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Eisenhower: Soldier and President [Paperback]

Stephen E. Ambrose
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In this admiring and enormously readable revision/condensation of his acclaimed two-volume biography, published in 1983 and 1984, Ambrose reminds us that this "great and good man" was the most successful general of the greatest war ever fought and the only president of this century to preside over eight years of peace and prosperity. Tracing Eisenhower's family background, education, military and political careers, and influence as elder statesman, the author chronicles Eisenhower's triumphs and failures and at the same time provides a vivid picture of the off-duty Ike. As Allied Supreme Commander, he is revealed once again as a coalition leader of extraordinary ability (and "an intensely alive human being who enjoyed his job immensely"). As our 34th president, he was a statesman who guided the free world through one of the most dangerous decades of the Cold War. Ambrose argues that Eisenhower has much to say to us today on such fundamental issues as national defense, arms expenditures, the importance of a balanced budget and the desirability of a United States of Europe with an all-European army. This is the definitive one-volume biography of Eisenhower.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Publishers Weekly The definitive one-volume biography of Eisenhower.

Robert J. Donovan The best book to date on its subject....Of Eisenhower's high rank on the list of presidents there can he little doubt.

John Keegan A magnificent biography.

James MacGregor Bums Fascinating....An important case study in military and political leader ship.

About the Author

Dr. Stephen E. Ambrose was a renowned historian and acclaimed author of more than thirty books. Among his New York Times bestsellers are Nothing Like It in the World, Citizen Soldiers, Band of Brothers, D-Day - June 6, 1944, and Undaunted Courage. Dr. Ambrose was a retired Boyd Professor of History at the University of New Orleans and a contributing editor for the Quarterly Journal of Military History.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

Abilene, West Point, World War I

He was born on October 14, 1890, in a small rented frame house, not much more than a shack, beside the railroad tracks in Denison, Texas. He was the third son of David and Ida Stover Eisenhower. They were members of the Mennonites, fundamentalists in their religion, and pacifists. David was a common laborer -- he had once owned a general store in Hope, Kansas, purchased with an inheritance from his father, but it had failed. In 1891 he moved to Abilene, Kansas, where a relative had found him a job as a mechanic at the Belle Springs Creamery. When the Eisenhowers stepped onto the train platform in Abilene, David had in his pocket the sum total of his capital, $10.

In a small two-story white frame house at 201 South East Fourth Street, set on a three-acre plot, David and Ida raised six strong, healthy boys -- Arthur (born 1886), Edgar (1889), Dwight, Roy (1892), Earl (1898), and Milton (1899). The Eisenhowers were respected around town, but the family was in no way prominent. David held no elective office, provided no community leadership. Still the Eisenhowers were content. The parents were frugal out of necessity, but they were proud and ambitious, if not for themselves, then for their sons.

"I have found out in later years we were very poor," Dwight said on June 4, 1952, on the occasion of laying the cornerstone of the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, across the street from his boyhood home, "but the glory of America is that we didn't know it then. All that we knew was that our parents -- of great courage -- could say to us, 'Opportunity is all about you. Reach out and take it.'"

By most standards, David and Ida never reached out to take that opportunity themselves. Instead they invested in their sons the hopes they once had for themselves. They taught the simple virtues of honesty, self-reliance, integrity, fear of God, and ambition. They wanted their sons to succeed in a wider setting than Abilene, or even Kansas. They gave the boys the feeling, as one of them later put it, that "if you stay home you will always be looked upon as a boy."

Eisenhower's home life revolved around worship. Every day, morning and night, the family members got down on their knees to pray. David read from the Bible before meals, then asked for a blessing. After the meals the boys washed the dishes, then gathered around David for Bible reading. "Finally there was bedtime," Earl recalled, "when Dad got up and wound the clock on the wall. You could hear the ticking no matter where you were. When Dad started winding, you might as well get ready for bed, for that was the bedtime signal."

During the day, the boys saw little of their father, who worked in the creamery from 6:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. "Mother was by far the greatest personal influence in our lives," Dwight remembered. She supervised their chores, made their meals, selected and mended their clothes, soothed their hurts, praised their accomplishments, and lightened the atmosphere. Milton, the youngest, said that "Father and Mother complemented one another. Mother had the personality. She had the joy. She had a song in her heart. Dad had the authority."

In a family of six boys, competition was the natural order of things. Who could do the best job at this or that task? Who could run the fastest? Jump the highest? Lift the heaviest weight? Read the Bible aloud most accurately? Daily, in countless ways, the boys tested themselves against one another. David and Ida encouraged this competition, encouraged them to be ambitious to do the best. Most of all, each of the boys wanted to be the toughest, and they fought among themselves to find out who was the best scrapper.

One day Ida was baking in the kitchen. Dwight and Edgar began a fight on the kitchen floor. Soon the older and heavier Edgar was sitting astride the prostrate Dwight, giving him a pounding. "Give up?" Edgar shouted. "No!" Dwight gasped. Edgar grabbed Dwight's hair and began to thump his head against the floor. Earl rushed in to help Dwight. Ida, without turning away from the stove, said sharply to Earl, "Let them alone."

