Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World
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Evan Thomas's startling account of how the underrated Dwight Eisenhower saved the world from nuclear holocaust.
Upon assuming the presidency in 1953, Dwight Eisenhower set about to make good on his campaign promise to end the Korean War. Yet while Eisenhower was quickly viewed by many as a doddering lightweight, behind the bland smile and simple speech was a master tactician. To end the hostilities, Eisenhower would take a colossal risk by bluffing that he might use nuclear weapons against the Communist Chinese, while at the same time restraining his generals and advisors who favored the strikes. Ike's gamble was of such magnitude that there could be but two outcomes: thousands of lives saved, or millions of lives lost.
A tense, vivid and revisionist account of a president who was then, and still is today, underestimated, IKE'S BLUFF is history at its most provocative and thrilling.
decisions. When he’d returned to the White House in early December, he’d told his advisers that it was necessary to make clear to the Soviets that Berlin was “no minor affair.” He went on: “In order to avoid beginning with the white chips and working up to the blue we should place them on notice, that our whole stack is in play.”11 He meant that there would be no slow escalation through conventional to nuclear forces (white chips to blue), a reiteration of his bet on massive retaliation: no
many of his army buddies. In the Berlin crisis, he also drew on skills derived from the more cerebral and complex game of bridge. At bridge, as in politics and war, Eisenhower was extremely patient, and he liked to win big, even running up the score. John Eisenhower noted that at the bridge table, George Allen, Ike’s favorite betting foe, was a “born gambler” who relied on luck. Ike, on the other hand, counted cards and used his sharp memory and careful calculation of the odds to try to control
resolution “stinks like fresh horseshit and nothing smells worse than that!” Nixon had clumsily responded, “I’m afraid the chairman is mistaken. There is something that smells worse than horseshit—and that is pigshit!”10 Now, over lunch in the Aspen Lodge at Camp David, Eisenhower found himself comically drawn into refereeing whose remarks were the most insulting and provocative, Nixon’s or Khrushchev’s. An expert in displaced anger, Ike saw that Khrushchev was venting his irritation on his own
House was finally engaging McCarthy, albeit from a safe distance. Still, Eisenhower was careful not to get the White House drawn into a direct, public confrontation with McCarthy. Over dinner, Senator Stuart Symington told Milton Eisenhower that “the real contest is between McCarthy and the President.” On Milton’s memo reporting this exchange to Ike, the president penned, “Or: artificial build up to urge me to act in a personal way.”44 As usual, Ike preferred to play a waiting game, to allow
wars, not away from them. The president refused Taylor’s request to build up conventional forces, the tanks, guns, and men to fight small wars. It was not just a question of saving money. By removing the means to fight limited war, the president meant to eliminate the temptation, the illusion—on both sides—that war could be contained.18 Ike’s ultimate dream was disarmament, but the Soviet rejection of “Atoms for Peace” and “Open Skies” made him a realist: that dream was still a long way off.