VOA Learning English presents America’s Presidents.
Today we are talking about Dwight Eisenhower. He took office in 1953 and was re-elected in 1956.
Eisenhower was famous before he became president of the United States. He was a general in World War II, and led the Allied invasion of Europe. The attack began with the air and sea operation called D-Day.
As president, Eisenhower became known for his efforts to keep peace. He tried to have good relations with the Soviet Union especially. He believed one of the best ways to do that was to build America’s military strength.
When Americans think of Eisenhower, they often note the growth of the U.S. defense industry, and tensions with the Soviet Union. Those tensions became known as the Cold War, and lasted long after Eisenhower left office.
Dwight David Eisenhower was born in Texas, but raised in the state of Kansas. His parents had seven sons. The future president was the third.
Eisenhower’s parents did not have much money. His father worked as a mechanic. His mother was a member of the Mennonite Church, which opposed war and violence for any reason.
But young Dwight – who used the nickname “Ike” – enjoyed reading about military history and doing physical activities. He played football, and liked hunting and fishing.
When he finished high school, Eisenhower earned a position at the U.S. Military Academy, better known as West Point.
At first, he did not excel as a soldier. Eisenhower tested some of the Army’s traditional ideas. But in time, military leaders came to value Eisenhower’s ability to think independently and strategically.
He accepted increasingly important positions. In only a few years, Eisenhower took command of Allied troops during World War II. He directed invasions in North Africa, Italy, and finally in Western Europe.
His words “Okay, let’s go” launched the invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944.
Eisenhower’s personal life changed during his military years. He married a young woman named Mamie Doud in 1916. The following year they had a son named Doud Dwight; however, the boy became sick and died at the age of three.
In 1922, the Eisenhowers had a second son, named John.
Mamie and the boy spent many months separated from Dwight. And, even when the family was together, they were often moving from place to place. They moved nearly 30 times during Eisenhower’s military career.
After he retired from active duty in the Army, Eisenhower accepted a position as president of Columbia University in New York. Then he returned to the military to lead NATO forces in Europe.
In the early 1950s, Republican Party officials urged Eisenhower to be their candidate for president. Many Americans approved of Eisenhower’s war record, his efforts to contain communism, and his wide smile. They seemed to agree with his campaign slogan, “I like Ike,” and decisively elected him into office.
His 1952 election brought an end to the Democratic Party’s 20-year control of the White House.
Although he declared himself a Republican, Eisenhower was a political moderate in many of his ideas. He continued some of the domestic policies of former presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
Eisenhower also wanted the government to invest in public works projects. Notably, he approved a bill to build more than 65,000 kilometers of roads. Today the U.S. highway system connects all parts of the country and supports the nation’s economy.
Eisenhower also worked hard to have peaceful relations with other countries. In his first months as president, he signed the agreement that ended fighting in the Korean War.
He also tried to ease tensions between the United States and Soviet Union. In 1952, the U.S. government tested the first hydrogen bomb. It was even more powerful than the atomic bomb.
Soon, the Soviet Union carried out a hydrogen bomb test of its own.
The two countries became actively involved in an arms race that made many people around the world very, very nervous.
Eisenhower did not fully trust the Soviet leadership, but made some efforts to achieve an agreement on arms control. At the same time, he approved a plan for U.S. airplanes to fly secretly over the Soviet Union to gather information.
In 1959, Eisenhower and the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, met in the American state of Maryland. Modern presidents use a mountain retreat there, which Eisenhower called Camp David, after his grandson.
The U.S. and Soviet officials did not develop a treaty, but they did agree to meet again the following year.
However, the agreement collapsed. In 1960, Soviet missiles brought down one of the American spy planes, called a U-2. The pilot was captured.
At first, Eisenhower’s government denied that the plane was secretly gathering information. Officials said it was only a weather aircraft.
But then the Soviets produced evidence that the U-2 was, in fact, a spy plane. Khrushchev said he could not trust Eisenhower and his government, and he ended talks on limiting or disarming nuclear weapons.
During his two terms in office, Eisenhower tried many ways to avoid all-out war. He approved other secret actions, especially by the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA . Eisenhower sent U.S. Marines into Lebanon to try to end unrest there. And he decided against ordering air strikes on Vietminh forces when they surrounded French troops at Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam.
In all these efforts, Eisenhower used the threat of U.S. military power to help achieve his foreign policy goals. But he warned Americans against letting businesses aiding the defense industry become too powerful.
In his final speech as president, Eisenhower spoke of the dangers of what he called the military-industrial complex. He did not want the country to depend only on war to resolve conflicts. And, he did not want the U.S. government to spend so much on weapons that it could not provide other services to Americans.
Shortly after that speech, Eisenhower retired to a home he and his wife had bought in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Many Americans were sad to see him go.
Eisenhower’s presidency lasted most of the 1950s. During that time, the American economy was, for the most part, strong. Many Americans had enough money to buy homes and televisions.
At the same time, Eisenhower’s presidency was a time of unease. Racial discrimination was intense. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that states could no longer have separate public schools for white and black students. Some whites strongly objected to the decision. They tried to block black students from entering schools, sometimes using violence.
Eisenhower sent troops to enforce the federal law to desegregate public schools.
Later, Eisenhower used the power of his office to enforce other desegregation and voting rights laws. But he did not speak up strongly in support of civil rights. He thought both those who blocked civil rights legislation and those who demanded it were extreme.
Eisenhower also did not publicly criticize Senator Joseph McCarthy, who accused the U.S. government of protecting Soviet spies. Eisenhower strongly disliked McCarthy, but he permitted the “Red Scare” to continue until the lawmaker could discredit himself.
Finally, despite Eisenhower’s efforts, the Cold War did not end; in fact, tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Union increased. Although Eisenhower succeeded in keeping the country out of war, many events during his presidency created the conditions for later conflicts.
Nevertheless, Eisenhower was a popular president, both before, during, and after his time in office.
During his final years, he wrote several books about his life, traveled, and advised later presidents. He had suffered a heart attack during his first term in office, and eventually suffered another one.
He died at the age of 78 with his family by his side.
I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
Kelly Jean Kelly wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
strategically - adv. creating and using plans to reach a goal
active duty - n. employment as a full-time member of the military
slogan - n. a word or phrase that is easy to remember and is used to attract attention
domestic - n. of, relating to, or made in your own country
achieve - v. to get or reach (something)
retreat - n. a place that is quiet and private
desegregate - v. to end a policy that keeps people of different races apart