John Whiteclay Chambers II
Based on comparatively few, although excellent, published sources, this book is not an addition to scholarship. But it is a fresh and engaging characterization. It is enhanced by the author's clear sympathy for his subject, international perspective and charming, urbane style.
The Washington Post
Characterizing Dwight Eisenhower as an American with a "big grin" and "long-limbed, loose American way of walking," this smitten biography demonstrates his heroism by dwelling on his World War II record as commander of Allied armies in Europe. Korda (Ulysses S. Grant) defends "the people's general" against criticisms leveled by subordinates and historians (Eisenhower's presidency flits by in an admiring 64 pages), but for all his fulsome comparisons of Eisenhower to Napoleon and Grant, the author's case is weak. Korda's approving gloss on Ike's "broad front" approach-directing "all the Allied armies to engage the enemy at every point... until superior numbers inevitably ground the Germans down" because "he did not think a single, clever stroke would do it"-makes Eisenhower sound like a terrible strategist. At best, Ike comes off as a competent diplomat-in-arms, enabling egomaniacs like Churchill, De Gaulle, Montgomery and Patton to cooperate, and soothing wife Mamie's anxieties over his glamorous secretary. Unfortunately, Eisenhower's self-effacing affability in this role means his story is usually upstaged by the colorful prima donnas around him. A more critical analysis might have made for a more interesting biography. Photos. (Aug. 21)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Distinguished man of letters and former Simon & Schuster editor-in-chief Korda (Journey to Revolution, 2006, etc.) stylishly and sympathetically restores Dwight D. Eisenhower to an eminent place in the military and political pantheon. The author begins in 1942, when Ike gained instant fame as supreme commander of the European theater of operations and began the dogged strategic planning that would defeat Nazi Germany. The long-postponed Allied invasion of France finally took place on June 6, 1944, and it showcased Ike's skillful ability to manage staggering logistics and bring together the kind of manpower that the effort demanded. His sincerity, grasp of detail and lack of ceremony made it impossible for even the British and French not to like the unassuming, hardworking general. Korda too is evidently enchanted by the decency of his subject, for whom "duty would always come first." Unscholarly and outdoorsy in Mennonite Kansas, Ike escaped small-town Abilene by attending West Point. Second Lieutenant Eisenhower married Denver debutante Mamie Doud in 1916, and they began a trying, peripatetic Army life that required long absences on Ike's part and enormous amounts of suffering and forgiveness on Mamie's. After tours of duty in Panama and France, in 1932 Eisenhower found his first mentor in General Douglas MacArthur, under whom he worked for six years at the War Department and then in the Philippines, building up America's "arsenal of democracy." With the outbreak of World War II, Ike was summoned to London to make order out of chaos, squired around by glamorous volunteer driver Kay Summersby, who may or may not have been his lover. (The author demurely chooses not to judge.) Korda'scommand of military history is impressive in the wartime chapters. He treats Eisenhower's two-term presidency more summarily, but hails Ike's little-regarded devotion to keeping America out of war and the groundwork laid for the Civil Rights movement. An engaging history, guided by an elegant, witty sense of characterization.
Read an Excerpt
An American Hero
Ours is neither a nation nor a culture much given to extended hero worship.
Ralph Waldo Emerson understood his countrymen only too well when he wrote, "Every hero becomes a bore at last." After all, within his own lifetime Emerson would see both Andrew Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant cut down to size. There is no place in American life for the enduring national cult of a hero, no equivalent of France's national passion for Napoleon (a cult strangely enough by no means limited to the French), England's sentimental hero worship of Nelson (and, increasingly, of Winston Churchill), Russia's glorification of Peter the Great.
