In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Dwight Eisenhower

  • Introduction

Military History Dwight Eisenhower
Benjamin Greene
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0207


Assessments of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s performance as the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II and the nation’s thirty-fourth president have evolved across the more than seventy-five years from the conclusion of World War II in 1945 to the dedication in 2020 of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, DC. Historians have sought to explain Eisenhower’s unlikely rise from his modest upbringing in Abilene, Kansas, to his ascendance to command of western allies in the European theater. Selected over several senior officers in 1942 to command the invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch), Eisenhower initially experienced a series of setbacks and controversies resulting from inexperienced troops, incompetent subordinate leaders, a formidable enemy, and political deals with leaders of Vichy France. Although historians continue to debate his decisions regarding command and strategy in the European theater, they generally praise Eisenhower’s ability to maintain the western alliance amid national rivalries, professional jealousies, strong personalities, and competing political ambitions. Assessments of Eisenhower’s performance as president have undergone a remarkable transformation. Initially ranked in 1961 near the bottom in assessments of presidential leadership, he currently appears within the top tier. Initial accounts in the 1960s portrayed Eisenhower as a bumbling, docile president who appeared to be out of touch with the basic policies and operations of his administration. He appeared unwilling to address the major issues confronting American society, and to defer to his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, on matters of foreign policy and national security. For his critics, Eisenhower perilously, inflexibly, and imprudently relied upon the superiority of the nation’s nuclear arsenal to contain communist expansion, then allowed the Soviet Union to beat the United States into space and create a missile gap. Scholars collectively labeled “Eisenhower Revisionists” assessing declassified documents beginning in the mid-1970s forged a revised consensus that Eisenhower was clearly thoughtful, informed, and firmly in command of his administration. Moreover, the nation’s nuclear arsenal retained and even strengthened its predominance of power. “Postrevisionist” analysts generally concur that Eisenhower was clearly the dominant decision-maker and developed an effective policy development process, but they question the efficacy of some of his decisions and policies, including his management of crises in this dangerous period of the Cold War, his increased use of covert operations and propaganda, his approach to decolonization, and his efforts to ease tensions and slow the nuclear arms race.

General Accounts

Although much of the scholarship on Dwight D. Eisenhower focuses on either his military career during World War II or his presidency, researchers wishing to examine his entire life have several available types of sources to consult. Eisenhower and those close to him wrote several memoirs that provide firsthand accounts of prominent people and controversial policies and events. Eisenhower’s wartime and presidential staffs retained copies of his correspondence, and wrote and preserved detailed records of his meetings. Many of these records are available through various digitized and printed collections. A few enterprising scholars have crafted biographies of varying lengths that examine Eisenhower’s entire life. Several important anthologies include chapters that consider various periods in his life.

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