably become the agents of an alien despotism which sought to use Guatemala for its own evil ends."
From bases in Honduras and Nicaragua in June '54, CIA-trained mercenaries attacked, and Arbenz surrendered to a military junta. Dulles:
"The events of recent months and days, add a new and glorious chapter to the already great tradition of the American states."
Arbenz's replacement, anti-communist strongman Castillo Armas, set up a brutal military dictatorship, employing death squads, was assassinated three years later. The democratically elected Arbenz warned that twenty years of fascist bloody tyranny was coming - he was wrong; the tyranny that followed actually lasted forty years, and took the lives of some two hundred thousand people.
The word 'communism' was now being used as a description of not only the Soviet system, but anyone, anyplace, anytime, who wanted change, their way, in their country, be they labor leader, a reformer, a peasant, a human rights worker, even a priest reading the Gospel and organizing self-help groups based on radical or pacifist messages.
Events of even greater significance were unfolding simultaneously in Vietnam. The British had yielded much of their empire, but the French, who had been humiliated by the German invasion of World War II, were still fighting for their enormous colonies in IndoChina and Africa. As the British had done in Iran in order to receive American aid, the French demonized their enemy, Ho Chi Minh, as a communist fanatic, although they knew that he represented the same rebellion they had been fighting since the late 1800s. For the Vietnamese people, it had always been a struggle for their independence, well before the Russian Revolution and the concept of communism had taken root. But in this time period, it was naturally assumed that Asian communism was directed from Moscow. The truth was that Stalin had always shown caution in Asia, denying significant aid for Mao, as he would for Ho Chi Minh, seeing little to gain by inflaming the French.
Ho, who had received U.S. assistance when he led the resistance to the Japanese during World War II, had asked President Truman for help in setting up an independent Vietnamese state - he received no response. In 1950 he found out why - Truman was backing the other side. By April of 1954, Ho Chi Minh's peasant army had finished hauling extremely heavy anti-aircraft guns and howitzers through almost impassible jungle and mountain terrain to lay siege to an encircled French army at Diem Bien Fu.
Incredibly, the United States was paying 80% of the French war costs. Eisenhower justified it by describing the countries in the region falling like "dominoes", ultimately leading from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia to Japan itself. Though Eisenhower ruled out sending U.S. ground forces, the Joint Chiefs drew up plans for Operation "Vulture", an air campaign against Vietminh positions, which included the possibility of using three small tactical A-bombs. Nonetheless, the French, along side the British, rejected the option, and on May 7, after fifty-six gruelling days, the garrison fell, and France's days of colonial conquest in Asia were over.
A national election was scheduled for 1956 to unify the country. The U.S. promised not to interfere, but it did.
Despite the fact that his forces controlled most of the country, Ho gave in to pressure from the Soviets and Chinese, who feared U.S. intervention, and at Geneva accepted a proposal that would temporarily divide Vietnam at the 17th Parallel, with Ho's forces withdrawing to the North and French-backed forces retreating to the South. A national election was scheduled for 1956 to unify the country. The U.S. promised not to interfere, but it did, installing a conservative, corrupt, Catholic in a Buddhist country. Ngo Dinh Diem wasted no time in crushing rivals and jailing communists, thousands of whom were executed. With US backing Diem then subverted the most important provision of the Geneva agreement, cancelling the 1956 election.
Eisenhower later explained that, had the elections been held, "...as of the time of the fighting, possibly 80% of the population would have voted for the communist Ho Chi Minh." As a result the insurgency was soon rekindled and within a few short years the French war would become the American.
Across the globe in Africa, the Vietnamese struggle became an inspiration for the Algerian revolutionaries who would outlast the French in a brutal eight year war from 1954 to '62. This finally gutted the French Empire in Africa.
In 1953, Eisenhower symbolically went to Madrid to offer a huge loan to feared fascist dictator Francisco Franco in return for the establishment of nuclear bases. Spain was then admitted to the United Nations in 1955, although Communist China was still denied membership. The U.S. also supported Portugal, which clung to an enormous ramshackle plantation and apartheid empire in South Africa, as well as neighbouring South America, where minority whites strictly suppressed the black majority.
