Eisenhower: Portrait of the Hero

I  picked up this book by Peter Lyon at a used book sale at the local library. I admit that I haven’t read the entire book, which has over 900 pages. I have used the book as a reference in my quest to research why the country decided to construct the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapon Plant. The book has excellent information about Ike’s role in shaping American foreign policy that relates to that subject. I was surprised by some information. Despite the title referring to Ike as a hero, the book often does not portray him positively. Roosevelt selected him to command the D-Day invasion because he was judged to be the general most capable of navigating the difficult political issues among the Allies. He indeed worked diligently to consider all sides in the planning and execution of combat operations and in the process of trying to make everyone happy made no one happy. My interpretation is that he worked very hard to appease Montgomery, who had a reputation for not wanting to move until he had forces at such strength levels that victory was certain. That didn’t go over well with Patton and other generals who wanted to strike fast and often. Montgomery would have been satisfied only if Eisenhower had stepped down and put him in charge.

A primary subject I wanted to research was the decision to invade France instead of Churchill’s preference to invade the “soft underbelly of the Balkans.” The selected invasion site had the strong military advantage that the logistics of delivering thousands of tons of material and replacement troops were achievable because of the relatively short route across the English Channel. The political advantage of invading through the Balkans was that it would counter Stalin’s desire to dominate Eastern Europe after the war was won. Churchill was convinced the invasion “into the teeth of the crocodile” in France would cost many more thousands of young soldiers, and he was brought to tears trying to convince Eisenhower to change the plans. I’m haunted by the prospect that a decision was made to appease Stalin that cost thousands more casualties than if Churchill’s plan had been accepted.

Arguments over invasion locations didn’t end with Overlord. The next plan was to invade southern France to take pressure off Overlord in what was first called Anvil. Churchill renamed the operation Dragoon because he felt he had been dragooned into giving it his approval. Far from giving it his approval he continued to maintain the second invasion should be through the Balkans. Churchill thought the Dragoon plan left Eastern Europe to control by the Soviets. His tearful pleas and did not change the plans. Harold Macmillian added his support to Churchill’s concerns. “If the western allies had marched east they might have altered the whole political destinies of the Balkans and eastern Europe.” He went on to warn, “Thus were sown the seeds of partition of Europe, and the tragic divisions which were destined to dominate all political and strategic thinking for a generation.”

Eisenhower the politician understood FDR wanted to appease Stalin and he had Marshall’s support. I believe history has proven they all but Churchill misjudged Stalin. Eisenhower wrote, “The more contact we have with the Russians, the more they will understand us and the greater will be the cooperation. The Russians are blunt and forthright in their dealings, and any evasiveness arouses their suspicions. It should be possible to work with Russia if we follow the same pattern of friendly cooperation…Only now, in peace the motive for cooperation is the betterment of the lot of life of the common man. If we can create a singleness of purpose on this theme, as we did to win the war, then peace should be assured.”

Eisenhower was openly friendly and engaging to all involved during his five day visit to the Soviet Union after the war. He spontaneously slipped an arm around General Zhukov’s shoulders in a cordial embrace at a football game in front of 80,000 Russians and the crowd roared its approval. He remarked about the general atmosphere of hospitality and commented he was “…convinced that Russia and the United States must work together in a spirit of amity.” He professed himself eager to promote friendship. “I see nothing in the future that would prevent Russia and the United States from being the closest possible friends.”

History has proven Churchill was correct in his warnings that Stalin couldn’t be trusted. Stalin gave his speech February 9, 1946 in which he admitted his true motives. He ordered new five year plans to rebuild the Soviet economy and guarantee their national security. He predicted that the capitalist world would be split into “two hostile camps” and a war will break out between them. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas told Secretary of Defense Forrestal the speech seemed to him “the declaration of World War III.” George Kennan, the minister-counselor at the American embassy in Moscow, “sent an eight-thousand-word telegram to the State Department on February 22, 1946.” The telegram warned of Soviet motives and recommended opposition of American “moral support to the Russian cause.”  Forrestal made the telegram “required reading for…higher officers in the armed forces.” Churchill gave his famous “iron curtain” speech at Fulton, Missouri on March 5, 1946.

The Churchill speech warning of the iron curtain is widely believed to have been the origin of that term. The reality is that it was the first widely disseminated speech in English using the term. Paul Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda for Nazi Germany, had published an editorial in Das Reich dated February 25, 1945 that introduced the term. “If the German people lay down the arms, the whole of eastern and southeastern Europe, together with the Reich, would come under Russian occupation. Behind the iron curtain, mass butcheries of people would begin, and all that would remain would be a crude automation, a daily fermenting mass of thousands of proletarians and despairing slave animals knowing nothing of the outside world.”

Churchill had taken the position that German arms had to be preserved “…for possible use against the Soviets” and had used the iron curtain term to emphasize his position. He cabled Truman on May 12, 1945 “…that too many Americans were quitting Europe, leaving it to too many Russians. An iron curtain is drawn down upon their front…We do not know what is going on behind.” He had appealed to Truman again on June 4, 1945 in another cable that he had misgivings about number of American forces being withdrawn from Europe “…thus bringing Soviet power into the heart of Western Europe and the descent of an iron curtain between us and everything to the eastward.”

The book proved valuable to me for information I had not found in other sources, and I recommend it for that reason. The book is available used or new on Amazon, but I suggest anyone interested should try the interlibrary loan process if their local library doesn’t have a copy.

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