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Posted on Mar 13, 2007 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Eisenhower: A Biography – Book Review

By Elliott Grollman

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Book Review: Eisenhower: A Biography, by John Wukovits
Great Generals Series, Palgrave MacMillan, Foreward by Gen. Wesley Clark

Recently I had the opportunity to review the Great Generals Series book on Patton, and now I have the chance to review the new series release on Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. In the military as well as in other organizations, you need a mix of personalities to get the job done.  If Patton was the epitome of the field soldier and the political "bull in the china shop", Gen. Eisenhower was the opposite in personality.

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It is of course common knowledge that Gen. Eisenhower ("Ike") commanded Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of Normandy but there is much more to him than that.  He earned his reputation more as a political general than as a "warrior".   He had to play the politician and manage a team of US military officers and British military officers who often fought each other as much as they did the enemy.   Yet he was able to do that and win the war in Europe.   He was successful in many of these situations because he was "a regular guy" and the Brits liked and respected him as much as the Americans did.  What was even more important was that Ike’s troops liked and respected him.  When the stress of command got to Ike he would go out to the field and meet with the troops.  Ike learned early on; that if a commander took care of his men, his men would take care of him and the mission.  Ike also knew that when he sent troops on a mission, he was sending men on that mission; not units. He also knew that some of them would not be coming back.  Ike did not make those decisions lightly and he did his best to make sure their sacrifices were not in vain.

Early in his career, Ike had forged personal and professional alliances with people like Patton, Fox Conner, George Marshall, MacArthur and others.  These relationships along with his abilities would benefit career and help him rise through the Army.  As anyone in a hierarchical organization knows, no matter how good you may be, you still need a "rabbi" from someone higher up to help you out.  Those relationships helped in situations where Ike had to play referee between Patton and Montgomery while Patton was on one flank trying to outfight the Germans and Montgomery on the other flank trying to outthink them.  On occasion Patton and Montgomery as well as other subordinate commanders would view Ike’s leadership style where he allowed them wide latitude as weakness which they could exploit however in the grand scheme of things his style was successful.  Ike also developed a good working relationship with the press that would work in his favor during his military career and of course later in his political career.

Following the war he was able to carry his military success into the political arena where his supporters were able to make their "I like Ike" campaign into a victory as the President of the US.   Ike was able to use his skills and abilities that he used in the military in the challenges he faced as the President.  Ike did learn that while there were disagreements in the military among commanders and staff, all the parties had a common goal and a common enemy, however in the political world disagreements were often based on partisan politics that truly divided people.
Many military leaders have found that the transition from military leader to political leader is often a painful one for them as well as for others. It seemed to be a success for Ike but I am not sure that it would be so today in this day and age. Except for General Colin Powell, it seems we do not have military heroes like we used to.  So far he has resisted calls to run for office.

The author summarizes Gen. Eishenhower’s qualities as

1. Focus
2. Teamwork 
3. Empathy
4. Media savy
5. Devotion to duty.

Following Ike’s death, his wife Mame summed up her husband’s basic values as honesty, integrity and his admiration for mankind.   The qualities that Ike demonstrated are as critical today as they were during WWII.  I would recommend this book highly as well as the series as a whole.

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