The Painful Loss and End of an Era

Dear Friends,

The cliché “time flies” is a hackneyed phrase for good reason—it’s true. This summer I was determined to dedicate myself to reflection and thought. What happened, however, turned out to be so much more. I am nearly unable to remember certain weeks, which has as much to do with the accelerating sense of time as it does the shocking events that tugged at my heart and upended my thinking.

On July 30th this summer, my beloved older sister Anne died unexpectedly in New York City. After a two-year COVID hiatus, I was fortunate to have dinner with her two weeks before her passing.

The deep bonds between us were perhaps stronger since we suffered from none of the rivalry that makes some sibling relationships complicated. We loved and admired each other. I was astonished by her New York chic, and her acclaimed design talent. I was also moved by her kindness to others and her unflagging loyalty to family, friends, and co-workers.

Photo taken on the porch at the Eisenhower Farm in Gettysburg, circa 1957. From left, Mary, Susan, David and Anne. Notice that Susan and Anne are wearing the same dress!
Anne Eisenhower speaks at the Dwight D Eisenhower Global Awards Gala 2021 held by BCIU (Business Council for International Understanding).

And on her part, she used to tell me that she was in awe of me for my willingness to stay in Washington DC and involve myself in hard-nosed issues related to our country’s uncertain future and the threats to our national security. For whatever reasons, she looked to me to play the public role of managing “the family matters.” She also encouraged me to pursue audacious plans and always had my back. 

Anne was one of a kind—and I still wonder who I am going to call several times a week for our regular “reality checks” and “you wouldn’t believe it” updates.

On the international scene this summer, Mikhail Gorbachev—former president of the Soviet Union—died on August 30, after years of illness. He presided over the end of the Warsaw Pact and the demise of the USSR. He stepped back from using the USSR’s considerable force when a less courageous man might have instigated civil war. He was convinced that the world had changed and that “new Russia” and the “Commonwealth of Independent States” (the former USSR) would be welcomed into the international community and what he would call:  our common European home.” Over the years, I met the Soviet leader as many as twelve times, sometimes in small settings. A handful of years after Gorbachev relinquished power in 1991, I also interviewed him, one-on-one, on NATO expansion and other international security questions.

Susan Eisenhower and Mikhael Gorbachev meet at the Kremlin, Moscow, circa 1987. Regrettably, the photo has some damage to the left side.

Gorbachev’s death represents the passing of a Russian voice that seemed to speak to many in the West. Though a controversial figure at home, he was for many old Cold Warriors a symbol of a new era—one that has now collapsed.

And not long after Labor day, the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, died peacefully on the 8th of September. Last month, I shared with you the interview I gave to Sky News on this sad development. She stood for things that seem to be ebbing away—like duty, commitment, and tradition. The Queen’s remarkable life also represents the end of the old order.

Just after meeting the Queen at a garden party before a dinner held the following evening in 2007. From left, Ambassador Sir David Manning, Susan Eisenhower over the Queen’s shoulder standing next to Richard Fisher.

Set against these events has been the increasingly frustrating and dangerous war between Russia and Ukraine—a thoroughly modern conflict that has been allowed to commence with little or no US diplomatic effort to stop it. It is evident we have few people in our government who know the Russian and Ukrainian cultures, and the real history of how the Soviet Union came to an end. Furthermore, there are not enough policymakers who seem to understand the existential crisis that could emerge, not just between these two combatants, but for the world. (Too many of our “talking heads” seem to toss off the potential of a nuclear strike, as if it could never happen to us, accidentally or otherwise.)

If our government took these existential dangers seriously, we would have a more robust presence in Moscow, and government officials at the critical levels would be in contact with their counterparts. We would be feverishly working to manage a situation that could become considerably worse than it is right now. Not only are such contacts no longer taking place, we do not even have an ambassador in Russia—a country with the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. Since I am not sure I will be writing on this in the future, please take some time to read about the handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the long-held secret on how it was eventually resolved. All sides understood that the presence of strategic nuclear weapons changed how war and diplomacy had to be conducted if we are to avoid risking the annihilation of civilization itself.

As painful and bewildering as these times have been, they will, by definition, lead to transition and change—as well as new beginnings. But it will take time—and perhaps contentious dialogue and missteps before we fully understand how interconnected the world really is.

Though these figures are gone, especially one who was personally very dear to me, I am inspired by what they stood for and comforted to know that they, at least, can rest peacefully.

Susan

12 thoughts on “The Painful Loss and End of an Era

  1. hi…In the short time that I have been reading your content, I have enjoyed it. I offer my condolences. I would like to know your opinion about Iran and the events that are happening on the street these days.

  2. Thank you for another insightful piece. In the year 2022 I think countries should be reaching diplomatic solutions rather than risking nuclear annihilation. My condolences on the passing of your sister. Your posting of the photos was appreciated. Take care.

  3. I am so sorry about your loss of your sister. As a younger daughter who was often adored in matching attire with my sister – whose gentle nature inspires me – I can identify with the strength of that bond.

    I have also been deeply saddened by the loss of such world leaders, of what they have represented, and I pray every day that peace will prevail in this ever-changing world we live in.

    May they Rest In Peace, and may peace prevail.

  4. Well said…Your voice needs to be turned up not down. Putin’s crowd is a ruff crowd I don’t know that they will listen to anything from anyone, but you may know more than i .Reach out to our Secy of State. The thing that as keeping me up at nights is that Trump and his followers are still on the loose. Putin is aware of that and that keeps him going. Putin is banking on a Pro Putin Trumpist GOP of Autocracy in a nicely more smoothly packaged Ron Desantis or similar …will emerge and democracy will go into a long hybernation / barry katz

  5. Patently true ALL…..

    Absent due to space constructions: Concurrent/stubborn sideline nemesis(es) No. Korea & Iran.

    Also [as part of an ancillary ‘solution’ @ a peacekeeping way (for sake if their own preservation)] would be China & India—if cajoled into understanding the need to put a premium on World PEACE.

    ~Condolences to you & you extended Family upon your dear sister Anne’s recent passing…..May she Rest in God’s own peace~

  6. So good to hear from you, and our condolences on the passing of your sister
    Time does fly to fast sometimes, and it is tooooo loooog, since we have been together
    The world continues to be a scary place and the nuclear (or nukular – HA) genie is once again being threatened to be let out of the box
    Our warmest regards and the hope to be together again soon
    Bob

  7. So sorry to hear about the passing of your sister. No one can truly empathize with another’s loss of this magnitude but having myself lost two brothers and a sister — my condolences.
    Concerning Ukraine, your comment that especially resonated was that the conflict was “allowed to commence with little or no U.S. diplomatic effort to stop it.” I wish the administration had shared at least some of the content of Putin’s letters to Biden before the start of the conflict. The emphasis on our side seemed to be focused on the right of Ukraine to decide whether or not to join NATO. Yet concerning the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO, here is in part what Zelensky told Fareed Zakaria on March 20th: “But everyone in the West told me that we do not have any chance of NATO or EU membership . . . I requested them personally to say directly that we are going to accept you into NATO in a year or two or five. Just say it directly or clearly or just say no, and the response was very clear, you are not going to be a NATO member or EU member, but publicly the doors will remain open.”

  8. Susan, so sorry to hear of the passing of sister Anne. Just seems like yesterday I was teaching her & David(or attempting to) how to swim at Gettysburg Country Club. Thanks very much for including the photo of the g-kids at the farm (circa 1957) with Anne & yourself wearing the same dresses & David appearing nonplussed about the moment in his handsome “gangster look-a-like” attire. As always thanks again, best wishes, & for the walk down memory lane.

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