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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

Conflict and Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years - Document Overview

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Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected in 1952 in large part because voters believed he could end the stalemated war in Korea and lead the United States through the turbulent challenges of the Cold War. Americans yearned for peace and stability, and "Ike" promised to provide both. As the hero of World War II and a political moderate who promised the nation a program of "dynamic conservatism," he perfectly suited the mood and needs of the time.

To satisfy the right wing of the Republican party, Eisenhower tapped John Foster Dulles as his secretary of state. A dogmatic, humorless Calvinist descended from missionaries and diplomats, Dulles resolved to wage holy war against "atheistic communism." Impatient with the containment program of Truman and the Democrats, he advocated a more aggressive policy designed to "liberate" the "captive peoples" of Eastern Europe and China from Communist tyranny. He threatened America's allies that if they did not support such a militant anti-communism he would undertake "an agonizing reappraisal" of American commitments. Moreover, Dulles believed that the Soviets only responded to force, and this sometimes required engaging in "brinkmanship," a willingness to take crises to the edge of war in order to stem Communist aggression.

Dulles's crusading rhetoric pleased Republican conservatives, but Eisenhower preferred a less confrontational approach. To be sure, he, too, was a fervent anticommunist. But as a former general he also knew when and where to fight. For example, when the Hungarians and Poles revolted against Soviet rule in 1956, the United States did not intervene to help "liberate" them. Eisenhower realized that there was no feasible way to do so. He, more than Dulles, understood the limits of American power.

Eisenhower also understood the financial limits of a worldwide crusade against Communism. The former general was determined to reduce military spending so as to maintain a balanced budget and a thriving economy. He and Dulles thus fastened on what came to be called a policy of "massive retaliation." Instead of relying on expensive ground forces to provide national security and preserve international order, they decided to use the threat of massive nuclear retaliation to keep the Soviets in line and at the same time reduce defense spending. This would give the United States what Dulles called "a bigger bang for the buck."

The threatened use of nuclear weapons, however, made little sense in dealing with trouble spots in Southeast Asia. In Indochina, for example, the United States had provided France with $1.2 billion in military aid between 1950 and 1954 in its war against Ho Chi Minh and his Vietminh followers. Eisenhower adopted a rationale that later American presidents would repeat: if the Communists gained control of Indochina, then the neighboring countries would soon fall like dominoes. In 1954 the French sought to draw the elusive Vietminh into the open for a single climactic battle at Dien Bien Phu. But the idea backfired, and the French found themselves surrounded and cut off. The French government issued a desperate plea for American air strikes, but Eisenhower refused. He did not want to involve the United States in another Asian war on the heels of the armistice in Korea.

The beleaguered French surrendered in May 1954. At the Geneva Peace Conference the parties agreed to divide Indochina at the 17th parallel, creating the temporary states of North and South Vietnam. An election scheduled for 1956 would decide under what form of government the infant nation would be unified (though the United States subsequently refused to support the election because it feared that Ho Chi Minh would win by a large margin). Just as the United States had filled the breach created by the departure of the British from Greece, the American government now agreed to replace the French in Vietnam, offering its support to the new South Vietnamese leader, Ngo Dinh Diem.

Perhaps the greatest challenge associated with the Cold War was that its ideological emphasis made every trouble spot in the world fertile ground for Soviet-American competition. The Middle East was roiling with tensions during the 1950s as Arab-Israeli hostility sparked violent confrontations and enhanced the appeal of Communist rhetoric. To deal with the volatile situation, Eisenhower requested from Congress in 1957 a resolution empowering him to use military force in the Middle East against any manifestation of "international communism." This came to be known as the Eisenhower Doctrine, and it carried a significance beyond its immediate purposes: it effectively transferred the authority to wage war from Congress to the executive branch (a shift that had begun during the Korean War but had never received explicit recognition or approval). In the summer of 1957 Eisenhower invoked his new authority, dispatching 15,000 marines to Lebanon.

In the domestic arena the most important development during the 1950s involved civil rights and race relations. The social changes wrought by World War II gave added impetus to the efforts to end racial segregation. The massive migration of blacks from the South to other regions of the country created new political dynamics that bolstered the efforts of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other organizations to tear down racial barriers. Led by attorney Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP in 1950 decided to mount a legal challenge against the "separate but equal" doctrine that the Supreme Court had sanctioned in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).

Their opportunity arose when Oliver Brown, a resident of Topeka, Kansas, filed suit against the local school board. He objected to the requirement that his daughter be bused across town in order to attend an all-black school. Initially, a federal appeals court rejected Brown's suit because the segregated schools in Topeka satisfied the "equality test." But after two years of testimony and arguments, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court in its famous decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954). The resolution of the case did not itself end racial segregation, but it did set in motion a series of events that would give rise to a national civil rights movement dedicated to desegregation and true racial equality.


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