In Episode 2, President Bob Iuliano and guest Susan Eisenhower discuss the legacy of Dwight Eisenhower at Gettysburg College through the lens of the Eisenhower Institute, the state of the current political climate, and Eisenhower’s new book.
In this episode of Conversations Beneath the Cupola, podcast host, Gettysburg College President Robert W. Iuliano, is joined by guest Susan Eisenhower. Eisenhower is the Chairman Emerita of the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College and granddaughter of Dwight Eisenhower. She is also an author, an international policy consultant, an expert on international security, space policy, energy, and relations between the Russian Federation and the United States of America.
Iuliano and Eisenhower begin the episode by discussing Dwight Eisenhower’s legacy on Gettysburg College through the lens of the Eisenhower Institute. At first, the Eisenhower Institute was a foundation created to give out scholarships, but it has grown to take on a more dynamic nature with roots in educating rising generations about important issues, which ultimately led to its affiliation with Gettysburg College in the early 1990s.
Beyond her involvements with the Eisenhower Institute, teaching a class called Strategy and Leadership in Transformational Times and taking several students on a trip to the beaches of Normandy, both of which have led to lasting connections between her and students, Eisenhower shares the broader connections that she has with Gettysburg, and reflects on what about this place was special and significant to her grandfather.
In reflecting on Dwight’s time, Eisenhower also offers advice on how we can bridge political divides today and advice to students generally. This advice includes uniting the country around central ideas, redefining leadership, and remaining optimistic. Eisenhower stands behind this advice, as this is the same advice she would offer people too.
At the end of this episode, Eisenhower talks briefly about her new book, How Ike Led: The Principles Behind His Biggest Decision, which will be released in 2020. To hear the full conversation, tune in and subscribe.
Guests featured in this episode
Susan Eisenhower, Chairman Emerita of the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College
Susan Eisenhower: One of the many opportunities we have for the Eisenhower Institute is that we are able to give students a glimpse into the world that awaits them.
Bob Iuliano: The world needs learners and leaders with the passion and capacity to contribute to society. Conversations Beneath the Copula is a Gettysburg College podcast where we bring attention to the great work of our students, faculty, and alumni who are doing just that.
Bob Iuliano: Hi, I’m Bob Iuliano, president of Gettysburg College and your host. Today, we are joined by the Chairman Emerita of the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College, Susan Eisenhower. Susan is an author, an international policy consultant, an expert on international security, space policy, energy, and relations between the Russian Federation and the United States of America. She is also the granddaughter of President Dwight Eisenhower.
Bob Iuliano: Susan, welcome and thank you for joining me today. You have been such a good friend to Gettysburg College and have such a broad perspective on the world, the politics, presidency, international relations. Really thrilled to have you here today and talking about a set of topics that I think matter to the college, and I think more broadly. Early days here at Gettysburg for me, but one of the things that has really impressed me is the Eisenhower Institute and what it does for our students and what it does more broadly, I think, in helping to talk about topics that need to be talked about.
Bob Iuliano: I’ve spent some time in my early days also trying to think about how the history of this place speaks to the values that we have as a community and to our future as well. So, I’m really excited about the Eisenhower Institute. I find it truly inspiring, and I think you know this from the conversations we’ve had. But not everybody knows what the Eisenhower Institute is. Would you say a word or two to the people who are listening so they’ll have a sense of what I find so engaging about this place?
Susan Eisenhower: Well, there’s a wonderful history of the Eisenhower Institute. It’s what I would call an Eisenhower legacy organization. It was founded, actually I was one of the founding directors, but it was founded by a number of my grandfather’s close associates who had been on his staff during the White House years. At first we conceived of it as an organization to give away scholarships. And of course we do that, but it suddenly took on a more dynamic nature because we saw that things were changing in the world and we had an opportunity to address those changes, both in Washington and also through an affiliation with Gettysburg College which we established in the 1990s.
Bob Iuliano: Why Gettysburg?
