Harry and Ike: The Partnership That Remade the Postwar World

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9780743223744: Harry and Ike: The Partnership That Remade the Postwar World
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Between 1945 and 1952, Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower worked more closely than any other two American presidents of the twentieth century; they were partners in changing America's role in the world and in responding to the challenge of a Soviet Europe. And yet, these men of character, intelligence, and principle will likely be remembered for the decade-long epic feud that nearly ended their friendship. In the first biography to examine in depth their political collaboration, bitter rupture, and eventual reconciliation, Steve Neal, political columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, provides a fresh perspective on these two remarkable leaders, and on the American presidency itself.

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About the Author:

Steve Neal is the author of several books, including Dark Horse: A Biography of Wendell Willkie, cited by American Heritage as a notable book, and a "critic's choice" of The Wall Street Journal. A former White House correspondent, Neal has been described by the Philadelphia Inquirer as "a consummate American political historian."

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1: Coming Home

On June 18, 1945, Harry S. Truman led a grateful nation in welcoming home Dwight D. Eisenhower. It would be the first meeting between the new president of the United States and the supreme commander of the Allied forces that defeated Nazi Germany. Truman had sent his presidential aircraft, the Douglas C-54 known as the "Sacred Cow," to pick up General Ike in Bermuda and bring him back to National Airport. As the huge transport plane approached the Midatlantic coast, Eisenhower was met by more than thirty fighters and bombers, which flew in formation and escorted his plane to the runway on the south bank of the Potomac. "I don't think we could do too much to show our appreciation of General Eisenhower," Truman told the White House press corps.

On this Monday in a peacetime June, the first in nearly six years, more than one million men and women greeted Eisenhower as a conquering hero. Truman gave federal workers special permission to attend Ike's homecoming. Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, the crowd that turned out was larger and more enthusiastic than the throngs that had met Charles A. Lindbergh after his 1927 flight to Paris or General John J. Pershing at the end of World War I. "Oh, God, it's swell to be back," Eisenhower declared as he set foot on American soil.

Truman, the first former soldier since Theodore Roosevelt to serve in the presidency, was a keen student of warfare. He had once dreamed of attending West Point but was ineligible because of poor eyesight. Eisenhower, a 1915 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, had lived Truman's dream. But Truman felt no envy, only admiration for the man who had led history's greatest invasion. "All of us owe to you and your men of many nations a debt beyond appraisal," Truman wrote in his first letter to Eisenhower. "I send also my personal appreciation of the superb leadership shown by you and your commanders in directing the valiant legions to this historic victory."

If Truman had gotten his wish for a military career, he might have been among Ike's lieutenants. In 1940, as a U.S. senator, he approached General George C. Marshall, the army's chief of staff. Following the enactment of the country's first peacetime draft, Truman volunteered to go on active duty. "General, I would very much like to have a chance to work in this war as a field artillery colonel," Truman said. He was then fifty-six years old. "You're too damned old," Marshall replied. "You'd better stay home and work in the Senate."

Truman, who commanded an artillery unit in World War I, knew firsthand the horrors of the battlefield. During the Meuse-Argonne offensive, in which twenty-six thousand Americans died, Truman showed coolness under fire and twice led his battery in destroying enemy artillery units. Eisenhower felt left behind. Despite repeated attempts to get into combat, Eisenhower was kept on the home front as an instructor at training camps. When he finally got orders to lead a tank battalion on the western front, his elation was short-lived. His combat orders were cancelled and he was put in charge of a tank corps training center in Gettysburg. "I was mad, disappointed, and resented the fact that the war had passed me by," he wrote half a century later. Eisenhower was kept home for doing his job too well.

Truman and Eisenhower, who were relatively unknown at the beginning of the 1940s, were elevated to power and prominence by Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was FDR who made the surprise selection of Eisenhower over Marshall in December of 1943 as supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. Eight months later, Truman was drafted for the vice presidency when FDR bowed to pressure from party leaders and agreed to dump Henry A. Wallace from the 1944 Democratic ticket. Eisenhower, who had never voted in an election, quietly supported FDR's bid for a fourth term.

