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Eisenhower in War and Peace

Jean Edward's Smith's new biography obliterates earlier arguments that Eisenhower’s was a dull, torpid presidency.

(Page 4 of 5)

All the while, Eisenhower kept writing Mamie and professing his loyalty and love while asserting a longing to return home. In fact, as Smith persuasively argues, Eisenhower considered divorcing Mamie and marrying Kay, an idea broached in a letter to his superior, General George Marshall. Marshall forcefully denounced the notion and the entire sequence of events emerged in an interview with Truman published posthumously in 1974. Historians dismissed the credibility of the statements, a dismissal Smith unravels in convincing fashion.

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In the end, Eisenhower returned to Mamie and dispatched Kay Summersby with cool detachment.

Smith lauds Eisenhower for much of his foreign policy, but balances that assessment with a pointed critique of his epic blunder in Iran. The CIA, prodded by a British dispute with the Iranian government over oil (thanks, BP), plotted to install the shah of Iran and depose a democratic government, eventually gaining Eisenhower’s approval. The subsequent coup stirred bitter anti-American sentiment and, of course, continues to haunt American foreign policy to this day.

George Patton insisted Dwight David Eisenhower’s first and middle initials stood instead for “Divine Destiny.” Ike was intelligent and ambitious, but he also benefited from incredible luck and impeccable timing. As Smith illustrates, each step of Eisenhower’s improbable rise from obscurity in Abilene, Kansas, involved a stroke of fortune, starting with the fact that his home state senator had just shifted to competitive testing to determine West Point recommendations at the moment that Eisenhower made his bid to attend the military academy.

Later, powerful mentors steered Eisenhower up the military ranks and provided a range of invaluable experiences and lessons. These included Fox Conner, John Pershing, and Douglas MacArthur.

In the case of MacArthur, mutual admiration came with a shorter shelf life. Working in the Philippines under the vain and tempestuous MacArthur wore on Eisenhower. The two men enjoyed a warm relationship that later devolved to the point that Eisenhower lobbied to avoid a second stint together when MacArthur returned to active duty in 1941. In a letter to the Army’s assistant chief of staff, Eisenhower pulled no punches. “I worked for him long enough! I put in four hard years out there ... my opinion of that buckaroo went lower and lower the longer I knew him.”

Eisenhower was nothing if not ambitious. During one span lasting less than two full months, he vaulted over 228 officers with greater seniority. In June 1942, he went to London as European theater commander. Two years later, of course, he presided over one of the most important battle plans in American and world military history, the D-Day invasion (also known as Operation Overlord) of the beaches at Normandy.


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