Susan Eisenhower: Well, there were long associations between Dwight Eisenhower and Gettysburg College. I think those associations were something we could see we could leverage to bring along rising generations. Which, of course, is critically important for the future, not only of our country but of the global community. And we were doing a lot of very specific policy work in Washington, but we always wanted this affiliation that would make it possible to bring students into some of our activities. Then, years later, things shifted and the Eisenhower Institute, Eisenhower World Affairs Institute as it was known then, merged with Gettysburg College. What you had suddenly was a change of gravity, you might say. The gravity shifted to Gettysburg College, but the same wonderful dynamic interaction between Gettysburg and the Washington community is still there.
Bob Iuliano: It is powerful and very exciting. Not everyone will understand your grandfather’s connection to Gettysburg College. If you walk in front of our admissions office, you see a very nice sculpture of him looking out over Carlisle Street. Let’s say a word or two about that, and also your connections to Gettysburg.
Susan Eisenhower: Oh well. Those connections go way back. Ike, if I may call him that, was-
Bob Iuliano: He’s your grandfather.
Susan Eisenhower: Yes … was commanding the US Tank Corps here at Gettysburg during the First World War. He was just about to deploy to the front in France, when the armistice was called. He did not get to the front in France, but he certainly trained people in this exotic new technology which were tanks by the way, which played a huge role during World War II. Then my grandparents moved away, went to all kinds of army posts here, there, and everywhere. Here and abroad, by the way, and eventually decided that they were going to come back after Eisenhower’s presidency. Now, we have to note that he actually bought this property up here, the farm, during his presidency, so he was even using it especially in the last term of his office.
Susan Eisenhower: That’s where I come into the picture. Because after his presidency, my father came up to help him write his White House memoirs, and I went to elementary school. I’m sorry to say they tore down Keefauver Elementary. But I’m not taking it personally, I just want to let you know. I feel very close to this town and to this community myself. Now, it is noteworthy that Dwight Eisenhower sat on the board of trustees of Gettysburg College. My brother sat on the board of trustees of Gettysburg College, and I sat on the board of trustees of Gettysburg College during Dr. Glassick’s tenure as president.
Bob Iuliano: The connections run deep indeed, and I know that the president spoke on our campus on multiple occasions. It’s now 10 years since the Eisenhower Institute and Gettysburg College merged. What do you make of the connections?
Susan Eisenhower: Well, I think it’s going extraordinarily well and I’m personally gratified that we are involving more and more students in the Eisenhower Institute programs. We’ve got so much to work with. I mean, this is such an interesting time in our history. I think mostly because so many of the issues we’re looking at are long-term issues, and I feel strongly that we need to prepare students for addressing these issues farther out. By the time they come to power, actually, in our country, many of the things that we’re worrying about now are going to be major areas of concern, or gratification, if we get it right. I think there’s no question that rising generations today have a seat at the table in a way they never have had before.
Bob Iuliano: And the Eisenhower Institute does such a superb job of giving our students the opportunity to get their hands on important issues. And one of the things I so admire about it, driving back from your grandfather’s orientation to the world, is a decidedly nonpartisan way of looking at these issues. Let’s look at facts. Let’s seek to understand those facts. Let’s make good policy judgments. I’ve come to become very fond of the work of the Institute. But let’s help people understand better a student experience. I know you’re actively involved with students, and I can see whenever I talk with you about this your smile is broad and your face lights up. Give us an example of what you do with students and how you think they benefit from those experiences.
Susan Eisenhower: Wow. Well, how they benefit from those experiences, in a way, we’ll have to ask them. But if continuing to be in touch with students is any sign that they’re getting something out of EI programs, and hopefully mine too, then I think we can feel that we’re being successful. Because I myself have ongoing interaction with many students, quite a number of whom have already graduated from the College.
Bob Iuliano: Not to jump in a little bit, but I think when I was visiting you, you showed me a painting from a former student.