By the mid-1950s, the reputation of the United States in the Third World reached rock bottom, as it allied itself with some of the world's most reactionary regimes. America's capacity for massive retaliation might keep the balance of power with the Soviets, but it would prove useless in preventing the revolutionary upsurge in the developing world which wished to steer a non-aligned course between capitalist and socialist blocks, and thought it obscene to spend $billions on arms when money for survival was in short supply.
To the non-aligned point of view, the American Cold War on Eisenhower's watch was not really a war against communism, as much as it was a war against the poor peoples of the Earth for the resources of the Earth. Twenty-nine Asian and African leaders met for the first time in 1955 in Bandung in Indonesia. The host was Indonesia's Achmed Sukarno, who had led the fight against Dutch colonialism. The stars were Yugoslavia's renegade Marshall Tito, who had, despite several assassination attempts, freed himself from Stalin's Soviet grip, along with Nasser of Egypt, who had taken on the British Empire, Nehru, independent India's first leader, and Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh. Israel, perceived as a U.S. ally was not invited, to avoid an Arab boycott. Communist China was.
They met on the beautiful island of Java, in the world's fourth largest nation, which combined the world's largest muslim community and the world's third largest communist party. Dulles proclaimed neutrality and obsolete conception, immoral and short-sighted. In one of the strangest and little known episodes of this time period, the Prime Minister of China, Zhou Enlai, was targeted by Jiang Jieshi's nationalist government in Taiwan, secretly abetted by the CIA. A detonator and bomb were placed on his plane; Zhou survived when he changed planes, although the sixteen people on board were blown out of the sky under mysterious circumstances. Zhou maintained an enigmatic silence, and the conference was considered a great success. But many of these independent leaders would, in time, be toppled by the U.S.
The Soviet Union, which at first ignored the neutral block, was beginning to confront its own past. Premier Nikita Khrushchev who, like Eisenhower, had come from humble origins and had seen the worst of World War II up close as a political organizer at the battle of Stalingrad, shocked the communist world in February 1956, emotionally giving voice to what no one had ever publicly said without being punished - he detailed Stalin's murderous terror, which had left his society frightened into a conformity even greater than that in the U.S., which had not suffered the physical terrors. He decried Stalin's cult of personality and initiated a much needed policy of de-Stalinization.
The reaction across the communist world was incendiary. Hardliners were stunned. Mao in China infuriated. Unrest swept much of Eastern Europe. Crowds gathered outside the parliament in Hungary and toppled the enormous statue of Stalin, even lynching secret police officers in the streets. Khrushchev allowed the revolt to take its course, but when the moderate Hungarian Prime Minister announced free elections and said Hungary was withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact of 1955, which was a new parallel organization to the West's NATO, Khrushchev felt he had no other choice or he would be removed by his hardliners. Russian tanks rolled into the old city and the resistance ended with the death of around twenty-five hundred Hungarians.
Although this number pales in comparison to the total casualties from America's interventions in Third World countries, Hungary became one of the biggest stories of the Cold War, clearly pointing to Soviet evil and domination. Time Magazine called the Hungarian freedom fighter the Man of the Year.
It would take the U.S. another eight years to change the power structure in Indonesia in one of the bloodiest massacres of the century.
At the same time, unknown to the American public, the USA's hard power continued to manifest globally. Dulles:
"We were not very happy with Mr. Sukarno in, what was it, 1958, and I don't think we were very happy with him in 1965."
Sukarno in Indonesia became a major target. The CIA plans to unseat him were sometimes ludicrous, involving porno films and beautiful Russian blondes, and supporting a military coup in 1957 in which CIA pilots bombed targets. When Eisenhower denied U.S. involvement, he was embarrassed when one such pilot, Al Pope, was shot down in a B-26 and presented at a news conference. The result of these efforts pushed Sukarno to accepting more and more Soviet aid - it would take the U.S. another eight years to change power structure in Indonesia in one of the bloodiest massacres of the century.
Projecting a negative international image of the United States, Federal troops were sent in the fall of 1957 to Little Rock, Arkansas, to protect newly-enrolled black high-school students from violent hateful mobs, whereas the "progressive" Soviet Union was seen by all to be launching the satellite Sputnik into the night sky - we had bombs but suddenly the Soviets had space, they had rockets and missiles. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson said that the Soviets would soon be "dropping bombs on us from space like kids dropping rocks onto cars from freeway overpasses."
