PRINCETON, N.J. -- A leading historian of American leaders in war and espionage said the exploits of David Petraeus, John Allen and the Tampa, Fla., Centcom crew seem tame by the standards of the men who led the nation in World War II and the Cold War.
"Marital fidelity was not a requirement of the great commanders in World War II," said Princeton professor Evan Thomas, whose latest book, Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World, was published this fall to good reviews.
In an era long before technology made every verbal gesture permanent, and when the press was kept in the dark and at a distance from the top brass, the two worlds of public image and private behavior almost never collided -- and never made it into the daily papers.
"General Douglas MacArthur had a mistress and General Dwight Eisenhower was rumored to have had an affair with his driver, Kay Summersby," said Thomas, who has also written extensively about the CIA and its wartime predecessor.
"General William 'Wild Bill' Donovan, the chief of the Office of Strategic Services, the WWII precursor to the CIA, was a notorious ladies' man," said Thomas. "And the top OSS spy, later Cold War chief of the CIA, Allen Dulles, had numerous affairs. It was said that every time he began a new affair, he gave his wife Clover a diamond."
Thomas, whose measured biography praises Eisenhower's calm sense of command, said that Eisenhower, as president, might not have asked for or accepted former CIA Director Petraeus' resignation.
"I don't know what Ike would have said to Petraeus," Thomas added, "but he might have said, 'Get back to work.'"