This is an exceptionally fine series. This episode traces Dwight D. Eisenhower from his boyhood in Abilene, Kansas, to the end of World War II.
He was born in the waning years of the 19th century to a middle-class German couple. "Eisenhower" in German means "one who defeats iron" or "strikes it down" or "hews it." I visited the unpretentious house, two stories, small rooms, plain furnishing, and a piano stuck away in one of the corners. Anyone coming from such an unprepossessing background who makes it through West Point gets my vote.
Actually, he didn't do very well at the Point. In high school he'd played football and it was an athletic scholarship that got him into the Military Academy. His mind was mostly on sports and he graduated with a goodly number of demerits, about the middle of his class.
He was given a training post in the US during World War I and never saw combat. Then he was MacArthur's aide for a while and was sent to the Philippines where he saw his career languishing. There were few promotions during the inter-war years. MacArthur was later to say of Eisenhower, "He was the best clerk I ever had." In return, Ike is said to have remarked, "I studied dramatics under MacArthur." (The film doesn't mention this.) He was nearing retirement when war broke out in Europe and America began to gird its loins. He was close friends with General George C. Marshall, President Roosevelt's Chief of Staff, and partly as a result of this Mentor/Telemachus relationship, Eisenhower was leap frogged over some senior officers, promoted, and later appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe. It wasn't only pull that got him the post. He'd retained his boyish grin, was well liked, and was accommodating in a position of leadership, perceptive and a little sneaky in dealing with conflicts.
His conduct of the war in North Africa and Europe is pretty well known. At their first contact with Rommel and the Italians at Kasserine Pass in Africa, the United States Army simply collapsed and was routed. The commanding general, Lloyd Fredendall, kept his headquarters too far from the front, fell for German traps that the British had learned to avoid, and, like other officers found wanting, was fired and sent back to a training command, where he presumably continued teaching the military tactics that had cost him his own command.
Eisenhower put Omar Bradley in charge and brought George S. Patton in to shape up the Americans. A popular feature film was made of Patton's career, called "Patton." It depicts Bradley and Patton as friends who occasionally disagreed. That's not accurate. Bradley dislike Patton intensely on a personal level. And in both North Africa and Sicily, Patton's Americans were fighting alongside Montgomery's British and colonials. The troops were fighting side by side but Patton and Montgomery were both prima donnas and were at each others throats.
It was a serious problem, with both men grabbing for glory and heroic stature. Perhaps no one except the much-respected and admired Eisenhower could have dealt with both of them. Montgomery went too far in claiming responsibility for "saving the Americans" at the Battle of the Bulge. The Americans were outraged and Eisenhower made it clear that either Montgomery had to go or he himself would resign. It elicited a letter of profound apology from Montgomery.
Patton went too far also, and farther. He was far more aggressive than Montgomery and, it was argued, abused his own men. His troops went into combat wearing neckties, and far behind the lines, cooks carried sidearms. But then he began slapping soldiers in Sicily. The feature film shows him whapping one crybaby. Historically, he slapped two soldiers, one suffering from what we now recognize as combat fatigue and another who was suffering from malaria. Eisenhower fired Patton too, but recognizing his talents he kept him in reserve and used him later.
There were other disagreements, major and minor, but this isn't the place to get into them. As most of us know, we won the war and it was Eisenhower who got most of the credit in America. The episode doesn't mention it but Eisenhower resigned and spent some time as president of Columbia University before being virtually drafted for the virtually undisputed presidential campaign.
That's when his real troubles began.
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