Susan Eisenhower: No, I’m very touched by that, and certainly the students who have been in my program have shown me all kinds of enormous consideration. My particular topic is strategy and leadership in transformational times, and I don’t think you can have one without the other, frankly. I don’t think you can be a top leader without having a strong strategic sense of how to move an issue from A to B to C to some kind of culminating goal. We have undertaken all kinds of case studies, you might say. One year we did a whole year on the rapidly changing environment in the energy field. Another year we studied the collapse of the Soviet Union and what choices the West made, what choices Russia and the former Soviet Union made, what the strategic challenges were in both cases. And then I have also taken, I think, four groups to the Normandy beaches. And the Normandy beaches, I just say, is the iconic beach. You could say the turning point, certainly, for the Western Allies. It’s a very evocative place and I think it’s had a big impact.
Bob Iuliano: Sounds a little bit like Gettysburg itself as you walk onto the battlefields and you understand what happened here. I’ve never been, but some point you’ll have to take me, Susan.
Susan Eisenhower: Well, I’d love to do that. And I think the thing that is particularly striking for students, and it’s hard to remember, so much of the story of Normandy focuses on older veterans. We forget that actually it’s a young person’s story. The people who came on those beaches were the same age as our students here at Gettysburg College and that strikes them very hard when they get there. I think one of the things that moves them always, is the idea of this fate-changing moment when people landed on those beaches and suddenly knew everything they had to know about themselves in an instant.
Bob Iuliano: Absolutely.
Susan Eisenhower: I think it’s a very moving experience for both students and adults.
Bob Iuliano: it’s one example of the many things that students get to do through the Eisenhower Institute, and one of the reasons, again, I’m so excited about it. You said that, a moment ago, that it’s important in your view for students to get a better understanding of the world that awaits them, and the policy issues. Say more about that, and does that speak to a certain type of student or do you see that as a broadly applicable skill?
Susan Eisenhower: Well, I think that students are accustomed to thinking that they’re just students. What I like to do is to help them see what the projections are for 20 years from now, and to help them understand that now is the time to prepare. We certainly did that on the energy module that I worked on. Last year I spoke to the students very pointedly about the strategic challenges that were underway. At the same time, we have fewer tools in our toolbox than we did, say, after World War II. What I mean by that is we simply don’t have the money we used to have. We’re running a now trillion dollar annual budget deficit, and this is going to mean that any strategic solutions we come up with are going to have to be extremely sophisticated and reliant more on smart thinking than on vast amounts of financial resources.
Bob Iuliano: Do you have a sense of what your students who have gone through your programs do when they graduate?
Susan Eisenhower: Well, actually, I’m very proud of the fact that three or four of them have gone into the strategy area. I heard from one student just last week who’s been put on the strategy committee for a company that she’s just joined. She was with me last year. I’m so moved by the fact that she says she reads her notes before she, that she got from last year, before she goes into it. I think one of the many opportunities we have for the Eisenhower Institute is that we are able to give students a glimpse into the world that awaits them after they graduate. And it’s a wonderful opportunity to mix both theoretical study and practical study as well.
Bob Iuliano: And in that sense it really amplifies what Gettysburg College is doing generally. The Eisenhower Institute is one example of that. But we are very much about making sure that we are preparing students for the world that awaits, and we do this in a hundred different ways. The Eisenhower Institute being one of the more prominent examples. So, I was recently on the radio at WITF, and I was asked the following question about the Civil War. It seems more distant now to students, and therefore a little bit less relevant. I suppose the same could be said, increasingly, of our students' perspective of World War II and your grandfather’s service as president. I know what I said on WITF, but what would you say to that argument that the study of something that goes back 60, 70 years ago doesn’t really have relevance today?
Susan Eisenhower: Well, first of all, I would say that World War II is always going to be a little easier to understand simply because there are videos and there are photographs. You do have some of those from the civil war, but not anything like the documentation that took place during World War II. I have found, in taking students to Normandy, it has not been a limitation that it took place 75 years ago. Everything that is historic requires some kind of imagination. But I think the principles of my grandfather’s era are eerily contemporary, and I think that’s what’s so striking for me. I’ve spent the last year working on a book and what came out of this for me was just how resonant the issues are with what we’re facing today.
Bob Iuliano: Say more. What do you see as the points of connection?
