Ike the Man
His defining personality traits were his optimism, the joy he took in living, and his endless curiosity toward people and things. (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)
He was driven to understand the world around him as a child. He enjoyed card games, exploring his neighborhood, fishing, and hunting. (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)
His friends at West Point nicknamed him Sunny Jim (a cartoon character at the time) for his perennial optimism. (Mieczkowski, Eisenhower’s Sputnik Moment)
He believed that optimism was a key to success and sought to raise his staff’s spirits. He would say, “Why can't our people have a grin on their face instead of a frown?”
He was able to bounce back from disappointment. He did not dwell on setbacks, like the 1958 midterms or the U2 Incident. Instead, he accepted the bad news, did not dwell on it, and pushed forward.
He was even optimistic on his deathbed, telling Nixon that he believed he would recover. (Johnson, Eisenhower: A Life)
His optimism was not weakness. Indeed, in the words of biographer Michael Korda, “A man who has successfully commanded millions of men in battle, who has made the most difficult and far-reaching military decision of all time, and who accepted the formal surrender of Nazi Germany, must have a core of steel; a streak of ruthlessness; the ability to make cold, hard, objective decisions; and an imperial sense of command, however well disguised they may be by a big grin and a firm handshake.” (Korda, Eisenhower: An American Hero)
He would put people at ease. A characteristic story is when Sergeant McKeough, who had served with Ike in the interwar Army, was assigned to his staff in Washington following Pearl Harbor. McKeough met Ike with military professionalism, standing at attention and giving a salute. “But he didn’t salute to me. He stuck out his hand and said ‘Hello, Mickey, sure am glad to see you again.’” (Pipes, Ike’s Final Battle)
He rarely doubted himself and was secure in his self-image. (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)
He had confidence in himself and in his judgment, especially after World War II. Emotionally and intellectually secure, he felt self-assured meeting with heads of state and royalty from around the world. (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)
His confidence allowed him to analyze failures, such as mistakes during the campaigns in North Africa and Sicily. His self-criticism was a positive experience, allowing him to learn and improve his performance. (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)
The greater the challenge, the more optimistic he became. His iconic smile was a reflexive response to a crisis.
He told his staff that his boxing instructor at West Point “used to hit him clear across the ring.” Unless he "got up smiling every time, the boxing instructor would turn his back and walk out of the room."
He was thin skinned and sensitive to criticism for issues like his strategy during World War II or his economic policy. He was so upset at Truman’s rhetoric during the 1952 campaign that Ike refused to meet with him as president. (Nixon, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon)
Ike liked to be one of the guys. He would conceal his intellectual interests and consciously acted like a “Kansas farm boy” or “simple soldier.” (Ricks, The Generals)
FDR had established Shangri La as a getaway for the First Family. Ike renamed it Camp David, after his father. He said, “Shangri La was just a little fancy for a Kansas farm boy.”
He liked to win, but did not gloat. He reached out to vanquished enemies to get them on his team, such as Germany after World War II or Senator Robert Taft after the 1952 Republican primary. (Pipes, Ike’s Final Battle)
He was usually quick to thank those who helped him.
Ike was a hero-worshipper. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were his heroes. Ike said they were in their own league as presidents. (Thomas, Ike’s Bluff)
He thought education and professional degrees were important. He believed that young men should achieve some career success before getting married. (David Eisenhower, Going Home to Glory)
He advised his grandson, “Don’t be afraid to associate yourself with those who are better than you in some respects. Some call it apple-polishing, but it’s the only way you learn anything. Always try to associate yourself closely with and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you.” (David Eisenhower, Going Home to Glory)
He could occasionally be rude. He failed to show appreciation to speechwriters who pulled all nighters for him. (Mieczkowski, Eisenhower’s Sputnik Moment)
His campaign staff recommended he wear makeup for a television appearance during the 1952 campaign. Ike was not happy and snapped at his male makeup artist, “Were you in the Army?” He believed the profession was not manly. The artist replied, “Yes, sir. Hundred-and-First Airborne, General.” Ike stopped complaining. (Baier, Three Days in January)
Ike actively liked most people. He reserved his hatred for enemies like Adolf Hitler or Joseph McCarthy. He hid his feelings to work effectively if he had a colleague he did not like, such as Bernard Montgomery.
