16 March, 2010

Eisenhower Soldier and President By: Stephen Ambrose

Stephen Ambrose’s book Eisenhower Soldier and President is a very well written and well researched book. There were many different ways that this book revels the attributes that made Eisenhower such a great military commander and president. While Ambrose gives many dates and details of Eisenhower’s life the important part is focusing on the character traits. These character traits and experiences that made him such popular and good leader should be understood for future reference.
Eisenhower’s mother was one of his greatest influences while Eisenhower was growing up. Eisenhower’s parents “taught the simple virtues of honesty, self-reliance, integrity, fear of God, and ambition.”[1] These are many of the same values which the Army requires of its soldiers and officers. These values are even more important in those seeking high office within the United States. To build on the values which Eisenhower’s parents instilled in him his home town of “Abilene was cautious and conservative in its social outlook, religion, and politics. Everyone was Christian, of European descent, and nearly all voted Republican.”[2] Due to these influences and a influences form a good friend he grew up wanting to go to Annapolis. He did not get the appointment but got one to West Point.
While at West Point he played football, and took many of the good lessons that the academy has to offer. “Hazing, the uglier side of West Point, had little appeal to him, obviously not as a recipient, but not as a Yearling either… He took from West Point what was positive and rejected that which was negative.”[3] One of the many positive experiences that West Point offered was football. Eisenhower played two games as a very promising running back but was injured and could no longer play. He then begin to coach the junior varsity team. “The act of coaching brought out his best traits –his organizational ability, his energy and competiveness, his enthusiasm and optimism. His willingness to work hard at a task that intrigued him, his powers of concentration, his talent for working with the material he had instead of hoping what he did not have, and his gift for drawing the best out of his players.”[4] This experience was one of the opportunities Eisenhower had to show his leadership potential while at West Point.
After Eisenhower graduated from West Point he had a number of assignments as a junior officer, some had little influence on him while others gave him very influential people. His first appointment was to Fort Sam Huston, where he met his wife, “her name was Mary Geneva Doud, but she was known as Mamie.”[5] During World War I (WWI) Eisenhower was an infantry training officer and was promoted up to the rank of Captain. Towards the end of the war he was transferred to a tank battalion, which had no tanks. All during WWI Eisenhower never saw action in France, and he resented that fact, but his superior officer “recommended him for the Distinguished Service Medal. The award finally came through in 1922. It praised Eisenhower for his ‘unusual zeal, foresight, and marked administrative ability.’ To Eisenhower, it was more a bitter reminder than a welcome award.”[6] These qualities are very important to both a commander and a President even though he never saw action Eisenhower learned valuable lessons during WWI.
Eisenhower did not like politics but the time between the wars involves lots of politics. “Army officers were supposed to be above politics.”[7] Eisenhower’s main dislike of politics is the controversial issues which he naturally avoided. During the time between the wars Eisenhower was under the command of General MacArthur, who embraced controversial issues. While this meant they did not get along well MacArthur saw the value of Eisenhower and the need to keep him around. “MacArthur embraced controversial issues; Eisenhower avoided them. When Eisenhower became President, the nation paid a price for his avoidance of controversy, as in desegregation crisis or in dealing with Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.”[8] This lack of dealing with controversy is a problem throughout Eisenhower’s military and political career.
One of the other problems Eisenhower had throughout his life was an anger problem. While under the command of General Marshall the Army’s Chief of Staff he had a very bad experience when he was not getting the field commands that he desired. After this experience he wrote in his journal “anger cannot win, it cannot even think clearly.”[9] But this experience lead to his promotion to major general and general Marshall said he was “was really not a staff officer.”[10]
