This blog is a record of the intellectual unfolding of the exploration process we go through at Rethinking Nuclear Weapons. It is a place to talk about research, ruminate, try out new approaches. Any similarity to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
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Ike's Bluff
posted 22 January 14 by Ward
I've been reading Ike's Bluff and it is an interesting and remarkably candid exploration of Ike's personality and role in the development of nuclear weapons policy. The author, Evan Thomas, argues that Ike was a midwesterner (folks who seem nice but are famously hard to read) and that he was a great bluffer. The most impressive evidence he gives is that Ike eventually had to stop playing poker in the military. The problem wasn't that he was racking up debts. The problem was that he was winning so often and so much that he was making enemies. He was a really good bluffer. Thomas argues that Ike, who talked on a number of occasions as if he really meant it when he said the United States would use nuclear weapons, was actually bluffing the whole time.

He never really intended to use nuclear weapons from the beginning.

Or at least, that's what Thomas says. But the problem that Thomas has to confront is that Eisenhower is so good at keeping his cards close to his chest that although there's no evidence that Ike would really have used nuclear weapons, there is also no evidence that he was actually bluffing. Ike was a warrior, he believed in the power of war fighting and the moral goodness that could come from going to war. (See, for example, Ike's Crusade in Europe.)

So although there is a great deal of fascinating medical information--a lot about Ike's health and the difficulties he overcame--and a lot of information about his temper, which was not publicized during his presidency (Ike once threw a nine iron at his doctor, whom he was golfing with, and hurt his leg pretty badly), and information about Ike's temper (he used to scream at the people who worked for him), and a great deal about his socializing with his buddies (Ike loved playing golf, loved playing bridge and had a regular game), the fundamental claim of the book isn't proved.

This book has a lot of interesting detail about Eisenhower, but the central contention--that Eisenhower would not really have ever used nuclear weapons--is unproved.