Susan Eisenhower: Well, first of all, we have the impression that we came out of World War II a united, victorious country. Yes, we came out of World War II as a victorious country, but certainly not a united one. The question of whether or not the New Deal was going to continue, whether or not American business would be regarded with respect again, because they were blamed largely for the Great Depression. There are all sorts of deep divides. Labor unrest, vast technological change that was exacerbated and initiated, actually, by World War II itself, and all of these things are going on at the same time. My grandfather had a very hard time deciding whether or not to run for president. I mean, this agonizing decision went on for six whole years. He was being courted by both political parties. And, Bob, I would say that he was arguably the most nonpartisan president we’ve had since maybe some other military general was a two-term president. And that only leaves us with perhaps George Washington, and we could certainly debate Ulysses S. Grant.
Susan Eisenhower: But he didn’t care much about what political party people came from. He was trying to create what he the middle way, a road so broad that there could be a meeting place for consensus and reconciliation and all the other compromise. He worried a lot about the extremes of the left and the right, and the nihilists and the this and the that, because he’d seen what the result was in Europe.
Bob Iuliano: This may be an impossible question to answer, but if he were alive today, what do you think he would seek to do to bridge those divides that are so much more pronounced now than they’ve been for a very long time in American society?
Susan Eisenhower: Well, I’d say two things. First off, is that he would work very hard to try to unite this country around some central ideas. That’s how he conducted his eight year presidency. And I think he would start right at the very beginning with setting standards for civil discourse. I live in Washington DC where it gives me ready access to our Washington office there, at the Eisenhower Institute, and it doesn’t take a genius to know that we are failing, hugely, in that regard. I think this is almost universally underway. It’s just a complete degradation of the way we talk to each other.
Bob Iuliano: I think you know this, but the Eisenhower Institute has begun sponsoring programs on our campus. The first happened just last weekend. Really designed to help the community figure out how to talk about hard questions constructively, how to reach across political divides. We are a place that actually encourages the exchange of different ideas. That’s fundamental to who we are as an institution. I’m looking forward to the Eisenhower Institute continuing to sponsor these programs between now and November 2020. As I’ve been fond of saying, Susan, I want us to have the opportunity to learn from and about the election, not to be divided by it. I think that’s a role that the Eisenhower Institute can distinctively play.
Susan Eisenhower: Well, I think it’s a terrific initiative. Not only because I think it is a completely in keeping with Dwight Eisenhower’s view of good leadership and good leadership development. But I think there’s another issue here too, which is learning how to talk to people is a skill. And I think there are many well-meaning people today who are falling into this trap of personalizing and insulting people, accidentally or otherwise, and they need to learn those skills again. Then I think the other thing that Dwight Eisenhower would do is he’d redefine leadership. We are now at a point in our history where the definition of leadership is staking out your territory, digging your heels in, and not moving an inch least you look weak.
Susan Eisenhower: Now, the generation that fought World War II knew perfectly well that if they hadn’t compromised, literally, on an hourly basis, we wouldn’t have won the war. The only guy who wasn’t compromising was Adolph Hitler. And last time I checked we took care of that problem in 1945. So, the dynamism of diversity, diverse strategic perspectives, and diverse ways of looking at a problem, really gave the Allies enormous advantage during that war. I think it’s terrific that we’re able to address those challenges and those opportunities head on.
Bob Iuliano: And in addition, I should note, we have the Garthwait Leadership Center, which is very much seeking to inculcate the skills, the very skills that you’ve identified, and your point about diversity is something that matters to us enormously. We are seeking to ensure that we have as diverse a community as possible because we think we are stronger for that, and we know that we learn more by virtue of it. A couple of more questions, Susan. One is, what advice would your grandfather give to students today?
Susan Eisenhower: Oh, I think it’s very clear that he would say there’s lots to be optimistic about. Really, he was a huge optimist, even in the face of the 1968 riots and the sit-ins and the public disruption and the vitriolic way people related to each other in those days. He always remained optimistic all the way to the end. Boy, I admire that about him.
Bob Iuliano: Would you give students any different advice than your grandfather?
