Narrator, David McCullough.
Reassessing the career and achievements of Dwight D. Eisenhower has become something of an industry in the last decade. Well-intentioned as it is, “The American Experience’s” chronicling of Ike adds little to the canon. That’s the up side. The down side is it feels as long as his two-term administration.
Both halves of “Eisenhower” are, at best, routine. Its value — and this is no inconsiderable feat — is in its lesson. Eisenhower, whatever else he was, was a man on the public stage who stood for something. His beliefs were clear; he was never one to obfuscate.
As a military leader, he hated war. As president, he warned about the growing power of what he dubbed the military-industrial complex and counseled Congress to be thriftier on defense. But because Ike was so likable — the nation’s golf-playing uncle — nobody paid him much attention. Men of Eisenhower’s integrity deserved better.
Still, Eisenhower was no saint. During World War II, in between the 319 letters he wrote home to wife Mamie, he found plenty of time for his driver/secretary, Kay Summersby. Eisenhower’s aide denies the rumors of their affair, but the denial is hollow, sacrificing illumination of the man for protection of the legend.
And, of course, as president, his appeasement of Sen. Joe McCarthy, whom he disliked but pandered to, was shameful, something he later came to regret publicly.
Where “Eisenhower” is most interesting is in its examination, in Part 1, of Ike’s rise through the military ranks. His career had virtually stalled out in the ’30s as chief aide to Douglas MacArthur, who considered Eisenhower a good officer but nothing more.
Then came World War II, and through a fortuitous conversion of luck, timing and skill, Eisenhower rose quickly. He was able to see opportunity and seize it.
His complex fate was that the nation honored him for that ability when he was in uniform, but paid little serious attention to it when he occupied the Oval Office.