Eisenhower was president during a crucial period in American history. The Cold War was truly getting started and the United States and the Soviet Union were calling each other out as the two major players in the world. Actions and events during his administration were significant for future Cold War developments. The creation of the interstate highway system that Eisenhower signed into law in 1956 was necessary, in his eyes, for national defense. The roads provided easy means for the military to move about the country if necessary.
Part of Eisenhower's initial campaign was his promise to bring the Korean Conflict to an end. Once elected, but before he took office, Eisenhower traveled to Korea to help conclude peace talks that had been dragging on. By July 1953, an armistice was signed that separated Korea into two nations with a demilitarized zone at the 38th parallel. American troops were stationed along the demilitarized zone to ensure that this peace was honored.
Eisenhower came into office with the Cold War in full bloom. He believed that it was important to build up an arsenal of nuclear weapons as deterrence. This arsenal's purpose was to warn the Soviet Union that the United States would retaliate if fired upon.
In 1959, Fidel Castro took over in Cuba and became friendly with the Soviet Union. In return, Eisenhower placed an embargo on Cuba and ended all diplomatic relations.
Eisenhower was also concerned about the Soviet involvement in Vietnam. At the time, North Vietnam was under the influence of the Soviet Union and there was fear that the North would soon take over the democratic Southern portion of the country. Eisenhower believed in something that has come to be called the “Domino Theory.” In a 1954 press conference, Eisenhower said that if communist powers gained control in one region (like Vietnam), then those powers would find it easier and easier to topple further regimes. He feared that all of Southeast Asia could eventually fall to communist forces if left unchecked. Therefore, Eisenhower felt that it was important for America to become involved in some fashion in protecting South Vietnam. He was the first to send advisers to the region. This action went hand in hand with his Eisenhower Doctrine, with which he asserted that America had the right to aid any country threatened by communist aggression.
End of McCarthy
After the Alger Hiss espionage trial during Truman's time in office, a senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, began to make a name for himself by accusing various government employees of being communist sympathizers. Eisenhower did not agree with McCarthy or his methods. McCarthy began investigating the military in 1953 and made enemies by degrading a World War II battlefield general. When the army brought charges against McCarthy that he had asked for special treatment for a friend, Congress began the televised Army-McCarthy hearings to look into the matter. McCarthy's actions and words caused the public to turn against him and led to his fall from power. He was charged with improper conduct and censured by the Senate in December 1954.
In 1954, the landmark Supreme Court decision for
Likewise, many African Americans were being prevented from voting by various means. In 1960, the Civil Rights Act was passed, sanctioning local officials who blocked blacks from voting.
The U-2 Spy Plane Incident
On May 1, 1960, a U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers was brought down near Svedlovsk in the Soviet Union. Powers was captured and taken prisoner by the Soviets. Eisenhower, however, defended the need for reconnaissance flights as necessary for national security. The details surrounding this event remain shrouded in mystery to this day. However, Powers was eventually exchanged for a Soviet prisoner held by the United States. This event had a lasting negative impact on U.S.-Soviet relations.