Visiting the Statue of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, London, W1, England: A Victorious General with an Impossible Task
Modesty and strength at the centre of the storm
In Grosvenor Square, London, W1, England — the well known address also of the American Embassy in London — stands a statue of General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969). While General Eisenhower went on to serve two terms as President of the United States from 1953 until 1961, it is as General of the Army that he is memorialized in the statue, by Robert Dean, dating from 1969.
There are strong reasons for this. Still a Lieutenant-Colonel in early 1941, at a time when the Commander-in-Chief was President F. D. Roosevelt, elected to the first of four terms nine years previously, Eisenhower was the quintessential staff officer: a long-serving soldier with a hitherto low profile and a forte in administration. By the end of 1944 he had been promoted to General of the Army (1). In 1942 Eisenhower had been given command of Operation Torch in North Africa and in 1943 — as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe — of Operation Overlord, or the Normandy Landings (sometimes referred to collectively as D-Day, June 6, 1944). Operations Torch and Overlord were each successively the largest amphibious military landings attempted in history.
If Hitler's Wehrmacht — with Field Marshall Rommel among his military adversaries — was formidable enough, Eisenhower as General had to work with some exceptionally difficult military colleagues and Allied leaders. American General George Patton, for years accounted a friend of Eisenhower, proved to be both brilliant in battle and erratic in public relations. Another exceptionally difficult military 'prima donna' was General Bernard Montgomery, whose perceived irascibility and superciliousness typified a British military establishment tradition profoundly different from that of the United States.
Alien to the ways of royalty, Eisenhower as General found a surprising ease of manner in dealings with King George VI, probably because — unlike the US President — the British King did not exercise an executive rôle and perhaps also because George VI understood profoundly how vitally important it was for Great Britain's survival for relations with her American Allies to be close.
Perhaps the biggest 'prima donna' of World War Two, with whom Eisenhower as General had to work, was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, whose artistocratic demeanour combined with a scepticism about a second front in Europe and about Operation Overlord which remained profound well into 1944.
And then there were other Allied leaders: the formidable, genocidal and perennially suspicious Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin, and the difficult and haughty General Charles de Gaulle of the Free French Forces, with both of whom Eisenhower as General dealt directly at different times amidst complex nuances.
In all these aspects of his onerous task as Supreme Commanded he was successful. Eisenhower took the German surrender of at Rheims at 2.41AM on May 7, 1945, which was followed shortly by his sending of an understated message informing Washington, DC, of the end of World War Two in Europe.
As Supreme Commander he had achieved a seemingly impossible task, both in defeating a formidable foe and in successfully managing to work with sometimes excruciatingly difficult Allies. His good sense and modesty and efficient US Army training earned the trust of American and British troops and of the British people, among whom he and huge numbers of US Army personnel resided during World War Two.
From modest beginnings, Dwight D. Eisenhower became a supremely successful General, who at one point commanded 2.8 million military personnel. This success was owed perhaps in no small measure by his modest nature and dedicated efficiency. This then — in inadequate summary — was perhaps the greatness of Eisenhower the General, and it is as General (2) that Robert Dean depicts him in his statue in Grosvenor Square, standing, hands on hips, as if contemplating his next far reaching decision, seeking to exercise good sense in complex situations not of his choosing, and suggestive of modesty and strength at the centre of the storm.
April 3, 2019
(1) Once the United States had entered World War Two, Eisenhower did not remain a Lieutenant-Colonel for long, advancing successively through levels of Generalship. The US Army rank of General of the Army (5 star General) is equivalent to the rank of Field Marshal in the British Army. With their highly stratified social system, which many US military personnel who arrived in Great Britain in World War Two found baffling and impenetrable, British people at first found that US Army colonels were actually more authoritative and astute than their equivalent rank in the British Army had led them to believe that they would be. In turn, US military personnel at times found British officers to be very strong on superciliousness but weak in substance and actual leadership. It is no small thanks to Eisenhower's patience, modesty and dogged determination that the two at times profoundly different military traditions managed to work together in World War Two as well as they did.
(2) An attempt at an assessment of Eisenhower as President of the United States would understandably encapsulate much broader considerations. If Bob Woodward is correct to assert that a 60 year old is yet young for a President of the United States — such is the wide and varied training and preparation necessary for the rôle — then Eisenhower's army background provided in some ways excellent preparation for leadership and coalition-building, together with a personal knowledge of some of the key international figures of his day, still active in the 1950s. Eisenhower's military success — like that of General Ulysses S. Grant nearly a century beforehand — was certainly behind his political ascent to the Presidency.
Whether, that military background in itself, however, was enough to meet the immense and complex challenges of leadership in the leading power of the Cold War is less clear. By the end of his Presidency Eisenhower was publicly warning about the power of the military-industrial complex, thus showing signs of independent, strategic thinking which transcended the military/intelligence/corporate advice and interests of many of those whom he himself had chosen to serve in the Executive. But his lack of experience of electoral politics and of the commanding heights of civilian professionalism were undoubtedly factors in his — arguably at times excessive — reliance on military/intelligence/corporate figures during his eight year Presidency. The strengths and possible weaknesses of his Presidency were thus deeply rooted in his experience of World War Two. It has hitherto been an enduring mystery to ascertain exactly when Dwight D. Eisenhower, the General and the President, first began to grasp the political and strategic nature of the activities of figures such as: 1) Allen Welsh Dulles (1893-1969), who served in a senior rôle in Europe with the Office of Strategic Services and was later his choice as Director of Central Intelligence (1953-1961); 2) General Walter Bedell Smith (1895-1961), his own chief of staff and protegé in World War Two, who later served both as Ambassador to Moscow, Director of Central Intelligence, and as Under-Secretary of State and had a senior rôle in the United Fruit Company shortly after the CIA-assisted coup-d'état in Guatemala.
These, then, are arguably wider perspectives, rooted in his experience of World War Two, to Eisenhower's already seemingly impossible military rôle.
Some sourcing: Wikipedia
Michael Korda, Ike: An American Hero, Harper/Collins Publishers, 2007, is a good, basic introduction to the life of Dwight D. Eisenhower, which contains interesting historical allusions to parallels in the military and political careers of Eisenhower and Ulysses S. Grant.
Also worth seeing
London has such huge numbers of visitor attractions that I will refer to only a small fraction of the principal ones; these include: Trafalgar Square; the Houses of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster; Westminster Abbey; St. Paul's Cathedral; the Royal Albert Hall; and many others.
How to get there
United Airlines flies from New York Newark Airport to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Underground and train services link Heathrow Airport with Central London. Grosvenor Square, W1 is close to Bond Street and Marble Arch Underground Stations. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada
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