Ike! Where Are You When We Really Need You?
Ike’s idealism at this time was founded on two apparently contradictory things—the religious training of his parents who, belonging as they did to the plain people, were morally opposed to war; and the code that had been drummed into him at West Point and which he had whole-heartedly accepted. It can be summed up in the motto of the Military Academy: Duty, Honor, Country. Eisenhower managed to hold to the best of both codes. He lived a soldier’s life, lived it to the hilt in the sense of training himself to his full capacity in that ungentle art so that he might be prepared to serve his country to the best of his ability. And yet ...
I have written about a number of military men and, in the course of my research, talked to hundreds of career soldiers. All of them said they hated war, usually adding, “because I know how terrible it can be.” They thought they meant it, but in their hearts it was not true. That is only human nature. If an ordinary man spends his entire life preparing himself for a profession never to practice it, he is inevitably frustrated. Even the great and gentle General Lee, watching from the heights at Fredericksburg as the Union Army deployed in all its glory on the plains beneath, said, “It is well that war is so terrible else we would grow to love it too well.” Or as Monsieur Beaucare put it in Booth Tarkington’s play of the same name, “All that practice and not one leeetle fight.” But General Eisenhower was not an ordinary man. Of them all he was the only career soldier who convinced me that, in all truth, he hated war.
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The final victory in Europe of course raised Eisenhower to a height of popularity probably never equaled by any other American General. However, it was not only victory, but his personality that made the people love him so much. For he was more than a successful general. He was the embodiment of the ideal American—simple, friendly, brave, idealistic—a good man who seemed to have come uncorrupted by modern cynicism out of America’s innocent past.