William B. Ewald Jr., who was a White House speechwriter for Dwight D. Eisenhower and wrote several revisionist histories to help redeem the former president’s reputation, died on Monday at his home in Greenwich, Conn. He was 89.
The cause was respiratory failure, his son William B. Ewald III said.
The elder Mr. Ewald helped Eisenhower write a two-volume memoir of his presidency, “The White House Years: Mandate for Change, 1953-1956” and “Waging Peace, 1956-1961,” and after spending four years debriefing Eisenhower at his farm in Gettysburg, Pa., Mr. Ewald probably knew the particulars of his White House years as well as anyone.
He concluded that Eisenhower “felt throughout that he had done a far more creditable job as president than people were giving him credit for,” both in shaping foreign policy and in discrediting the virulent anti-Communist crusade of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, a fellow Republican.
In his book “Eisenhower the President: Crucial Days, 1951-1960,” Mr. Ewald sought to rectify that oversight. And according to the scholar John P. Roche, a former aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson, Mr. Ewald succeeded.
“Mr. Ewald’s Eisenhower emerges as an intelligent, quick — but nonconceptual, even anti-intellectual — leader whose great attribute was decisiveness,” Professor Roche wrote in The New York Times Book Reviewin 1981.
“It may have seemed on occasion that he was indecisive,” he continued, “but this was pure camouflage. Indeed, Mr. Ewald credits Eisenhower with supernal cunning; by comparison, Lyndon Johnson seems like an altar boy.
“Yet without perceiving any contradiction, Mr. Ewald concludes: ‘To describe a man of superb inner force of mind and heart, superb discipline and transcendent loyalties is to describe a man not only effective in leadership but ethical in character.’ ”
William Bragg Ewald Jr., one of the last of the Eisenhower administration alumni, was born in Chicago on Dec. 8, 1925. He was raised in St. Louis, where his father was a lawyer and an unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor. His mother, the former Mary Ann Niccolls, was an accomplished pianist.
Mr. Ewald graduated from Washington University in St. Louis and received a doctorate in English from Harvard, where he researched two books and taught a humanities course. He also became friendly there with a fellow boardinghouse tenant, who went to work in the White House and invited Mr. Ewald to join him in mid-1954 as a junior speechwriter.
Mr. Ewald worked in the White House for two years before being named assistant secretary of the interior, a job he held until 1961 with a brief hiatus as a speechwriter for Vice President Richard M. Nixon’s presidential campaign. (He complained later that Nixon “wanted to do everything himself, including write his own speeches.”)
Eisenhower was not considered a great orator. Indeed, except for his 1953 “Chance for Peace” address after the death of Joseph Stalin and his 1961 warning about the perils of a “military-industrial complex,” which received belated attention, Eisenhower’s speeches were largely overlooked.
But David Nichols, another Eisenhower biographer, recalled that he “held 193 news conferences and made some of the most important speeches ever made by an American president.”
In an oral history that Mr. Ewald recorded in 1977 for the Eisenhower Presidential Library, he said his former boss had been intimately involved in drafting speeches and often rewrote them just before delivering them.
Citing one, he said, “You wouldn’t say he thought it up and put it together from the start, but you sure would not say that he took to the podium something somebody else wrote for him.”
Mr. Ewald left the White House in 1961 to work for the chairman of IBM, where he remained until 1988. He took a leave to assist on the presidential memoir.
He found Eisenhower to be a meticulous editor and unusually sparing in personal invective — in print — because he rarely carried a grudge for long. One exception was McCarthy.
The senator had to be “isolated, dismembered and destroyed,” Mr. Ewald wrote. He recalled a colleague’s telling him “that he never heard Eisenhower so coldbloodedly skin a man alive” as when he upbraided McCarthy in a hotel room in Peoria, Ill., during the 1952 presidential campaign.
But it would take two more years for the Senate to censure McCarthy. In reviewing Mr. Ewald’s book “Who Killed Joe McCarthy?” The Christian Science Monitor wrote that Eisenhower’s “refusal to grapple with McCarthy is something neither time nor Ewald can ever explain away.”
Thanks to Mr. Ewald, Eisenhower avoided slighting his predecessor. In his book “Harry and Ike,” Steve Neal wrote that in the first draft of Eisenhower’s memoir, Harry S. Truman’s name was omitted from a list of “the towering governmental figures of the West.”
“I pointed out that the omission appeared to glare from the page,” Mr. Ewald recalled. Eisenhower then inserted Truman as No. 6, between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Konrad Adenauer, the West German chancellor.
Mr. Ewald’s wife of 50 years, the former Mary Thedieck, died in 1997. In addition to his son William, he is survived by two other sons, Charles and Thomas, and seven grandchildren.
In 1990, during the Persian Gulf war begun by President George Bush, Thomas Ewald, then a 24-year-old banker, was seized by Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait and held hostage. He was released only after his mother sent a letter to Saddam Hussein.
The episode prompted Mr. Ewald to write an Op-Ed article in The New York Times under the headline “What Ike Would Do in the Gulf.” In the article, he drew a distinction between what he saw as an emerging “macho unilateralism” in American Middle East policy, one that disregarded public opinion and personally vilified its foes, and Eisenhower’s policy of building international coalitions, respecting cultural differences and never attacking enemies by name.
Eisenhower would have applauded Mr. Bush’s success in forming a military coalition to oust Mr. Hussein from Kuwait, Mr. Ewald wrote, “but a growing chorus of experts is urging a different course — away from internationalism and toward the Lone Rangerism that gave us Vietnam.”
“That option remains very much alive,” he added. In 2004, when President George W. Bush was seeking re-election after invading Iraq, Mr. Ewald cast his ballot for his Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. His son William said it was the first time his father had voted for a Democrat for president.