Thursday, August 5, 2010


A review of Michael Korda’s Ike: An American Hero (2007)

(Rating 5 of 5)

Michael Korda’s Ike is a fascinating look into one of the most famous men of the twentieth century. He was a first-rate solider and statesman, this life-long solider would leave office warning the nation of the growing military-industrial complex. This is an incredible story of a boy from Abilene, Kansas who would rise to become one of the most famous figures on the world stage. If history had not intervened he probably would have retired from the army a bird colonel and we never would heard about him.

The book begins with Korda explaining how the United States mistreats its heroes of the past, through endless amounts of revision it tears down one giant after another. 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. Then from there the story changes again, it goes back to his time as a boy. Actually Korda spends a minute trying to explain the entire family history leading up to the birth of David Dwight Eisenhower whose first two names would later be switched around. There is almost no hint of what was ultimately going to come. His army career is pretty basic he moves slowly up the chain of command with his commanding officers seeing his greatest value as coaching the base’s football team.

(Dwight D. Eisenhower of World War I)

Eisenhower gets married to Mamie Doud, and she ends up becoming a typical Army wife always looking to ‘push hubby’ through. 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.

(Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie)

“Both men were fiercely ambitious, but Ike did his best to conceal his ambition, whereas Patton wore his on his sleeve. 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. Perhaps no solider has ever had a more romantic view of war, and, at the same time, a better understanding of its hard practicalities, than Patton.”p.148

(General Patton)

Dwight D. Eisenhower spent sixteen years at the rank of major. He was just a major when Herbert Hoover was elected president in 1928, which is odd when it is considered that Major Eisenhower would be the next Republican to win election. 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. At this point Eisenhower had actually made lieutenant colonel.

(Herbert Hoover the last president elected before Eisenhower)

“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

(General MacArthur)

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. In that time he over saw the invasion of Sicily and the invasion of the Italian mainland. As the Supreme Allied Commander, he had to be both politician and solider. He was great at both roles. In the politician angle he had great success, especially in Britain. While in Britain there was one lady there named Kay Summersby, who Eisenhower may have known a little too well. She was officially his chauffeur but she proved to be a lot more than that.

(Ike as general)

(Ike's wartime gal)

“Perhaps the only people of consequence who snubbed Kay were King George VI, who was always petrified by the slightest hint of an improper relationship because of the misfortunes of his older brother, and who deliberately treated her like a chauffeur, which is to say a servant; and General Marshall, who considered part of his job to telephone Mamie once a week, and was deeply suspicious of Kay Summersby. 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

(King George VI did not like Kay)

During the D-Day invasion Eisenhower, like General Grant in the Civil War—as Kordra points out—was concerned with armies not territories. His primary mission was to defeat the Army of Germany not to capture particular points of real estate. It was this attitude that attracts his primary criticism as a general. However, it was Eisenhower who kept allies bound together and united no matter how hot-headed their leaders’ personalities may have been, Eisenhower got the best out of each of them.

(The General giving orders)

“Since 1945, almost everybody has had a say about the supposed mistakes that were made in the last year of the war—especially the presumed failure of on the part of the western Allies to take Berlin and the failure to confront the Soviet Union over the borders and the independence of the eastern European countries. Many if not most of these have been blamed on Roosevelt, but it should always be borne in mind that the president did not live to write his own memoirs, or to criticize those of others. Ike, when he came to write his, was careful not to join in postwar criticism of Roosevelt. 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. He would win beating Senator Robert Taft, and he would go on to win the election against his Adlai E. Stevenson. He would have an eventful and successful presidency. Under him there would be an inter-state highway system and an end to the Korean War. He would send soldiers to protect the ‘Little Rock Nine’ students who braved the way against segregation in education and all other aspects of life. The Cold War would continue with spy planes and talks of a ‘missal gap.’ There also was the crisis in Hungry and Suez Canal.

“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. (Britain would shortly abandon Malaya, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, and much else besides; France would shortly lose Morocco, Algeria, and most of its African colonies.)

(President Dwight D. Eisenhower)

Ike had acted swiftly, decisively, and undeniably for the good; and although he felt great sympathy for his old friends in Britain, and even greater sympathy for the gallant but ill-advised Hungarians, he carefully managed events to avoid a clash with the Soviet Union, and he preserved peace—not a perfect peace, to be sure, or one without victims and compromises., but still peace. 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. Kennedy, who had beaten Ike’s vice president, Richard Nixon, took office. He would live into 1969, just long enough to see Nixon, whose daughter would marry his grandson, become president.

Michael Korda wrote a great biography on the thirty-fourth president very detailed and informative. There are also historical allusions to other time periods littered thought the book, which as a history buff, I really do appreciate that. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wanted to know more about Dwight D. Eisenhower and World War II.

{Videos are as follows, the first is an Ike campaign ad made by Walt Disney, the second is President Eisenhower's famous farewell address.}

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