Did Americans really know Dwight David Eisenhower? Based on this memoir by Eisenhower's grandson, the answer is no.
Americans liked Ike, whom they repeatedly voted their most admired
fellow citizen, right up until the day he died in 1969, more than
nine years after vacating the White House. He'd beaten Hitler and
during his two terms in office he had been a commonsensical,
consensus president. He ended the Korean War and declined in 1954 to
commit American troops to Vietnam, where the French were on the
ropes. He refused to launch an assault on Roosevelt's New Deal, as
many Republicans wanted him to do. He simply ignored Joseph McCarthy,
but that may have been comment enough from someone as well thought of
He could be tough as nails on Israel, more so than any of his
successors. And he had that wonderful grandfatherly grin.
But did Americans really know Dwight David Eisenhower? The answer is
no, based on Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight D.
Eisenhower 1961-1969 by David Eisenhower, his grandson, with Julie
Nixon Eisenhower, the author's wife and the daughter of Richard M.
Nixon, who was Eisenhower's vice president from 1953-1961.
Eisenhower was a mystery in many ways to his own family. Although
almost always surrounded in retirement by a coterie of relatives,
friends, political supporters, or army and golfing buddies, he could
be remote, brusque, intimidating and short- tempered - traits no
doubt honed during his military career. The author writes that he
once asked Mamie Eisenhower why her husband was so restless and
whether his omnipresent entourage "revealed a weakness, perhaps a
fear of being alone, or a nonexistent inner life." Not satisfied
with his grandmother's answer, he followed up by asking her if she
had really known her husband of 45 years. "I'm not sure anyone
did," she replied. The author writes later in the book, "To me,
Dwight Eisenhower had always been imposing and at times
unapproachable, and I had never understood why people thought of him
as so genial."
Delectable insights like this, personal and political, are scattered
throughout the book, but the reader has to trek across some dead
patches to find them, such as a chapter highlighted by Eisenhower's
recipe for barbecue sauce or a stretch about young Republicans in
love (i.e. David and Julie), which could have used way more spice. It
was the 1960s, for Pete's sake. The author, whose other book
chronicled his grandfather's World War II service, is capable of
sentences like this one: "Granddad's stream of consciousness
covered whatever was on his mind. …