A Warning Too Late
Review of the book The Declassified Eisenhower by Blanche
Edward J. Dodson
[Blanche Cook's book was published by Penguin Books,
1984. This review is reprinted from Land & Liberty,
Blanche Cook's book The Declassified Eisenhower appeared in
1985, and one aspect of its merit is the access given to many of
Eisenhower's personal papers. She leads the reader on a journey that
is sometimes anticipated and frequently troublesome.
The Second World War and its aftermath was characterized by intrigue
and by events the world's political leaders sensed were far too
damaging for public debate. What occurred during those years unfolds
on the pages of this work as more than history but not quite an
That Cook is disturbed by many of the revelations uncovered is clear;
any final judgment -- either about Eisenhower or of American foreign
policy-making in general -- is left up to the reader. Nevertheless,
our personal codes of ethics and sense of justice are uniquely
challenged by her treatment of twentieth century political decisions
and the methods used to achieve certain policy initiatives. Cook asks,
however, whether the course of events could have been otherwise:
Since nuclear helocaust was unacceptable [Eisenhower]
pursued alternative means to ensure America's dominance in the race
against the Soviet Union and in the race to secure access to the
world's resources and markets.... that was a commitment to a
free-market economy. Others called it empire. Whatever it is called,
to control the world's resources and defend them against
nationalists and communists proved to be an ongoing and draining
This is as close as Cook comes to a moral judgment insofar as the
interests of multinational corporate power were aligned with those of
anti-communist politicians to "promote the American way of life
throughout the world".
Cook identifies the years of the Second World War as the beginning of
the "American Century" and the rapid expansion of the "American
System". What she and so many other observers do not see is that
the uniqueness of the "American Experience" was itself fast
losing ground. The global wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45 acted as
catalysts, advancing the expansion of centralised authority in
American socio-political structure at the expense of individualism and
large-scale political participation.
Strong, in fact, are the parallels between America after 1949,
particularly, and Britain in governments policies in that year:
During a war it is no easy task to prevent your sympathy
clouding your reason. The whole social system seems to be organised
against any individual attempt to concentrate the attention
dominantly upon the causes of war. Governments. churches, theatres,
the press, and local authorities direct their efforts, in the main,
war-wards; the whole thought of society and commerce seems to be
occupied with war: and all desire to question the reasons given by
statesmen for participating in the war must be suppressed. It has
been ruled already by certain leaders of thought' that it is unwise,
unpatriotic, and un-English to suspect the motives of Governments,
or waver for a moment in swearing wholehearted allegiance to the
authorities [Neilson, p. 369].
In the U.S even the tremendous backlash against the long involvement
of Americans in the Vietnamese civil war has not seemed to diminish
the ability of subsequent Governments to rekindle the spark of
militaristic adventurism. Our society does seem to nourish a strange
respect for aggressiveness in the guise of our self-assumed role of'
the protector of 'free peoples' -- wherever that may take us. As one
historian writes, "The crisis and the beneficiaries were 'those
few with simple, persuasive answers and the means at hand to implement
The development of an expansionist mentality in America can be traced
directly from the founding of the nation; the rapid industrialization
experienced early in the twentieth century accelerated the process.
In the 1920s, nativism raged against the new waves of immigrants
flooding into American cities and took form in a determined
anti-communism crusade. Americans were faced with tremendous moral
challenge when the war against fascism required an alliance with the
Soviet Union, knowing full well that the defeat of Germany and Japan
would leave Russia and its Marxist-Leninist regime as the United
States' major competing power.
As Blanche Cook concludes, this attitude was carried right through
the Second World War and only deepened afterward. The American
leadership was not about to accept a division of the spoils of war
that gave to communism new opportunities for political power:
The United States was ... committed to a crusade against
'communism' no matter how popular and broad-based or nationalist and
democratic the independence movement might be, and no matter how
repressive, cruel or generally unsatisfactory the right-wing ally
Certainly, few Americans knew of or cared about the sacrifices made
by the Russian people during the war; even if this had been general
knowledge this was, as Blanche Cook describes, the era of
Americanization, of 'making the world safe for democracy' and for
using our new military superiority to preserve (consistent with the
earliest Jeffersonian instincts) our free access to foreign markets
and sources. of raw materials.
Underlying American foreign policy was also to be found a strong
current of 'Liberal consensus' traced by historian Frederick Lewis
Alien to the 1920s and a uniquely American anti-egalitarian mentality.
Allen noted in his 1931 work Only Yesterday that "the
typical American of the old stock had never had more than a
half-hearted enthusiasm for the rights of the minority
been accustomed to set his community in order by the first means that
came to hand -- a sumptuary law, a vigilance committee, or if
necessary a shotgun."
The principles of individualism were misused again and again in
pursuit of opportunism; and, continues Allen, "when running
things himself [the typical American] had usually been open to the
suggestion that liberty was another name for license and that the Bill
of Rights was the last resort of scoundrels."
When the editors of the New York Times Magazine in 1963 asked
the question "What Sort of Nation Are We?" they responded "We
are probably the most democratic in feeling and action," a
statement that conveys the extent to which myth has dominated
mainstream American thought. Our history has not been characterized by
toleration and equality of opportunity. 'Liberalism' may have softened
the impact of unbridled Social-Darwinism, but the changes were those
of degree and wrenched from the powerful at great cost.
American political leaders and those who wielded tremendous economic
power successfully perpetuated the even greater myth that 'the
American way of life' represented the highest 'good'. In places such
as Vietnam and Korea we experienced bitter disappointments as we
attempted to Americanize the globe; nevertheless, the way we conduct
our foreign policy has changed only in degree and according to what
the political leadership views as acceptable re-election risk.
Interestingly, before entering the political arena Eisenhower sensed
that the world had changed, had become a global community and, in
fact, "naively wondered why the world's resources could not be
internationalized," suggesting that "since raw materials
represented the world's basic needs, they should belong to and serve
everybody" (Cook, p.229).
He would soon abandon these principles in favour of those pro-vided
to him by certain interest groups as THE agenda for American foreign
In 1951 the Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz declared its
intention 'to give land to the agricultural workers [and] expand
agricultural credit for the benefit of all who work the land"
The American response by 1953 was to support the overthrow of Arbenz,
precipitating "the return of almost a million and a half acres
that had been distributed among one hundred thousand families."
Eisenhower had assumed the foreign policy stance that dictated a
blind reaction to any and every revolutionary group that in any way
appeared pro-Soviet or pro-Marxist and against the interests of
international business concerns.
This statesman in war had become very much the pawn; only at the end
of his second term, in his farewell address; did he seem once again
aware of the incongruities of American foreign policy in an age of
emerging self-determination. Too late he raised a warning against the
perils of the expanding military-industrial complex.
 Frederick Lewis Allen. Only
Yesterday (New York: Harper and Brothers), 1931.
 Blanche W. Cook. The Declassified Eisenhower (New York:
Penguin Books), 1984.
 Francis Neilson. How Diplomats Make War (New York: B.W.
 Robert H. Weibe. The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (New York:
Hill and Wang), 1967.