Ike! Where Are You When We Really Need You?
Electile Dysfunction: The inability to become aroused over any of the choices for president put forth by either party in the 2008 election year.
—Ed Zuckerman, Proprietor of “Government Policy Newslinks” to Denny Hatch, e-mail, January 23, 2008
Today is Super Tuesday.
* With Bill Clinton getting more media attention than his wife, who is the candidate? Does this bode well for her presidency?
* Barack Obama is an inspiring fellow, but do two years in the United States Senate qualify him to be commander-in-chief and leader of the Free World?
* Do I really want John McCain—a lovely guy, but my age and a cancer survivor—bearing those titles?
* And Mitt Romney? Read the lead paragraph from the lead article of last Friday’s Wall Street Journal at right, under In the News.
* The only other candidate that won a primary was Mike Huckabee, who stated that he wanted to amend the Constitution so it would be closer to the Word of God.
I am not happy.
I knew one guy who later became president—Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1952. He was a minimalist president—doing what he had to do to keep things together. He could have been president in 1948. But he turned it down.
Not much happened from 1952 to 1960. Eisenhower ended the Korean War, made progress in civil rights and wanted to be remembered as the president under whom the Interstate Highway System was completed. He played a lot of golf, and when he turned the country over to John F. Kennedy, it was in pretty good shape.
But, oh my, was he qualified. He led the invasions of North Africa, Italy and Europe and left an indelible mark on NATO. He was a consensus builder, a healer, a leader who did what had to be done. When he came to the presidency, he had no baggage, no personal agenda, nothing to prove to any person or constituency. He owed no favors.
Were he faced with war in the Middle East and staggering problems like terrorism, immigration, health care, a $9.2 trillion national debt, a congress paralyzed by anger and inaction, and a nation in economic thrall to the world, Ike would step in, prioritize issues, knock heads and make the country work.
My father wrote the first biography of Eisenhower, and as a result, the Eisenhowers and the Hatches became friends. Recently I stumbled on an unpublished memoir by my father that gives insight into the greatest man I will ever have known, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
All I can say is, “General Ike! Where are you now that we really need you?”
From Alden Hatch’s Unpublished Memoir
Late in December 1943, the White House announced that the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied armies in Europe would be General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Having just finished “Young Willkie,” I was eagerly looking for a new subject. One night at a dinner party at the River Club someone, whose name I have ungratefully forgotten, suggested Ike. That was it! If he gained a great victory he would be the hero of America; if defeated, he would be a villain. Either way people would read about him.
On January 2, 1944, 1 rushed in to see [my agent] Anne Watkins. She offered the idea to Harcourt-Brace, who turned it down. A telephone call to Henry Holt and Company brought a favorable reaction and an appointment for that afternoon. “Go over to the public library and make yourself an expert on Ike,” Anne Watkins said.
There was extraordinarily little about Eisenhower in the library. Although he had commanded the invasion of North Africa, the Sicilian Campaign and the landings at Salerno in Italy, there were only a few magazine articles, most of them erroneous. Crammed with misinformation, I presented myself at Holt and talked as though I had been studying Ike’s career for years. The result was an immediate contract.
Straightway I telephoned Mrs. Eisenhower in Washington. Neither I nor anyone else knew that Ike was on a super-secret trip to the United States to confer with President Roosevelt and the Combined Chiefs of Staff. With surprisingly little difficulty I reached Mrs. Eisenhower, who knew no better than to agree to talk with me in San Antonio where she was going after Ike went back to England. She also suggested that I get in touch with Ike’s oldest brother, Arthur, who was regarded as the head of the family.
I called him immediately in Kansas City and he also agreed to see me late in January. The truth is that the Eisenhowers were so unused to the ways of publicity that, instead of making a careful inquiry about my bona fides, they thought they had to see anybody who wanted to write about their suddenly famous general.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
First on our list was Mamie Eisenhower, who was staying at Fort Sam Houston. Although the temperature was seventy-two that afternoon, [Ruth’s aunt] Mary insisted that Ruth borrow her magnificent mink coat so she would be properly dressed for such an important occasion. It was really wasted sweat because Mamie was so friendly and unpretentious that before we left Ruth told her the story of the coat. Mamie was also much prettier than her pictures, with deep blue eyes under dark lashes and exquisitely delicate skin. Her famous bangs were the subject of a brief comment. “All the newspaper people wonder why I wear them,” she said. Sweeping them back to reveal an abnormally high forehead she asked, “What would you do if you were half-bald?”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
That was a gay book to write. Ike’s whole life had, in truth, been so simple, honest and idealistic that there were few, if any, problems of what to put in and what to leave out for fear of injuring his reputation or downgrading his prestige as Supreme Commander. This would not ordinarily be a question for an honest biographer, but in the midst of a war it would have been unpatriotic almost to the point of treason to make injurious statements about a man in Eisenhower’s position. Fortunately my conscience was easy; there were no shadows in the General’s past.