During the war he was only willing to sign autographs for children or for people involved in the war effort. (Susan Eisenhower, Mrs. Ike)
A little girl sent him some lucky coins and said she was praying for him during the war. Ike called her his “little godmother” and became her pen pal. He carried the coins with him and rubbed them when praying. (Pipes, Ike’s Final Battle)
“If I have one instinctive passion in my dealings with others, it is the right of every individual to his or her privacy in heart and mind. Humans are more emotional and sentimental beings than they are logical and intellectual. When, therefore, they are shocked or hurt in their deepest selves, others who love them should, as I see it, stand by but refrain from probing, advising, or even - in a verbal sense - sympathizing.” (Ike, quoted in Susan Eisenhower’s Mrs. Ike)
He organized his desk in a Spartan, neat format. (Baier, Three Days in January)
Ike would say, “You're crazy as hell” when he was surprised with what someone said. (Thomas, Ike’s Bluff)
He enjoyed a joke but disliked it when people tried injecting humor into serious discussions.
He often put the earpiece of his glasses in his mouth when thinking. (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)
Ike said he thought faster than he talked, so his tongue would sometimes get away from him and he wouldn't finish sentences.
He fell asleep quickly, unless there were serious issues on his mind. Then he would stay up and think. (Baier, Three Days in January)
He considered himself a private person. After Ike died, David, his grandson, asked Mamie if she thought she really knew her husband. “I’m not sure anyone did,” she replied. (David Eisenhower, Going Home to Glory)
Ike forgot how to drive by the time he left office. David Eisenhower wrote, “The owner of the Gettysburg Hotel, where Ike and Mamie dined, admitted that he made sure all the parked cars were removed from the front of the hotel to give Ike plenty of room to maneuver.” (David Eisenhower, Going Home to Glory)
Reporters made a list of things Ike hadn't done in at least thirty years after he left office. The list included shopping for clothes, going to a barbershop or a drive in movie. Mamie was offended. But Ike said, “I don't see what's wrong with it. It's all true.” (Susan Eisenhower, Mrs. Ike)
Ike always faced facts. He knew the end was approaching in the late 1960s. He made his own funeral arrangements. (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)
Ike had a bad temper that he fought to control his entire life.
At age ten, Ike wanted to go trick-or-treating with his older brothers on Halloween. His parents said he was too young. Ike’s face turned red. He went outside and punched a tree until his hands were bloody. His father lashed him for his outburst. Ike went to his room and cried. After an hour, his mother, Ida, came in and quoted the Bible, “He that conquereth his own soul is greater than he who taketh the city.” She bandaged his hands and told him that hatred only hurts the person harboring it. Ike would spend the rest of his life saying, “Anger cannot win. It cannot even think straight.” He said this was perhaps the most important conversation and moment of his entire life. (Brooks, The Road to Character)
Ike had a very expressive face that telegraphed his emotions. His eyebrows rose when he disagreed with something. His forehead pinched. Anger caused a vein to bulge in his forehead. During the war, his face would turn red when he talked about the Nazis, but he would lighten up when speaking about the Allies. (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)
He wore brown suits whenever he was in a bad mood. His White House staff learned to fear these outfits. (Thomas, Ike’s Bluff)
One story that showed his temper was when he had to sign a relief bill as president for a bomber pilot who developed a new technique. He was told the bomber had developed the method in his spare time. Ike exploded, “My God, there's no such thing. Those people work 24 hours a day. We all do in the military.” He signed the bill and said, “Goddamn it to hell. Jesus Christ! I hope the son of a bitch dies.” (Mieczkowski, Eisenhower’s Sputnik Moment)
Likes & Dislikes
Ike smoked three packs of cigarettes a day from his time at West Point until after World War II. One aid joked that Ike thought cigarette ashes were good for carpets. He quit cold turkey in 1948. (Smith, Eisenhower in War and Peace)
He loved anything western.
He enjoyed classical music and country music. (Thomas, Ike’s Bluff)
“God Bless America” was one of his favorite songs. (Pipes, Ike’s Final Battle)
He liked fireplaces. (Smith, Eisenhower in War and Peace)
Seven was his lucky number (Baier, Three Days in January)
He never liked cities. His military experience took him away from them. Their social problems were foreign to him. (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)
Ike would interrupt someone who was talking if they said an event happened on the wrong date. It was a fixation.
He disliked dirty jokes, visits from Republican ladies who wore corsages, women who cried, or being physically touched by almost anyone. (Thomas, Ike’s Bluff)
He did not like people who gushed, fakery, or pretentiousness. (Thomas, Ike’s Bluff)
He disliked long cocktail hours because an extended period of drinking made guests hungrier. (Pipes, Ike’s Final Battle)
He enjoyed cooking. He would eat quickly unless it was one of his own creations.