Perhaps it is the price of being a democracy, and of a deep, inherent distrust of the very idea of an elite—we are all egalitarians at heart, or at least feel a need to pay homage to the idea of equality. We have a natural tendency to nibble away at the great figures of the past; to dig through their lives for flaws, mistakes, and weaknesses; to judge them severely by the standards and beliefs of the present, rather than those that prevailed when they were alive. Thus Washington has been marginalized as a dead white male, and as a slave owner, and remembered more for his ill-fitting false teeth than his generalship. Thus Jefferson has been downgraded from his lofty position as the author of the Declaration of Independence to being treated not merely as a slave owner, but as a spendthrift and hypocrite who slept with his own female slaves. Thus Grant's tomb stood for many decades forlorn and almost unvisited on Riverside Drive and 122nd Street in New York City, despitethe fact that it was, until the end of the nineteenth century, a bigger tourist attraction than the Statue of Liberty.
It is a simple fact of American life, this urge to splash graffiti on the pantheon of our heroes. In other countries—or cultures—the building up of national heroes is a full-time job, respected and well rewarded, in France with membership in the Académie Française and the Légion d'Honneur, in the United Kingdom with knighthoods and a cozy place in the cultural establishment; but in ours, whole profitable segments of the media and publishing industries prosper by tearing them down. Sic transit gloria mundi might as well be our national motto.
In his own lifetime, for example, Dwight D. Eisenhower underwent a rapid transition from world-class, five-star hero to being ridiculed as an old fuddy-duddy in the White House, out of touch with what was happening in the country, more interested in his golf score than in politics, deaf to the pleas of civil rights leaders (or at least hard of hearing), and, toward the end of his eight years as president, overshadowed by the youth and glamour of the young John F. Kennedy.
It was not just journalists, or editorial cartoonists like Herblock in the Washington Post, or intellectuals of the New Frontier, who made fun of Ike—even historians of World War II began to turn their heavy guns on him, particularly admirers of General George S. Patton. Patton's advocates formed a stubborn and robust revisionist cult that would reach its peak when Patton became the hero of Richard Nixon's favorite movie; they held Ike to blame for failing to turn his fractious subordinate loose to seize Berlin before the Russians did, and by that mistake ensuring a divided Germany and the cold war—even though Patton was too far south to have done this.
Like those revisionists who insist that Blücher, instead of Wellington, won the Battle of Waterloo by arriving on the battlefield with his Prussians at the end of the day, or those who believe that Lee would have won the Battle of Gettysburg if only he had listened to Longstreet's advice, Patton's admirers—sixty years after the fact—are still smarting over their hero's complaints. As to the validity of their views, one cannot do better than to quote the duke of Wellington himself, who, when a stranger came up to him on Piccadilly and said, "Mr. Jones, I presume?" is said to have replied, "If you presume that, sir, you'd presume any damned thing."
The guns had hardly fallen silent in Europe before Eisenhower's rivals and subordinates sat down to write their memoirs or edit their diaries for publication. Most of them were sharply critical of Eisenhower. On the British side of the Grand Alliance the newly ennobled field marshals Lord Alanbrooke and Viscount Montgomery, and General Lord Ismay, if they agreed on nothing else, were united in their view that Eisenhower was no strategist. Indeed General Sir Alan Brooke, as he was then, the acerbic Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), would remark acidly in his dairy in 1943 on the subject of his plan for the invasion, "Eisenhower has got absolutely no strategical outlook." 1
On the losing side, Hitler's generals, when they came to write their memoirs, were almost all critical of Eisenhower's caution, slowness, conventional tactics, and failure to develop the single thrust that might have brought the war to an end by the winter of 1944—strong stuff from those whom he defeated.
As for the senior American and British airmen—particularly the "bomber barons," among whom the most important and outspoken was Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur ("Bomber") Harris, Air Officer Commanding, RAF Bomber Command—they expressed in their war memoirs the conviction that had they been given a free hand and unlimited resources the war could have been won in 1944 without an invasion at all; that Eisenhower, in short, had merely wasted time, manpower, money, and fuel, all of which would have been more usefully employed destroying German cities (the RAF strategy), or the German rail network and oil industry (the strategy of the U.S. Army Air Force).
In the United States, enthusiasts for a Pacific-first strategy—centered on the figure of General Douglas MacArthur and the U.S. Navy admirals, most of whom had never wholeheartedly accepted . . . Ike
An American Hero. Copyright � by Michael Korda. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.