David encouraged his sons to stand up for themselves, with one another and in their relations with boys outside the family. Dwight recalled that his father never wanted to see his sons beaten by their playmates in anything, least of all in a fight. One evening David returned from work to see Dwight being chased by a boy about his own size. "Why do you let that boy run you around like that?" he demanded.

"Because if I fight him," Dwight replied, "you'll give me a whipping, whether I win or lose!" Instantly, David replied, "Chase that boy out of here." Dwight did.

The chief characteristic of Abilene in the 1890s was that it was typical of small-town midwestern America, which meant, for young Dwight, that it reinforced everything he learned from his parents. There was, first of all, the emphasis on self-sufficiency. Contact with the outside world was minimal. There were few taxes to pay to, and almost no services provided by, the government, save on the local level. The city paid for and ran the school system. Families took care of their own sick, insane, crippled, elderly, or just down-on-their-luck members. There was no police force because in a town small enough (less than four thousand population) for everyone to know, and trust, everyone else, there was no need for one.

There was a strong emphasis on hard work, on getting things done. Little or no time was wasted on reflection or introspection. Everyone in Abilene worked, most of them at hard physical labor. Unemployment was virtually unknown, even among children. The youngest worked around the house; eight- to twelve-year-olds held odd jobs; teen-agers found regular employment.

Abilene was cautious and conservative in its social outlook, religion, and politics. Everyone was Christian, of European descent, and nearly all voted Republican. There was a strong sense of community, a feeling that the world was divided into "us" (the residents of Abilene, Dickinson County, and to some extent the state of Kansas) and "them" (the rest of the world). Abilene was like a large extended family, giving to its residents a feeling of security. Threats to that security came not from within but from without, primarily in the form of adverse weather or falling commodity prices.

A man was judged by how hard he worked and whether he paid his bills on time, a woman by how well she ran her household. It was assumed that a man's success depended solely upon his output and that the unsuccessful had no one to blame but themselves. "The isolation was political and economic," Milton recalled, "as well as just a prevailing state of mind. Self-sufficiency was the watchword; personal initiative and responsibility were prized; radicalism was unheard of."

To the Eisenhower boys, Abilene seemed an ideal place. It provided more than sufficient scope for a growing boy to discover himself and develop his physical capacity in an atmosphere of security, friendliness, and tolerance of boyish pranks. In 1947, Dwight Eisenhower spoke from his heart about the town that he loved. He said that Abilene "provided both a healthy outdoor existence and a need to work. These same conditions were responsible for the existence of a society which, more nearly than any other I have encountered, eliminated prejudices based upon wealth, race or creed, and maintained a standard of values that placed a premium upon integrity, decency, and consideration for others. Any youngster who has the opportunity to spend his early youth in an enlightened rural area has been favored by fortune."

Just as Dwight loved Abilene, so did Abilene love him. He was a popular boy, well known for his curiosity, his fun-loving ways, his big smile, and his energy. He had a catchy nickname, "Little Ike" (his older brother Edgar was called "Big Ike").

But Little Ike had a terrible temper. Anger would possess him, take complete control, make him oblivious to anything else. The adrenalin rushed through his body, raising the hair on the back of his neck, turning his face a bright beet-red. On Halloween night, 1900, his parents gave Arthur and Edgar permission to go "trick or treating." Little Ike begged, pleaded, and argued to be allowed to go along, but his parents insisted that he was too young. Anger overwhelmed him. He rushed outside and began pounding the trunk of an apple tree with his bare fists. He sobbed and pounded until his fists were a raw bleeding mass of torn flesh. Finally his father grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him until he gained some control over himself.

Dwight went to his bed and cried into his pillow for an hour, out of resentment and rage. His mother came into the room and sat beside him. She took up his hands, putting salve on them and then bandages. After what seemed to him to be a long time, she said, "He that conquereth his own soul is greater than he who taketh a city." She went on to tell him how futile and self-destructive anger was, and how he, of all her boys, had much the worst temper and the farthest to go in conquering it. When he was seventy-six years old, Eisenhower wrote, "I have always looked back on that conversation as one of the most valuable moments of my life."

Getting control of his temper, however, did not come easily or quickly. Two years after the apple-tree incident, when Dwight was twelve and Arthur sixteen, Arthur incurred his little brother's wrath over some trifling matter. Raging, but frustrated because Arthur was much too big for him to attack with his fists, Dwight looked around. Seeing a brick at his feet, he grabbed it and flung it with all his might at Arthur's head. Arthur just managed to duck out of the way -- Dwight had fully intended to hit him.

Dwight attended Lincoln elementary school, directly across the street from his home. The curriculum emphasized rote learning. "The darkness of the classrooms on a winter day and the monotonous hum of recitations," Eisenhower wrote in his memoirs, "...are my sole s...
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