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    The major conclusion I came to was that it is probable both Eisenhower and Khrushchev wanted a
    period of at least limited détente. Because of their own miscalculations about each other's behavior,
    that moment was lost.
           -Michael Beschloss

In the Spring of 1960, as President Eisenhower neared the end of his successful but uneventful presidency, he devoutly wished to cap off his career with a successful summit with the Soviet Union.  Having met with Khrushchev the previous year and established the "Spirit of Camp David", he envisioned forging a sort of détente and entering into some kind of arms treaty, perhaps a test ban, at a May meeting with the Soviet Premier in Paris.  But on May 1, 1960--celebrated as May Day in Europe and a holiday of great import in the Soviet Union--American pilot Francis Gary Powers and his U-2 spy plane were shot down over Russian territory.  The plane, on it's way from Peshawar, Pakistan to Bodo, Norway, would have been flying at an altitude of about 70,000 feet.  Russian SAMs had been steadily improving their range, and the danger of a shootdown was well understood at the highest levels of American government, in fact the President had ordered that he be given the right of final approval for each flight, but in that pre satellite era the spy planes were providing nearly all U.S. intelligence on the state of Russia's military, so Ike concluded that were worth the very high risk.  Moreover, the flights were done under CIA command, not the military, pilots had orders to commit suicide if shot down and neither they nor identifiable portions of the planes were expected to survive anyway, so the U.S. expected to maintain deniability.  The Eisenhower Administration did in fact initially deny that the U-2 was a spy plane, claiming it was a weather flight that blew off course.   In the event, Powers survived and Khrushchev, struggling to hold off "hard-liners" at home, chose to inflate the incident into a major provocation and, although the two sides went ahead with the Paris summit, it quickly degenerated into a diplomatic mess and the opportunity for a reduction in Cold War tensions was lost for a generation.

Michael Beschloss, who is a national treasure as regards study of the presidency, has done a masterful job of reconstructing the events surrounding the U-2 Affair.  He really brings the period and it's tensions to life, particularly the internal functioning of the Eisenhower administration.  To me, the most significant aspect of the book is Beschloss's argument that it was thanks to the spying of the U-2 that Eisenhower understood how weak the Soviets actually were and that Ike and Khrushchev basically had an implicit understanding that if the Soviet did not make a real effort to upgrade their sorry military capacity, the U.S. would act as if the Soviets posed a threat.  This allowed Ike to reign in the Military-Industrial Complex and balance the Federal budget, while at the same time permitting Khrushchev to swagger around the world stage as if the Soviets were our military equals.  True or not, this portrait comports with the image which has emerged in recent years of Eisenhower as a much more deft and nuanced leader than was previously understood to be the case.

Since this book was written before the fall of the Soviet Union, it is likely that someone taking a fresh look at the affair, particularly someone with access to Soviet archives, will have much detail to add to the Russian side of the story.  But it is hard to imagine someone producing any more readable an account of the whole incident.  If I have one reservation with the book, it is that Beschloss does not consider the broader question of whether detente was a good idea in and of itself.  Few would any longer argue that the final demise of the Evil Empire came only after they had stretched themselves to the limit.  A fuller discussion of what detente might have meant for the internal situation in Russia would have been helpful.  I'd be interested to know whether Beschloss thinks it would have weakened Communist control, which I doubt, or enabled them to devote more resources to productive domestic industries and thereby strenthened the regime's long term prospects.

At any rate, it's an excellent book and a really fascinating look at the Eisenhower presidency.  This one is most recommended.  Unfortunately, it's also out of print, so you might want to check ABE Books (I searched by author & they had a copy for $5) or your library, but it's worth tracking down.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Michael Beschloss (4 books reviewed)
Michael Beschloss Links:

    -BOOKNOTES: Author: Michael Beschloss  Title: The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963 Air date: July 14, 1991 (CSPAN)
    -ESSAY : Bush Faces the Greatest Test (Michael Beschloss, 9/17/01, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: The End of the Imperial Presidency (Michael Beschloss, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Four More Years?  What history tells us about presidents' second terms. (Michael R. Beschloss, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Hail to the Chief Tech-heads (Michael Beschloss, Oct 23, 2000, Industry Standard)
    -REVIEW: of ON MY COUNTRY AND THE WORLD By Mikhail Gorbachev (Michael Beschloss, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY: America's Secret Air War in the Cold War. By William E. Burrows (Michael Beschloss, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of CHANGING ENEMIES: The Defeat and Regeneration of Germany By Noel Annan (Michael Beschloss, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of ALEXANDER HAMILTON, AMERICAN By Richard Brookhiser (Michael Beschloss, NY Times Book Review)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Michael Beschloss on Reaching for Glory (Fresh Air, November 29, 2002)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Presidential Historian Michael Beschloss on Impeachment (Fresh Air, September 14, 1998)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Michael Beschloss on Taking Charge (Fresh Air, February 13, 1998)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Michael Beschloss on At the Highest Levels: The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War (Fresh Air, 2/24/93)
    -INTERVIEW: CAUGHT ON TAPE :  During his presidency, Lyndon B. Johnson secretly taped thousands of private conversations. These tapes, which include conversations with various public figures, from Robert Kennedy to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., recently came to light. Phil Ponce discusses the content and significance of these tapes with Michael Beschloss, Presidential historian and author of Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963-1964. (October 14, 1997, NEWSHOUR TRANSCRIPT, PBS)
    -INTERVIEW: Online Newshour Interview with Historian Michael Beschloss: Origins of the convention process (PBS)
    -CHAT: Presidential Crises, With Guest Michael Beschloss (Levey Live)
    -CHAT: The Final Message:  A Chat with Presidential Historian Michael Beschloss (ABC News)
    -PROFILE: The Historian as Pundit (Noam Scheiber, New Republic)
    -ESSAY: Doomed to repeat: That's historians on TV, not history (Delia M. Rios, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
    -ARCHIVES: "michael beschloss" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of The Crisis Years by Michael R. Beschloss (Richard Ned Lebow, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists)
    -REVIEW: of TAKING CHARGE: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963-1964. Edited and with commentary by Michael R. Beschloss (Alan Brinkley, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Taking Charge (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Taking Charge (Gloria Cooper, Columbia Journalism Review)
    -REVIEW: of REACHING FOR GLORY: Lyndon Johnson's Secret White House Tapes, 1964-1965. Edited and with commentary by Michael Beschloss (George Stephanopoulos, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of REACHING FOR GLORY (Michinko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of REACHING FOR GLORY(Mark Falcoff, Commentary)
   -REVIEW ESSAY: Brief Shining Moments:   Christopher Hitchens on Donkey Business in the White House (London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Conquerors by Michael Beschloss (Jules Wagman, The Denver Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Conquerors(Rich Barlow, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945; Michael Beschloss (John Lukacs, LA Times)

Book-related and General Links:

    -Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library (Abilene, KS)
    -ESSAY: Getting Ike Right: Claiming Eisenhower for the liberal internationalist crowd isn’t just a simplification—it’s plain wrong (Sean Durns, Mar 23, 2024, American Conservative)
    -REVIEW: Alfred Kazin: The Sweet Music of Dwight D. Eisenhower, NY Review of Books
        Mandate for Change, 1953-1956. The White House Years, Volume I by Dwight D. Eisenhower
    -REVIEW: Ronald Steel: Mr. Clean, NY Review of Books
        Waging Peace: 1956-1961 by Dwight D. Eisenhower
    -REVIEW: Theodore Draper: Eisenhower's War, NY Review of Books
        Eisenhower: At War, 1943-1945 by David Eisenhower
    -REVIEW: Theodore Draper: Eisenhower's War-II, NY Review of Books
        Eisenhower: At War, 1943-1945 by David Eisenhower
    -REVIEW: Theodore Draper: Eisenhower's War: The Final Crisis, NY Review of Books
        Eisenhower: At War, 1943-1945 by David Eisenhower
    -REVIEW: William Appleman Williams: Officers and Gentlemen, NY Review of Books
        The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle by J. Glenn Gray
        Military Men by Ward Just
        The Years of MacArthur Volume I: 1880-1941 by D. Clayton James
        The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower: The War Years edited by Alfred D. Chandler, Jr.
        Dear General: Eisenhower's Wartime Letters to Marshall edited by Joseph Patrick Hobbs
        The Supreme Commander by Stephen E. Ambrose
        At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends by Dwight D. Eisenhower
        Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War by Seymour Melman
        The Military-Industrial Complex by Sidney Lens

    -REVIEW: McGeorge Bundy: A Matter of Survival, NY Review of Books
        The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy by Lawrence Freedman
        The Soviet Union and the Arms Race by David Holloway
    -REVIEW: Ronald Steel: On the Brink of Dulles, NY Review of Books
        John Foster Dulles: The Road to Power by Ronald W. Pruessen
    -REVIEW: Ronald Steel: Did Anyone Start the Cold War?, NY Review of Books
        Condemned to Freedom by William Pfaff
        The Radical Left and American Foreign Policy by Robert W. Tucker
        Promises to Keep by Chester Bowles
        Architects of Illusion by Lloyd Gardner
        Yalta by Diane Shaver Clemens
        America and Russia in a Changing World by W. Averell Harriman
        From Trust to Terror by Herbert Feis
        The Yalta Myths by Athan Theoharis
        The Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938 by Stephen E. Ambrose
    -REVIEW: James Fallows: The Americans in Space, NY Review of Books
    The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age by Walter A. McDougall
    Report to the President by the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident
    The Aerospace Plane: Technological Feasibility and Policy Implications Report No.15 by Stephen W. Korthals-Altes

    -The Presidents of the United States of America (White House)
    -The Center for Presidential Studies (Bush School of Government, Texas A&M)
    -Center for the Study of the Presidency
    -Links to Presidential Libraries (CSP)
    -CSPAN -- American Presidents-Life Portraits
    -National Archives and Records Administration (to ensure ready access to essential evidence . . .that documents the rights of American citizens, the actions of federal officials, and the national experience)