Monday, June 6, 2016

Dwight D. Eisenhower | Extracts

For something completely different, I'm going to try my hand at sharing some extracts from a book I read last semester. Part of the purpose of this blog is to document my personal journey towards living a life that I am proud of and happy with, and part of that is working towards personal qualities that I admire in my heroes. So here I go.

The Allied invasion of France on the Normandy coast, the largest seaborne invasion in history, happened on June 6, 1944, or D-Day. Operation Overlord, as it's famously known, was instrumental in the liberation of western Europe from Nazi Germany, and was meticulously planned and executed by Supreme Allied Commander in Europe Dwight D. Eisenhower. Between the end of WWII and the '52 election, Ike held a number of very high offices and played a huge role in establishing post-war stability in Europe: Military Governor in Germany, Army Chief of Staff, president of Columbia University, and Supreme Commander of NATO.

The point of this post isn't to discuss the things Ike did. Rather, I'll share a segment adapted (numbered, instead of pure prose) from Paul Johnson's biography Eisenhower: A Life. This passage describes some "virtues" that General Fox Conner, an early mentor, saw in him:
  1. A clear, analytical intelligence
  2. The ability to articulate conclusions in excellent English
  3. He could get on well with anyone, especially hard cases -- which were common in an army where thrusting individualism was encouraged and promoted
  4. Adept at resolving differences and promoting solutions, especially compromises that worked
  5. Admirable persistence in pursuing reason in any military enterprise
  6. He concealed his strengths
  7. Ike was very hardworking, often for prolonged periods, yet he always appeared relaxed
  8. Consistent aims in life, quietly but vigorously followed
The effect of the Staff School was to confirm this combination, and especially to enable Ike to get his thoughts onto paper in a pellucid manner, something very rare in the U.S. Army, indeed in any army. It also implanted in Ike a keen realization of the connection between military power and industrial capacity, which became a salient part of his thinking about the future.
These are virtues that any person could benefit from, and I hope I can move in that direction. Regardless of your opinion on his actions and policies, I do think that the eight points above are qualities worth working towards.

I'll end the post here. See below for another passage, thoughts about the biography itself, and a bit from General Conner.

Here is another passage about Ike:

Asked about his aims at Columbia, he did not hesitate to proclaim: "every student who comes to this place must leave it, first, a better citizen, and only secondly a better scholar." "Citizenship," not a word which sprang naturally to the lips of academics, was one he used easily, and it meant a lot to him. He said once: "To be an American citizen is one of the world's great prizes." He believed Americans were insufficiently informed of their duties and responsibilities as citizens. He raised substantial sums of money to finance the Citizenship Education Project. Every citizen was part of what he called the American Team. Teamwork was, as always, all important to Ike, just as important as, perhaps more than, the cultivation of the individual, which he recognized as the dynamic of American enterprise and exceptionalism. Teamwork had been the keynote of his success as a general. It was not an obvious characteristic of an academic community, but Ike saw no reason why it should not become so.

A miniature review of the biography: it was okay, easy to read, and extremely biased towards hero-worshiping Ike. I enjoyed it, but then again, I hero-worshiped Ike since I did a report about him in fifth grade for class.

General Conner's three axioms for war:
  • Never fight unless you have to;
  • Never fight alone; and
  • Never fight for long
I recently reread Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card so I've been dragged back into thinking about military history and strategy. My sibling is much more wise about military history, having read Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Marcus Aurelius, etc at an early age and written a long report about the Civil War. I'm a more casual student of western military history, but it's an interest that I've had since childhood, and reflects heavily on the fiction I read and the way I read them.

I'm approaching my annual reread of T. H. White's The Once and Future King, which is easily one of my favorite books, with one of my favorite quotes of all time. I think I'll make extractions as a monthly series, and try to sit around a theme and pull from different sources instead.


  1. This was interesting to read - I've never had a particular interest in military history/strategy myself, but I like how you've shared quotes that could be relevant to anyone. I have been meaning to read the Art of War, though! I wonder if I could incorporate anything from there into my life...

    1. My sibling's been recommending that I read The Art of War and Marcus Aurelius' Meditations for so many years. I think its lessons about strategy and logistics are said to be timeless! I still shouldn't procrastinate on reading, though

  2. There was a time when I was little where I really enjoyed reading historical fiction and biographies, but other than that I haven't really had a keen interest in history. I think it's valuable though, and god knows, there's so much to learn from so many people from the past and present! Thanks for sharing :D -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's