Eisenhower's response was lackadaisical - "They put one small ball into the air", he said. And to drive his point home he reportedly played five rounds of golf that week. The reason was, he knew the truth and could not reveal it - that U.S. technology had developed highly secret U2 reconnaissance planes which had, for over a year, flown seventy thousand feet above Soviet airspace, photographing how far the Russians really lagged behind in the arms race. CIA Director Allen Dulles later gloated: "I was able to get a look at every blade of grass in the Soviet Union." A month later the Soviets launched the massive six ton Sputnik 2.
Nonetheless, Khrushchev reached out to Eisenhower, calling for a peaceful space competition and an end to the Cold War. But Ike, feeling enormous political pressure gloated publicly about America's vast and growing military superiority...
"We are well ahead of the Soviets, both in quality and in quantity, and we intend to stay ahead."
...pointing to its submarines and huge aircraft carriers, now supplied with nuclear weapons. Nonetheless the Democrats seized the initiative; respected House Leader John McCormack declared that the US faced national extinction. Among those who jumped enthusiastically on this missile gap bandwagon was the Junior Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. Eisenhower dismissed these critics as "sanctimonious hypocritical bastards".
But gloom abounded. He now commissioned a secret security review, that was authored, essentially, by Paul Nitze, a fiercely anti-communist protege of James Forrestal. His report, The Gaither Report, was devastating. It was leaked, apparently by Nitze himself, to the Washington Post, which wrote that it portrays the United States in the gravest danger in its history. In the best tradition of the yellow press, the newspaper pictured the nation moving toward the status of a second class power, and urgently called for an enormous increase in military spending from now through 1970.
The publication of Nevil Shute's On The Beach in 1957, followed by the internationally popular movie, chillingly showed a handful of survivors of nuclear war waiting in Melbourne Australia, the world's southern most city, for the fallout that had already wiped out the rest of humanity. Winston Churchill, now in retirement, was attending a party when asked if he would send a copy of the novel to Eisenhower. The one-time ferocious Cold-Warrior responded with despair:
"It would be a waste of money. He's so muddle-headed now, I think the Earth will soon be destroyed. And if I were the Almighty I would not recreate it in case they destroyed him too, the next time."
After two heart attacks, Eisenhower still seemed a decent well-meaning man but - lost, out of touch.
Right under his nose, in America's backyard, in early 1959, Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries finally toppled Cuba's Batista's dictatorship, under which American business interests controlled over 80% if Cuba's resources. Castro set about redistributing land and reforming the education system. He seized large Cuban land holdings and over a million acres from United Fruit and two other companies, offering compensation which was rejected. Like many non-aligned Third World leaders, Castro accepted offers of Soviet aid. In April of '59, he visited the U.S. and met briefly with Vice President Nixon who dismissed Castro naive about communism and later supported his elimination. And when U.S. and British oil companies refused to process Russian crude at their Cuban refineries, Castro nationalized them and threatened to expropriate all American property on the island.
Eisenhower announced a punishing trade embargo, denying the Cuban people, among other things, markets for their sugar, which the Soviets and Chinese offered to buy. The embargo would take a terrible toll, though it would be eased by the U.S. at the turn of the century, it would last for more than 50 years & 10 administrations. [The embargo] Condemned repeatedly by a huge majority of the General Assembly, in 2011 a hundred and eighty-six nations were against it, two nations supported it - the U.S. and Israel.
In March 1960, Eisenhower approved a CIA plan to organize a paramilitary force of Cuban exiles to overthrow Castro. This plan included the possibility of assassination. As a symbol to the rest of the world, Castro could not be allowed to succeed.
CIA Chief Allen Dulles told Ike that Lumumba was an African Fidel Castro, and persuaded him to authorize a plan to assassinate him.
The Belgium Congo had been infamously portrayed in Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" in the early part of the century - nothing much had changed. When the Belgians left in 1960, new socialist Premier Patrice Lumumba, desperate for help, flew to Washington, but Eisenhower refused to see him. CIA Chief Allen Dulles told Ike that Lumumba was an African Fidel Castro, and persuaded him to authorize a plan to assassinate him. It was bungled. But as the Congo descended into anarchic civil war, Lumumba was removed in January of '61 by army mutineers in the presence of Belgian officers. He was tortured and murdered, and quickly became a martyred nationalist hero to the Third World. The US was blamed by many. The CIA, abandoning the UN peace plan, backed Joseph Mobutu. Stealing $billions of natural resources from the land as well as from his U.S. supporters, and slaughtering multitudes to preserve his power, Mobutu ruled for three decades as a billionaire dictator, and as the CIA's most trusted ally in Africa.