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.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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.
At that time Eisenhower was, indeed, surprisingly naive. Though he had great military expertise he was almost totally ignorant of economics and politics. He had never had any money of his own and relied entirely on Mamie to manage the family finances; and his incognizance of the national economy was even more profound. As to politics: until World War II it was an article of faith among Americans that the Army should take no part in civilian government—career soldiers could not even vote until after World War I. The Military Academy inculcated this tenet into its graduates and Cadet Eisenhower accepted it so completely that he never voted until after his retirement as Chief of Staff in 1948.
Not only that, but virtually nothing was taught at West Point about foreign policy, which was to be left to the wisdom of civilian statesmen—their’s but to do and die, as ordered. This is the reason American generals, including Ike, had little conception of the political implications of their strategic decisions. They felt that their job was to win the war as efficiently and expeditiously as possible without regard for the after consequences.
That was why they could not understand Winston Churchill’s farsighted effort to channel the Allied drive through Eastern Europe to prevent a Russian take-over, and his anxiety to have the Allies take Berlin. And that is why they frequently gave the President of the United States such bad advice.
Later Eisenhower was to become much more sophisticated in such matters, for unlike many military men, he had an open mind and the capacity to keep on learning. The Eisenhower of the 1950s would not have made the same decisions as the Supreme Commander of the forties.
Though Eisenhower was admittedly not as brilliant as some, he was probably the only general in either the American or British military establishments who could have united the vast conglomerate armies and successfully exercised Supreme Command in the European Theater. One shudders to think of the shambles that the brilliant but temperamental MacArthur, the dashing and equally tempestuous George S. Patton or even comparatively phlegmatic Bradley would have made of British-American relations.
It is not improbable that if feisty Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery had been in Supreme Command, the British and the Americans would have ended up shooting at each other.
Eisenhower’s goodwill, his modesty, his stability, his integrity and his willingness to see the other fellow’s point-of-view, and above all, his genuine, irresistible friendliness, welded a weird and disparate collection of men from six nations into a winning team. If he was not an inspired general, he was an inspiring leader. The troops of all nations loved him.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When Eisenhower received an invitation to meet with two of the Columbia [University] trustees, [IBM’s Thomas J.] Watson and Thomas Parkinson, to discuss an important matter, he thought they were after his brother, Milton, for the Presidency of Columbia. So did Milton. The meeting took place in the Thayer Hotel at West Point. When the trustees offered Ike the presidency he was literally astounded. He said, “You don’t want me,” He said, “Go to see the Eisenhower with brains!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In the summer of 1947, John Eisenhower’s engagement was announced to Barbara Thompson, the daughter of Colonel Percy Thompson who, like John, was with our occupation forces in Vienna. Soon afterward Mamie telephoned Ruth, who had started a dress shop in Cedarhurst, saying that Barbara was coming home alone on a transport and would Ruth take her under her wing and get her some good-looking clothes so that she would be properly equipped to meet their friends in Washington.
On the appointed day I drove to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn to pick up Barbara. She turned out to be very pretty and sweet. An Army brat, she was wise in the ways of the service and incredibly innocent of the world outside. As we drove along the Belt Parkway toward Cedarhurst, Barbara said, “Mr. Hatch, will you tell me what I’m getting into?”
“How do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, when the ship got to quarantine all those reporters came aboard, taking pictures and asking questions. I thought John was just another Army officer, but I guess I was wrong.”
“You sure were,” I said. “Before you get through you may find you’re married to the son of the President of the United States.”
Barbara and John were married in Fort Monroe at Old Point Comfort, Virginia, where her father was then stationed. We were asked to the wedding, but in a fit of misguided economy, I refused to go. I have always regretted it.
The young Eisenhowers somehow managed to retain their engaging innocence for many years. In the winter of 1950 they came out to Cedarhurst with Ike, who was then President of Columbia University. John and Barbara got me aside and said, “We’ve never been to a New York night club, and we thought of going to one tonight. Someone suggested the Latin Quarter. Is that good?”
I told them it was an excellent choice and John asked, “Is it very expensive?”
I said, “Well, rather. How much did you plan to spend?”
John answered. “I’ve got twenty-five dollars.”
I said, “Oh, dear. Then I called across the room. “General Ike, these kids want to go to a nightclub. How about giving them fifty bucks so they can do it right?”
Ike grinned and said, “Alden, why do you put the bee on me?” But he handed over the fifty dollars.
