Saturday, January 27, 2018

Eisenhower: Becoming the Leader of the Free World - Book Review

Louis Golambos’ new biography Eisenhower: Becoming the Leader of the Free World (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018, 296 pages, $23.65, 25.58) presents a picture of Dwight David Eisenhower, the thirty-fourth President of the United States, from the perspective his career as it prepared him for becoming Supreme Allied Commander of American forces in Europe during World War II, which propelled him into the presidency, succeeding Harry Truman in 1952 and serving as President until 1960. As a general, during World War II, he was widely, and justly, credited with having used superior organizational and political skills to coordinate allied efforts towards ultimate and complete victory, while garnering the recognition and popularity to achieve a huge electoral victory in 1952. As president, he again balanced a variety of national and international interests to lead America back towards peace while establishing the military might that staved off war with Soviet Russia. Furthermore, he coordinated efforts to bring the Korean conflict to its lingering conclusion, despite never being able to broker more than an armistice there. Most prominent in the biography is Golambos’ emphasis on Eisenhower’s preparation for and assumption of leadership, while his domestic and personal life is downplayed.

Golambos emphasizes the development of Eisenhower’s character growing up in relative poverty in Abilene, Kansas where his father was an angry, disappointed smart person who never achieved the social or economic position he thought he deserved, leading to an often violent approach to discipline with his six sons. Meanwhile his mother, Ida, was a deeply religious, warm, effective mother who dealt lovingly and thoughtfully with her developing sons. According to Golumbus, Ike’s early career at West Point and in the Army was dominated by the conflict between his two contrasting parents, leading to a strong and effective leadership style with his subordinates but to his having a difficult time dealing with authority at West Point and later which, in his early Army career, retarded his advancement.

His slow rise in the post war Army was worsened by his resistance to authority, often showing a temper he sought throughout his career to control. Early, he showed himself to be a prescient analyst of the future needs and directions of the Army, often rejected by superior officers trained in the pre-war environment of horses and then trench warfare. Eisenhower understood and promoted the importance of the tank as the coming major offensive weapon against the resistance of his superior officers, leading the retarding of his advancement. His assignments often emphasized training positions which also allowed him to coach football, but kept him as a staff officer. Meanwhile Douglas MacArthur and others who had earned combat stars, moved up the Army hierarchy.

He was lucky to be noticed by General Fox Connor who became his and Patton’s mentor. Conner mentored Ike as his Chief of Staff in Panama. He had the qualities to teach Ike how to manage the bureaucracy above him by attention to detail while developing confidence in his own ability to lead. He gained greater responsibility and was assigned to training tank troops under George S, Patton who was in Pershing’s command. Sent to train tank officers in Gettysburg, he continued to rise, but without distinction. He was deemed by his superiors to treat “others with respect and gave careful attention to their needs. He demanded discipline without being petty.” A pretty good description of the parenting he had received from his mother. Ike’s rise in the Army depended upon insights from two mentor/sponsors who recognized in him qualities not readily apparent to others. Fox Conner during the period between WWI and WWII and General George C. Marshall’s appointing him to be the top general in the planning for the invasion of Europe, which, at the time seemed to be a “stunning” move on Marshall’s part.

This book contains important lessons about leadership within a bureaucracy that rising or potential leaders should learn if they are to succeed. The book has significant relevance to those who would seek advanced leadership in any setting – business, schools, politics, or the military. The progress of Ike’s career and the Golumbus’ account of his weaknesses and strengths point to skills which should be emphasized in leadership programs in graduate school as well as learned by potential mentors and those seeking leadership themselves. Golumbus’ skill in relating these lessons to the historical herky-jerky prograss of Ike’s career is carefully structured and presented in such a way as to make it palatable to all the but the most heedless people who find themselves stymied in their ambitions.

At the close of the war Eisenhower accepted the presidency of Columbia University, a role he was totally unsuited for, while preparing for his run at the presidency. In assessing Ike’s role as president, Golumbos points to his achieving world peace and insuring American prosperity, while developing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to resist Soviet expansion in eastern Europe. Eisenhower’s entire career path had prepared him to use guile, charm, and power in equal proportions to maintain the U.S. at the top of world influence. He spent lavishly on retaining military strength while campaigning ceaselessly for peace, all with his world famous Eisenhower grin.

The book contains only one mention of Ike’s relationship to his driver Kay Summersby, but there’s a longer and more useful note that helps redress that oversight. Also, his deteriorating relationship with his wife, Mamie, who became a difficult alcoholic as she aged, is hardly discussed in the text, which focuses very successfully on Ike’s developing leadership skills, his ability to work across a wide range of personalities, organizational goals, and systems to achieve what Golambos calls a “middle way.”

Louis Golambos

Louis Golambos is professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins University. He edited The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, a massive twenty-four volume collection.

Eisenhower is often seen as a plodder who emerged from a very long development period, rising to the demands of command during World War II and then rode his fame to two terms as President. He is revealed. Eisenhower: Becoming the Leader of the Free World  (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018, 296 pages, $23.65, 25.58) in this very thorough account of his professional military and political life, as a talented leader, able to encourage subordinates to obtain the best from them with a vision far greater than he is often given credit for having. Almost one third of the text is devoted to references and extensive notes. Golumbos has made a substantial contribution to understanding of this important military and political leader of the second half of the twentieth century. I read the book as an electron pre-publication copy provided by the publisher by Edelwiess: Beyondthe Treeline. I read it on my Kindle app.

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