American Generalship: Character Is Everything: The Art of Command

By Edgar F. Puryear Jr. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5: Books: The Importance of Reading

Education has for its object the formation of character.

-- Herbert Spencer

There is no history: There is only biography.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

In 1940, Dwight D. Eisenhower was a colonel stationed at Fort Hood, in Texas, serving as chief of staff to Maj. Gen. Walter Krueger, commander of the Third Army. Eisenhower was called to Washington to meet with army chief of staff George C. Marshall. He did not look forward to the call because he was afraid it would take him back to "Washington and staff work, away from service with the troops, which he had wanted for years.

At this conference, Marshall asked Eisenhower for his thoughts about how Japan's challenging the U.S. presence in the Pacific should be met, particularly in regards to the Philippine Islands, which were then still a U.S. territory. The observation was made by one of Ike's biographers that, "The question shook Eisenhower. He knew he had developed a reputation in the Army as an idea man. But he realized [that Marshall] and his War Plans Division were not bereft of ideas of their own. He was obviously to be tested for a job, probably at the War Department itself."

Eisenhower as an idea man raises significant points. I asked him, "How does one develop as a decision maker? Is it a God-given talent, or can it be developed, and if so, how does one grow and improve?"1

His response was twofold. First, he stressed the importance of being around people who were making decisions. He certainly had that experience in his career. He had worked for Douglas MacArthur on two occasions in Washington and Manila and for Marshall as chief of staff. Second, he stressed the importance of books, particularly history and biography.

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