Before He Was President

Eisenhower by John F. Wukovits

Given that this book is part of the “Great Generals” series, it focuses on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s life in the Army. I found it immediately interesting that Eisenhower did not feel a “calling” to serve in the military. As a young man entering West Point, the main draw seemed to be that he could play football on their team, and that it was a free path to higher education. His hardcore devotion to the Army came later. It was also interesting that Ike did not particularly stand out at West Point— but when he was participating in practical training later in his career, he rose to the top of his class. He excelled at the practical rather than the theoretical. Thank goodness for that. Another bit of information that was new to me: Eisenhower was not sent to Europe during WWI, much to his dismay. So WWII was his first entry into battle. It’s pretty astonishing.

I listened to this book on CD, and the audiobook was OK. The writing is a bit bland, and some of the sentences made me want to argue with their patness. Since I was enjoying learning about Ike, I let it slide, but there were moments when I made a stinkface as I was listening.

On the plus side, the author excels at giving a clear impression of the challenges Eisenhower faced while serving as supreme commander of the Allied forces— particularly the difficulties of dealing with other generals whose enormous egos created some issues. The author also gives us a look at Ike’s leadership style. Eisenhower believed the troops would perform best if they knew the reasons behind the orders they were given, and he made a point to visit the men and to talk with and listen to them. It seems that this type of interaction benefited both the soldiers and their commander, who said he was inspired and encouraged by his men. When the D-Day invasion was successful, he gave all the credit to the troops; in the press release he prepared in case the invasion did not succeed, he took full personal responsibility for its failure. It makes perfect sense to me that this man would later give the famous “Cross of Iron” speech and that he would conclude his presidency by warning us of the dangers of the military-industrial complex.

The terrific singer/songwriter Peter Mulvey wrote a song called
“Abilene (The Eisenhower Waltz),” which begins with the line “God bless you, Dwight D. Eisenhower…” Yes, indeed.