Eisenhower’s War

Eisenhower: At War, 1943–1945

by David Eisenhower
Random House, 977 pp., $29.95

Of all American wars since the Revolution, the Second World War was fought with fewest regrets. Even now, after four decades, hardly anyone looks back at the war disapprovingly. Yet, in retrospect, it came to an end in a peculiarly double-edged way. That the world was rid of a Nazi tyranny will always be its proudest achievement. That it was replaced in almost half of Europe by a Communist tyranny will always darken that achievement. Any balance sheet of what the war finally accomplished cannot ignore the difference between what the war meant for Eastern and for Western Europe.

The most anguished question is whether the extension of Soviet power could have been avoided. It is a question that by its very nature can never be answered with any confidence. The war can be refought only as an exercise in speculation and hindsight, on paper. The way it—or any other war—was fought gives no reason to believe that it would have gone entirely right if it had been fought differently. What we can do now is to try to understand what hard choices had to be made and why they were made in a way that has shaped the world we live in. We may not agree on whether it was right for the Western Allies to stand by as the Red Army went into Vienna, Berlin, and Prague, but at least we can try to put ourselves back into that time and place, as if we had to face those hard choices as they arose.

Offhand, one might not imagine that a book on one Eisenhower by another would offer the best available means for making such a retrospective effort. Anyone who starts reading Eisenhower: At War by the general’s grandson, David, must wonder how “objective” or unprejudiced it can be. I opened the book with this question in mind: I closed it satisfied that the author must have known that his readers would not respect anything that smacked of an apologia or glorification.

The work is on the whole an impressive achievement. It is largely based on a thorough study of existing sources, mixed with a few sidelights from personal interviews. Despite its bulk of almost a thousand pages, it mostly deals with the last eighteen months of the war—from the Allied invasion of Normandy to the German surrender. It is for the reader who wants to refight the war at the highest level of command, sometimes day by day, often in meticulous detail. As far as I could tell, the author has done his homework; only specialists will be able to pass judgment on all the particulars.

There has been considerable interest of late in Eisenhower the president; this book may set off a new wave of interest in Eisenhower the Supreme Commander. In his introduction, David Eisenhower tells us that this is only the first of three volumes on the Eisenhower years. He is apparently prepared to spend a good part of …

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