Reevaluating the Man from Abilene

Article excerpt

Reevaluating the Man From Abilene Ike: An American Hero. Michael Korda. Harper. 780 pages; maps; black and white photographs; index; $34.95.

Writing on the eve of VE-Day, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall noted that Gen. Dwight D. (Ike) Eisenhower had "made history, great history for the good of all mankind." In the 40 years since Eisenhower's death, a number of excellent biographies have chronicled the life of the man from Abilene, Kan., who led the Western Allies to victory over Germany in World War II. In Ike: An American Hero, Michael Korda presents his subject as the quintessential rags-to-riches American hero.

Korda is a New York Times best-selling author and a former editor in chief at Simon & Schuster. His previous works include Charmed Lives, Journey to a Revolution and Ulysses S. Grant. Korda's purpose is to resurrect the true Eisenhower, whose reputation has been clouded by contemporary observers and subsequent historians. With a few notable exceptions, the majority of historians have portrayed Eisenhower as a mediocre commander with little strategic vision and as a president who delegated decision making to a cadre of gifted subordinates. According to Korda, Eisenhower's role in history "no longer seems deeply imprinted on the American national consciousness, and certainly not in what passes for history teaching in American education."

Drawing heavily on Stephen E. Ambrose's two-volume biography of Eisenhower, Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect, 1890-1952 and Eisenhower: The President; Carlo D'Este's masterful military biography, Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life; and Ike's memoirs, At ease, Korda delivers a highly readable, albeit somewhat unbalanced, portrait of the Supreme Allied Commander and 34th President of the United States.

Korda's admiration for Eisenhower is manifest in many forms, not the least of which is that the majority of maps are extracted directly from Ike's wartime memoirs, Crusade in Europe. Dedicating the vast majority of his efforts toward his subject's military career, Korda surprisingly devotes only two chapters to the Eisenhower presidency.

The Eisenhower who emerges from these pages is a leader of competence and character, the foundation of which was in his deep sense of duty. Reflecting upon his oath to become a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Eisenhower recalled that "from here on, it would be the nation I was serving, not myself. Suddenly the flag itself meant something." Korda makes a strong case that the remainder of Ike's life attested to his belief that his primary duty was to his country.

Throughout Ike, Korda cites the American Civil War as the perfect analogy with Eisenhower's World War II experience. Both Gettysburg and D-Day, for example, served as climactic battles to gain high ground, and both engagements settled the fate of the losing sides. …