Thursday, January 29, 2015

One more reason to like Ike

Why Eisenhower didn't go to France for the 10th anniversary of D-Day.

One more reason to like Ike

Aside from that whole military-industrial complex thing, there's a lot of good reasons to look back fondly on the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower. This anecdote -- as told by historian Michael Beschloss in the New York Times -- says quite a bit about the decency of the 34th president. In 1954, he refused to travel to France to mark the 10th anniversary of D-Day, even though Normandy was the site of the most important triumph of the Allied forces under Ike's command :

Had President Eisenhower been surrounded by some latter-day political image-makers, they might have implored him to make the most of the occasion. (“Mr. President, let’s remind Americans of what you achieved in 1944! Sir, your party is having some problems with the midterms this fall — it would help if we could boost your approval numbers!”)

Had anyone dared to offer Ike such gratuitous advice, however, he would have had them expelled from the Oval Office. Pointedly he did not visit Normandy or stage a White House ceremony to extol his own leadership. Self-celebration was mostly alien to the men and women of World War II’s “greatest generation,” starting with the supreme commander.

Eisenhower’s painful memories of soldiers dying as a direct result of his command decisions had caused him to break down in public at least once before. As this photograph demonstrates, in a little-remembered incident during the 1952 presidential campaign, when Eisenhower — who usually kept his emotions under lock and key — spoke to a World War II veterans’ audience about those soldiers, he was so overwhelmed by grief that he covered his face with a handkerchief.

Instead, Eisenhower retreated to Camp David and released an eloquent and modest statement. No U.S. president would attend a major anniversary ceremony there until 1984, when Ronald Reagan -- whose World War II service was in Hollywood making movies to aid the armed forces -- gave full emotive force to the speech that made speechwriter Peggy Noonan a celebrity, about "the boys of Pointe du Hoc." Cameras were recording every word so they could be used in the Gipper's re-election campaign that fall. Now, presidential attendance is required every decade, and so this June President Obama will be there (can you imagine the uproar if he didn't go?) for the 70th.

But reading this makes you wish that Obama -- and modern presidents in general -- could be like Ike.

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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