“Three Days In January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission” by Bret Baier is a very informative book. Readers learn about the time, not by being pounded over the head with facts and figures, but through the personalities themselves. The issues discussed in the book come right out of today’s headlines.
Mr. Baier is the chief political anchor for Fox News Channel and the anchor and executive editor of “Special Report with Bret Baier.” What is fascinating is how he takes readers on a journey of the time period between Eisenhower’s last days in office and John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. The book also reflects on the influences in his life from growing up in Kansas to the being supreme commander during World War II to the election of 1952.
The book opens with a meeting on Dec. 6, 1960, between outgoing President Eisenhower and the President-elect JFK. Thinking Kennedy too green, he dismissed the younger Kennedy as ineffective. JFK with his charm, young family and ready to implement the New Frontier was the direct opposite of the older and less flamboyant Dwight Eisenhower.
“The media storm around Kennedy was so effective and biased it swept the general public up in its wave,” Baier said. “People were persuaded that Eisenhower was nothing more than a historical artifact.”
The book also compares Eisenhower to America’s first president, George Washington. They shared the same qualities of being good listeners, reflective, confident, persuasive and understanding the larger picture.
They “were kindred spirits,” Baier said. “Both were generals who did not seek out the public limelight, but eventually chose to run for president. They wanted to empower people. What Washington expressed in his farewell address resonated with Eisenhower, the need to protect the freedoms of Americans.”
He describes the similarities between past and present candidates: “Both are outsiders, non-politicians. In fact, Eisenhower was the last one before Trump. They are unconventional Republicans, despise labels, despise political ideology, and operated out of patriotic feelings. The difference is in tone, tenor and how they communicate.”
Eisenhower favored practical tacticians, a matter of getting people who could get things done. Sound familiar?
“I describe in the book how Eisenhower had picked a cabinet of eight millionaires and a plumber, the Secretary of Labor Martin Durkin,” Baier said. “He also chose as his secretary of defense, Charlie Wilson, the former CEO of General Motors, and businessman George Humphrey as secretary of the treasury. The one contrast was that he did not have any other military people in the cabinet, other than himself.”
Baier explained that the reason for not having any other military people was that “he did not want it to look like a take over of the military or a war cabinet. He was a man who craved peace.”
It seems that the former president would agree that anyone who has been to war himself knows what it is like. They are probably the most reluctant to send troops into war.
This book shows how Eisenhower in his Farewell Address wanted to provide a blueprint on where America should be headed and a warning to President-elect Kennedy.
“I wrote the dedication of the book to my sons, hoping they and their generation would allow history to inform their decisions in the future,” Baier said. “For example, the Cold War, when he attempted to soften the hard line with Russia. He wanted to reduce the inflammatory rhetoric constantly tempering his words about common values built from within rather than based on abhorrence of the other.
“Yet, he was not naïve, and felt we should have our eyes wide open. The advice he gave to Kennedy could apply to Donald Trump today. ‘Don’t go to any meeting with the Russians too early; get your sea legs first. Otherwise you will be eaten alive.’”
Baier summarizes the speech by describing Eisenhower as “a whistle-blower.”
“He strove a balance between military strength and domestic needs,” the author said. “If America should get involved in a crisis, we should use overwhelming force, but there is no need to get involved everywhere in the world. Future presidents should have a balance, listening to dissenting views, and work in a bipartisan way to get things done.”
This is a masterful piece of history in the understanding of President Eisenhower. It is a gripping read with a lot of detailed facts that are both interesting and informative — but definitely not boring.