Milton S. Eisenhower: A Yankee Ambassador

For eight years Milton Eisenhower traveled through Latin America as personal representative and Special Ambassador for his brother, the President of the United States. From those ramblings and a "life time of interest," Dr. Eisenhower has compiled a wealth of wisdom about the interamerican community. Part anecdote, part admonition, The Wine Is Bitter (Doubleday, 342 pp., $4.95) is the story of an American and the Americas.

"We are, it seems to me, in a transition period in our history in which we are groping for the means of making effective supranational allegiances, for we know that only through effective economic, social, and military cooperation can we hope to achieve our own national destiny." Dr. Eisenhower shows an awareness and concern for the hemisphere which the American nation as a whole is only arriving at slowly. Seventy per cent of the population of Latin America is engaged in agriculture. A firm economic base for these nations, he argues persuasively, cannot possibly be established without a degree of international price control. It is a surprising argument for a Republican but it doesn't stop there. "Indeed, we have extended credit and made gifts to Yugoslavia and Poland. Why, then, should there be criticism of public loans to public productive enterprises in Latin America?"

An American's Eye View

The decision, though, to market The Wine Is Bitter as a "footnote to history" rather than a frank memoir was unfortunate. In this light, the author's homey quotations at the opening of the arbitrary chapters ("Compromise is less a sacrifice of principle than an admission of fallibility") seem absurd; and the important documentary of Dr. Eisenhower's personal involvement in the Tractors for Freedom Committee disappears as another inessential anecdore. To call the work political science is to misrepresent it. It is more accurately the saga of an American diplomat whose yankee charm shows clearly through his narrative's numberless personal stories.

Dr. Eisenhower's book is more representatively American than even he intended. "The United States," he remarks in passing, "is in a very real sense the heart of the interamerican system." Looking at the hemisphere through North American eyes, this may seem credible. But for the better part of the 250 million people who live south of the Rio Grande, the Yankee and his institutions are strange and often repugnant animals. The fact that the United States with seven per cent of the world's population produces 50 per cent of the world's goods does not necessarily endear Uncle Sam to his Latin neighbors. When a Latin turns on his television set he watches Gunsmoke or The Untouchables; when he steps on to the street he sees cars from Detroit; when he goes to the neighborhood store he is confronted with Fab and Spry. But it is wrong and dangerously ethnocentric to presume that this makes him a fan of the United States.


The author of The Wine Is Bitter demonstrates a good knowledge of Latin American history but here, again, his interpretation is disturbingly--and typically--myopic. He talks at length of the "Latin Republics," recognizing only their economic situation as being much different from our own. There is virtually no discussion of the fact that republicanism itself is different in Latin America.

The quality of the early Spanish "conquerors and settlers," he mistakenly contends, was no different than that of the early English, Dutch, and French in North America. The conqueror who came to North America was, in fact, quickly disappointed. The Indian he found was poor, prone to disease, and generally unexploitable. Timber and fish hardly promised to make him a conquistador. He had no choice but to settle and make the best of what he had. South America, on the other hand, gave much to the conqueror. Taking gold and silver from the hills and sugar from the plains, he could intoxicate himself on pure profit. To aid his enterprise, he domesticated the Indian and imported the African. The settlers, in truth, came to North America and the conquerers to the South; the former invested and the latter extracted and the societies that the two constructed were--and are--very different.

Fails to Face Communism

In his enthusiasm for interamerican unity, Dr. Eisenhower glosses over the differences in North and South American heritage. It is inconceivable to him that a "Latin Republic" might want to shove itself into the 20th Century by means not wholly to our liking nor entirely dictated by our image. He is totally American in his inability to understand communism. "Now two revolutions smolder in the hemisphere: the Alliance for Progress and Castro communism. One is dedicated to democracy, justice, and economic growth; the other, conceived in bloodshed, is dedicated to violence, totalitarianism and the destruction of human freedom. The former will take time; the latter can come with the dawn. They cannot survive side by side. Latin Americans must choose between them." Time and again the reader finds an intelligent and informative discussion of the Latin situation juxtaposed with an irrational and inexcusably demagogic tirade against the "international communist conspiracy" or "the wild-eyed, messianic posture" of Castro's Cuba.

The American media--Hollywood films, serialized television shows, the AP and the UPI--daily carry an image of incredible prosperity into the restive heart of Spanish America. The denizens of the "Latin Republics" can see what the 20th Century has to offer and, daily, they want it more. Some, like Romulo Betancourt and Jose Figueres, will practice patience and subtle revolution; others like Che Guevara and Gustavo Machado will ask speed and violence; all seek greater happiness for a greater number.

Distressingly, Special Ambassador Eisenhower fails to realize--or at least to acknowledge--the nature of the communist appeal to Latin America. It promises speed, it promises wealth, and, most significantly, it doesn't smell of Dollar Diplomay or Good Neighbor Policy. It exists today side by side with the democratic revolution, and shows no signs of abating in the immediate future. American diplomats are faced with a dedicated, often frantic, opponent. If they can do no more than call him "godless" or "bloodthirsty" their struggle will be short and painful.

As anecdote and memoir, The Wine Is Bitter makes enjoyable reading. As a work representative of an era in American thinking, it is, perhaps, more significant. It documents a spirit, a prejudice, extant in America today. Marketed as political science, though, its profundity falls short of the ambassadorial level.