A man who has successfully commanded millions of men in battle, who has made the most difficult and far-reaching military decision of all time, and who accepted the formal surrender of Nazi Germany, must have a core of steel; a streak of ruthlessness; the ability to make cold, hard, objective decisions; and an imperial sense of command, however well disguised they may be by a big grin and a firm handshake. Eisenhower almost didnt go to West Point. When the Senator was looking over their applications he decided that Dwight was going to replace a young man from Kansas who had just dropped out of West Point. Front row: Father David, Milton and Mother Ida. Back row: Dwight, Edgar, Earl, Arthur, and Roy. All six Eisenhower brothers were successful, some even became wealthy. After the war when Dwight was touring Abilene, Kansas he saw a sign in front of his old house proclaiming it to be the birthplace of General Eisenhower. At the time he was one of the most famous men in the world. Ike worked for Douglas MacArthur for almost seven years as a key member of his staff in the Philippines. I think this turned out to be very fortunate posting because dealing with the ego of MacArthur prepared him for his eventual job as Supreme Commander when he had to contend with the massive egos of Montgomery, Churchill, De Gaulle, Patton, Roosevelt, and Stalin. Because MacArthur had a beautiful Eurasian mistress, who he went to see every afternoon for several hours, Ike had to cover for him. When Ike was trying to win the hand of Mamie Doud he decided to show his worthiness by transferring to the burgeoning aviation division because they were paying flyers much more than what he could make in the Army. Ike would never lead men into battle, at least not the way he wanted to. As he surpassed his old boss MacArthur and his old friend Patton who both had what he craved, battle field experience, his loyalties to both men were severely tested as Ike needed them to be men who lead, but who could also follow. When a woman asked MacArthur years later if he knew Eisenhower he retorted: Best damn clerk I ever had. Eisenhower turned out to be the best damn clerk of the whole damn war. Nixon at this point in time was most famous for his electoral victory over Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas in which he accused her of being a communist describing her memorably, if ungallantly, as pink right down to her underwear. Id like to think the caption is: Eisenhower has just made a joke at Nixons expense. Eisenhower did accomplish some civil rights work as President though I think he could have done more. But if I had to pick a man to run a war or the man to be president on the verge of WW3 Id pick Ike every day of the week and twice on Sunday over all these very talented men.
He should have ended the book with Germanys surrender because while he writes of the Eisenhower presidency in glowing terms, he constantly overstates his case and devotes only 60 pages of a 700 plus page book to Ikes eight years in the office. It is obvious that Korda set out to rescue Ike from what he perceived to be historical oblivion just as McCullogh did for Truman and Adams. The truth is, however, that, among historians at least, the reputations of Truman and Adams had been on the ascendency for a good while before McCullogh published either book. Of course, both books were well received by the reading public and were critically-acclaimed best sellers, so theres no doubt that they did play a role in enhancing the reputation of two presidents whose reputations did take a hit at the time that they held the office and for some time afterwards. When Korda wrote his book (published in 2007), Eisenhower was still one of the most famous generals in American history and one of the most popular presidents to ever hold the office. True, historians did not rate his presidency very high at the time he was in the office, but that changed through the years to the point that he was given credit for accomplishments that were overlooked at the time. In an interview Korda admitted that he had not held an especially high opinion of Ike before he began doing his research, but that his admiration increased the more that he learned about the man. Korda is not an historian or a journalist but a writer and book editor and biographer with eclectic interests who sometimes writes about historical subjects. Perhaps Korda should write a book on Lyndon Johnson because he apparently is not familiar with that presidents record on civil rights. Eisenhower is an important historical figure who was one of our greatest military leaders and a good president, but it would have been impossible for him to have lived up to the reputation that Korda has manufactured for him.
This one-volume story of Dwight David Eisenhower, our 34th president, brings readers through a well-paced account of his childhood in Abilene, Kansas, his successful tenure as a cadet at West Point, his first years as an Army man (his talent for logistics kept him at home and in planning/training roles during World War I), his apprenticeship to some of the nation's great generals, his role as Commander of all Allied Forces during World War II and, finally, his years as President of the United States. It quickly becomes apparent that it was truly Eisenhower's talent as a consensus builder, a quality some leveraged to unfairly criticize him as a do-nothing general, that made him successfully build a unified Allied force not only between colorful commanders but also between the British and the United States, both of whom had differing interests in the war's outcome. Consider: despite being one of the first minds to understand how to convert a national manufacturing base into a great military machine for the purposes of executing World War II (and from which we derive the phrase "military industrial complex"), as president, Eisenhower refused to build a Fortress America and, in fact, warned both his irritated Republican colleagues and America at large to not rely too heavily on the defense contracting industry as a long-term strategy for American strength. But this latter phase of his biography, in describing Ike's presidency, simply is exasperating in the way it merely skims over the way a five-star general warns against too much military power, in the way it barely investigates Ike's vision for an American role in global alliances, in the way it brushes over Ike's ability to stare down Arkansas' racist governor Orval Faubus and bring the strength of the federal government to bear on ensuring the equal rights of individuals from all races to participate in America's education system. Partly, in this biography, it may be the author's interest in investigating Eisenhower's wartime accomplishments, rather than his achievements as president, a strange decision given Korda's obvious respect and admiration for Eisenhower.
Kordas relies heavily on public writings which might have biased his book toward conventional wisdom, but he goes against the tide of even his fellow Englishmen in Ikes famous head butting with Brit favorite Montgomery during the war, and his capable handling of both foreign and domestic issues as President. If anything Kordas focuses more on World War Two than Ikes presidency.
