American Portraits

President Dwight Eisenhower, Responsibility, and Restraint of American Power

In this lesson, students will learn how President Eisenhower made responsible decisions related to war and foreign policy during his tenure. They will also consider ways in which they can make responsible decisions.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.


In the spring of 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower listened impatiently as his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles urged him to win points at the negotiating table with China over the stalemated Korean War. Dulles was proposing using the threat of force or employing actual force in escalating the war. Dulles wanted China to accept American demands concerning American prisoners of war. The president finally sighed and said to Dulles, “It will be impossible to call off the armistice and go to war again. The American people will never stand such a move.” The case was closed, and Americans continued to negotiate and won most of their goals. Eisenhower told another advisor, “Sometimes Foster is too worried about being accused of sounding like [Democratic President Harry] Truman and [Secretary of State Dean] Acheson. I think he worried too much about it.” When discussing the signed armistice a few weeks later, Eisenhower expressed the belief of many American parents whose children were stationed in Korea when he stated, “The war is over. I hope my son is going to come home soon.”…

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you make responsible decisions, even if they are not popular?

Virtue Defined

Responsibility is accountability to myself and others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn how President Eisenhower made responsible decisions related to war and foreign policy during his tenure. They will also consider ways in which they can make responsible decisions.


  • Students will analyze the decisions made by President Eisenhower that kept the United States out of war during his presidency.
  • Students will understand how to make responsible decisions, even if they are not the most popular.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of responsibility to their own lives.


Dwight Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II and had the responsibility of ordering the D-Day invasion in German-occupied Normandy on June 6, 1944. This event led to the massive offensive that pushed Nazi troops out of France and Belgium and back into Germany. Although he was proud of his achievement in helping lead Allied forces over totalitarian armies, Eisenhower had the awful responsibility of seeing hundreds of thousands of men wounded and killed under his command. He knew what he had done was right, but Eisenhower also understood the consequences of going to war.

After the war, Eisenhower served as the president of Columbia University and the commander of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Western Europe) before being elected President of the United States in 1952 and re-elected in 1956. President Eisenhower recognized U.S. global responsibilities as one of the world’s superpowers and embraced the Cold War idea of “containment,” which meant resisting Soviet expansion around the globe. Eisenhower also authorized the exercise of American power and intervention in countries around the world, especially the covert action of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). However, in several major crises, President Eisenhower restrained from intervening with American military might, even when allies and members of his administration pressured him to do so. In the Korean War, the French fight against the Vietnamese at Dien Bien Phu, the Suez Canal Crisis, and the Chinese bombing of Taiwanese islands, Eisenhower chose not to send American troops into action and accepted the responsibility of those decisions.


  • D-Day
  • Totalitarian
  • North American Treaty Organization (NATO)
  • Containment
  • Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
  • Negotiating
  • Stalemated
  • Dien Bien Phu
  • Viet Minh
  • Terrain
  • Artillery
  • Lobbed
  • Anti-aircraft
  • Beleaguered
  • Intervene
  • Teeming
  • Set-piece battle
  • Chorus
  • Combatants
  • Suez Canal
  • Impending
  • Bluntly
  • Communist
  • Legitimate
  • Diplomatic

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who was Dwight Eisenhower? What was his role in this narrative?
  • What was Eisenhower’s purpose as president?
  • What actions did Eisenhower take that showed his responsibility?
  • How did President Eisenhower’s actions promote freedom?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Korda, Michael. Ike: An American Hero. New York: Harper, 2007.
  • Newton, Jim. Eisenhower: The White House Years. New York: Anchor, 2012.
  • Pach, Chester J. Jr., and Elmo Richardson. The Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, rev. ed. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1991.
  • Perret, Geoffrey. Eisenhower. New York: Random House, 1999.
  • Pickett, William B. Dwight David Eisenhower and American Power. Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, 2011.
  • Smith, Jean Edward. Eisenhower in War and Peace. New York: Random House, 2012.

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