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Great leaders and people aren't always the same

 

November 5, 2020



I recently read Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Crusade in Europe (1948), his autobiographical version of WWII from about 1941 to 1945. I assume there are historians who might argue “that’s not what really happened,” since (like a Facebook profile) an autobiography can be anything you want it to be. Nevertheless, I’ll take Ike’s version. He was there for real.

This book is pretty dry, but I do have enough understanding of WWII to make the geography and some of the names familiar, so I’m able to plug along despite the style. It is also very informative and occasionally inspiring, but if anyone were to ask me what to read to get started on the Eisenhower subject, I’d refer them instead to Ike: An American Hero, (2007) by historian Michael Korda. It’s a lot livelier reading. Coincidentally, I also waded through Korda’s book recently, and my reaction was “Wow. Does anyone today measure up to this kind of leadership?”

In fact, I was so impressed by Korda’s book that I thought if I was still in the school business, I’d force-feed this to every high school senior. Not only does it explain the critical part this one man played in what still ranks as one of mankind’s most momentous events, it records an example for anyone who wants to live his/her life with ambition, purpose, wisdom, or almost any other virtue you can name. And Ike wasn’t just a conventional, momentary hero. He was more a combination of many universal heroic attributes that weave their way to us from as far back as the ideals of ancient Greeks and Romans.

This is not to say he was a saint. Though he was not a habitual adulterer, there were legitimate questions about his marital fidelity. He had a real temper. At times he drank too much, and between chain-smoking and his disregard for the physiological dangers of stress, he thus put his responsibilities at risk. It is also arguably true, as JFK hinted, that post-war Ike paid too little attention to the civil rights issue, deliberately choosing to ignore this and other social changes of his time.

Yet his accomplishments for the nation, coupled with the integrity and humility he maintained as an individual, far overshadowed these faults.

I’ve been toying with a kind of loose mental matrix while reading these books. Across the top, I list such virtues as honesty, leadership, courage, knowledge, morality and others. Down the side, I list presidents I’ve seen in action (or read about) starting with FDR. My categories are changeable and so is my scoring system, but it all helps me compare others to Ike. It’s kind of fun doing this, just for my own interests.

For instance, I could give JFK a pretty good score as far as political savvy, but his lack of personal morals erases almost any positive scores. Nixon? Deeply knowledgeable about foreign policy, but wacked-out in some other categories. Carter? A great example of the Christian ethic, but not a strong leader. Clinton? Brilliant in some respects, but with the same flaws as Kennedy. He certainly can’t measure up against Eisenhower.

Inevitably, of course, my matrix leads me to President Trump, at which point the fun needle drops to zero, and I go back simply to admiring Eisenhower’s life.

If a nation always had a half-dozen Ikes to call into leadership, we’d be a lot happier with ourselves. Then again, maybe they’re always out there, but recognizing the viciousness of public life, they’re wise enough to stay out of sight.

If that’s the case, shame on us.

Ron Rude,

Plains

 

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