Ike and McCarthy

Ike and McCarthy

Dwight Eisenhower’s Secret Campaign against Joseph McCarthy

David A. Nichols

Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017, 400 pages

Book Review published on: September 1, 2017

David Nichols, an eminent Eisenhower scholar, offers a new interpretation of President Dwight Eisenhower’s role in the fall of Joseph McCarthy in his new work, Ike and McCarthy. Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anticommunist campaign was part of the second Red Scare that took place in the late 1940s and continued through the 1950s. McCarthy came to prominence when he claimed that he possessed a list of over two hundred U.S. State Department personnel who were in league with the Soviet Union. His anti-Communist campaign ended when he investigated Communist subversion in the U.S. Army. These Army-McCarthy hearings eventually caused the Senate to censure McCarthy and became a part of his downfall. Nichols’s book argues that Eisenhower leveraged the Army-McCarthy hearings as a way to ensure that the American people could see the tactics that McCarthy used to distort testimony and badger witnesses in order to create an impression of validity of his investigation.

The conflict between McCarthy and Eisenhower began when Eisenhower was campaigning in his first election in 1952. Then presidential candidate Eisenhower traveled to Wisconsin to deliver a speech. In the prepared text, Eisenhower planned to speak about Gen. George Marshall, whom McCarthy in 1951 claimed was a traitor due to the Communist victory in China. Many campaign aides expected Eisenhower to mention Marshall as a way to show the candidate’s refusal to bow down to McCarthy; however, Eisenhower did not mention Marshall. Another person who Eisenhower did not mention in his Wisconsin stump speeches was McCarthy, who was running for senate reelection. Nichols argues that the fact that Eisenhower did not mention him was indicative of how Eisenhower handled McCarthy in office; he wanted to operate out of the public spotlight and not bring any additional attention to the senator and his tactics.

Although the book focuses on McCarthy and Eisenhower, Nichols does not disregard the broader context. His narrative provides the reader insight into the political and social aspects of the early Cold War and the Red Scare of the 1950s. He effectively displays the personal implications of being a witness in a McCarthy hearing. Witnesses called to testify for the senator could find their lives ruined because of their answers or their past affiliations. Nichols’s work makes clear the swift change in the U.S. perception of the Soviet Union from the late 1930s and 1940s to the post-World War II period. Many people who associated with socialist-leaning groups in their youth in the 1930s or 1940s now found their professional and personal lives under great scrutiny, not for illegal actions, but for questionable associations.

Nichols’s prose is engaging and his coverage of the material is in depth. However, one of the problems with the manuscript is its subject. Since it was a campaign that Eisenhower orchestrated behind the scenes, and he did not want much attention drawn to his efforts, there is little in the way of documentation or rigorous planning. This requires Nichols to make some assertions with implication and not evidence.

This work is effective in uncovering Eisenhower’s role in McCarthy’s downfall. Eisenhower’s plan to allow the hubris of McCarthy to lead the senator into disastrous situations worked. However, this required patience and an understanding that sometimes doing nothing and allowing a situation to develop is better than actively trying to change it. The work provides an important addition to the understanding of this period and the Red Scare of the 1950s.

Book Review written by: Gates M. Brown, PhD, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas