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Eisenhower and Anti-Communism, 1953-54

President Dwight Eisenhower had taken office in January 1953, and in his inaugural address he spoke of freedom being pitted against slavery and "lightness against dark." He was about to settle for a compromise in Korea, but he was to describe it as having stopped communist aggression. In his State of the Union speech on February 2 he spoke of never acquiescing in "the enslavement of any people," and it was on that day that he lifted the US 7th Fleet's blockade between Taiwan and mainland China. With this, it is said, he was fulfilling anti-communist calls to "unleash Chiang Kai-shek" against Communists on China's mainland.

The Truman administration had not wanted any provocations from Chiang's forces. But Eisenhower and the Republican Party were determined to appear stronger that Democrats in the what they saw as America's struggle against communism. Eisenhower had chosen as his secretary of state John Foster Dulles. Dulles rejected the "containment theory" adhered to by Democrats. Dulles described blocking Chiang from attacking the mainland as immoral. He spoke of rolling back the iron curtain and liberating Eastern Europe, and this raised eyebrows in world capitals. The father of the containment theory, George Kennan, rejected Dulles' "roll back" theory, and Dulles told him there would be no place in the State Department for him.

And riding hard for the Republicans against the communist evil was Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin. McCarthy had exaggerated his war experiences, and he used his Senate seat to speak against the dangers of communism, gaining attention with his calls against treason and for rooting communists out of the government. McCarthy called the Democrats the party of treason. A lot of people were uninterested in the accuracy of his charges and equated his lack of moderation on the treason issue with leadership.

The treason issue had traction in the US. The former state department official, Alger Hiss, was in prison for having spied for the Soviet Union, and there was the execution of the Rosenbergs for espionage in June 1953. But McCarthy annoyed people in his own party – the Republican Party – including President Eisenhower, who disliked McCarthy's accusation that his old friend and former boss, General George C. Marshall, was a traitor, had made common cause with Stalin and, while working for President Truman, had lost China.

Another intensely anti-communist American at odds with Eisenhower was the commander of the Strategic Air Command, Airforce General Curtis LeMay. He was more afraid of subversion within the US than he was of a threat from Moscow. He believed that he and his SAC bombers could readily eliminate any threat from Moscow, and he longed for permission to do so. LeMay had taken command of SAC in 1948 and had built it into an efficient force. This was before Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). LeMay's bombers were the primary US capability of striking the Soviet Union. LeMay had voted for Eisenhower in 1952 but had become disappointed over the lack of intensity of Eisenhower concern about the communist menace. He was worried about a first strike by the Soviet Union and saw the way to eliminate this threat was for the US to strike first. He was uninterested in the niceties of international law. In 1954 he sent his bombers on unauthorized flights over the Soviet Union, dodging MIG fighter planes in order to map potential targets. And LeMay would like to have had control over use of the atomic bomb rather than what he called politicians who happened to have been elected president.

Retaliation Theory and more in 1954

In Eisenhower's State of the Union speech in January 1954 he boasted of having dismissed twenty-two hundred "security risks" from government employment. The actual number was fewer than one hundred: homosexuals, alcoholics, people who did not pay their bills and some who were considered mentally disturbed.

A week later, on January 12, Secretary of State Dulles alarmed people in the Soviet Union and Western Europe by a speech announcing that the Eisenhower administration was going to rely on a "massive retaliatory power," including its nuclear capability, rather than allow itself to be drawn into limited conflicts similar to the war in Korea. The way to deter aggression, he said, was for "the free community" to be willing to "respond vigorously and at places and with means of its own choosing." The speech was presented as a redefinition of US policy. Dulles was hopeful that his strategy would deter general war while communism was proving itself a failure.

In March, 1954, the US tested its first deliverable hydrogen bomb, on the island of Bikini in the Pacific – a blast 750 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The Soviet Union had already tested a deliverable hydrogen bomb, on August 12, 1953. The world was being threatened by nuclear annihilation.

In the US, communism was still thought of as a monolithic movement, with Chinese or American communists seen as agents of Moscow. The Republicans trumped Democrat legislation to outlaw the Communist Party with its own version, leading to the Communist Control Act, signed by Eisenhower in August 1954. This made it a federal crime for a communist to run for public office. And Eisenhower submitted a bill to Congress called the Loss of Citizenship Act. This allowed the government to revoke the citizenship of anyone who had joined the Communist Party.

Dulles, meanwhile, was pushing ahead with his strategies. He managed to put together an alliance called the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) that created in Manila on September 8. The Philippines and Thailand were the only Southeast Asian nations aside from Australia that signed on – Thailand in response to a border issue with China that it was concerned about. Pakistan joined as did Britain and France. Members were to consult with one another and to unite against an aggressor if they could unanimously agree on who that aggressor was.

Pessimism, meanwhile, abounded regarding resistance to the spread of communism. Although Dulles thought that communism would prove to the world that it was a failure, Eisenhower's ambassador to Italy, Clare Booth Luce – wife of the conservative founder of Time, Life and Fortune magazines – wrote that the US was probably going to lose the war against communism. Western Europe, she complained, was becoming neutralist, Italy was on the verge of surrendering to communism, and by 1959, she predicted, half of the nations in NATO would be under Soviet control.

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