He was afraid of being considered highbrow and had unsophisticated tastes in art, music, and literature. (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)
He scraped his leg at age thirteen. He did not tell anyone and it became infected. His mother, Ida, cared for him until the doctor arrived. The doctor predicted that the leg would have to be amputated. Ike refused such an option, knowing it would end his chance at a career in sports. He placed his brother, Ed, on duty to keep the doctor from his leg as Ike went in and out of consciousness. His doctor said they were making a big mistake. But the swelling went down two days later, and within three weeks, he could walk again. (Eisenhower, At Ease)
Ike played football at West Point until he hurt his knee. His knee bothered him for the rest of his life. In the 1930s he developed chronic back issues. (Susan Eisenhower, Mrs. Ike)
The stress of World War II deteriorated his health. He had difficulty walking and sometimes used crutches to get around when in private in 1944 and 1945. He was occasionally forced to spend a couple days in bed. His ears rang. A cyst on his back caused frequent pain until it was removed, requiring stitches. (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)
He did not like public speaking. It could lead to health issues. (Thomas, Ike’s Bluff)
A heart attack in September 1955 made Ike question whether he should run for reelection. He decided to do so because he believed no other Republican candidate would win the 1956 election and because he was afraid of the rise of Nikita Khrushchev within the Kremlin hierarchy. (Korda, Ike: An American Hero)
As president he often referred to himself as an “old dodo.”
As president he had a bad knee, malaria, tuberculosis, high blood pressure, spinal malformation, shingles, neuritis, a heart attack, a stroke, Crohn’s disease, and bronchitis. He summed it up in his diary by writing “lots of trouble with my insides lately.” (The Eisenhower Diaries)
He died of heart failure on March 28, 1969.
He had a lifelong love of sports, though his enthusiasm exceeded his ability. He played baseball as a kid and played on West Point’s football team until a knee injury ended his career. He said he, “never had such a protracted case of blue devils in my life.” (Mieczkowski, Eisenhower’s Sputnik Moment)
Ike sounded like a football coach when casually talking to troops during the war. That’s because he had coached teams at various army bases in the interwar years. He used sports metaphors to explain orders to his troops like, “Get that ball across the goal line.” The men were thrilled to hear their general talk like them. (Pipes, Ike’s Final Battle)
He learned to play poker from Bob Davis, an older friend in Abilene. The loss of his knee led to poker becoming his hobby for the duration of his time at West Point. He was an excellent poker player who had to stop playing because too many people owed him money. His poker skills proved useful for his presidency when he bluffed that he would use nuclear weapons in order to keep the peace. (Thomas, Ike’s Bluff)
He was a tough partner in bridge. He had little patience for Mamie’s logic. “Why did you play that card?” he would snap. She’d reply, “Because I felt like it!” (Thomas, Ike’s Bluff)
His hobbies included hunting and fishing. These were his favorite subjects for small talk. (Pipes, Ike’s Final Battle)
He was a lifelong golf devotee. He used golf as a way to reduce stress as president. He tried to appear more interested in golf than in his presidential duties so the American people would believe the Cold War was not as dangerous as it appeared. How bad can things be if the president is not even engaged? This reduction of public stress allowed him to reduce military spending, one of his central goals. (Thomas, Ike’s Bluff)
One day Ike badly wanted to play golf but couldn’t because it was raining. He said, “Some days I feel so sorry for myself I could cry.”
He scored his first and only hole-in-one in 1967 during the last golf game he ever played. He called it the “thrill of a lifetime,” helping to put World War II and his presidency into perspective. (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)
He took up painting after the war. He was as conservative in art as he was in politics. He disliked abstract art. (Thomas, Ike’s Bluff)
He read westerns, mysteries, and military history for pleasure. He would not read a book that had a female character, reflecting his preference for male company. (David Eisenhower, Going Home to Glory)
Ike’s favorite movies were “High Noon” and “The Big Country.” (Eisenhower Presidential Library Website)
He watched anything with a cowboy. He was a big fan of Robert Mitchum until the actor was caught with marijuana. (Eisenhower Presidential Library Website)
He watched movies for pure enjoyment. He did not like “message movies.” He never watched a movie about World War II and walked out of “The Longest Day” because he thought it was historically inaccurate. (David Eisenhower, Going Home to Glory)
After World War II, Ike became friends with a group of wealthy individuals. They included “William E. Robinson, a New York Herald Tribune executive and later president of Coca-Cola; Ellis D. Slater, president of Frankfort Distillers; Clifford Roberts, an investment banker and Augusta National Golf Club chairman; W. Alton Jones, head of the Cities Service oil company; and George E. Allen, a lawyer-financier-lobbyist.” (Beschloss, The Gang that Always Liked Ike)
The Gang was able to travel at short notice whenever Ike wanted to relax.
