Dwight D. Eisenhower became Supreme Commander of Allied Forces during World War II, and later President of the United States, utilizing the diplomatic and interpersonal skills he learned during his lifetime from all sources. “I Like Ike” was his campaign slogan. I can still recall the placards.
Surely, one of those “sources” whereby he learned so much was his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing, that of a faith then known under the unwieldy moniker of the International Bible Students. It was Eisenhower who, upon leaving office, warned of a growing “military-industrial complex” that later became the war cry of a protest generation. It was originally to be the “military-industrial-congressional complex” but Eisenhower deleted the last party out of concern not to antagonize members of that body. Doesn’t that triumvirate smack of the “big business-big government-big military” runners of this world that Witnesses used to carry on about back in the day?
Still, I’ve soured on my view of Dwight in recent years.
As Supreme Commander, it was he who liberated the concentration camps. There is an account of a certain nearby German mayor pleading ignorance during that time, an enraged Eisenhower forcing him to tour the camp himself, and the next day that mayor hung himself.
The national system of interstate four-lane divided highways is named after him. You wouldn’t be able to get around in a timely way without them. It is a good symbolism for how he stabilized the country after the war and put it on sound footing to prosper through speedy transportation and commerce. One aspect of the system was that the roadways could be used to evacuate areas quickly in the event of nuclear war. They are used that way today to evacuate for approaching hurricanes. It’s all a good legacy to the man.
He did good things. He is essentially the savior of the world, and then the nurturer of America afterwards. But with my visit to his home in Gettysburg, his star began to fade—for reasons that are not likely to resonate with the average person.
Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide suffered intense persecution during WWII. There were only about 75,000 of them—not the 8 million of today. In the US, many were beaten, others rounded up and arrested without trial, some tarred and feathered. There were a few that were killed.
He could have stopped it! He could have explained just who and what they were. No one on the political scene knew them better than he. It was his mama’s religion, and the woman remained faithful to her death. He was raised in it. “Look, they’re patriotic in their own way—they hold off on fighting because of their own religious views about God’s kingdom. They are honest and hard-working otherwise. They are harmless. They are not traitors. It is free speech they are engaging in, and that’s what I am in Europe fighting for!” He could have said that, and probably ended their persecution. Others did speak out in behalf of the Witnesses—notably Eleanor Roosevelt and the ACLU. He kept mum.
It is impossible for me not to think that he kept his mouth shut with regard to his mother’s “brothers” so as not to harm his stature and political career—both during the war and afterwards. That harsh verdict is tempered by the fact that he truly did good by WWII standards and 8 years of presidential standards—and NATO chief afterwards. To the extent that the earth swallows the river disgorged by the dragon, he plays a most significant role. Maybe had he not been where he was, his substitute would have botched everything up. Still, when push comes to shove, he did sell out his childhood “brothers.”
In a sense he was like Pilate, who knew very well that Jesus was innocent, but he also had a province to run and he decided that was more important. “Give the scoundrels what they want, and keep them out of my hair,” was his attitude. It may be the same with Putin, who says: “I don’t understand why we are persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses—aren’t they Christians, too?” But, one year later, persecution just keeps rolling on, so it obviously is not a priority to him.
Even now the National Historical Park Service, that is not wrong on anything, stays wrong with regard to Eisenhower’s upbringing. The ranger during my visit said that he was raised Mennonite, and he wasn’t. He was raised a Witness. Keep that embarrassing fact well-hidden, so as not to jeopardize his or his families social stature. They are a respected family and they want to remain so. They can survive a Mennonite connection, for that can be passed off as quaint. But they dare not take their chances with a Jehovah’s Witness connection, and the National Park Service helps them maintain this convenient substitution. The actual facts of Dwight’s upbringing lead to somewhere embarrassing for a national figure, and so they don’t go there.
It is hard for me not to think of Jesus’ words that “you will be hated for the sake of my name.” Just the thought of being associated with those carrying out the kingdom proclamation work that he originated and that others spearheaded is enough to make a prominent national leader turn tail and run like a rabbit. “How can you believe,” Jesus asks, “when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God?” Exactly. Dwight did know that you cannot play it both ways. You must choose. He chose to “keep religion in its place.” As is usually the case, that means last place.