Sunday, March 1, 2015

Review of Eisenhower in War and Peace


I enjoy reading presidential biographies and usually don't have much bad to say about one I've read. This one is no exception. I knew little detail about Dwight D. Eisenhower and was interested to read how much of a complex person he was - incredibly friendly but very difficult to know. His wife Mamie was asked by her son well after the President's death if she felt she had really known him. Her answer was sardonic, "I'm not sure anyone did."  

A great administrative commander and president, I understand more clearly why he is criticized as a poor leader of men in combat. It just was not his gift. However, Roosevelt and the American people who elected him president knew what his gifts were and if it wasn't for Ike things in WWII and the decade of the 1950s would have been much different and only worse. Ike's way to peace was to avoid war - not necessarily at all cost, but he definitely saw that it could and should be avoided even if it costs a great deal. 

His leadership style was to give a person a job or area of responsibility and let that person make decisions as needed. He also never deferred blame to a subordinate to keep himself out of the fire. I respected that about him. One critical moment came toward the end of his presidency when the Soviets finally were able to shoot down a U2 spy plane designed to take arial photographs and captured the pilot. Interestingly enough it was the final flight that Eisenhower was going to authorize before the program was going to be closed down. Ike was told forcefully to allow someone else in his administration take the blame. As the story goes he came out of church and called for a press release where he took complete responsibility for the U2 program. This is a far cry from Watergate and Iran Contra and who knows what else. 

An interesting president. And the book is well researched and written. Definitely worth the read.