This collection offers an intimate understanding and appreciation of who Ike really was, in his own handwriting, expressing his emotions and thoughts to his wife, in the rare moments he could take from his intense responsibilities. One senses that much of the very personal thoughts may have been more for him to express than for her to read them. Regardless, they are the closest we can come to know the inner man behind one of the greatest American leaders.
In 1951 President Truman appointed Eisenhower Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, to reorganize NATO which was a disaster. During that year, Truman, in person and in writing, told Eisenhower that if he would accept the Democratic nomination for President, Truman would not run. The Republicans were equally pressuring him to accept the Republican nomination. Both were urging him that it was his duty to be President and lead the country. Ike described himself as a “progressive conservative”. He won the Presidency almost by acclamation.
Eisenhower as President uniquely didn’t need to prove himself and didn’t need to do things that weren’t necessary. He ended the Korean War, brought the Republican Party away from its isolationist past, refused military engagements that didn’t threaten the country, blocked the Chinese invasion of Formosa, and faced down Khrushchev over Berlin. Domestically, he balanced the Federal budget, tamed inflation, and brought stability to the country. His average monthly approval rating as President was 64%.
Eisenhower’s intellect and personal beliefs gave America eight years of peace and confidence. These were the same qualities that are seen in this collection of letters pouring out his thoughts, beliefs, ideas, concerns and decency during the most important and cataclysmic event of modem times.
This collection of 88 handwritten letters, 300 pages, to his wife Mamie written from when he arrived in London to the end of the war (September 1942 to August 8, 1945) intimately show the man behind the ultimate facade of competence and stability. His only son John, an historian, described his father as “thinking on paper” when he handwrote these letters to his wife, the only handwritten letters he wrote during the war. These letters are about Eisenhower the human being, written within the context of Eisenhower the Supreme Commander (many of them are interrupted by urgent messages handed to him).
His devotion to duty was always paramount in his mind and throughout these letters (“If anything should ever happen to me, the one big thing you’d want to know is that I tried to do my duty like a man”). He saw it as his duty to keep his mind as clear and focused on the most important issues, and to not let less important issues or events add to the enormous strain he was under all of the time (“I cannot remember the time when I was free of these continuing problems involving staggering expenses, destruction of lives and wealth, and fates of whole peoples”) His son John wrote that the photographs of his father during the war, smiling and waving, “give no indication of the tremendous battle he was fighting with himself to combat exhaustion, frustration, and the normal doubts that inevitably went with directing the largest coalition of forces ever assembled in wartime”.
In these letters, Ike writes constantly about how desperately he wants the war to be over. He asks questions about their mutual friends; his attention to personal details seem like an oasis in the never-ending turmoil of running the war (such as needing to make a decision by midnight about a trip the next morning on his special train), (“I just heard of an emergency some 200 miles away, I must run out and jump into a plane … I’ll be gone for several hours, but will take this up again when I can.”)
He frequently laments that his own self-censorship prevents him from giving her any details about what he is doing (“in the kind of life I lead secrecy as to location, intended movement, and purpose of action is essential”). He does make clear references to news that will have already appeared in newspapers. After the initial disaster in North Africa, he refers to his appointment of George Patton to get the American army into shape (“now things are straightening out fairly well”). The night before the invasion of Sicily he writes, “everything that we could think of to do has been done … The answer is in the lap of the Gods! I stand it better than most, but there is no use denying that I feel the strain”. In June, 1944: “It’s been 12 days since we started into France. Seems like that many years! These are strenuous times.”
Some of the letters mention the deaths of friends: “I suppose that senses of values change – but not as to fundamentals. Decency – generosity – cooperation – assistance in trouble – devotion to duty -; these are the things that are of greater value than surface appearances.”
One week after the D-Day landings in Normandy, he reaffirms his own sense of values: “I can understand your feelings about the Hollywood offer but my own convictions as to the quality of the man that will make money out of a public position of trust are very strong! I couldn’t touch it – and would never allow such a thing to occur…. That all seems so unimportant now – I’m busy!”