- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2007


By Michael Korda

HarperCollins, $34.95, 779 pages


Gen. Charles DeGaulle — hardly an admirer of things American — said of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1942, “he was a soldier. By nature and by profession, action seemed to him straight and simple … He knew how to be adroit and supple, but … he was [also] capable of great daring.” Indeed Ike is usually presented as a simple, straightforward, all-American leader, born in the Midwest to a poor family of pacifists, who went to West Point because he could attend without charge.

But in fact, he was from the very beginning a dedicated, patriotic soldier, quietly ambitious, with a remarkable capacity for detailed work. As he reminded his young socialite wife, Mamie, he would insist on putting his profession and his duty above everything else, including her.

Michael Korda, well known for his publishing career, has also written a biography of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, but “Ike: An American Hero” is especially well-informed and well-researched. Mr. Korba’s knowledge of the bureaucratic conduct of armies and the complexities of coalition military movements results in superb treatments of subjects central to Eisenhower’s life and career.

It is usually pointed out how Ike spent so much of his time not on a battlefield, but as a military staff person, and how unfortunate it was for him to miss the action. He even contemplated quitting the army before World War II.

But as this book makes crystal clear, these experiences — his years as a lonely advocate with Gen. George Patton of the tank offense, his distinguished career in training fighting men, his minute understanding of mobilization and troop movements, and his remarkable ability to submerge his ego and terrific temper — gave Ike a superb apprenticeship. He came to the attention of powerful older men in the armed forces and progressed slowly, but he progressed nonetheless. Finally, Gen. George Marshall put him in charge of the American forces and then the Allied effort in Europe.

The worst thing in war is to have no allies; the second-worst thing is to have allies, and Ike had to deal with his own prima donas as well as Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery and the great amateur strategist Winston S. Churchill. Eisenhower’s splendid achievement was to keep the alliance together with all the tensions of war just under the surface.

He has been much criticized over the last few decades for not being strong enough, not being adventuresome enough and not advancing beyond the borders his president agreed to at the Three Power Conferences. As Mr. Korda shows, it is easy to criticize, but this one man oversaw the three largest amphibious landings in the long history of warfare and militarized slaughter. Greater than Alexander, than Caesar, than Napoleon. On D-Day, concerned about the weather reports, Ike still prayed, “I hope to God I know what I am doing.”

Mr. Korda gives us some informed judgments, especially on British life and armed forces, in which he himself has served. He even tells us that one military trainee who did not like Eisenhower’s disciplined ways was none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald. He lets us know about the serious conflicts in the Eisenhower marriage, especially after the death of their first son.

In the book’s 720 pages, only 100, though, are dedicated to Ike’s two terms as president, and at times Mr. Korda is overly supportive of the president’s poor record in areas such as civil rights. Mr. Korda does, however, show how close Ike came to losing the Republican nomination in 1952 to Sen. Robert Taft. And he is sensitive about the relationship Eisenhower had with his driver and aide, Kay Summersby, whose memoirs Mr. Korda published years ago. In his personal overview, the author notes he has benefited from Susan Eisenhower’s informative treatment of her grandmother Mamie.

Again and again the humble Eisenhower was a rather thoughtful bureaucrat, extremely able to function adroitly in the maze of military politics. He survived the pettiness of unnamed and forgotten Pentagon brass, the incredible self advertisements of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the demands of Gen. Marshall, and the intrusions of Churchill, FDR and Stalin.

It is little wonder that he chain-smoked his way through World War II. And Fred Greenstein has shown Ike had a very sophisticated view of managing the presidency, one that we might benefit from in our more complicated century. In the end, Ike served America very, very well.

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

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