The Quiet American; ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS

Article excerpt

Byline: Compiled by Charles Legge

QUESTION There are biopics of U.S. Generals Patton and MacArthur, but why not one of Eisenhower?

THIS is probably because Dwight D. Eisenhower was, unlike Patton and MacArthur, on the surface at least, a genial and quite uncontroversial figure.

George S. Patton (1885-1945), commanded corps and armies in North Africa, Sicily and elsewhere in Europe, and in 1944 assumed command of the U.S. Third Army, and spectacularly outflanked the Germans in the Battle Of The Bulge, their final offensive. But he was a controversial figure, gruff, eccentric, insubordinate and outspoken.

His speech to the Third Army before D-Day on June 5, 1944, was a legendary, rabble-rousing, expletive-ridden piece which began: 'Men, this stuff that some sources sling around about America wanting out of this war, not wanting to fight, is a crock of bull****. Americans love to fight, traditionally. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle.' And: 'My men don't dig foxholes.

I don't want them to. Foxholes only slow up an offensive. Keep moving. And don't give the enemy time to dig one either.' Patton was a loose cannon: disliked by his peers and superiors, he was loved by the media and feared and respected by his enemies, who regarded him as the best general of the war.

So it's small wonder that George C. Scott had such fun portraying him in the Oscar-winning biopic Patton (1970). He refused to accept the Best Actor Oscar -- the first actor to do so -- and General Patton would surely have admired.

Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), one of the most controversial military generals in U.S. history, was commander of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East during World War II.

An egomaniac and expert PR man, he was very much aware that his trademark corncob pipe, rumpled military cap, open collar and sunglasses made him an instantly recognisable figure. He was so popular with the public that he proved impossible to sideline, despite his loss of the Philippines in 1942.

Few questioned his heroism, but his over-confidence caused many to view him as arrogant and dogmatic. He demanded strict obedience from his subordinates, but often disregarded the authority of his civilian commanders.

Critics argued he tended to underestimate the enemy and took excessive risks that might have had disastrous consequences. It was once said of MacArthur that 'the best and the worst things you hear about him are both true'. His manysided character was ideal material for a biopic, and he was artfully played by Gregory Peck in MacArthur (1977).

Dwight David ('Ike') Eisenhower (1890-1969) was, by contrast, not a 'combat' general but was made Commander-in-Chief in Europe because of his skills as a diplomat.

He was able to keep the Allies fighting the Germans and not each other, despite the competition between big egos, such as Patton and Montgomery. After the war he brought the same skills to the presidential table.

Outwardly, he was a calm, genial figure who was fond of golf and bridge. In public memory, his tenure in office (1953-61) was peaceful and prosperous, sandwiched between the feisty Harry Truman and the glamorous John F. Kennedy, but Ike's friendly exterior hid inner steel and innate cunning Critics, led by Kennedy, said Eisenhower was 'quite content to preside over a fat, happy, satisfied nation that devoted itself to the good life'.

He remained above politics by allowing his Vice-President, Richard Nixon, to deal with the partisan aspects while he ruthlessly tackled the Russians during the Cold War.

Eisenhower's policy throughout his presidency was known as 'Massive Retaliation'; any threat from the USSR was met by the counter-threat of a nuclear strike.

Americans are only just coming to terms with what an interesting character Ike was, which might explain why a proper biopic hasn't yet been made, though a TV movie starring Tom Selleck (bald and minus his Magnum moustache) Ike: Countdown To D-Day was released in 2004. …