“The Lines Of Control Have Been Cut”

Jack Kennedy came into the White House determined to dismantle his Republican predecessor’s rigid, formal staff organization in favor of a spontaneous, flexible, hands-on management style. Thirty years Bill Clinton seems determined to do the same thing. He would do well to remember that what it got JFK was the Bay of Pigs and the Vietnam War.

In early October of 1963, Rep. Clement Zablocki, a Wisconsin Democrat, led a House Foreign Affairs Committee fact-finding delegation to South Vietnam. Invited to the White House when he returned, Zablocki told President John F. Kennedy he thought that removing President Ngo Dinh Diem would be a big mistake, unless the United States had a successor in the wings. Remember Cuba, Zablocki said. “Batista was bad, but Castro is worse.” Read more »

Through Darkest America

We owe the greatest infrastructure project in the history of the world to the fact that in 1919 a young U.S. Army captain named Eisenhower was bored.

As every historian knows, great events are often determined by trivial ones. Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack , noted that for want of a single horseshoe nail an entire war could be lost. Franklin was being theoretical, of course, but real examples abound. Had any one of a thousand things happened (or not happened), for instance, the Titanic would have missed the iceberg. Read more »

Presidents On Presidents

They’ve all had things to say about their fellow Executives. Once in a great while one was even flattering.

John Adams said Thomas Jefferson’s mind was “eaten to a honeycomb with ambition, yet weak, confused, uninformed, and ignorant.” Ulysses S. Grant said James Garfield did not have “the backbone of an angleworm.” Theodore Roosevelt called Woodrow Wilson “a Byzantine logothete.” Wilson called Chester Arthur “a nonentity with sidewhiskers.” Harry Truman summed up Lyndon Johnson with a curt “No guts!” Read more »

A Place To Be Lousy In

The American army that beat Hitler was thoroughly professional, but it didn’t start out that way. North Africa was where it learned the hard lessons—none harder than the disaster at Kasserine. This was the campaign that taught us how to fight a war.

There was no light. Most of the soldiers in the boats couldn’t see anything, but they knew they must be close because the wind offshore brought the smell of charcoal smoke and dry grass. The first assault troops landed sometime after eight bells. The only sounds they heard were the metallic jingle of their gear and the crunch of their boots on the wet beach. Two shore-based searchlights snapped open to look for aircraft. It took a moment for the enemy to realize that danger was coming at them not from the sky but from the sea.Read more »

America In London

Within the city’s best-known landmarks and down its least-visited lanes stand surprisingly vivid mementos of our own national history

On a recent pilgrimage to Abilene—that epic little town on the Kansas plains that briefly marked the uttermost frontier of the Western world —I stepped into the old timber-frame homestead of the Eisenhowers and felt that part of my life had completed a circle. There, in the cluttered formality of the tiny parlor with its dainty drapes and edifying literature, so bravely genteel compared with the dusty cattledriving life outside, Dwight David Elsenhower was raised for leadership in the greatest military adventure of the twentieth century.Read more »

Who Liked Ike?

To one who lived through the Eisenhower era and worked close to certain large issues in the nation’s capital, Steve Neal’s apologia for this President is pretty weak. He raised more questions than he answered.

Ike—with great power and prestige- controlled a burgeoning defense establishment for eight long years, so why did he wait until the very end to raise his famous warning about the “militaryindustrial complex”? Read more »

The Last Days Of The Third Reich

Forty years ago, a tangle of chaotic events led to the death of Hitler, the surrender of the Nazis, and the end of World War II in Europe

The last time Grand Adm. Karl Doenitz saw his Führer was on April 20, 1945, Adolf Hitler’s fifty-sixth birthday. The celebration, held in the Führerbunker , a dank catacomb buried deep beneath the Reich chancellery, twenty feet lower than Berlin’s sewer system, was hardly festive. Read more »

Why We Were Right To Like Ike

Thirty years after judging Eisenhower to be among our worst Presidents, historians have now come around to the opinion most of their fellow Americans held right along.

Critics charged that Ike was spineless in his refusal to openly fight Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

Early in 1952, Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower confided to a friendly Republican politician why he was reluctant to seek the Presidency: “I think I pretty well hit my peak in history when I accepted the German surrender.” Read more »

Four More Years

Here is how political cartoonists have sized up the candidates over a tumultuous half-century.

AMERICANS HAVE BEEN turning out political cartoons since the dawn of the Republic, but in the nineteenth century the drawings tended to be verbose and cluttered, their characters trailing long ribbons of speech balloons as they stumbled over obscure symbols. It took the national turmoil that surrounded the emergence of Franklin Roosevelt to bring the art to its incisive, confident, acid maturity. On the eve of the election, we offer a portfolio of cartoons both admiring and execrating from the last thirteen presidential contests.Read more »

How The Media Seduced And Captured American Politics

A noted historian argues that television, a relative newcomer, has nearly destroyed old—and valuable—political traditions

TELEVISION HAS BEEN accused of many things: vulgarizing tastes; trivializing public affairs; sensationalizing news; corrupting the young; pandering to profits; undermining traditional values. The indictments are no doubt too harsh, and they ignore the medium’s considerable achievements over two decades. Yet even the severest critics have not noticed the way in which television first seduced and then captured the whole American political process. Read more »