CAMP DAVID: THEN AND NOW
- May 4, 2012
- on 5/4/2012
- MoJo: want2dish
Submitted by citizen journalist Mike Ward
Frederick County is preparing to host a multitude of international leaders and media at the upcoming G-8 Summit at Camp David on May 18-20. While access to the presidential retreat is highly restricted, its history paints the picture of a place to withdraw from, but never escape, the pressures of political life in the capital. The following timeline is based on the book "The President is at Camp David" by W. Dale Nelson, available from the Frederick County Public Library, which contains extensive details on presidential use of Camp David from Roosevelt to Reagan.
Nestled in the Catoctin mountains near Thurmont, Camp David began with the less familiar name of "Camp #3," a set of rustic cabins built by the Works Progress Administration and used as a vacation spot for federal workers and their families. In 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's doctors urged him to get away from the summer heat and stress of Washington. D.C. Using a hundred mile radius as a guide, several locations above 1,500 feet were inspected before "Camp 3" was chosen by the president. Officially run by the Navy for the president's use, the camp was given the new name "USS Shangri-La" after the fictional city in Milton's "Paradise Lost." The main lodge became the president's house, and for many years was the only building there with hot water. The president's staff stayed in the unfinished cabins and bunks, using a central washing and bath building, cold water only. Although Roosevelt mainly used the retreat relaxing with close friends and family, he also initiated its use as a place to entertain foreign dignitaries when he hosted Winston Churchill in 1943.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who ran on an austerity plan, made good on his promise to reduce many presidential perks, and was ready to close the camp before ever seeing it. Encouraged by his aides to at least visit the camp, Eisenhower not only decided to keep the retreat, but improve upon it. The telephone and security systems were enhanced, and the land was brought out of the wild, brushy state that Roosevelt preferred. A three-hole golf course was installed on the hill just outside of the president's house. Renaming the camp to "Camp David" after his grandson, Eisenhower continued its use for both family vacations and foreign negotiations, as when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was invited for private talks over the stalemated negotiations to end the communist blockade of Berlin.
Camp David was initially shunned by the Kennedy's, who preferred a horse ranch in rural Virginia in their early years. But in later years, the cool Catoctin hills won the family over, and they used it more often. Although Kennedy hosted few foreign visitors, he did call upon his elder predecessor Eisenhower to meet him there for advice following the failed Bay of Pigs action in Cuba. President Harry S. Truman rarely used the camp, but it was revived again under Lyndon B. Johnson, who used it as one of several places to get away from Washington. Only twice did Johnson continue Eisenhower's tradition of inviting foreign dignitaries to visit with him at Camp David, but he spent many nights there with his cabinet discussing the Vietnam War, from its inception through the increase and eventual withdrawal of American troops.
Under the Nixon administration, Camp David experienced a new era of construction and historical significance. Using funds that granted the presidential staff a virtual blank check in improving military stations, a heated swimming pool was added to the patio. The interior, which until then had been decorated with old White House furniture of several eras, was completely redone with new colors and artwork. Even the bomb shelter received new furnishings and amenities. Nixon spent more time at Camp David than any of his predecessors, deliberating late into the night by the fireside, and using the new pool often. For foreign visitors and favored staff members alike, being granted a visit to Camp David took on new prestige during Nixon's time. As his political troubles increased during his second term, he spent more time at Camp David alone.
For a short period of time in Gerald Ford's administration, select reporters were invited to interview the president at Camp David, but this was short lived as requests for tours from the press and congressmen became to numerous to handle, and the gates were closed tightly thereafter. While Ford made use of the camp to relax, his staff was allowed access and used it more often for conferences and planning sessions.
It was 13 days in September, 1978, that truly put Camp David on the map of history, when President Jimmy Carter invited Egyptian President Anwar Al Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Manachem Begin into the privacy of Camp David in an effort to make progress on peace in the Middle East. During these tense and emotional discussions, President Carter coaxed and cajoled the tough-minded leaders into hammering out a written agreement. Despite the relaxing and reclusive atmosphere, Sadat and Begin rarely spoke directly with each other, and several times the discussions nearly collapsed outright. In the end, Carter's diplomacy prevailed, and the Camp David Accords has made a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt, even if many of its other agreements have not become reality.
Ronald Reagan spent more time at Camp David than any other, logging 571 days of his two terms in the Catoctins. Though most were for family recreation, a visit there by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher convinced him to agree to nuclear arms reductions with the Soviet Union. A chapel was built at the camp in 1991, and George H.W. Bush's daughter Dorothy was married there. Bill Clinton did not use it much in his early term, but used it more frequently as his political troubles deepened during his second term. With 478 days at the camp, George W. Bush comes a close second to Regan's record.
This May 18, a new page of Camp David's history will be added by President Barack Obama, whose administration moved the G-8 summit there from Chicago for added security and avoiding protesters. Nearby Cunningham Falls campground has been closed from May 17-20 in an effort to deter protesters, and Frederick County Schools will be closed on May 18 due to the Sheriff's concerns over extra traffic between school buses, security details and media.
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