Book Review. Eisenhower in War and Peace.


Eisenhower in War and Peace                                                                                                                                                                       by Jean Edward Smith. Random House, 2012

Individuals born between 1929 and 1945 make up a generation recently labeled “the lucky few.” As a card-carrying member of that group, I remember the “I like Ike” presidential campaigns as happy events and the eight years of Eisenhower’s presidency as relatively stable and carefree. Yes, we did have to practice getting under our desks in case of nuclear attack but the larger implications escaped our young minds.

For me, reading Jean Edward Smith’s biography of Eisenhower turned a black-and-white image of the smiling, bald President into a full-color portrait of a genuine American hero, complete with his flaws and his accomplishments through Smith’s carefully documented reconstruction of his life.

As Eisenhower later recalled his childhood, “We were very poor, but we didn’t know it at the time.” Again and again, Eisenhower enjoyed good luck. His senator held competitive exams for service academy appointments rather than doling out political favors, and Ike went to West Point. His knee injury from football disqualified him for a commission, but the academy medical officer over-ruled the medical and Ike was commissioned as an infantry officer. He requested duty in the Philippines, but was assigned to Fort Sam Houston, where he met and soon married the wealthy young Mamie Dowd. Then, like so many other families in the pre-antibiotic era, Ike and Mamie lost their first child to infectious disease, scarlet fever complicated my meningitis and, in Smith’s view, their “marriage was no longer the same.”

Eisenhower’s organizational and administrative skills led to steady career advancements. He served with the top leaders of the Army including Pershing in Paris, then with MacArthur in Washington and Manila, and finally with Marshall in Washington. Smith pulls no punches, and describes both Eisenhower’s successes and his hot temper, his own willingness to take responsibility and his insistence on delegating tasks to his subordinates.

The story builds through Eisenhower’s management of the European theater in World War II as the allied supreme commander. In that role, Eisenhower came to know the leadership of the Western world and developed the skills that would take him to the presidency. Smith carefully recounts the military and political pressures on Ike, while dispassionately weaving in the history of his three-year relationship with Kay Summersby.

Of his 28 chapters, Smith devotes 12 to Eisenhower after the war; in these, he fills out the development of Ike’s leadership skills and his character by detailing his handling of the Korean conflict and crises with McCarthyism, with public school desegregation, with the launch of Sputnik, and with the U2 incident, among others. Smith’s writing is smooth and unobtrusive, letting the accumulating facts build the picture of Eisenhower as an increasingly skillful and mature statesman.

In summary, this is a fine book about a great American. After reading it, those of us who remember Ike from our youth will want to thank him for his masterful handling of the grave threats we only vaguely recognized. Those for whom he is an historical figure of uncertain significance will gain a new appreciation for his contributions.

Support your local book (or fly) shop

I’m going to share a very modest moment of pride. Nesiritide. The Rise and Fall of Scios is now on the shelf in our local bookstore, Nicola’s Books, in Ann Arbor.

This is a modest moment because the manager only stocked one copy, on consignment, as a courtesy to a local author. But it’s so very exciting to look at the store and think that my baby is in there, on the shelf, for someone to discover.

I think there is something terrific about buying apples from the local orchard, The Frosty Apple, that is just a few minutes away from the house. I like to get my bike tuned up at the local bike shop in Dexter. And this weekend, the local fly shop is having a free teaching event; I’ll be there.

These interactions make the communities where we live special to us. Yes, Amazon has the book, and yes, you will save on gas by having Jeff Bezos bring it to your door. But whenever you can, build your community and buy local.

Now, with that off my chest, let me tell you about Craig, MT. Craig has three fly shops, one restaurant, and one bar. I made the photos below on a fall trout trip to Craig about 10 days ago. The drift boats almost floated in the mist when we started off in the morning. The other three shots document Craig’s three fly shops.

I think a local author is a lot like a local fly tier. It’s lonely work, by yourself at the desk, and the product always looks smaller or more rumpled than you hoped. But, the positive side is that the local tier knows the river and the fish.