What’s Not to Like About Ike

Dwight Eisenhower seemed like a grandfatherly kind of person to someone growing up in the decade of the 1950s. It all seemed so right to me, as my friends and I played baseball on nearby sandlots or cowboys and Indians [sic] in the woods that dotted our neighborhood. Working as a paperboy during the end of that decade, I could keep tabs on Ike as he played golf in Newport, Rhode Island, while on a visit to the state. Besides my family’s clothing store going out of business during a recession, there was not much to worry about. My Boy Scout troop was a natural with activities like camping, hiking, and outdoor skill building that went along with our informal play. My paper route, a seven-day-a-week affair, kept me in the money and I could indulge in whatever hobby or sport that suited me. Visits to a local missile site and to an aircraft carrier at Quonset Naval Air Station with the Boy Scouts seemed entirely normal to me.

Although the 50s were generally a somnambulant era, there were seismic forces below and above the surface that would explode in the decade of the 1960s. The 50s weren’t as staid as they seemed, with a mass movement for civil rights that accompanied Brown V. Board of Education and the Birmingham bus boycott. Closer to home, and unknown to me, or to the vast majority of others, were the ongoing nonviolent protests at the nuclear submarine base and manufacturing facility in New London, Connecticut. There were people going to federal prison during that time, including women, who far outpaced the nascent feminist movement in radicalism and nonviolence. The peace collective that protested in New London was located in nearby Voluntown, Connecticut, which would become the scene of a violent encounter from an armed right-wing group. How much do times actually change?

The late David Halberstam’s The Fifties  (1993) is a good place to start for a sweeping view of the decade of the 1950s and the change it presaged.

But, beyond the ball fields and paper routes, hobbies and a carefree life, was the reality of what the US did in the larger world. That was a post-World War II phenomenon, and it began just after the war’s conference at Yalta and escalated exponentially. Here’s an up-to-date accounting (January 5, 2022) of the result of the direct line from Yalta to the current conflicts with Russia, the Ukraine, and Syria, with former Pentagon advisor Douglas Macgregor interviewed by Aron Maté at the Grayzone.

But going back in time again, back to the 1950s and 1960s, and especially in the 1950s, were John Dulles heading the State Department and Allen Dulles at the CIA. The list of violent interventions and propaganda campaigns by the US against any government or political movement in nation after nation are mind-boggling!  Even mildly liberal movements and governments fell under the close scrutiny of the US. Newspapers were compromised by CIA dirty tricks and the funding of newspaper writers, labor unions were sabotaged, and if the desired change toward a capitalist system was not achieved, then violence was applied across the globe.

The move toward world domination was a joint effort of many allies, but the big man and/or woman on campus was the US.

Just as the revolving door exists today between US government agencies and massive corporations, so did those interests exist in the 1950s, with the Dulles brothers’ involvement in the fruit industry in the US and that industry’s exploitation of workers in countries those brothers sought to destabilize or bring down. “Follow the money” was not new to Watergate!

The money and corporations that backed Trump are already behind him again as this Salon article delineates in “The corporations behind Trump’s coup are back at it,” (January 6, 2022). The list of major Trump backers in both 2016 and 2020 were many. A simple task like replacing a pair of running shoes became difficult because so many athletic shoe manufacturers had Trump’s back. It is difficult to imagine just how bizarre an athletic shoe company is in backing the king of sloth.

It may be impossible to calculate the cost of the nefarious interventions that led to the death or removal of leaders and ruling parties in scores of nations in the 50s and 60s. The people of these targeted nations had the shit kicked out of them, or worse. This was what it meant when Salvador Allende and the Chilean economy were made to “scream.” Present-day Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and others are made to scream. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen are made to scream. The list is almost never-ending, as it was in the 50s and 60s. While there were social welfare programs in the US such as Medicare and Social Security, and a social-welfare safety net with its ever-present gaping funding holes that were often given with jaundiced and racist intent, even a casual observer can imagine what fully funded programs of social uplift could have done to change the social, economic, and political fabric of the nation. We can make a comparison with the obscene funding of the so-called defense industry today, with trillions of dollars funneled into a bottomless pit that became even deeper after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Almost nothing escaped the grasp of the US during the 50s and 60s. There was an assassination in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, regime change in Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Vietnam, Chile and a host of other nations across the globe and on most continents. This wasn’t a plan to make the world safe for democracy, but rather an often egregiously violent plan to make the world safe for capitalism and the movement of capital in the interests of the US and US-based corporations. While the US talked a good show about promoting democracy around the world, it funded much mayhem to bring the world economy and political systems in line with US interests. Places like Indonesia, Guatemala, Chile and elsewhere witnessed blood, murder, and ongoing repression were the order of the day. Countries such as El Salvador saw death squads unleashed, most often having been trained at various sites in the US, sent back to their home countries and unleashed like rabid dogs on the people of that nation and others. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration unleashed the Contras, “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers,” on the people of Nicaragua and trashed the rules of war vis-à-vis the sanctity of innocent civilians. It was all a feeding frenzy of violence and we can vividly see its results at the US-Mexico border today with throngs of people seeking sanctuary from many of the failed states that US policy underwrote.

During the US war in Southeast Asia, I often wondered how long the US could keep the money flowing to that war. The answer is probably forever, just as the US fights and abandons today’s forever wars. Money is no bar to US interventions. The interests of the military-industrial-financial sectors of the economy like nothing better than keeping the money and profits flowing.

The $64,000 question is now, will the repression that has been foisted outside of our borders and on people of color in the US be visited on more groups of people? Certainly, those on the left need to keep more than a finger to the wind when US political prisoners, who told the dirty secrets of empire, are hounded relentlessly. January 6, 2021, needs to be held up like a political banner of the past as a warning sign. The combination of empire, greed, and meanness are unrelenting to all those who care to listen and don’t measure life in consumer goods.


Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).