NOT since the bombs fell on an unbelieving Pearl Harbor nearly sixteen years ago has Washington had a traumatic experience comparable to the one induced by the Soviet satellite launchings. The Berlin blockade, the Communist attack on Korea, the first Russian A-bomb, and the first Russian H-bomb all raised mighty alarms in the capital. But none had the impact of Sputnik’s steady beepbeep-beep as it circled through the heavens.
The reaction was so violent that it all but swept from the minds of men what surely is the greatest Constitutional crisis since the Civil War: the Little Rock integration conflict and the President’s dispatch of 1000 men of the 101st Airborne Division to uphold the orders of a federal court.
The gathering storm in each case was clearly perceptible. Governor Orval Faubus, elected as a moderate in a state where racial integration had been making quiet progress, had given public indications of a change of mind and political tactics. And intelligence reports from abroad several months ago had clearly indicated that the Soviet Union might very well hurl the first satellite into the sky this fall.
The immediate question asked in Washington and across the nation in each case was similar: Why was nothing done to prepare the public mind? As to Little Rock, why had Washington done so little to help the federal courts which were operating under the Supreme Court’s injunction to move toward integration “with all deliberate speed”? And as to the satellites, why was nothing done to forewarn us of a probable Soviet “first" ?
Failure of leadership
Among both Republicans and Democrats there has been a widely agreed reply: a massive failure of presidential leadership. Never before has Dwight D. Eisenhower been so openly criticized, albeit still discreetly by members of his own Republican Administration. It is impossible to escape the implications of such a presidential failure. In each case the President’s actions, or lack of them, spring from his own character and his image of the role of the Chief Executive.
Democrats bitterly recall their fruitless election campaign charges of a “do-nothing President" and their comparison of Eisenhower to Grant, Harding, and Coolidge. Republicans, especially those who have hoped that Eisenhower was in fact remolding the GOP into “modern Republicanism,” are saddened and discouraged.
The first political reaction to sending the troops into Little Rock was that it would tear the Democratic Party apart and so closely tie the Northern Negro vote in critical Northern electoral vote states to the GOP as to assure a Republican presidential victory in 1960. But as Faubus’ demagoguery and intransigence continued, the resulting stalemate began to create a sense of uneasiness among Republican politicians.
The sudden announcement from Moscow, coupled with Nikita Khrushchev’s superb psychological exploitation of the satellite launching (on top of the Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile claim of only six weeks earlier), opened an entirely new held of domestic political speculation. For the first time, the Democrats saw an opportunity to challenge Eisenhower on his home grounds — on his role as a great military leader who surely would guarantee American national security against the Soviet Union.
Eisenhower is, above all, a believer in moderation in the conduct of human affairs. That was the genius of his leadership of the diverse forces under his command in World War II. His fault has been that he believes men of good will can always reach agreement if they will only work at it. One of his most intimate advisers once said, “Ike thinks there are Nestor-like men" who can sit down together and work out any problem that presents itself.
In this Administration, except in certain “crash” decisions, the routine has been for the President to tell his assistants, cabinet members, or lesser officials to work a problem out and bring back a unanimous decision for him to ratify — and he gives them only the most general policy directives from which to work.
The President versus Faubus
It is impossible to forecast history’s verdict on the President’s handling of either the integration or the Soviet threat issues. While there was a lot of carping in Washington that he should have acted more swiftly when Faubus showed his intentions, there also has been a wide inclination to believe that in the end it was better not to take such a drastic step until its necessity had been clearly demonstrated to the bulk of the American public. A strong supporter of former President Truman, for example, commented, “I shudder to think what Harry would have done.”
The private Eisenhower-Faubus talk at Newport remains a secret, but the bulk of the evidence shows that the President, as he later said, had good reason to believe that the governor would reverse his orders to the Arkansas National Guardsmen if Eisenhower acted in such a way as to give him a reasonably graceful route of retreat.
Still, the President cannot escape criticism for his failure, and Attorney General Herbert Brownell’s failure, to canvass the situation early enough to permit efforts to head off the original Faubus use of the Guard. And it is a matter of fact that third parties, interested only in avoiding a massive Constitutional crisis and a hardening of the Southern resistance to gradual integration, were the ones who got Little Rock’s Representative Brooks Hays to try his hand at mediation between President and governor.
When the President did make up his mind to act, he did so with clarity and dispatch. There was criticism that he did not at once point the finger of blame at Faubus. But he avoided this not only because it runs against his grain to criticize individuals but also because he hoped to keep open the door to conciliation. Faubus’ subsequent double cross of the four Southern governors who, with the exception of Republican Theodore McKeldin of Maryland, risked their political necks ended that hope, however.
