By Chet Yarbrough
Eisenhower in War and Peace
Written by: Jean Edward Smith
Narrated by: Paul Hecht
Jean Edward Smith’s biography of Dwight Eisenhower defines the meaning of political leadership. Smith does not show Eisenhower to be a great intellect or military genius. Smith suggests Eisenhower is similar to Ulysses Grant in having come from a modest family to rise to the office of President of the United States. Like Grant, Eisenhower is shown to be a consummate leader who politically manages and develops people who understand how to get things done. Unlike Grant, Smith shows Eisenhower to be a better President than battlefield commander.
Eisenhower leads Allied forces on D-Day by using the best battlefield generals of WWII. Smith implies–without the Allied generals’ experience in battle, Eisenhower would likely have failed on D-Day.
Smith notes that Eisenhower had minimal combat experience. The one time Eisenhower directly manages a battle is in Sicily. If it had not been for superior manpower and material, Smith argues Eisenhower would have been defeated. Smith goes on to suggest that British Field General Montgomery is unjustly scapegoated for Eisenhower’s Italian campaign mistakes.
Smith also notes Montgomery’s role in D-Day is unfairly characterized. Montgomery argues for concentrated forces at critical points in German defenses; while Eisenhower demands a broad frontal attack along the entire front. Eisenhower’s tactics, in some generals’ opinions, prolong the end of the war by six months; i.e. increasing the casualty count and stalling Montgomery’s advance on Omaha Beach.
However, Smith’s biography of Eisenhower shows that military successes and failures make him a perfect political leader. Smith reveals an inner moral compass that defines Eisenhower’s beliefs and decisions. Eisenhower uses that moral compass to become Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in WWII; and later, President of the United States. Smith infers, despite tactical failures as a battlefield commander, Eisenhower’s innate ability to get things done through other people make him one of the great twentieth century American Presidents.
Smith offers a comprehensive picture of Eisenhower. Eisenhower is no moral saint. His power as Allied forces’ general leads to the Somersby affair even as Eisenhower professes a deep need and affection for his wife, Mamie. Somersby appears to have been loved by Eisenhower, but she is unceremoniously dumped in a “Dear John” letter when Eisenhower is ordered back to the United States. On the one hand, Smith is showing Eisenhower is human; on the other, Smith is showing the perfidy of men in power positions.
Smith explains Eisenhower’s path to the presidency. A part of that trail is festooned with Eisenhower’s sense of duty, but it is also tainted by the power and glory of high office. Eisenhower is solicited by both Democratic and Republican parties. In the end, the Republican platform more closely adheres to Eisenhower’s belief in fiscal conservatism.
However, Smith shows Eisenhower to be a domestic social liberal. Eisenhower is no ideologue. The inner compass that directs Eisenhower’s life recognizes the cruelty of poverty, the shallowness of red-baiting exemplified by Joseph McCarthy, and the importance of patience when dealing with international and domestic affairs.
Eisenhower resists the hawkish tendencies of his Republican colleagues. He insists on withdrawal from the Korean conflict. Eisenhower abjures any suggestion that nuclear bombs should be used to attack American enemies. He forthrightly confronts Governor Faubus when the governor refuses to integrate schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.
On the other hand, Eisenhower succumbs to the machinations of his defense department and several covert plans to overthrow foreign governments. Though Eisenhower initially rejects a British assassination plot against Mosadegh in Iran, he changes his mind when he begins to believe oil availability is more important than one human life. Though Mosadegh dies from natural causes, America supports a military junta that overthrows Iran’s government. Eisenhower’s support of the overthrow is based on British settlement of an Iranian oil agreement with Iran, and Iranian oil availability in the United States.
Eisenhower also mistakenly establishes the domino theory of communist infiltration. Though he refuses to support the French in Indochina, he believes the fall of Vietnam will expand communism in Southeast Asia. Eisenhower sets the table for Kennedy’s and Johnson’s mistakes in Vietnam.
Eisenhower is well-known for his opposition to the military/industrial complex growing in America. He insists on balancing the budget by reducing military expenditure. He reduces financing for American military forces while strengthening Air Force capability as a more modern military deterrent. Eisenhower faces down numerous military commanders that insist on expanding conventional forces that can intercede in foreign conflicts without employing weapons of mass destruction (an argument that is being made by today’s military establishment).
Smith shows that Eisenhower refuses to balance the budget by cutting domestic programs that serve the poor and aged. Eisenhower presses unsuccessfully for increases in medical services for the American public (quite different from today’s Republican President).
Smith offers a balanced picture of Dwight Eisenhower. America benefited from Eisenhower’s political acumen. He may not rank with Washington and Lincoln, but he drew from an inner moral compass that makes human beings as good as they are capable of being.
In contrast to America’s current President, Eisenhower makes one proud to be an American.