Dwight D. Eisenhower was born in 1890, of Dutch-American stock. He became a general and the 34th President of the United States. He saw war in a quite different way than another American officer, George Patton (q.v.): ‘I hate war,’ he often said, ‘as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.’
Biographers and historians have written that ‘Ike’, as he was universally known, was a warm and friendly man, whereas most other generals one knows about were not – certainly not Patton, a scrapper, who once struck a wounded soldier in a hospital tent for alleged ‘cowardice’. Ike on the other hand, can hardly have seen war ‘as only a soldier can’, because he had never actually been engaged in a war situation. No-one fired a shot at Ike, which may have been why he was warm and friendly.
In World War II he suddenly became famous when he was appointed allied commander-in-chief for the invasion of North Africa in 1942. If other US (and British, French and Polish) generals thought this appointment a little odd they kept it to themselves. He stayed as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces however for the invasion of Italy in September, 1943, only to be recalled to Britain in 1944, given the job of planning the allied invasion of France. He and his allied senior generals did not exactly dance around the deck (Antony and Cleopatra) with esprit and bonhomie during the planning stages, mostly because each general thought he knew better than everybody else – especially Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Ike was a good negotiator however and finally secured some level of cooperation between the ambitious generals of differing views and nationalities, something of a miracle when he had personalities like De Gaulle, Montgomery and the previously mentioned Patton in a small room together. A French philosopher once said that all generals were like prima donnas.
Eisenhower was forced not to be so warm and friendly occasionally with Bernard Montgomery (q.v.), requiring this redoubtable fighting soldier to keep quiet. Meanwhile he got on with planning the D-Day Invasion with meticulous attention to detail. After many false starts, and rather more open criticism from his subordinates, the invasion actually took place on 6th June, 1944, with five beaches in Normandy as the target – three British and Commonwealth and two US beaches. The largest fighting force ever assembled did the job roughly according to Eisenhower’s plans, except that the Americans met with more resistance at their beaches than anticipated, and therefore took longer to break out.
As the invasion armies surged forward, Ike fell out again with Montgomery over the proposed North-West Europe Campaign (q.v.) Monty ( and George Patton) wanted allied forces to be concentrated in a single gigantic thrust across the Rhine and straight to Berlin, getting there before the Russian Army. Eisenhower found this dangerous and unacceptable, because he was sure their flanks would be unprotected, and was not certain essential supplies would be able to get through. He wanted an attack on a broad front pushing the Germans back to the Rhine. He got his way of course and the War therefore ambled on and on until 1945. And the Russians took Berlin, certainly the beginning of ‘The Cold War’.
Our subject never got a chance to show his undoubted skills as a field-commander, but historians insist he acted with determination in the Battle of the Bulge (q.v.) when a tremendous German counter-attack he had not bargained for caught the Americans unprepared. Monty relieved the Americans from the north by his set-piece crossing of the Rhine in February, 1945.
After the War, Eisenhower was in total charge of US occupying forces in Germany until recalled to America to replace General Marshall as US Chief of Staff in 1949. Then he took command of the newly-invented North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1951. In 1952