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Wednesday, June 12, 2024


Eisenhower Decides to Run: Presidential Politics and Cold War Strategy
by William B. Pickett
Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 269 pp, $29.95

Rating 5 stars *
Churchill: A Study in Greatness
by Geoffrey Best
Hambledon, London, 384 pp, $29.95

Rating 5 stars *
A World War II monument is planned for the Mall in Washington, D.C., but the real monuments of that war will be its men and memories, its women and mementos. A lot of them will survive. Standing out on the winning side will be two great figures – U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Democrats, take heart: Eisenhower was neither Democrat nor Republican but sought the White House unilaterally. Liberals, take heart: Churchill was Churchillian, not Conservative — as everybody knows. But they were, to the core, politicians.
Proof that Eisenhower was no reluctant presidential candidate, despite the image to that effect, is neatly compiled in William B. Pickett's studious short work "Eisenhower Decides to Run: Presidential Politics and Cold War Strategy," along with an explanation of why he decided to do so.
Ike did have an altruistic purpose in running for the presidency, indeed two: first, the threat of excessive defense spending (that parting shot at "the military industrial complex"), and second, national complacency and isolation. Did he really fear Soviet world domination? Apparently not.
On the other hand, Pickett does not seriously deal with some enigmas of Eisenhower's administration which haunt us today: Why, of all possibilities, did he choose Richard Nixon as his running mate? Why, when he could have rid the Republic earlier of Joseph McCarthy, did he allow him to drink himself into political oblivion first? And why did he capitulate to the red-scare insistence to purge the government of homosexuals (on grounds of their being subject to blackmail)?
Pickett's otherwise thoughtful, savvy and well-written portrait of Eisenhower is an eye opener. All considered, Ike was the best general in World War II, and he made a highly useful interim president.
In comparison to Eisenhower (no littérateur), to Roosevelt (no international negotiator), and to Stalin (no human being at all), Winston Churchill (no unflawed genius) looms over the war era with his essential English port from Portugal and his English cigar of Cuban tobacco with a Connecticut wrapper. As Shakespeare said of Caesar, "Why man, he doth bestride the world like a Colossus."
Here was the last English aristocrat (the last worth the title he turned down, anyway) who was half American and more worldly than any cosmic figure of the era. He was the wife of every Englishman and the husband of every Englishwoman despite the fact that he had a Penelope for a wife (Dear Clemmy), the epitomal English mother. His American mother was useful, too, for she invented the Manhattan cocktail: Canadian rye, French sweet vermouth, and an Italian cherry.
Beatified in The Battle of Britain, Churchill has survived more revisionist debunking in recent years than Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito combined; yet his portly figure still dominates the 20th century — for his bravery (in the Boer War), his colossal mistakes (Antwerp and Gallipoli), his sulking (between the wars), his deviousness (with Roosevelt), his demagoguery (in the Phony War) and his stubbornness (not merely against the Axis but against Stalinism, not merely for his Soft Underbelly theory about Italy but for his obstinate support of Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery).
Geoffrey Best is brilliant elucidating Churchill's shrewd handling of Parliament, Congress, the Kremlin, the British Empire, radio, film, the press, chicanery, port, and the cigar to defeat the Nazi terror.
Few men so eloquent as Churchill have led so many to do so much; and few men so inarticulate could be more precise with battle orders than Eisenhower. The greatest gift of each, however, was the ability to pick subordinates who were winners. And this key factor in the Allied victory both authors readily recognize.
We were lucky to have had so many willing to risk their lives for us in those dark days, so many to work so hard, so many who knew what to do to save civilization. But we also were lucky to have had the services of these specific men at that specific time to get those vital tasks done.
Eisenhower was, without America's real comprehension, the ultimate military authority. Churchill was the leader of the Allied leaders, and now even we Americans can admit this without in any way diminishing the value of the millions who contributed to the Allies' victory. As Churchill told the free world then, everyone who fought in whatever way he could, in any way she would, was bloody essential. We were that up against it.
Look back and contemplate the alternatives to all-out victory over fascism and, ultimately, communism. There were no alternatives. But few realized that when Churchill stood alone, then Britain stood alone, then we all stood alone together.
* Richard Dey rates the books he reviews for the Source on a scale of 1 to 5 stars:
5 stars – Beyond serious criticism
4 stars – A fine read
3 stars – Good, fascinating, with caveats
2 stars – Interesting or shows promise
1 star – Cautionary tale

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