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Ike's troop surge

"Ike's troop surge" Continued...

Issue: "Tough love," Aug. 18, 2007

WORLD: What changed Eisenhower's view?

PIPES: In a word, Faubus. Eisenhower became increasingly exasperated with the Arkansas governor. On Sept. 14, the two men met at Newport, R.I., where Ike was vacationing. In very stern terms, Ike told the governor that he should go back to Arkansas and change the orders of the National Guard to protect the African-American kids and let them in the school. But when the governor returned home, he did nothing. When the federal court issued an injunction against Faubus, he simply withdrew the troops entirely. The kids were now at the mercy of the mob. And Ike had finally had enough.

WORLD: So Eisenhower dispatched U.S. Army troops to Little Rock. What happened?

PIPES: In short order, the battle was won. The 101st Airborne set up a very efficient military operation, complete with barriers and patrols. The crowds were no match. One month later, the 101st was able to return to Ft. Campbell, Ky. But the greatest impact was on the civil-rights movement itself. Little Rock proved that integration would be enforced by the federal government even at the point of a gun. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., though outraged by the mob violence, called Little Rock a "blessing in disguise."

WORLD: Then Eisenhower went on prime-time TV nationwide to speak to the nation about Little Rock: What effect did his talk have?

PIPES: He said in his televised address that he chose to speak to the nation from the Oval Office to demonstrate the sadness of the event as well as the firmness with which he intended to resolve the crisis. We should accept that explanation since he wrote most of the speech himself on the plane from Newport to Washington. The reaction to the speech was mixed. Most of the mail to the White House came from outraged Southerners. Curiously, a number of future civil-rights champions-including Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy, and Jim Wright-were not happy with Ike's decision to use troops.

WORLD: Do you have a sense of Eisenhower's religious beliefs-and how did those affect his view of civil rights?

PIPES: Growing up, Eisenhower's family attended the River Brethren Church. Ike himself later confessed to Billy Graham that he still honored those teachings but had drifted from them. As president, he practiced civil religion in many ways. He often spoke of God in speeches. And he famously pushed for the inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. In some ways, he saw his journey on race as a journey of redemption. When a black aide confronted him about derogatory comments he had made years earlier about integrating the Army, Eisenhower spoke of "forgiveness" as the place "where I am now."

WORLD: What lasting effect did the results in Little Rock have?

PIPES: Little Rock guaranteed that integration would prevail. No one could doubt that the federal government had the power to enforce it. Little Rock also had a lasting effect on Ike's legacy. For a great man, this has been considered his worst issue. Part of the problem is that Ike didn't feel that sending troops into an American city was a triumph to brag about, it was a failure to forget. But his journey on civil rights deserves to be remembered. Ultimately, Ike's Final Battle was a battle within himself. And like so many others in his life, it was a battle he won.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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