The People Behind the Papers
Twenty-five years is a long time to sift through one man's stuff. But if you're history professor Louis Galambos, the man is Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the stuff is the trove of official Eisenhower papers awaiting publication, 25 years still leaves you four years from completion of the project.
"I'm in print as saying that Eisenhower is a 20th-century man and his papers should be out by the end of the 20th century," Galambos says. He and his co-editor, Daun van Ee, plan to meet that deadline. They are preparing the last four volumes of the 21 that will comprise The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, published by Johns Hopkins University Press.
The university began working on the Eisenhower papers in 1963. Eisenhower selected Hopkins for several reasons, says Galambos. That Eisenhower's brother, Milton, had been president of the university certainly didn't hurt. But Dwight had other considerations: "He wanted a distinguished research university that would be beyond the influence of politics. The decisions would be made on scholarly, not political, grounds. That was probably his first consideration."
The first five volumes were edited by Alfred D. Chandler. Galambos began working on the project in 1971; van Ee and executive editor Elizabeth Hughes joined a few years later.
The sheer volume of material is staggering. Says van Ee, "For volumes seven through nine, I estimate we looked at 30 million pieces of paper. Eisenhower was a dedicated record-keeper." The records include official documents, personal papers, drafts of written documents, and photographs.
For each volume, the editors first must collect the material. This sometimes means tracking down documents held in other archives, at the Defense Department, for example, or the records of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). They select the material they consider relevant, then catalog, annotate, index, and copyedit each piece. Most of the work takes place in two modest rooms on B-level of the Eisenhower Library at Homewood.
To say the least, Galambos and van Ee now carry in their minds comprehensive portraits of Eisenhower. "I've learned a lot about leadership," Galambos says. "He was good." Through the papers, the editors have watched Eisenhower handle his awesome command responsibilities in World War II, then educate himself in what he needed to know to become U.S. president. Says Galambos, "At Columbia [where Eisenhower served as university president from 1948-1950], he started learning about domestic policy, which he didn't know that much about, looking forward to possibly being president. He made himself what he needed to be."
Eisenhower was tough, ambitious, and shrewd, say Galambos and van Ee. "One of the characteristics of a successful person is he doesn't get into the trouble that others do," Galambos says-- i.e.,Vietnam. Eisenhower, van Ee says, wanted nothing to do with a war that might not be winnable, would be fought without allies, and would enjoy little domestic support. Many influential Americans thought the U.S. should come to the aid of France as it fought the Viet Minh in the early 1950s for control of Vietnam, says Galambos. "But he wasn't going to go to war to prop up a tottering colonial empire."
The editors have concluded that as effective as Eisenhower was as a leader, as president he had problems dealing with civil rights and the Joseph McCarthy anti-Communist witch-hunt. Regarding the former, says Galambos, "He had trouble understanding the issue, and figuring out solutions that fit how he thought government policy should work. It required a fundamental change in how people looked at things. He found it hard to believe that public policy could change first, attitudes second. Ike liked compromise, and this issue required confrontation."
Galambos and van Ee disagree amiably concerning McCarthy. Van Ee thinks Eisenhower was correct in keeping the presidency above the tawdry spectacle of the McCarthy hearings and letting the Wisconsin senator eventually ruin himself. Galambos believes that Eisenhower should have been more assertive in opposing McCarthy, especially in defense of his military mentor, General George C. Marshall. "He should have said things he didn't say," Galambos adds. "He should have expressed things that the American people were thinking."
Because many documents pertain to military and intelligence affairs, the editors have wrestled with secrecy issues. A small amount of material has yet to be declassified by the U.S. government or other organizations. Some material has been reclassified after its publication, leading to the ironic situation of officials consulting the published volumes to examine documents that they are forbidden to view in the original.
After 2001, when the last of the volumes appear, what will the editors do with their time? Galambos smiles and says, "I'll be in my 70s. It's a bigger problem for Daun." Van Ee, who is 50, doesn't know what his next project will be, but it won't involve studying another president. After 26 years, he says, it will be time for something new.
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