Susan Eisenhower: No, I don’t think so. I am trying very hard to stay cheerful in the face of all this. I do find the endless hand-wringing and the rest of it absolutely unproductive. I’ve sat in meetings in Washington where everybody says, “Well, that’s off the table.” So I raise my hand and say, “Well, let’s put together a strategy to get it back on the table.” This kind of passive it’s all too hard type thing is not worthy of our country. Our country has always stepped up to the plate and now’s the time to do it.
Bob Iuliano: And, as you note, there are a thousand different ways to make a difference. You don’t necessarily need to solve the big problem by solving the big problem. You start by solving some of the smaller problems.
Susan Eisenhower: Exactly.
Bob Iuliano: And part of what we do here is we give students the opportunity to solve big problems and solve small problems simultaneously, whether it’s through our Center For Public Service or through other activities that happen. You’ve written a book, or are about to release a book. Say more about that. What was the experience like? What’s it about?
Susan Eisenhower: Well, what was the experience like? Well, it was pretty intense, I have to say. I didn’t realize how affecting it was. I was 17 when my grandfather died. I spent a huge amount of time with him when he was here at Gettysburg. And wow, I had to say goodbye again. That was pretty hard. Having said that, I do not wander in and out of the pages of this book that much because it’s really about his biggest decisions. The book’s going to be called How Ike Led: The Principles Behind His Biggest Decisions. I take apart the various elements that were under consideration as he looked at some very big domestic and geopolitical challenges.
Bob Iuliano: You’ve written other books. Was this harder?
Susan Eisenhower: I think on an emotional level it was. Because, first of all, it is so resonant for me, the chapter about Joseph McCarthy and the pernicious influence he had on the political environment in the United States. That, of course, has some resonance domestically, and the deep divisions that he spoke to. We had that same feeling. Then there were many issues about technological change. He loved his scientists, you know? He really did. He made extraordinary use of the scientific community in setting a set of standards and goals for these rapid technological changes. And you can just see so much of what’s going on in these years. That was a little hard because I wish we had him back. But, I’m really glad I did it. I’m glad I did it. I once wrote a book on my grandmother’s life, which was really a story of the two of them. So, we could just call this the bookend.
Bob Iuliano: Well, I’m looking forward to reading it. Susan, I don’t know how to say thank you enough. Thank you for this conversation. Thank you for introducing the Eisenhower Institute and Gettysburg and helping that marriage work. Thank you for what you do with our students. I’ve talked to so many of them and they find that engagement so remarkable and so uplifting and inspiring and eye-opening. Thank you for today. Thank you for everything.
Susan Eisenhower: Well, it was my pleasure.
Bob Iuliano: Let me conclude with a slice of life at Gettysburg College. We’re recording this just a few days before Thanksgiving, and just a few days ago I was so pleased to participate for the first time in a heartwarming Gettysburg tradition, Servo Thanksgiving. For those of you who don’t know about this tradition, the faculty and staff serve students a full Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, stuffing, and all the fixings. This is the time of year where everyone is feeling the weight of having been at their studies for nearly three straight months, and the dinner had the students with huge smiles on their faces and very full stomachs by evening’s end. It was a great event. In fact, the dinner is such a powerful draw that as I walked to Penn hall before 8 a.m., students had already begun lining up. Mind you, the doors to Servo didn’t open until 4:30 and it’s starting to get chilly in the mornings here. Gettysburg, great in action, to be sure.
Bob Iuliano: Parents, we pride ourselves on giving students a top notch education. I have to admit that we have failed in one respect. We have a long way to go before we can declare competency in our students' turkey carving skills. We’ll see if we can improve next year.
Bob Iuliano: Let me end on a more serious note. As I think about the season, I feel truly thankful for the chance to be part of this community, to see the passion and dedication of our students, and to work with our remarkable faculty to bring our educational mission to life.
Bob Iuliano: Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this conversation and want to be notified of future episodes, please subscribe to Conversations Beneath the Cupola by visiting Gettysburg.edu. If you have a topic or suggestion for a future podcast, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you. Until next time.