Friday, June 29, 2012

Eisenhower by Geoffrey Perret

I finished this study on the former president and general to glean some insights about America's leadership during the greatest peace time expansion of its history.

Eisenhower was the last president born in the 19th century and never seemed to accept the changes of modernity.  His strength was in his ability to understand issues and problems.  When being direct was called for he was very direct and yet, when being indirect was more advantageous, he could be very cunning.  For example, he refused to confront McCarthy during McCarty's hysteria filled communist witch hunt, fearing that confrontation would fuel McCarthy's hunger for attention.  Eisenhower was confident that McCarthy would end up burying himself in his own falsehoods.  The president comes off as a moderate and did not want to alienate his right wing faction that was feeding and supporting McCarthy.

One gets the impression that he did not like his running mate Richard Nixon.  He was concerned that Nixon would lose to Kennedy (indeed he was right) because Nixon represented bald power seeking and not driven by ideals.  The author gives the impression that somehow Eisenhower was different.  I got the impression that Eisenhower's entire life was one of seeking power.  The difference between him and Nixon was that he was better at it, smoother than Nixon.  Nixon had many more disabilities to overcome (looks, personality flaws etc.)  Eisenhower was able to control his explosive temper.  With such a famous smile, one would be hard pressed to acknowledge he exploded ever!

Eisenhower rose to the rank of general in peace time.  He exhibited an army career of patient diligence and subordination to his superiors that enabled him to rise in rank.  His affable nature helped him both as a leader and subordinate.  He is a great study in power: subordinate yourself when you have no power and use prudent judgement when you have all the power.

The reader is introduced to some great other generals.  One is introduced to Bernard Montgomery's giant ego, bruised when not given supreme command of the Allied Expeditionary Forces and to the bigoted awesome fighter, George Patton.  Although his best General as a fighter, ultimately, Eisenhower had to reassign Patton during the post war administration of Germany due to Patton's unwarranted unrestrained remarks about Jewish displaced persons. One is also told of General MacArthur's incredible arrogance.

We learn that Eisenhower did not respect President Truman even though Truman idolized the General.  Only later after public service, did he change his opinion.

The book is worthwhile only for the enthusiast; it is a dry study of one of the most powerful men in the 20th century.