What interested me in this book is the tendency for Eisenhower to be adopted by both Republican and Democrat leaders and a somewhat mythological figure from recent American history. As the authors point out, there are military and political biographies of Eisenhower but no detailed account of his personal faith. As a pacifist and critic of jingoism and militarism, I have an uneasy relationship with the General, yet I also admire the statement in his Chance for Peace speech, where he says, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
The book follows a chronological path, from his childhood, through early career and military promotions, to becoming president, and converting to Protestant Christianity. Following chapters discuss the influence of his faith upon his policy positions and leadership.
I was especially interested in the two chapters that provide more editorial arrangement: Spiritual Weapons for the Cold War and Spiritual Weapons for Civil Rights. The naming of these chapters indicates an entanglement of ideological and theological agendas of the authorship team (discussed below).
The contrast between the USSR and America is a simplification that between secularism and a nation who is founded on faith in God and morality. Supporting the addition of “Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and adding the words “In God We Trust” to the nation’s paper currency serve as symbols of his commitment to the spiritual identity of the country. Descriptions of an idyllic American age, such as economic boom and exhilarating baseball, are juxtaposed with the human rights abuses and military threats happening from within the USSR.
The presentation of Eisenhower’s involvement in civil rights is described primarily through his relationship with Billy Graham, with brief mention of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. . While Eisenhower is presented as an advocate for African-American civil rights, he is a incrementalist and dismissive of legal challenges to secure rights.
The authors position Eisenhower as one who believes that social change should happen under the guidance of spiritual leaders, especially Christian evangelicals. Quoting another biographer, they say that “Ike had ‘little faith in legislation as a vehicle for promoting better race relations’.”. Nothing is mentioned of his views on civil rights for other racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual diversities, nor his relationship with intelligence agencies conducting domestic surveillance or influence. Overall, this chapter lacks the depth of others as it does not describe his motivations or convictions, but rather his mere presence at pivotal moments in 20th century American history.
*The authorship team reflects the leadership of Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization providing legal counsel and resources for what they deem issues of religious freedom (broadly identifiable as conservative American Evangelical issues), which does seem to influence their representation of Eisenhower’s faith and application to American politics and society. This book seems like an attempt to define the president as a religious and political political patron for their ideological camp.
Overall, this book would be an interesting read for a group or individual looking at how faith is lived in the public sphere. While it does engage in some hagiography, there is enough citation and historical material to connect with other critical biographies and social commentary. Beware the bias, as in anything, for an accessible biography on one a pivotal leader of the 20th century.