In 1952, with the Cold War beginning and a hot war raging in Korea, American voters sought a leader whose foreign policy could bring peace and security. Toward that end, they elected war hero Dwight Eisenhower as their president. With an escalating nuclear arms race, Ike found he was the first person in history with the power to destroy the world. As Evan Thomas demonstrates in his riveting Ike’s Bluff, the new president’s single most important preoccupation was avoiding war. How he did it, with subtlety and a pragmatic approach, is the focus of the book.
At the heart of Eisenhower’s strategy on nuclear weapons was confidentiality—he was the only person who knew whether he would drop the bomb. His ability to convince the enemies of the U.S. as well as his own supporters that he would use nuclear weapons was, Thomas writes, “a bluff of epic proportions.” To do this required extraordinary patience and self-discipline.
As Thomas points out, “Eisenhower’s critical insight was that nuclear warfare had made war itself the enemy.”
Thomas shows that Eisenhower’s approach to nuclear weapons would have worked only for him, a highly respected and popular military hero. As Thomas writes, “Ike was more comfortable as a soldier, yet his greatest victories were the wars he did not fight.”