- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2003

John Eisenhower is conspicuous among those of us who have had more than one career. A graduate of West Point, John followed his famous father into the army, and as a junior officer was witness to some historic moments of World War II. Subsequently, he emerged as a historian in his own right. Mr. Eisenhower’s narrative of the Battle of the Bulge, “The Bitter Woods,” and his history of the Mexican War, “So Far From God,” reflect his broad interest in the military history of the past two centuries.

Although Mr. Eisenhower has seven books to his credit, he has not written specifically about his father until now. (There are, after all, many Eisenhower biographies, of which my personal favorite is that by Carlo d’Este.) “General Ike,” as the subtitle makes clear, is not a full biography, but a series of essays that focus on Ike’s dealings with important figures of the war years, most notably Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, and Generals George Marshall, Bernard Montgomery, and George Patton. Mr. Eisenhower’s portraits inevitably cover some ground that is familiar to students of World War II, but they also include fresh insights.

One of the more trying periods of Ike’s career came before the war, when he served as chief of staff to Douglas MacArthur, then head of a U.S. military mission to the Philippines. Mr. Eisenhower insists that his father’s diary entries in this period exaggerate his differences with MacArthur, but most readers will conclude that the Army did well to keep Eisenhower and MacArthur far apart during World War II. But Mr. Eisenhower has kind words for both men, concluding that “Ike Eisenhower could never have played the role of Emperor of Japan as well as did MacArthur, and MacArthur could never have contended with Churchill and Montgomery, men he did not control, so well as Ike.”

Dwight Eisenhower’s long friendship with Patton is a matter of record, as is Ike’s support for Patton in the wake of embarrassing wartime episodes, including two instances in which Patton abused soldiers whom he viewed as malingerers. But, Mr. Eisenhower points out, Ike’s tolerance lasted only as long as Patton’s talents seemed essential to winning the war. When, after Germany’s surrender, Patton delivered a speech in which he suggested that Nazis were not that much different from America’s Democrats and Republicans, Ike sacked him. Mr. Eisenhower was visiting his father at the time and quotes him as saying, “I’m not firing George for what he has done; I’m firing him for what he’ll do next.”

Ike found Marshall the easiest of his illustrious contemporaries to work with. Although Marshall had wanted to command the invasion of Europe, once Roosevelt settled on Ike as supreme commander, Marshall gave him unstinting support.

Mr. Eisenhower shares his father’s respect for Marshall, but has some personal insights. It seems to me that forbidding himself the warmth of wide friendships outside his immediate family made Marshall’s a barren life. To the outsider he seemed determined never to be friends with his subordinates. He never made any effort to develop a personal relationship with Ike off duty, no matter their mutual respect professionally.

Ike’s most difficult wartime relationship was, of course, that with the prickly Montgomery. Much of the friction grew out of Montgomery’s desire to lead a single, deep thrust into Germany as opposed to a broader advance that would make full use of the Allies’ advantage in numbers. Mr. Eisenhower’s discussion of this issue is one of the strong points of his book, and serves to underscore the great power that Ike, as supreme commander, had over the allocation of scarce resources such as gasoline.

The book abounds in anecdotes, and one of the better ones relates to Montgomery, who was notorious for his refusal to allow smoking or drinking in his presence. When, after his victory at El Alamein, Montgomery chose to entertain a captured German general, von Thoma, at dinner, he was roundly criticized in the British press. Churchill fended off the criticism with the remark, “Alas, poor Thoma. I too have dined with Montgomery.”

Mr. Eisenhower addresses — somewhat gingerly — the question of whether his father was a “great general.”

He dismisses Mongomery’s insistence that a great general must experience battle at all command levels, noting that this criterion would have eliminated men such as Caesar and Robert E. Lee. The author notes, with respect to Ike’s strategic grasp, that he had graduated first in his class at the command and general staff school at Fort Leavenworth. But Mr. Eisenhower suggests that his father’s great gift was his ability to manage strong-willed associates for the common good:

“His relations with … Montgomery serve as a case in point. Time and time again, Ike put up with the foibles, discourtesies, and downright arrogance of his official subordinate, while at the same time insisting that his major decisions be carried out.”

Much the same might be said of his dealings with Patton.

Mr. Eisenhower was fortunate to have been close to his father at some crucial junctures of World War II. Students of the war are now fortunate that he has committed his recollections to print.

John M. Taylor lives in McLean, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books in history and biography including a biography of his famous father, “An American Soldier: The Wars of General Maxwell Taylor.”

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