In his remarkable farewell address of January, 1961, Eisenhower seemed to understand the monstrosity he had created, and seemed almost to be asking for absolution:
"We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportion. Three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defence establishment. The total influence - economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. In the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial-complex. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."
Privately he told Allen Dulles "I leave a legacy of ashes to my successor". He was close to the truth. Aside from overthrowing foreign governments, and intervening freely around the globe, it was Eisenhower who did more than anyone else to create the very military-industrial-complex of which he warned.
Nuclear weapons were now the foundation of America's empire.
Under Ike, the U.S. arsenal expanded from little more than one thousand to over twenty-two thousand nuclear weapons, and continuing into he 1960s he authorized more than thirty thousand weapons. Nuclear bombs were now the foundation of America's empire, and provided its new emperor, its president, with a mystical power that required more and more suffocating secrecy, even if those powers went far beyond the original limits of executive power defined in the Constitution.
And although the bombs themselves were not expensive, the huge infrastructure was, requiring bases in the U.S. and abroad, and enormous delivery systems by bomber, missile, air craft carrier, and submarine. Eisenhower additionally made it acceptable U.S. policy to threaten nuclear attack. In a Life Magazine article in 1956, Dulles, defending his policy of brinksmanship, pointed to three different occasions where the administration had walked to the to the brink of nuclear war and forced the Communists to back down - in Korea, Vietnam, and the Formosa Straits. The U.S. would actually do so again against the Soviets, who also threatened to use their nuclear weapons during the Suez crisis of 1956, and once more in the crisis with China over the small islands of Quemoy and Matsu in 1958.
Eisenhower had delegated to theatre commanders the authority to launch a nuclear attack if they believed it were mandated by circumstances.
Eisenhower's successors in the White House have all followed his example in threatening America's perceived enemies if they didn't accede to its demands. Additionally, what is little known is that Eisenhower had delegated to theatre commanders and others specified commanders the authority to launch a nuclear attack if they believed it were mandated by circumstances, and were out of communication with the President. And with Eisenhower's approval, some of these commanders had in turn delegated the same authority to lower level offices. Thus, there were dozens of fingers on the trigger, at a time when there were no locking devices on nuclear weapons.
In August of 1960 Eisenhower approved an operational plan to launch a nuclear attack simultaneously on the USSR and China within the first 24 hours of a war. The conservative estimate of the number of dead from U.S. bombs and fallout was six hundred million - more than one hundred holocausts - much less the possibility of a nuclear winter across the globe that would have ended all life.
In hindsight, Eisenhower, presiding over the world's most powerful nation during perhaps the tensest extended period in its history could have, with bold action, put the world on a different path. Signs emanating from Moscow indicated the Kremlin was ready to change. But because of ideology, political calculations, the exigencies of a militarized state, and a limited imagination, Eisenhower repeatedly failed to seize the opportunities that emerged.
Its interesting to think that in 1953, when Eisenhower was becoming more of a cold warrior, his mentor, George Marshall, became the only carrier military officer to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Emphasizing the need for a better understanding of history and the causes of war he said:
"The cost of war is constantly spread before me, written neatly in many ledgers, whose columns are gravestones."
Marshall, a conservative man who had lived through two world wars and a depression, who unlike many Generals rarely wore his medals in public, and reportedly refused a large sum of money for his memoires, stood, till he died in 1959 in a sort of respected but lonely grandure, still ostracized by many on the right for moderation in a time of zealotry, and a tolerance he was truly the embodiment of.
Dwight Eisenhower put the world on a glide path toward annihilation with the most gargantuan expansion of military power in history.
There is no question the Eisenhower years are remembered as peaceful and prosperous. And at a time when war with the Soviet Union seemed quite possible, he certainly deserves credit for avoiding it. But, the inescapable truth is that, the beloved Dwight Eisenhower put the world on a glide path toward annihilation with the most gargantuan expansion of military power in history, and left the world a far more dangerous place than when he first took office.