Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ike: An American HeroIke: An American Hero by Michael Korda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”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.”

 photo dwight-d-eisenhower_zpsdwktwc9q.jpg

Dwight D. Eisenhower almost didn’t go to West Point. He wanted to go, but his best friend decided to go to Annapolis and Swede talked Dwight into applying with him. 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.

The fickleness of fate.

If Dwight D. Eisenhower had went to Annapolis he might have been Ike, but he never would have been IKE. He would have been successful, but he probably would have never been POTUS. His parents were both Mennonites. His mother later switched to Jehovah's Witness; regardless whatever their religious affiliation, they were appalled that their son wanted to be a soldier. It went against everything they believed. They were a poor family, held upright by the generosity of Ike’s grandfather.

 photo eisenhowerfamily_zpsgujnvp40.jpg
The Eisenhower Family. 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. He became furious. He was famous for his volcanic temper. He demanded that the sign be changed to say Birthplace of the Eisenhower brothers. At the time he was one of the most famous men in the world. When it came to his brothers he never let his accomplishments overshadow theirs... at least not in his own mind.

During WW1 he was asked to train new recruits. Despite frequently requesting to be transferred overseas so he could command men in action his superiors felt he was much more useful getting men ready for war. One particular recruit by the name of F. Scott Fitzgerald was less than enthusiastic about Ike. In fact he slept through his lectures and disliked him with a burning intensity. Maybe it is a good thing that Fitzgerald’s Brooks Brothers suit never saw the mud of France.

 photo Fitzgerald Uniform_zpsztdwpndw.jpg
Ike bored Fitzgerald. The young lad looked good in uniform though.

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. He also had to work until late into the night because that was when MacArthur liked to work best. Mamie was not amused.

 photo Eisenhower20Young_zpspkfino7q.jpg
The wooing Young Eisenhower.

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. Her father told him that he could not marry Mamie if he became a flyer. Mr. Doud felt it was too dangerous a profession. Ike tore up the application papers and got married.

The wheel of fate rolled back into the proper groove.

Even though he loathed professional politicians he was actually very good at politics. He mastered the art of being ambiguous. As President this evasiveness was sometimes misconstrued as dithering or vagueness or even incompetence when in reality Ike was unwilling to ever be badgered into giving an opinion that would restrict his decisions later. He was confident in his own judgments and would not allow anyone to force him into policies or military decisions that he was not comfortable with.

Ike would never lead men into battle, at least not the way he wanted to. His competency kept him away from the fields of war and strapped him to a desk. His superiors recognized him as a man who could see the big picture. He could keep proper perspective of the power that they would eventually be asking him to shoulder. 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.” There might be more than a tinge of bitterness in that statement, but also he was absolutely right.

Eisenhower turned out to be the best damn clerk of the whole damn war.

Vicissitudes of fortune, which spares neither man nor the proudest of his works, which buries empires and cities in a common grave.”---Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

 photo Kay20Summersby_zpsif8kuvon.jpg
Kay Summersby was never far from Ike.

Ike had a British driver named Kay Summersby, a one time model who became his constant companion during the war. She became famous when she showed up in an article in Life Magazine. Mamie was not amused. It wasn’t unusual for Generals overseas to have pretty young women attached to their staff who did more for them than iron their uniform. Michael Korda is uncertain as to the relationship that Ike and Kay may have had. The history of lust will tell us that more than likely she was providing comfort to Ike above the neck and below the waist. If she was his lover she was someone more than just a bed warmer she was also someone he could trust who didn’t have an agenda.

Korda was reluctant to commit on this subject because there doesn’t seem to be the usual smoking gun of an inappropriate letter or a love child or a symbolic gift that could make a definitive case. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if he didn’t sleep with her? A nontraditional conclusion regarding most powerful Though if he did, frankly, with the stress and strain of his life it certainly would have been forgivable. Knowing Winston Churchill I like to think that he intentionally planted the beauty on Ike and she was feeding him information that Ike might have been reluctant to share with him.

 photo gahagan_zpsmhvesedq.jpg
The PINK LADY! Helen Gahagan Douglas.

The presidential chapters are just a few slender reeds compared to the chapters devoted to the war. It is interesting that given the way Ike despised career politicians that he was stuck with Richard Nixon as a running mate. When Ike was making out a list of potential vice presidents Nixon was on the second tier of candidates. 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.’” Brilliant, odious, but brilliant for not only does he get a laugh but he gets the titillating laugh of the nudge, nudge, wink, wink variety with the added bonus of reminding everyone, this is 1950 mind you, that she was a woman. (Nixon actually stole the line from her primary challenger Manchester Boddy.)

Nixon gave Eisenhower the willies. Hell, Nixon gave everyone the willies.

 photo Eisenhower-Nixon_zpstr3uq2wo.jpg
I’d like to think the caption is: Eisenhower has just made a joke at Nixon’s expense. Ike is thinking what a DICK and Nixon is thinking what a BALD BASTARD.

Eisenhower did accomplish some civil rights work as President though I think he could have done more. He had a famous showdown with an Arkansas governor over segregation in schools. Ike was convinced as were many white Americans that equal rights needed to come along slowly to keep the powder keg from exploding. He ended the Korean War. He kept the United States out of war for eight years.

Eisenhower’s presidency has been described as boring, but one thing I’ve found with reading presidential biographies is that no presidency is boring. So much happens within this country over a four or eight year span not to mention the world events that have an impact on American policies and politics.

”Never complain, never explain.”-- Disraeli Ike liked that quote and lived it.

Ike was proud of his card playing prowess. He understood concealment, secrecy, and most importantly the ability to bluff. He was not the tactician that Montgomery or MacArthur were. He didn’t have the audacity of Patton or the assured arrogance of De Gaulle. He was not the orator that Churchill or Roosevelt were. But if I had to pick a man to run a war or the man to be president on the verge of WW3 I’d pick Ike every day of the week and twice on Sunday over all these very talented men. His hubris never exceeded his ability to control it. He was a man who knew how to listen, ponder,and make a decision that would steer a course through the gunsmoke of bombastic rhetoric. He was also a man who knew how to be heard over the rattling of sabers. I agree with another Eisenhower biographer, Evan Thomas, that his greatest victories were the wars he did not fight.”

View all my reviews