I had no compunction because Ike had just sold “Crusade in Europe” to Doubleday for $650,000. It had been arranged with the Bureau of Internal Revenue that since his book was supposedly a one-shot deal, the result of all his lifetime experience, the money would be regarded as capital gains. Ike was the only person who ever got away with that.
On another occasion John and I were discussing the book money.
John said, “I don’t altogether like it.”
“The responsibility of someday inheriting all that money worries me.”
Very gently I said, “John, it just ain’t that much money.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Eisenhower’s Presidency of Columbia was subject to many interruptions. The first was political. After sixteen years of Democratic rule the Republicans desperately needed a winner.
Back in January , Senator Charles W. Tobey and Mr. Leonard V. Finder of New Hampshire had entered his name in the presidential primary of that state. Ike was tempted. He was bone-weary, anxious for a comparatively peaceful life; and he knew the rather dismal history of generals in the White House. On the other hand was his genuine feeling of obligation to the American people and the knowledge that as President he could exert tremendous influence on the shape of the future. Let us not rule out ambition, which every American boy of his era must have felt at one time or another to be President.
In the end he wrote a Shermanesque refusal to Finder saying:
“It is my conviction that the necessary and wise subordination of the military to civil power will be best sustained ... when lifelong professional soldiers, in the absence of some obvious and overriding reason, abstain from seeking high political office ... nothing in the international or domestic situation especially qualifies (me) for the most important office in the world.
“In any event, my decision to remove myself completely from the political scene is definite and positive ... I could not accept the nomination even under the remote circumstance that it were tendered me.”
In private Eisenhower said, “I see no reason why I should allow the Republicans to use me as a catspaw to regain the Presidency.”
Commenting on this, John said, “Of course, Father has no false modesty.”
So much for the Republicans. They went off happily politicking at their National Convention, in which the leading candidates of the liberal and internationalist wing were Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan and former Governor Harold Stassen of Minnesota. The conservative, neo-isolationist front-runners were Senator Taft and Speaker of the House, Joseph W. Martin.
The Democrats were desperate. President Harry S. Truman was at his nadir of popularity. The party chieftains knew he could not win. In their frantic search for a candidate outstanding and popular enough to take the nomination away from a President in office, they approached Eisenhower, who, true to his West Point training, had never voted or joined a political party, though all his instincts, based on his youth in Republican Kansas, and his natural conservatism made him at heart a Republican.
However, to everyone’s surprise Eisenhower did not repeat the flat denial he had given the Republicans; he said nothing.
After a bitter battle at the Republican Convention late in June, Governor Dewey was nominated. He looked like a sure winner unless Ike accepted the Democratic offer. Rumors flew.
In June Parent’s Magazine asked me to write a brief biography of General Eisenhower’s first grandson, David, who was three months old. I got permission to do so from the Eisenhowers, who asked us to lunch on the Fourth of July so we could photograph the baby. As Ruth and I drove through 125th Street, my eye caught a bright red headline:
“Ike Will Accept.”
We stopped and bought the paper.
When we reached the Eisenhowers’ house we found an unexpected visitor—George Allen, who was President Truman’s round, merry court jester, political fixer—and hatchet man. It soon became evident that Allen had come on a mission from the President to plead with Ike to make another positive denial that he would accept the Democratic nomination.
Of course our newspaper was just what Allen needed to clinch his argument. We all sat in the Eisenhowers’ little upstairs sitting room while Allen read it aloud, mouthing the phrases with unctuous emphasis. According to some obscure Democratic Congressman, Ike had definitely promised to run if nominated.
The General got madder and madder. His face became turkey-wattle red and he snorted violently at each innuendo. “I never saw that fellow in my life,” he said. “He came to my office, but never got past the receptionist.”
“All the same, you’ve got to say something,” Allen argued. “Otherwise the Convention might nominate you by acclamation. Then what would you do?”
“I’m sure going to look like a darn fool,” Ike muttered, “twice refusing a crown that wasn’t offered to me even once.”
Nevertheless, the following morning the newspapers carried Ike’s unequivocal statement that under no circumstances would he accept the Democratic nomination.”
The next time I saw Eisenhower I said to him, “You knew the way things were going that you would have to speak out. Why did you wait so long?”
Very slowly Ike said, “I waited to see if the Republicans would nominate someone acceptable.”
“Do you mean that if Taft or Joe Martin had been nominated...?”
“I’d have done something,” Ike snapped.
I took that to mean that if a neo-isolationist had been nominated Eisenhower might have made himself available to the Democrats. Though, as I have said, his inclinations were definitely Republican, they had not yet been fixed in the mold of partisanship to the extent that, as he phrased it, he would be willing to see “all the things I have worked for go down the drain” rather than turn Democrat.