Dwight D. Eisenhower: The Call of Duty and the Love of Applause

Article excerpt

David Dwight Eisenhower was born on October 14, 1890 to Ida and David Eisenhower in Denison, Texas. The family lived in Denison briefly after their general store in Abilene, Kansas, had gone bankrupt but then returned to Abilene when young David was two. There his father became manager of a local creamery at relatively low wages. David Dwight, whose names were soon reversed by his mother in order to avoid confusion with his father, was the third of seven sons. One, Paul, died in early childhood of diphtheria. The other six survived to adulthood and each built a successful career in his own right. Their mother was so even-handed in dealing with them that even after Dwight acquired international fame and she would be asked by reporters whether she was proud of her son, her standard reply was "Which one?" (Eisenhower, 1986, p. 225).

Ida and David had met as students at Lane University in Kansas, a school affiliated with the United Brethren Church. Since women of her day rarely attended college, Ida demonstrated an independent spirit when she enrolled at Lane (Childs, 1958, p. 18). After her marriage to David in 1885, she became a major force in her household and eventually in the lives of her children.

Ida fervently stressed the importance of hard work, self-reliance, and doing one's duty. She also emphasized to her sons that while they could achieve great success if they worked hard, they must always accept their achievements with humility (Wukovits, 2006, p. 8). Although very righteous, she had a pleasant disposition. Years later, one of her grandsons could still remember her humming happily (Kornitzer, 1955, p. 73). She was also deeply religious, so much so that her favorite reading material was the Bible. Dwight later remembered that his mother's most firmly held principle was that of self-discipline which she "preached constantly" (Eisenhower, 1967, p. 32). Indeed, she had such strong self-discipline and was so upright in her personal life that she actually studied law at home so that she would be prepared if she ever encountered her husband's business partner who the family was convinced had stolen their grocery store's profits (Eisenhower, 1967, p. 31). She blamed the dishonest business partner entirely for the family's financial difficulties rather than her husband. Dwight once said that each time his father failed "my mother just smiled and worked harder" (Günther, 1951, p. 49).

While the future president counted his father among the main forces that had shaped his early years, his feelings toward him were ambivalent. David was a moody man who always remained somewhat distant from his sons. He had never taken an active interest in their lives and rarely discussed with them their activities or their aspirations for the future (Ambrose, 1983, p. 20). He simply stressed to them the importance of selfdiscipline and adhering to the message of the Bible. Not surprising, his religious viewpoints were narrow and rigid, leading his son Edgar to describe him as "an inflexible man with a stern code" (Perret, 1999, p. 13). Rather than draw his sons to him, he seemed more often to drive them away, especially since he rarely smiled and often flew into rages. To punish his sons for their transgressions, he would beat them severely. On one occasion, when Eisenhower was six years old, his father was arrested, pleaded guilty and was convicted for striking a neighbor's child (Perret, 1999, p. 13).

Although David was industrious and stressed the importance of hard work and self-dependence to his sons (Sixsmith, 1972, p. 2), he never provided his family with anything more than a modest standard of living. Also, his volatile disposition made him a figure more to be feared than loved. The future President's own son, John, once commented that "...I don't think Dad communicated on a confidential basis with his father, ever." (Eisenhower, 1996, p. 43). When his father died in 1942, Eisenhower did not attend the funeral but instead remained at his desk in the nation's capital. …