Among the reasons that FDR selected Eisenhower and then Truman for their respective roles was that neither acted like men of destiny. Roosevelt was mistrustful of men who were too eager or coveted his job. Truman and Eisenhower were men of intelligence who were ambitious without being threatening. Eisenhower was FDR's favorite field general and Truman was the man that Roosevelt put in place to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. Roosevelt knew their measure. When FDR died on April 12 with the Allies battering Germany, Eisenhower had no idea what to expect from the new commander in chief. "It seemed to us, from the international viewpoint, to be a most critical time to be forced to change national leaders," Eisenhower wrote. "We went to bed depressed and sad."

As Roosevelt's successor, Truman backed Eisenhower's strategy for achieving the quickest military victory in Germany. That meant striking for the center of Germany and leaving Berlin for the Soviet army. Winston Churchill sought to persuade Eisenhower to take Berlin. But the supreme commander did not think it was worth a hundred thousand American casualties. Soviet losses would be three times that. Truman, like Roosevelt, trusted Eisenhower's judgment in the field.

On May 8, Truman's sixty-first birthday, Eisenhower delivered the Allied victory. He would later tell the president it was "especially significant" that V-E Day coincided with his birthday "in view of the firm course you have established for securing the peace toward which our military victory was directed."

Though Eisenhower had made decisions that had changed the course of modern history and was the most popular man in America, he did not confuse public esteem with political power. "My policy-making job ended when the last shot was fired. I am now pro consul for my government in a region where I am going to do what I am told," he told reporters on the eve of his first meeting with Truman.

When General Ike made his way through the House chamber to address a joint session of Congress, he cut short the crowd's roar after two minutes by raising his hand and asking for quiet. "My imagination cannot picture a more dramatic moment than this in the life of an American," he began. "I stand here in the presence of the elected federal lawmakers of our great republic, the very core of our American political life and a symbol of those things that we call the American heritage...I am summoned before you as the representative -- the commander of those three million American men and women, to whom you desire to pay America's tribute for military victory. In humble realization that they, who earned your commendation, should properly be here to receive it, I am nevertheless proud and honored to serve as your agent in conveying it to them." He spoke with emotion for the wounded and for the dead, noting that Americans had served with honor and valor on battlefields of Africa and Europe "over which armies have been fighting for two thousand years of recorded history. None of these battlefields has seen a more worthy soldier than the trained American...You have read many reports of his individual exploits, but not one-tenth of them ever has been or ever will be told. Any one of them is sufficient to fill a true American with emotion -- with an intense pride of his countrymen."

Eisenhower paid tribute to FDR and Churchill for leading the grand alliance. "Because no word of mine could add anything to your appreciation of the man who, until his tragic death, led America in war," he said of Roosevelt, "I will say nothing other than from his strength and indomitable spirit I drew constant support and confidence in the solution of my own problems."

In looking ahead, Eisenhower said that with Germany defeated, there was still another menace to America's freedom, in the Far East, that remained to be crushed. "Though we dream of return to our loved ones, we are ready, as we have always been, to do our duty to our country, no matter what it may be. In this spirit, we renew our pledge of service to Commander in Chief, President Truman, under whose strong leadership we know that final victory is certain."

That afternoon, on the South Lawn of the White House, Truman pinned an oak leaf cluster on Eisenhower in lieu of his third Distinguished Service Medal. Mamie Eisenhower, wearing a black dress, pearl necklace, and a black hat with flowers, stood proudly at Truman's left as he made the presentation. In congratulating Eisenhower, Truman told him that he would rather have the medal than the presidency.

Truman hosted a stag dinner for Eisenhower that night at the White House. On this night of celebration, there were no speeches. Among those sitting at the table with Truman and Eisenhower were General Marshall, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, and Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau. "It had been General Ike's first opportunity to visit with the new President, although he had seen him briefly that afternoon," Eisenhower's naval aide Harry C. Butcher wrote in his diary. "What he saw and heard, he liked."

The feeling was mutual. Before his first meeting with Eisenhower, Truman had already placed him on the short list of soldiers that he most admired and contrasted him with the men on horseback that he held in contempt. At their first meeting, Truman was even more impressed with Ike's warmth and humanity. "Eisenhower's party was a grand success. I pinned a medal on him in the afternoon," Truman wrote his wife, Bess, who was back home in Independence, Missouri. "He is a nice fellow and a good man. He's doing a whale of a job. They are running him for president, which is o.k. with me. I'd turn it over to him now if I could."

Copyright © 2001 by Steve Neal

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