The Good Soldiers
Two senior officers who guarded the American Century.
Jul 16, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 41 • By ALONZO L. HAMBY
Partners in Command
One week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower, just off a train he had boarded in Texas two days earlier, reported for duty at the War Plans Division to Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall. Ordered to develop a strategy for dealing with the disintegrating situation in the Pacific, Eisenhower found a desk and paper. He returned to his new chief a few hours later. First, Australia had to be secured. Then there had to be a good-faith, albeit likely unsuccessful, attempt to relieve General Douglas MacArthur and his troops in the Philippines.
Marshall listened, approved, and said: "Eisenhower, the Department is filled with able men who analyze their problems well but feel compelled always to bring them to me for final solution. I must have assistants who will solve their own problems and tell me later what they have done."
Thus began one of the most important collaborations in American military history.
Mark Perry's readable account of the subsequent relationship between these two giants gives us little in the way of new facts but nevertheless is worth reading because of its focus on military staff and command decisions. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill occupy their rightful places as ultimate decision-makers, reacting to disputes among their senior commanders.
Perry, a much-published foreign relations analyst, demonstrates that the Eisenhower-Marshall relationship was strictly professional. A hard task-master convinced that familiarity with superiors and subordinates was unprofessional, Marshall always maintained a frosty distance. He addressed Eisenhower by his last name, never socialized with him, and never hesitated to take him to task. Wasting no time with pleasantries, he could be painfully blunt. Years later Eisenhower recalled an early exchange between the two:
Marshall's admonition notwithstanding, Eisenhower's moves and promotions were rapid. By mid-1942 he was in London as commander of U.S. forces in the European Theater of Operations. That fall he was Allied commander of the U.S.-British invasion of North Africa; next he oversaw the 1943 Sicilian campaign. By the end of 1943 he had been designated Supreme Commander of Allied Forces for the invasion of Western Europe.
Ike, as almost everyone other than Marshall called him, was smart, hard-working, astute at public relations, an instinctive diplomat, and an attractive personality. He drove himself through 18-hour days, smoking three packs of cigarettes, dealing tactfully with British counterparts who all but openly considered him a simpleton. He won both the American and British publics with his infectious smile. Usually, he enjoyed Marshall's unwavering support, but from time to time felt the sting of his superior's rebuke. (It did not help that Marshall had expected to command the decisive northern European campaign, but wound up, by Roosevelt's orders, in Washington.) Still, Perry avers, Marshall developed a "parental" attitude toward his younger subordinate, and he was in fact the least of Eisenhower's problems.
Both men spent the war handling difficult colleagues. At times, Marshall must have thought the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Ernest King, a more serious enemy than King's German counterpart, Admiral Karl Dönitz. Eisenhower had to deal with, among many others, General George Patton. Command must often have seemed a matter of juggling difficult personalities and raging egos.
The most durable challenges came from the British. Generals Alan Brooke, Bernard Law Montgomery, and Harold Alexander all possessed inbred feelings of superiority and scarcely concealed their sense that the Americans were provincial amateurs. Their attitudes were rooted in the experience of World War I, for the British a four-year trench warfare horror. So were those of the Americans, for whom the Great War had been a brief and triumphal experience. American planners advocated a direct attack into the heart of Europe as the logical means of defeating Nazi Germany; they believed mobile armored tactics would overwhelm the Germans and avoid a prolonged slaughter. The British favored attacks around the periphery of German power.