This week in history, in 1789, George Washington stood on the balcony of the original Federal Hall at 26 Wall Street to take the oath at America’s first presidential inauguration in New York. This week, Truman’s campaign to unseat General Douglas MacArthur resulted in a 1951 Congressional grilling about missteps involving the Korean ‘police action’. In 1960, a newly-minted president, John F. Kennedy, fidgeted this week about Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane, intercepted and downed by a ground-to-air missile over the Soviet Union; in a spy exchange worthy of John Le Carré, Powers was finally freed in 1962.
In 1974 during this week, “Tricky Dick” Nixon began his tribulations with the Watergate tape fiasco that led to his impeachment. And, in 2011, Obama got to tell the public this week that Osama bin Laden had been killed by Navy Seals. All in all, this has been a busy week for American presidents.
|Always natty, Harry S trots his security detail up Pennsylvania Avenue.|
|Blair House attack in the news; gets Truman's location wrong.|
Eisenhower specialist David Nichols amps up the suspense of the era—also forgotten by a majority of Americans— in Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis (2011), which focuses on the Suez Canal crisis. Informed by hundreds of declassified documents, like top secret minutes from the National Security Council, the sense that the nation was again facing global conflict so shortly after yet another harrowing war to ‘end all wars’ [again] … It is truly dizzying to contemplate how regularly human beings feel the need to agitate and exterminate rather than negotiate.
Nichols, who also published on Lincoln, writes in a straightforward manner, but his academic roots make Eisenhower 1956 a little more dense than the kind of reading you might usually take to the beach. Truth be told, there are footnotes and an index to behold. Nevertheless, if you were around in ’56, your knuckles will turn just as white as all the individuals who scurried about trying to avoid conflict while facing the brink of war [again]. And if you weren’t around yet, you will be stunned by the parallels to current tensions in contemporary news.
Finally, slightly lighter presidential fare reaches us in Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch’s interviews with Bill Clinton, in The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President (2009). Branch, who received high acclaim for his 3,000-page, three-volume opus on Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as works on Watergate, civil rights, and the NCAA’s management style (see The Cartel), received a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant in 1991 for the King books, among other impeccable accolades.
|Branch with Clinton in the Oval Office|
|Branch's dad made the Clintons a Jefferson Memorial birdhouse! Pip pip!|
|Emma Thompson as Hillary and Travolta as Bill, yucking it up in Primary Colors (1998)!|