Eisenhower

I am midway through a journey begun in 2008 to understand the 20th century.  The Great War took a year (of my time!); WWII about 15 months. Life circumstances slowed me down, but I’m cheerfully working through the post-war period and the Korean War.  One approach to history that I appreciate is studying the lives of key people. Voila, la bibliographie! [That is a private joke that only I understand: the first sentence I ever learned in French was “Chttt! Voila, la biblioteque!” translated: Be QUIET! There is the librarian! It was on a filmstrip (with accompanying vinyl album that had a bell signal to go to the next slide) we watched in French I.]

I wanted to know Eisenhower better. Stephen Ambrose admires his subject.  He begins, “Dwight Eisenhower was a great and a good man. He was one of the outstanding leaders of the Western World in this century.”  This is the first volume of a two-volume biography of Eisenhower. Anyone interested in leadership would benefit from reading Ike’s story.

Everyone brings a personal “grid” to their reading.  I was very interested in Eisenhower’s religious background. Much has been made of the fact that one of the world’s greatest generals was raised in a pacifist home. David and Ida Eisenhower were devout members of Brethren in Christ.  David’s nighttime reading was the Bible in Greek; Ida memorized 1325 Bible verses. And yet…

Nightly Bible reads, Milton said, were “a good way to get us to read the Bible mechanically.” They never discussed what they had read, never asked “Why?,” never explored the deep subtlety or rich symbolism of the Bible. It was the word of God, sufficient unto itself. The duty of mortals was not to explore it, investigate it, question it, think about it, but rather to accept it. 24

Two traits, ever helpful in his life, were manifest in young Ike’s life: intense curiosity and a remarkable ability to concentrate.  As an adult he had another remarkable ability: to shake a depression. Ambrose writes about his vitality:

That quality showed in his speech, in his mannerisms, his physical movements, most of all in his eyes. They were astonishingly expressive. As he listened to his deputies discuss future operations, his eyes moved quickly and inquisitively from face to face. His concentration was intense, almost a physical embrace. His eyes always showed his mood—they were icy blue when he was angry, warmly blue what he was pleased, sharp and demanding when he was concerned, glazed when he was bored. 272

As a general, Ike comprehended the sacrifice that both the soldiers and their families made.

Eisenhower wanted to let as many men as possible see him. He made certain that every soldier who was to go ashore on D-Day had the opportunity to at least look at the man who was sending him into battle. 294

He was the man who had to total up all the casualties. 293

…only Eisenhower had such a keen sense of family, of the way in which each casualty meant a grieving family back home. Eisenhower’s concern was of such depth and so genuine that it never left him. 293

It wasn’t until he was in his fifties, that Eisenhower received acclaim and notoriety, primarily as the Supreme Commander of Operation Overlord.  Eisenhower was also the NATO commander, president of Columbia University and president of the United States.  This volume ends with Eisenhower as President-Elect of the United States.

I found Ambrose’s book engaging and helpful. At no time did my interest lag. I was inspired by Eisenhower’s discipline, organizational skills and perception.

A fun coda: I have a habit of immersing myself in books on (relatively) obscure topics. I find myself wanting to discuss the ideas and events I have read about, but coming up short on conversation partners. Honestly, what would dampen a dinner party faster than, “I know, let’s talk about Truman and Eisenhower!”?  I discovered recently that among my acquaintances are a couple who were friends with Ike and Mamie Eisenhower during their retirement years in Gettysburg.  They were full of stories about the Eisenhowers. I lent them this book; Ray read it through in three days.  I’m looking forward to some great discussions.  An unexpected gift!

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10 thoughts on “Eisenhower

  1. I find myself wanting to discuss specific books and topics, too. I do think we are kindred spirits. By the way, I am doing a series of posts, mostly for my high school twentieth century history class that I’m teaching at our homeschool co-op, about each year of the twentieth century. You might enjoy the posts and have something to add to the discussion.

  2. @jackug – Definitely! Because I had read several other Ambrose titles about Overlord, my interest was focused on other parts of his life.  And Ike’s relationship with Patton is another fascination.I have also recently read David McCullough’s Truman. I found the section on Yalta very interesting, how Truman met with these men so soon after Roosevelt’s death;.

  3. Ok, more to put on the to-read list…..I like reading Ambrose and Eisenhower is a gap for me, other than what should be considered ‘common knowledge’.  Thanks for the nod & the review!

  4. Pingback: Revisiting Eisenhower | A Living Pencil

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