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General Ike: A Personal Reminiscence. By John S. D. Eisenhower.New York: Free Press, 2003. ISBN 0-7432-4474-5. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Appendixes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xxi, 277. $27.00.
John Eisenhower's memoir, Strictly Personal, penned three decades ago, asserted that his father's great success "while exhilarating to us all made me feel that among strangers I was always some sort of curiosity. And it affected the relations between a father and son." Carlo D'Este, in his recently published account of General Eisenhower's military career, Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life, says that the son presented an image of a father who [End Page 639] was "distant and authoritarian" (D'Este, p. 172). Now, in 2003, the son—eighty years of age, a distinguished military historian, and a retired army brigadier general—has undertaken to modify this earlier image of his father. "Through the years," he says, "he has read enough misleading material, most of it written by people who have no idea of what he was really like" (p. xi). Drawing upon scores of documents, memoirs, and histories to supplement his own memories, John Eisenhower has written a memoir-history that will endure as a primary source for anyone interested in Dwight D. Eisenhower and the world he shaped. It is wise in its appraisal of both accomplishments and failures.
John's method is to look carefully at his father's military career, which he asserts was "far more important to him personally than his political life," and its origins in the early 1920s. He does this by discussing—not intellectual influences such as his father's mastery of the writings of Carl von Clausewitz or his emotional life such as the nature of his relationship with Kay Summersby (he mentions neither) or his political career (he admits that he knows more about his father as a soldier than as a civilian), but rather—the relationships with key individuals whom his father encountered during his rise to historical prominence. Arranged by chapter in the order in which they were most important, these were: George S. Patton, Fox Conner, John J. Pershing, Douglas A. MacArthur, George S. Patton the general, George C. Marshall, Bernard L. Montgomery, Charles DeGaulle, and Winston S. Churchill.
Each relationship, the existence of which was in some way crucial to victory, involved mutual admiration but also weighty disputes and, ultimately, compromise and cooperation for the common good. The result is a revealing portrait. Ike's most important personal qualities included, at various times: enthusiasm, curiosity, loyalty, congeniality, generosity of spirit, warmth, ambition, patience, self-discipline, sensitivity to criticism, stamina, gregariousness, and a high degree of professionalism—an ability to ask the right questions and listen to the answers, a strength of conviction, willingness to take responsibility, a capacity to adjust to changing circumstances, and resolve in pursuit of the objective.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the book is its anecdotal material. As an eighteen-year-old in 1940, for example, John watched his father—a lieutenant colonel who had not served with troops for over a decade but who was now commander of the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Washington—prepare for summer maneuvers in California by having his orderly lay out the contents of his field pack. "Ike," he recalled, stood there, hands on hips, staring down at the collection of items, taking inventory, lost in thought (p. 36).
Two years later, his father, by then chief of the War Plans Division of the War Department, came up from Washington to visit him at West Point. The soon-to-be theater commander voiced to his son some small concern about a potential halt to his military career—at brigadier general—if General Marshall decided to keep him in a desk job and away from the fighting. "Underneath [End Page 640] his [claimed] indifference to his personal future," recalled John, his father "was highly ambitious" (p. 82).
In the years that followed, Ike...