Businessmen easily impressed him. They admired him for his role in World War II.
Most of the Gang were moderate Republicans who helped convince Ike to run for president in 1952. (Johnson, Eisenhower: A Life)
The Gang usually came to Ike’s home because he and Mamie liked being together. He usually did not go out for a “boy’s night.”
Crusade in Europe (1948) was his memoir from World War II. It was modeled on Ulysses Grant’s Memoirs. It was considered among the better and less biased memoirs to come from an Allied leader.
Mandate for Change (1964) and Waging Peace (1965) covered his presidency. They received mixed reviews and were criticized for emphasizing technical detail over drama.
At Ease: Stories I tell to Friends (1967) focused on his life before World War II and his time between the war and his presidency.
Ike was a career military man and spoke like one. Like his close friends, George Patton and Walter Smith, he swore proficiently. For instance, when upset with a general in Italy, he asked, “For God’s sake, Mike, how’d you get your troops so fucked up?” (Ricks, The Generals)
However, he did not swear in front of women and did not think they should swear. He also believed that, while it was appropriate for women to show their ankles in public, they should keep their knees covered. (David Eisenhower, Going Home to Glory)
This reflects the fact that he was born in 1890 and grew up in a family of boys with no feminine influence (except his mother). He was uncomfortable around women, except on an individual basis, and preferred men’s company. Mamie said Ike “never had the slightest notion of how to live with women. His idea of affection was a pinch and a kick.” (David Eisenhower, Going Home to Glory)
He did not think middle aged women were “decrepit,” like some of his male peers. He frequently spoke in terms of himself and his wife as if one entity. “Mamie and I.” He dealt with a lot of household issues, like cooking, unlike many men of his generation. (Susan Eisenhower, Mrs. Ike)
He was shy around women, especially with intimate matters. Mamie described him as sentimental and “a puppy dog in private… a sweetheart.” (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)
Core Values and Sense of Duty
Ike liked to be thought of as a moral person. (Thomas, Ike’s Bluff)
He had a plaque on his desk that read, “Gently in manner, strong in deed.” This was his core philosophy. He wanted to project calm between his countrymen and between nations so rival factions could learn to coexist and thrive together. (Brooks, The Road to Character)
He valued teamwork, which was useful in an army, and especially, as the leader of a coalition like the Allies. This was partly influenced by his time as an army football coach.
He believed in balance. He used the word several times in his Farewell Address, saying how the nation needed to balance several priorities, such as “balance between public and private economy” to gain the maximum benefit and prevent extremism. His belief in balance allowed him to forge a centrist middle ground in American politics.
Ike believed in reason and logic, not emotions, but feared people more often let their emotions guide them. (Eisenhower and King)
He learned to dislike selfishness and value self control from his mother, who quoted the Bible to him when he was ten years old, “He who conquereth his own soul is greater than he who taketh the city.” (Eisenhower and King)
Ike saw selfishness as humanity’s original sin. An individual’s mission was to control this selfishness and fulfill their duty to others. He judged people by how much they cared about others and not just themselves. (Eisenhower and King)
This led to his belief in duty, his most important value. He liked to quote Robert E Lee: “Duty is the most beautiful word in the English language.”
He could be flattered or manipulated by being told it was his duty. (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)
He believed that duty meant working toward the benefit of others, instead of just oneself.
He felt that citizenship meant obligations of duty in exchange for the privileges of being an American. (David Eisenhower, Going Home to Glory)
He had contempt for those who failed to do their duty, such as when Britain’s King Edward abdicated the throne or when Lyndon Johnson announced he was not running for reelection despite being Commander in Chief during the Vietnam War. (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)
He wrote to Mamie during World War II, “No man can always be right. So the struggle is to do one’s best, to keep the brain and conscience clear; never to be swayed by unworthy motives or inconsequential reasons, but to strive to unearth the basic factors involved and then do one’s duty. When you remember me in your prayers, that’s what I want - always to do my duty to the extreme limit of my ability.” (Eisenhower and King)
He believed people needed capitalism and financial incentives to work and not be lazy. Socialism would allow people to engage in their natural laziness.
Ike believed wars happened because certain nations fail to restrain their innate selfishness, leading to a desire for conquest. (Eisenhower and King)
He saw Hitler’s desire for world domination as the ultimate expression of selfishness and represented the diametric opposite of his worldview.
He disagreed with Rousseau and philosophers of the French Revolution that assumed people were inherently good but were corrupted by modernity. Ike accepted that people were flawed and believed that the world was improvable, but not perfectible. (Pipes, Ike’s Final Battle)