Dwight Eisenhower is often portrayed as the grandfatherly President who presided over a dull period of American history. His is the postwar world of Mad Men. But after I finally got around to reading Michael Korda’s 2008 opus, Ike: An American Hero I came away with new respect for Ike. Korda is a prolific writer, now in his mid-80’s. Since writing about Eisenhower, he has authored major works on the Battle of Britain, Lawrence of Arabia and Robert E. Lee. The British-born Korda is the nephew of Hungarian-born film magnate Sir Alexander Korda and brother Zoltan Korda, both film directors from the 1930’ to 50’s. Back to Ike, what stands out is the speed with which he rose to be the supreme commander of the Allied forces. A career soldier, Ike did not see action in World War One. He spent the interwar years in a variety of assignments that took him to Panama and the Philippines. During most of this time he held the rank of major. But Eisenhower impressed his superiors with his excellent grasp of logistics and planning. He was given the talk of planning for the mobilization of the national economy whenever the next war came, as was being predicted in the 1930’s. When the Second World War broke out, Ike had only just been appointed a one-star brigadier general—the lowest rank on the totem pole. Incredibly within two years he rose to become the Supreme Allied Commander after successfully overseeing operations in North Africa and Sicily. Much of the book is taken up with Ike’s frustration dealing with the outsize egos, and sometime crazy ideas of Winston Churchill and Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, not to mention his headaches trying to keep the uncontrollable George Patton in check. Ike tended to internalize his frustrations, and was a chain-smoker which undoubtedly contributed to the chronic heart problems that eventually claimed him. Ike’s insistence on keeping the attractive Kay Summersby as his driver and companion throughout the war created tensions when rumors reached his wife, Mamie back home; but typical of the times, (and later) he dumped Summersby as soon as the war ended. Eisenhower could have had the presidential nomination of either major party but shrewdly opted for the Republicans knowing that the nation was ready for a change after 20 years of Democrats. In the end the work portrays a remarkable man with a super human capacity for hard work, a brilliant grasp of detail, excellent interpersonal skills and a lack of ego. Ike set a standard for public service that has probably not been matched since his time.
Written by: John Best