Eisenhower: Soldier-Statesman of the American Century/Dwight D. Eisenhower/Eisenhower between the Wars: The Making of a General Statesman
Parker, Jay M., Naval War College Review
Kinnard, Douglas. Eisenhower: Soldier-Statesman of the American Century. Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2002. 112pp. $19.95
Wicker, Tom. Dwight D. Eisenhower. New York: Times Books, 2002. 158pp. $20
Holland, Matthew F. Eisenhower between the Wars: The Making of a General Statesman. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2001.248pp. $64.95
I have written you a long letter because I do not have time to write you a short one.
Anyone who has ever written professionally, whether a novel or an interoffice memo, quickly acknowledges the accuracy of Paschal's statement. If this is the test of a good writer, it is even more pertinent when the subject is someone larger than life. Dwight D. Eisenhower's extraordinary achievements have filled volumes, some more adequate than others. Historians of great note have written hundreds of pages about brief segments of his eventful life. Now, three authors have attempted in comparatively slim volumes to define the essential experiences and achievements of one of the twentieth century's most notable figures.
Of the three books reviewed, Kinnard achieves this task to a greater degree than the other authors. This should come as no surprise to those familiar with Kinnard's work. A true soldier-scholar, Kinnard has often achieved the near impossible task of being present for significant moments in history and later proving capable of writing about them with objectivity and careful scholarship. Originally a protege of General Maxwell Taylor, he went on in his post-Army career to carve a distinct niche in the scholarship on defense politics and national security. His earlier writings on the politics of defense policy in the Eisenhower years still rank among the seminal works on this subject. His classic The War Managers (Avery, 1985) is an invaluable addition to the civil-military literature of the Vietnam era. In Kinnard's latest study of Eisenhower (part of a Brassey's series on great military leaders), he best addresses Eisenhower's military leadership, with particular attention to his role as supreme allied commander in the Second World War. While he is clear in his praise for Eisenhower's diplomatic skill and his consistently keen grasp of the bigger strategic picture, Kinnard does not shrink from presenting criticism of Eisenhower's early failures, particularly in the North Africa campaign. A more thorough discussion of these events and the personalities that shaped them can certainly be found in larger volumes (most notably Carlo D'Estes's excellent biography Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life [Henry Holt, 2002]). However, for so thin a volume, Kinnard's book covers these topics extremely well.
Less satisfying, however, is his discussion of Eisenhower's road from Abilene to five stars. All the high points are there-the difficult childhood, the serendipitous opportunity to attend West Point, the long years of service in a small and resource-poor peacetime Army, and the important role played by his mentors Fox Connor and George Marshall. Yet among Eisenhower biographers there are two schools of thought on his early military career. One highlights an almost inevitable march through a succession of key jobs and successful mastery of important opportunities that culminated in his unchallenged appointment with destiny. The other presents a grim parade of brutal staff jobs for often ungrateful bosses (among them Douglas MacArthur) and the series of lucky breaks in what might have been considered the twilight of a mediocre career that led George Marshall to select Eisenhower for command in Europe. Kinnard seems to fall in with the former school of thought.
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between, and it is difficult to play out important nuances in so short a book. The story of Eisenhower as presented here, however, might have been better served by balancing the great achievements with the hard knocks. For example, who would imagine that a junior officer could survive a court-martial and go on to five-star rank? …