- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2007

EISENHOWER

By John Wukovits

Palgrave Macmillan, $21.95, 224 pages

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL RICCARDS

Gen. Wesley K. Clark has edited a series of volumes on great generals, and as a part of the series reporter John Wukovits has written a brief and familiar study of Dwight D. Eisenhower. There were and are few Americans more beloved than Eisenhower, and his relationship with his fellow citizens is best summarized up in his 1952 campaign slogan, “I like Ike.” And like him they did. Probably if he could have run for reelection again in 1960, he would have easily defeated John F. Kennedy.

But this volume is about how Eisenhower became Eisenhower, or rather Ike. He was a mediocre student, a fine athlete, a personable individual with a very quick temper. Even though Eisenhower came from a pacifist family in the isolationist Midwest, he entered the U.S. Military Academy, probably for a free education, and then he progressed in the ranks very slowly.

He missed serving abroad in World War I because the Washington brass assigned him repeatedly to train young soldiers in the United States. After the war, he received at times lucrative offers to leave the Army, but he stayed with it, foreseeing that another war was coming. He fell under the tutalage of Gen. Fox Connor who influenced his notions of leadership, and he served as a staff person to the more flamboyant Douglas MacArthur.

Eisenhower had thought intensively about how to lead men, particularly in war-time situations, and developed incisive staff papers which called him to the attention of Gen. George Marshall, who would become the architect of victory in the World War II. Ike was sent off to Europe to begin the joint Allied command for Marshall’s eventual arrival, but soon President Franklin D. Roosevelt insisted that Marshall stay at the Pentagon.

Careful to placate the Allies, especially Churchill, FDR saw Ike as a superb politician in his service. Indeed Eisenhower was a part of that extraordinary generation of soldier-diplomats who provided such directed leadership in the 1940s and early 1950s. They were educated, dedicated, and well organized bureaucrats wedded to the joint arts of war and diplomacy.

Despite a rocky start in the North African campaign, Ike matured into a decisive leader who held the prima donna generals together until the fall of the Third Reich. His most difficult problems were with his old friend George Patton and with Bernard Montgomery, both of whom tried his considerable patience in very different ways.

Eisenhower’s most famous decisions were the landings on D-Day and his lightning quick response to the German offense at the Battle of the Bulge. His most criticized efforts were his commitment to the Yalta accords and the president’s directives about the division of Germany.

But Mr. Wukovits argues that by not rushing to Berlin, Eisenhower saved countless American lives. By the last year of the war, he realized that he was indeed the military commander in the Western theaters. The lessons of his uniqueness were simple: that he was relentless in the pursuit of his goals, understood the importance of teamwork, had a sense of empathy, was savvy in dealing with the media, and had a deep devotion to duty.

One cannot help but be impressed by the author’s evidence of Ike’s genuine concerns for his soldiers and his real hatred of the toll of war. At Ohedruf-Nord and at Buchenwald, for example, he saw firsthand the concentration camps. He ordered that the troops visit the camp near Gatha so there might be no question later of what had occurred.

Eisenhower was profoundly shaken by what he saw before him; even the war-hardened Patton turned aside and vomited at the gruesome sights. There were no revisionist historians present, apparently.

As for his “boys,” Ike on one occasion visited the fighting forces and asked a private what his thoughts were. The latter responded honestly that he was nervous. Ike admitted that he was also, and perhaps they should take a walk and relax a bit. And so the four-star general and the private walked off together along the Rhine River drawing, in the author’s eloquent words, “strength and comfort from each other’s presence.”

Michael P. Riccards is the author of the two volume history of the presidency, “The Ferocious Engine of Democracy.”


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