After reading William Manchester's biography of Douglas MacArthur, I decided to read Dwight D. Eisenhowers memoirs of World War II. The contrast between the two figures, two of the highest powered generals in World War II, is striking and illuminating.
In contemporary American culture, Eisenhower is best remembered as the president of the Eisenhower years, years that have been stereotyped as some of America's most prosperous but also as a period of cultural stagnation. Before he was President, Eisenhower was a very sucessful, and very popular general. His attitudes towards his job as general, as revealed in his own words, say a lot about America in World War II and afterwards.
MacArthur was the product of a culture of gallantry and chivalry. Eisenhower, on the other hand, was a bureaucrat and a diplomat. His book shows both strains of his character, as on every page he discusses not the blood and thunder of combat, but the logistic and technical struggles of getting machinery and people into the right place at the right time, as well as the even harder struggle of keeping the personality of his national coalition happy. Every page has Eisenhower saying something glowing about the American or British government, military or people. For example, upon opening the book to a random page, I found such quotes as this:
If Simpson ever made a mistake as an army commander, it never came to my attention.
It was on that occasion that I first met Lieutenant Colonel Lauris Norstad, a young air officer who so impressed me by his alertness, grasp of problems and personality, that I never thereafter lost sight of him...
In World War II the great body of the American and British press representatives compromised an intelligent, patriotic and dedicated group of individuals.
I am sure that most people reading this has been involved in a bureaucratic organization, and is familiar with the endless assortments of functionaries and meetings. Someone here may have even been involved in a session to decide on a time to decide when to hold a premeeting to discuss the agenda for a meeting. This is exactly what Eisenhower did for three years. In some ways, Eisenhower was the prototypical organization man that later generations would mock the faceless fifties for producing. But while Eisenhower was in this endless assortment of meetings and staff work and dealing with the details of administration , he managed to not only win a war, but to make life better for his troops, and win their devotion, even though he had no combat record to speak of.
It would almost be easy to laugh at 500 pages of Eisenhower passing out accolades, except for two facts: it was this attitude of cooperation that allowed Eisenhower to mold together a coalition that undertook an unparalled military operation, and it seems that Eisenhower means every word that he writes. He is as earnest in his belief in cooperation as he was in his belief that the war was fought only so that legitimate civil power could rule again.
This book should be read for anyone who wants to understand how an anonymous Lieutenant Colonel was promoted to lead the largest American army ever, and how his ideas of cooperation and common cause would herald in the last era in which there was a general consensus in America.