Thursday, June 05, 2014

Anniversary, Longest Day Edition: Eisenhower Decides

Off of last year, where I did a brief review of Presidential Character, I had Eisenhower up, and I mentioned his leadership during the war, especially the part where he gambles on making the invasion go on June 6th, in bad weather and against his cautious nature:

Unfortunately the YouTube clip is a cropped and colorized version of the Longest Day movie, which is bound to get played on AMC or TMC or the many history/military channels on the digital cable this weekend.

But this was a big thing.  Eisenhower knew he had to send the Western armies into France and into Germany before the winter weather set in: June was the last best month to secure a foothold.

D-Day.  After North Africa, after Sicily, after Italy, each step marching towards the primary objective: liberating France as a prelude to ending Nazi Germany.

One of the most famous photos from that moment: Eisenhower meeting with the troops he was about to send into harm's way.

Eisenhower posted one letter to the troops:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory! I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!
Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

He also wrote a second letter, in case the invasion failed:

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

The invasion succeeded.  Eisenhower didn't need to read the second letter.  He kept it on himself for a month and then showed it to an adjunct, suggesting it get thrown away.  The junior officer held onto it, and eventually it ended up in the National Archives.

The first letter was all about the troops: the airmen clearing out the skies, the home front providing them supplies and support, the men ready to go into battle.  There are a lot of "you" and "your" being used in that first letter.  The second letter was about the man who made the decision to invade: that it was his call, his judgment.  If there would have been anyone to blame if the beach landings had failed, "it is mine alone".

This was Eisenhower.

This was why a lot of people wanted him to be President.

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