The Constitutional issue
The Constitutional issue was whether a governor could defy the federal courts. Despite all the bitter comments of Southern leaders, the historic precedents and the law are both clearly on Eisenhower’s side. The President’s own personal belief is that the South over the years must accept the Supreme Court’s ruling. It is evident that he believes that ruling to be right in terms of Christian ethics, though he has steadfastly refused to state his own opinion of the court verdict.
The most telling criticism of the President is that while he believes integration must slowly proceed and that he should do nothing to create an intemperate pace, he has done little to rally those “silent Southerners” in whose hearts and consciences one can find similar beliefs.
The President could have done much in preLittle Rock months, even years, to support and encourage them and to get them to take a stand on the issue of law and order. Instead, for example, he chose to turn the other cheek when Harry Byrd, his 1952 supporter, called for all out “massive resistance” by calling Byrd his old and good friend.
The President’s use of the Army to back up the court in Little Rock was a reassertion of federal Constitutional supremacy, and there is no reason to believe Eisenhower will not stick to that decision. He has said that the alternative is “anarchy.” But what occurred in Little Rock before he sent in the troops encouraged lawlessness elsewhere, in the North and in the border states as well as in the South. And what occurred and likely will occur from now on is a slowdown in the whole integration movement. It will be immensely difficult to regain the earlier pace, however moderate, once the slowdown reaches a halt in the Old South and its fringes.
The Soviet moons
The Administration badly underestimated the world’s reaction, as well as American reaction, to a Soviet victory in the satellite race. Back in the spring of 1955, when the President was about to decide whether or not to support the satellite project known as Vanguard, a top-level group wrote a paper on the possible effects should the Soviets put the first satellite into space. The report accurately predicted what did occur. Yet the President has publicly said that Vanguard was “sold to me” on a purely scientific basis. And he has indicated that he was surprised at the psychological reaction to the Soviet “first.”
It will take a congressional investigation to put the whole story on record, including the story of why the Administration thought it could join the Soviets in satellite projects during the International Geophysical Year without being in a “race” with the Kremlin. The evidence so far is that two factors played key parts in the Administration’s debacle: the determination to hold down the budget and the interservice rivalries in the Pentagon in the military missile field.
One top Pentagon official has confessed privately that he was amazed at the world-wide reaction to Sputnik, and that at the time Vanguard had been up for Pentagon consideration he had deemed it a ridiculous waste of public funds. Other responsible officials say that in the spring of 1956, Dr. Werner von Braun suggested using the Army’s Jupiter C rocket on which he was working at the Redstone Arsenal to throw an American satellite into the heavens. Jupiter C’s ability to do just that was demonstrated in September, 1956, when it was fired some 3300 miles at an altitude (600 miles) and speed comparable to that achieved by the Soviet rocket which launched the first Russian satellite.
Von Braun won some important Air Force support, but a still undisclosed higher-up rejected the proposal. The Administration line had been that Vanguard was a scientific venture only, and the missile part of that project had been turned over to the Navy.
Money was, of course, a consideration. In fact, even to round up the initial $20 million to launch the Vanguard project, some unlikely appropriation barrels had to be tapped, so determined were the military not to let it interfere with their missile programs. After the Soviet launching, the Administration began to loosen the budget strings, even though Wilson’s final public remark before leaving office was that the public would not like increased taxes even to catch up with the Soviet Union.
The mail began to flood into Washington demanding action at any cost almost as soon as the first beep-beep-beep was being recorded. But how much of the confusion will be cleared up by investigation and how much of the responsibility will be fixed is something else again. The initial reaction of the Democratic leadership was to keep the whole thing on a bipartisan plane and to hope that here was an issue on which the party, rent asunder by Little Rock, might somehow close ranks for the 1958 and 1960 elections.
Mood of the Capital
Washington’s mood is a composite of anger, frustration, and despair, yet tinged with hope. Anger at Administration complacency so long dominant in both the integration and defense fields, frustration over the diminishing chances for such domestic ventures as a new federal aid to schools program and such foreign needs as a half billion dollars of additional aid to make India’s fiveyear plan succeed.
What hope there is in the Little Rock affair is that the President’s decision to use troops may convince Southern die-hards that they cannot take a lawless route to defeat the Supreme Court’s ruling. And, in the area of national defense, that the shock of the Soviet Sputniks on top of the Soviet “first” in the intercontinental ballistic missile, the socalled ultimate weapon, will drive back the budget balancers and force the President to unify the missile development programs and to crack down on the interservice rivalries.