- from Jimmy Carter and American Fantasy: Psychohistorical Explorations (Edited by Lloyd deMause and Henry Ebel); pp. 24-25 [Chapter One—Jimmy Carter and American Fantasy by LLOYD DE MAUSE (The Personality of Presidents)]: One childhood . . . stands out among those of all the Presidents for not having included a distancing mother: that of Dwight Eisenhower. Although no biographer has studied his childhood, scattered through his writings are enough references to his early years to make the psychohistorian prick up his ears and suspect that something was different here. Although he grew up at the turn of the century, and his father’s occasional “application of leather” was similar to other families of the time, he had a most unusual mother, one whose closeness, warmth, consistency and real happiness with herself and her children was unique among the mothers of Presidents. Eisenhower’s stories about her, even his use of adjectives, are quite unlike any other autobiographical writing I have encountered in any world leader. He speaks of her as “warm,” “gentle,” “serene,” “tolerant,” with “an open smile”—and gives enough detailed incidents to assure one that this is not a reaction formation. When she was put upon by others, she was capable of being thoroughly outraged and doing something about it (once, having been cheated out of something, she began to study law at home), and in general seemed unusually successful in “making life happy and meaningful for a family of eight,” spending “many hours a day” with the children. [Dwight D. Eisenhower. At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends. Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1967, pp. 32-37, 76.] Her photographs are the only ones I have yet discovered in which the mother of a President is actually smiling (Eisenhower, too, is unique in smiling in his boyhood pictures, one happy face among his pained schoolboy comrades).
This unusual inner happiness made Eisenhower an oddball throughout his military career, from his early run-ins with the authoritarian MacArthur to his opposition to the rest of the military chiefs during World War Two with respect to the African landings (Eisenhower’s plan for immediate invasion of France, which could have cut the war short by two years, was firmly overruled by Churchill).* But it was as President that Eisenhower was unique . . . . Whereas other Presidents responded to the growing pressures of group-fantasy by finding a real war to act out, Eisenhower resisted all efforts to get him to be the usual fantasy leader. Although his political views were hardly unconventional, someplace deep inside him he found a core of maturity, and sense of personal worth, that enabled him to think rather than act when the majority of the country was saying: “We feel like we’re dying—you must do something to relieve our fears.” In fact, when he did act at the peak of two fantasy cycles, he did so in a way that at once relieved the anxieties by seeming to take war-like action but in no way actually led to war. The first was in 1955, when Congress—stung by his refusal to get into Indo-China—gave him a formal war-power resolution over Formosa, hoping he would get into a fight with China. But although Eisenhower spoke tough, he actually used U.S. forces only to remove Nationalist troops from the islands that were under contention, thus ending the crisis. And when the birth peak came again in 1958, he moved troops in and out of sleepy Lebanon in such a way as to make it appear that we had somehow won a victory against Communism. He did not achieve this war-free record easily—McCarthy was the spokesman of our frustration with Eisenhower’s maturity—but he did so effectively. The point to remember is that it was one happy mother in Abilene, Kansas who, fifty years earlier, wrote the script for this most peaceful decade on the American historical stage.
* Peter Lyon. Eisenhower: Portrait of the Hero. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1974, pp. 78, 128ff.