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Character Sketches

Character Sketches
Chapter 37: The Eisenhower Era, 1952 - 1960


Joseph McCarthy (1908 - 1957)

McCarthy was the demagogic Wisconsin senator whose name has entered the dictionary as a synonym for exaggerated and irresponsible attacks on others reputations.

He began his career as a small-time Wisconsin judge before serving as an intelligence officer in World War II. McCarthy never saw military action and resigned before the war was over, but he later fabricated the story that, as tail-gunner Joe, he had been wounded in air battles.

Before he launched his anticommunist crusade, McCarthy was primarily known in the Senate for his personal rudeness and for backing the soft-drink industry. McCarthys speeches attacking alleged communists in government were nothing new, but his constant claim to have evidence (which somehow never appeared) kept him always on the offensive. McCarthy was loud, vulgar, boisterous, and self-promoting. He lied so constantly and grandly that no one knew when he was telling the truth, perhaps not even himself.

Quote: [General Marshall] is part of a conspiracy so immense and in infamy so black as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.[There is] a pattern which finds his decisions maintained with great stubbornness and skill, always and invariably serving the world policy of the Kremlin. (1951)

REFERENCES: Arthur Herman, Joseph McCarthy (1999); Richard Rovere, Senator Joe McCarthy (1959).


John Foster Dulles (1888 - 1959)

Dulles was Eisenhowers secretary of state and a leading architect of American strategy in the Cold War.

The son of a New York Presbyterian minister, Dulles grew up under strong religious influences, which stayed with him all his life. His maternal grandfather, John Watson Foster, had been secretary of state under Benjamin Harrison, and Dulles met men like William Taft, Andrew Carnegie, and Bernard Baruch when they visited his father.

Dulles served in the American delegation at Versailles but in the 1930s became the leading Republican expert on foreign policy. In 1936 he made a controversial speech that expressed sympathy for Germany and appeared to welcome Nazism. Dulless brother Allen was a top American intelligence officer in World War II and later head of the CIA.

Always a controversial personality, Dulles expressed firm opinions and engaged in moral posturing that grated on many people, including Churchill and Eisenhower, but he often won them over by the force of his character and intelligence.

Quote: Some say we were brought to the verge of war. Of course we were brought to the verge of war.If you try to run away from it, if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost. (1956)

REFERENCE: Leonard Mosely, Dulles (1978).


Dwight David Eisenhower (1890 - 1969)

Eisenhowers rise from obscure colonel to supreme Allied commander in World War II was spectacular, but Marshall and others had long taken note of his talents and marked him for future advancement.

His parents were basically of middle-class background, but at the time of Eisenhowers birth, his father had been laid off, and the family had temporarily moved from Abilene, Kansas, to Denison, Texas, where Ike was born.

Eisenhower and George Patton were both reprimanded for urging the use of tanks in World War I. During his World War II years in Europe, Ike spent much time with his driver, Kay Summersby, leading to rumors that he and Mamie planned to divorce.

His excellent personal relations with Soviet Marshal Zhukov gave Eisenhower a different view of the Russians and led him to seek personal contacts with them.

Before the 1952 campaign he tried to teach Nixon how to fish and was disappointed when his running mate proved unwilling or unable to learn the sport.

Quote: My first day at the Presidents desk. Plenty of worries and difficult problems. But such has been my portion for a long time. The result is that this seems (today) like a continuation of all Ive been doing since July 1941even before that. (Diary entry, January 1953)

REFERENCE: Stephen Ambrose, Eisenhower [2 vols.] (1983, 1984).


Rosa Parks (1913 )

Parks is the black seamstress whose refusal to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 5, 1955, set off a bus boycott and the beginning of the civil rights movement.

Even though she took her action on her own, Parks had previous acquaintance with black protest ideas and leaders. As a young woman, she had tried to organize an NAACP youth chapter in Montgomery, though without success. She had met A. Philip Randolph and Roy Wilkins and knew black leaders in Montgomery. She was also a leader in her local church, St. Paul AME church.

She had planned ahead that she was going to sit in the front of the bus that day and refuse to move. After her arrest, she went to E. D. Nixon, head of the local Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, who circulated leaflets calling for the wider protest.

Parks worked with the civil rights movement for years. She moved to Detroit in 1967 and remained active in black causes.

Quote: I just decided I was not going to be moved out of that seat. (Interview, 1978)

REFERENCE: Douglas Brinkley, Rosa Parks (2000).


Elvis Aron Presley (1935 - 1977)

Presley was the rock-and-roll star who helped transform American popular musical styles in the 1950s and after.

Presley grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, where he learned both gospel music and black blues music. His first recordings were done for Sam Phillips, a producer who had been looking for a white singer who sounded like a black man. After signing a contract with RCA Victor in 1955, his career came under the control of Colonel Tom Parker, who promoted him into a national phenomenon.

Presleys sexually suggestive style led to many protests from parents and conservative groups, as a result of which he was shown only from the waist up in his first television appearance in 1956. Presleys thirty-three movies were nearly as popular as his records, and his drafting into the army in 1960 was treated as a major event. After his death, his home in Memphis became a virtual pilgrimage shrine for his fans.

Quote: Please, Mr. Sholes, dont make me stand still. If I cant move I cant sing. (To a record producer, 1954)

REFERENCE: Albert Harry Goldman, Elvis (1981).



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