Dwight D Eisenhower by Dr Mark Shanahan #HistoricalDesertIslandDiscs

We hope you had a restful Easter break but we are delighted to get back in the saddle and welcome our second guest blogger Dr Mark Shanahan (University of Reading, Department of Politics and International Relations). Mark has a vinyl and CD collections almost as big as his library collection so here he is sitting down with Dwight D Eisenhower…

Mark S image

In these troubled times, what would America, and indeed the world, give for a hero in the White House? While Donald Trump plays the ratings game and prays the economy reverses before November, many Americans would probably love to be back in the 1950s. Okay, there was the over-hanging threat of nuclear war, but there was also the post-war rise of consumerism, the opening of the inter-state highways, the first steps towards a civil rights realignment and even the first tentative steps into space. All of these occurred under the 34th US President, Dwight D Eisenhower who swept to power winning 442 Electoral College votes against Adlai Stevenson’s 89.

We sat down with President Eisenhower to select his Desert Island discs – no easy task for President in office from 1953-1961, and who died in 1969. And who could possibly suspect that all of his memorable musical choices would be found in the vinyl collection of Dr Mark Shanahan, Associate Professor and Head of Department for Politics & International Relations at the University of Reading?


The Bible: Honey Be Good (1989)

Though born in Denison, Texas, ‘Ike’ will always be associated with the mid-west town on Abilene, Kansas, where he grew up, one of seven sons to David and Ida Eisenhower in a strict River Brethren (Mennonite) household. This influenced Ike’s first musical choice – Honey Be Good, from The Bible – the one book guaranteed to be referred to on a daily basis in the Eisenhower household.


Camper Van Beethoven: Take the Skinheads Bowling (1985)

In 1911 at age 21, Ike won a scholarship to the US Military Academy at West Point in New York. A gifted athlete he played football for the Army in his first year at West Point, but saw a promising career curtailed by a leg injury. Throughout his life Eisenhower rode horses, hunted and played golf – and probably also took full advantage of the bowling alley installed in the White House by President Truman in 1947. Though an active sportsman, Ike always looked older than his years, losing his hair in his mid-20s. His balding pate and sporting prowess influenced his next musical choice – Camper Van Beethoven’s 1986 minor hit: Take the Skinheads Bowling .


Billy Bragg: Greetings to the New Brunette (1985)

Despite the relative poverty of his background – and the swift retreat of his hairline – the newly-commissioned 2nd Lieutenant Eisenhower definitely moved up in the world when he met and married Denver socialite Mamie Doud in 1916 – a memory which resonated in his third song choice, Billy Bragg’s ‘Greetings to the New Brunette’ (though who on earth is Shirley?)


Paul Young: Wherever I lay my hat (that’s my home) (1985)

While the newly-married Eisenhower did not see active service in World War 1, his career soon became one of providing Executive Officer service to some of the great military minds of the American Army of the inter-war years. He followed Pershing to France, Fox-Connor to Panama and McArthur first to Washington and then to the Philippines to prepare the American protectorate for independence. This was a difficult time for the Eisenhowers as in the first 35 years of their marriage, they never owned their own home. Ike recalled this in his fourth musical choice, selecting Paul Young’s breakthrough-hit, ‘Wherever I lay my hat (that’s my home)’.


Sandie Shaw: Are you ready to be heartbroken (1988)

In July 1936, after 25 years in the military, Ike was finally promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. He did not achieve full Colonel until 1941 but by then the Government and the Army was beginning to recognise his mastery of planning and logistics. As the USA headed towards conflict with the Axis powers, Ike was rapidly promoted through the ranks. By 1942 he was a Lieutenant General and a year later was designated Supreme Commander for the European Theatre. As we headed to June 1944 he was planning the second front in Europe with the Normandy Invasion, and as D-Day approached and he contemplated the battles on the French beaches to come, he was undoubtedly thinking of Sandie Shaw and her poignant ‘Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken’. With 156,115 British, Canadian and US troops, carried by 6,939 ships and landing vessels, 2,395 aircraft and 867 gliders, Ike was convinced he could achieve success, but as the master logistician he was, he was also prepared for failure. As well as a message heralding Operation Overlord’s success, he also penned a message to be published in the event of failure: The speech Eisenhower never had to give


The Pogues: Fairytale of New York (1987) 

After World War Two’s end, Ike resigned from the Army and took his first civilian job as President of Columbia University in New York. But the period from 1948-50 proved no Fairytale. The man who had charmed Roosevelt and Churchill, kept De Gaulle in check and impressed Stalin singularly failed to charm or impress the academics of Manhattan’s Morningside Heights. It must have been a great relief when Ike was called back to the colours by President Truman who appointed hi NATO’s first Supreme Commander and sent him to Paris. Ringing in his ears was his sixth musical selection and the best Christmas record ever: The Pogues – ‘Fairytale of New York’.


The Waterboys: The Whole of the Moon (1985)

The boy from the creamery in Abilene’s rise to global prominence was slow, but as the decade turned and the Republican Party cast around for a candidate to break the Democratic Party’s two-decade stranglehold on the White House, Eisenhower was the answer on everyone’s lips. Blessed with a certain folksiness and mid-western manners that allowed him to hide a steely mind and somewhat short temper, he played hard to get. As with his military career, he never entered a battle he wasn’t sure he could win. But he did win, and won big in the Presidential Election of 1952, waging peace to keep the Cold War cold across two presidential terms. He created the Interstate road network, made the first tentative steps in civil rights since the 1860s and delivered a model in bi-partisan government. One of his greatest successes came in 1958 when he drove through the Space Act, creating NASA and embedding the infrastructure that enabled the space race of the 1960s. Recalling this, Eisenhower was candid: he saw the prism, but Jack Kennedy saw the Whole of the Moon.


Wah!: The Story of the Blues (1982)

Having suffered a stroke in 1957 and past his 70th birthday (young today!) as the 1960 election loomed, it is often argued that Eisenhower was lack-lustre in his support for his Vice President, Richard Nixon, who took on the Democratic challenger, John F Kennedy. While Eisenhower was revered, the US was ready for a change in government from the Red of the Republicans to the Blue of the Democrats. And, in the tightest of races, both Ike and Nixon were left reaching for 34’s last disc: Wah! with ‘The Story of the Blues’.


As a military man, Ike wouldn’t struggle on a desert island. Well read in the Classics, he would certainly appreciate the Complete Works of Shakespeare while the Bible would undoubtedly rekindle memories of his prairie home for a man who didn’t join a church until Presidential duty necessitated such a move in 1953. Asked what additional book he’d take, he replied immediately “The Art of War by Sun Tzu. In developing both my military and then presidential leadership strategy I was always much more drawn towards ancient China than I was towards Clausewitz.”
With his books in hand, we asked Ike what luxury he’d care for? “A set of golf clubs, plenty of balls and a few flags. I could enjoy my leisure time and signal to any passing ships.”
And if you could only save one disc? “It would have to be Sandie Shaw and memories of my finest hour.”


You can find Mark at UoR  https://www.reading.ac.uk/spirs/about/staff/m.j.shanahan.aspx and on twitter @LeapfrogMark

Also the centre for interdisciplinary American History and Politics research at the University of Reading TheMonroe Group and on twitter @UoRMonroeGroup

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