When Eisenhower got to England he “proved to be outstanding at public relations.”[11] This is a very important quality for a President to have and it proved useful when “Eisenhower manipulated the press, for his own purposes and for the good of the Allied cause.”[12] For the same reasons the press liked him so did the British leadership especially Prime Minister Churchill. “Throughout the war, Eisenhower’s good relations with the British leadership would be one of his greatest strengths.”[13] These relations proved useful beyond the war when dealing with both the British and French governments while he was in office.
One of the strongest leadership qualities which allowed Eisenhower succeed both during the war and after, was surrounding himself with strong, competent leadership. “Eisenhower believed the most crucial appointment was his chief of staff.”[14] He believed “Officers that fail, must be ruthlessly weeded out.”[15] Before Operation Overlord, Eisenhower commanded Operation Torch, this operation was the invasion of North Africa. In this operation there was a battle called Kasserine Pass, in this battle the Americans were defeated. “Kasserine was Eisenhower’s first real battle; taking it all in all, his performance was miserable. Only American firepower, and German shortages, had saved him from a humiliating defeat.”[16] While direct responsibility fell on General Fredenall, “the man most responsible for American shortcomings was Eisenhower himself, because he was not tough enough. He had allowed Fredendall to retain command, despite his serious and well-founded doubts.”[17] Once again Eisenhower’s dislike for controversy caused problems. Although Torch was not one of the Allied’s best moments, “Eisenhower learned which of his subordinates could stand up to the strain of battle and which could not. Had it not been for torch… the allies would have gone ashore with an insecure Eisenhower in command of inexperienced troops led by Lloyd Fredenall.”[18] This would have turned Operation Overlord into a complete failure. After Operation Torch and Operation Roundup, Eisenhower was named as the commander for Operation Overlord; the invasion of Normandy, France.
While Eisenhower may have been uncomfortable with those under his command he knew how to act around subordinates. “He had learned how critical it was for him to be always cheery and optimistic in the presence of subordinates, how costly caution can often be in combat.”[19] He knew that “nothing pleased the footslogger struggling in the mud of Italy more than hearing that Eisenhower had put Spaatz or some other general in his place.”[20] Knowing the morale of his men and what they like is very much like knowing what the populist want and how to get it to them. Although while he was President he was very spot on with what the populist wanted he didn’t always do it.
Eisenhower’s first campaign for president was mainly over fiscal responsibility. After the war he was a very decisive man and because of that “Eisenhower ended up fiscal 1960 with a surplus of a billion dollars.”[21] He did this because he believed in the cause he was fighting for but when the country wanted a massive nuclear arms race with Russia he did not agree and therefore did not support an arms race. Instead he gave statements such as, “How many times do we have to destroy Russia?”[22] He did this because Eisenhower was a visionary and thought that “we must address this problem in terms, not of six months, but of forty years.”[23] Eisenhower always placed the importance of the nation before himself. Even though he lost Eisenhower still had a meeting with Kennedy at the Oval Office where “Kennedy listened carefully and intelligently as Eisenhower explained the wary the White House functioned.”[24]
Up until the end Eisenhower always was a loyal servant to the people of the United States, both as a soldier and as a President. His life experience gave him the leadership tools necessary to run major military operations as well as the country. These tools was a natural ability when it came to public relations, honesty, ability to surround himself with competent people, self-reliance, organizational ability, integrity, foresight, enthusiasm and great interpersonal skills. These attributes and virtues enabled him to the kind of President and statesman he became.

[1] Ambrose, Stephen E., Eisenhower Soldier and President (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1990), 16.
[2] Ibid, 17.
[3] Ibid, 23.
[4] Ibid, 27.
[5] Ibid, 30.
[6] Ibid, 35.
[7] Ibid, 47.
[8] Ibid, 47.
[9] Ibid, 65.
[10] Ibid, 65.
[11] Ibid, 72.
[12] Ibid, 73.
[13] Ibid, 75.
[14] Ibid, 77.
[15] Ibid, 95.
[16] Ibid, 94.
[17] Ibid, 94.
[18] Ibid, 119.
[19] Ibid, 119.
[20] Ibid, 112.
[21] Ibid, 479.
[22] Ibid, 479.
[23] Ibid, 484.
[24] Ibid, 531.