There is little discussion of how Ike was remote from his son John, and how he continually relegated his wife Mamie to the back burner for the sake of the Army and his devotion to "duty." Korda does not spend a great amount of time on Eisenhower's boyhood, which in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but he skims through it so quickly that one is unable to get a good sense of what 1890s rural Kansas was actually like. Korda talks at length of Eisenhower's uneasy relationship with General Bernard Montgomery of Britain, along with many of the other British and American leaders. Yet, Korda several times veers off into discussions about Ike's relationship with his driver, Kay Summersby. Here is about the only time that he comes close to criticizing Eisenhower (the other exception: when Ike left Nixon in limbo re: the latter's status for the 1956 campaign) by portraying him as more naïve than anything else in his lack of understanding of how the frequent appearances of Kay around him looked to everyone else. Eisenhower was in the White House for eight years, yet Korda basically summarizes the time as if he is trying to hurry up and finish the book. Korda also has a tendency to paint Eisenhower in the best possible light at all time - to the detriment of others that he crossed paths with. At one point he mentions that Truman was still disliking Eisenhower in 1973 as he gave interviews to the author Merle Miller.
They were mostly footnotes similar to "The author's brother once met a neighbor of the aforementioned general and had a plesant discussion about the bombing in London." They added nothing to the book and quickly became annoying and disruptive. Instead of simply presenting the evidence and story, Korda continually argues all the reasons Ike could not have had an affair no matter how bad things looked.
I've read a lot of presidential biographies.
Reviews of this book indicated that the author engages in a bit of hero worship and dwells little on the president's faults. The book covers Eisenhower's life, but especially focuses on his command of the Allied forces in Europe during WWII--400 of the 723 readable pages. That's not to say that Ike didn't have his share of headaches in dealing with the likes of the aforementioned as well as others, like Patton, but he was able to command the Allies as well as deal with Churchill, who lobbied hard for British interests and who often monopolized his time for the several years he was in Europe. Eisenhower said little bad about the generals he worked with at the time he worked with them, even though some of them, especially Montgomery, he didn't like. The author several times compares Eisenhower to U. Aspects of Eisenhower's presidency are highlighted, such as his dealings with the difficult Khrushchev, his dealings with Castro, the U2 incident, his necessary involvement in the Middle East, his policy on Korea and perspective later on Vietnam, his lack of enthusiasm for his VP Nixon, his tepid endorsement of Nixon when the latter ran against Kennedy, his development of the US interstate system, etc. The author notes that Eisenhower has a better record on civil rights than is ever credited him.
Then the narrative shifts to the moments before the great invasion of D-Day. General Eisenhower is making not only on the most important decisions of his life, but in all of world history. Eisenhower played no significant role in World War I; he was just a staff officer, although, he did run into another officer, only slightly senior to him, George Patton. Unlike Ike, Patton was eccentric, erratic, vain, deeply emotional, and a full-fledged military romantic, in love with the whole idea of glory, capable of writing, as Ike would surely not have been, of his beloved cavalry, You must be: a horse master, a scholar; a high minded gentleman; a cold blooded hero; a hot-blooded savage.' Such words--and sentiments--came easily to Patton, who saw himself (and wanted others to see him) as a cavalier, a swashbuckling hero on horseback, a student of war history and war poetry; and who at times seriously believed himself to be the reincarnation of great warriors of the past. Eisenhower spent a few good years as the top aid to General MacArthur when the General was the Chief of Staff of the United States Army. "MacArthur's remaining year as Army Chief of Staff was painful, as Roosevelt, with the deft political cunning for which he soon became famous, carefully undercut the position of the person he regarded as one of the two most dangerous men in America,' while all the time continuing to profess admiration and warm affection for him, he was only too aware that the New Dealers, as they were already beginning to be known, viewed him with deep suspicion, hated him for his reactionary political views, and were afraid he might harbor political ambitions which would bring him in open conflict with the administration--that he might become, in fact, the proverbial man on a white horse' in the event of a fascist putsch in America. In short, their feelings about General MacArthur were a paranoid as his about them."p.205 When World War II broke out Eisenhower would begin to make his mark on the world, in a little over three and half years he would rise from lieutenant colonel to five-star-general. Whatever virtues Ike may have had, however--and he had many--discretion about his friendship with Kay was not one of them, and people can hardly be blamed then or now for drawing the logical conclusion."p.284 During the D-Day invasion Eisenhower, like General Grant in the Civil War--as Kordra points out--was concerned with armies not territories. Ike himself had shown no interest in wasting the lives of American soldiers to get to Berlin, and several times he offended even angered Churchill by going over the heads of the prime minister and the president to deal directly with Stalin, as if he himself were a head of state, to ensure that there would be no accidental clashes between Allied and Soviet troops as their front lines began to touch." p.432-3 When Eisenhower he served in a number of posts, finally, in 1952, Eisenhower decided to run for the Republican Nomination for president. "It was the end of more than Eden's career--it was the end of Britain's remaining pretensions to independent, imperial power; it was the end of the fiction, still persisting from World War II, that the United States, Great Britain, and France were equal world powers. The Soviet Union had threatened to use atomic weapons on London and Paris at the height of the Suez Crisis, and in order to discourage American intervention in Hungary, but Ike had taken all this blustering calmly in his stride and kept a firm control of events." p.693-4 Eisenhower retired for good, in 1961, when his successor John F.