The wisdom of Dwight Eisenhower is not fully appreciated by the public, claims a noted historian who has authored several books about the 34th president.
Stephen E. Ambrose, who will give the keynote address next week during the "Ike's America" conference at Kansas University, said that historians continue to recognize how smart Eisenhower was, even with the inevitable revisionist thinking about the Abilene native.
Ambrose is the fall 1990 Rose Morgan professor of history at KU. He will teach seminar, "Crises in the Cold War," and lecture on the presidencies of Eisenhower and Nixon. Ambrose will be in Lawrence for five weeks before returning to his teaching duties at the University of New Orleans.
Ambrose said that Eisenhower realized as early as 1955 that the Soviet people would seek greater liberties as they became more educated.
"He said it would take patience, and it's going to take a long time," he said. "Well, I thought of those words in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down. Eisenhower was never willing to accept that wall or the division of Germany.
"I think he was extraordinarily wise, but not brilliant."
AMBROSE, 54, has been chronicling Eisenhower since 1964, after being asked by Eisenhower to help edit his papers. Eisenhower learned of him, Ambrose said, after reading the historian's first book, a biography of Henry Halleck, who was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's chief of staff.
Ambrose said he spent four years interviewing Eisenhower at-length, and worked on the first seven of a 15-volume set of the president's papers. Beyond the interviews, he said, the key to learning about Eisenhower was a trip to Abilene.
"I walked around the town and I was almost forcibly struck by how I could understand this guy," Ambrose said, adding that Abilene reminded him of his hometown of Whitewater, Wis.
Ambrose also spent time in the attic of Abilene's public library, reading issues of the town's newspaper published during Eisenhower's boyhood and adolesence.
"I WAS STRUCK by what I felt were the similarities of Whitewater in 1950 and Abilene in 1900," he said of small-town life.
The Eisenhower Library was another important source of material, Ambrose said, and proved more helpful than the Library of Congress and the National Archives.
"It was easier to work in Abilene," he said. "Everything was there anyway and a lot that was not in the National Archives."
The library continues to be a source for more information on Eisenhower, Ambrose said, especially for the "Ike's America" conference.
"Almost all of these papers being delivered are going to be coming from Abilene," he said.
THE CONFERENCE begins Thursday at KU and features 175 speakers on topics from the Eisenhower administration and the 1950s.
Ambrose expressed amazement at the prolific number of papers to be presented.
"I'm almost appalled at the amount of Eisenhower scholarship that's going on," he said with a laugh. "I thought that the last book that ever needed to be written about Eisenhower had been written."
Ambrose also has been prolific recently. His book, "Eisenhower: Soldier and President," a condensed version of his early 1980s two-volume biographies, will be published Oct. 14, Eisenhower's 100th birthday. His third installment on Richard Nixon is due next year, and he is working on two World War II books, one on the men of the 102nd Airborne Division who were part of the Normandy invasion, and a comprehensive look at D-Day for its 50th anniversary in 1994.
HE JOKED that he wrote biographies of Republican presidents because "that's the only kind we have anymore." But he doesn't expect to do a series of books on Ronald Reagan.
"I really couldn't," he said. "You'd have to write seriously about the American movie industry."