It must have been the fall of 1952 when my father returned to London sporting a neck tie emblazoned with the words "I Like Ike."
I wish I'd kept the tie, which bore the face of the presidential candidate on the silk, but not, as I recall, the five stars of his General of the Armies rank, which features on some campaign apparel. They collect high prices on eBay, I gather, almost sixty years later.
My father was in a quandary. He had been released from military service in March, 1946, as a 28-year-old infantry brigadier commanding an entire occupation Kreis of Germany. ("Who are you," my older brother asked him as he stood at our front door!) Hanging up his uniform, he had gone back to his old job: a newspaper reporter in the north of England. His army boss, Field Marshal Montgomery, slated to become head of the British army, had asked him to stay on in the military, but my father had had his fill of war: evacuated as a second-lieutenant from Dunkirk in 1940, landing on D-Day in command of an infantry battalion in 1944, and fighting in Normandy, Belgium and Holland, right up to VE-Day in 1945 -- when his driver was killed standing beside him, as an ammunition dump exploded.
Montgomery had insisted, though, that my father "stay in touch," and when General Eisenhower and various U.S. veterans of the war in Europe published their memoirs, Montgomery leaned on my father -- who had become editorial director of the largest newspaper group in England -- to counter criticisms made or implied in such works: namely that "Monty" had failed to cut off the German retreat in Normandy, had failed in his unwise bid to cross the Rhine before the winter of 1944/5 set in, and had become so insubordinate that General Eisenhower had threatened to resign as Supreme Commander in Europe.
Dutifully, my father did his best to comply, and a sort of tug-of-words ensued, which became more partisan than was healthy in post-war England. Without America the war against Hitler could not have been won, Brits acknowledged; but the country's post-war bankruptcy, in all but name, and the end of its centuries of imperial power, were a bitter pill for many to swallow. Perhaps because he was so young, my father swallowed it better than most. The senior officers in his battalion had run away before Dunkirk, abandoning their men; he had therefore no illusions about Britain's declining fortunes, for all Churchill's proud rhetoric about fighting on the beaches and in the fields and streets and hills. He had done his part in restoring Britain's honor after Dunkirk, under Montgomery, but he recognized that the democratic world would henceforth be led by the United States, not Britain. And in General Dwight David Eisenhower he saw a general with great moral qualities that far outweighed the genius of Montgomery on the battlefield. Had he had the vote in 1952, he would have voted for Ike.
Over the ensuing years my father made many visits to the U.S., and many of the innovations that he brought to quality journalism in Britain as editor of the Sunday Times and editor-in-chief of the Times of London resulted from those transatlantic trips -- from separate, pull-out newspaper sections to the first supplementary color magazine in a newspaper in Britain. He met and discussed world problems (especially the Middle East) with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon. In 1976 he proudly mounted the "1776 Exhibition" in Greenwich, London, to celebrate the bicentenary of the founding of the United States.
My father had left school at 18, without enough money to go to college -- and with four sons after the war, said he could still not afford to do so. Thoughtful and military in his bearing, decorated in the field of combat for his leadership, he was an unlikely journalist -- with none of the roguish qualities that make for success in that domain. But people looked up to him as a man of high intelligence (he'd been a scholar at grammar school) and absolute integrity. As Chairman of Reuters, he refused to accept shares in the company, when it went public, lest he be thought to be profiting from its sale. He was incorruptible: and what he admired in Republican presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 was a leader of world stature and deeply-held moral values, values he did not discern in Ike's running mate, Richard Nixon.
How those two figures -- Eisenhower and Nixon -- have resurfaced in the news over these past few days!
The Eisenhower Library released fascinating drafts of the 34th President's famous "Farewell" address of December 1960, fifty year ago; the pioneering Nixon Library, for its part, released more tapes of the 37th President -- including Nixon's racist, anti-Semitic and other diatribes in the Oval Office and his hideaway bunker, Room 175, in the Eisenhower Office Building next door.
I have recorded both men's lives in American Caesars: Lives of the Presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in my judgment, will go down in history as one of the four "great" presidents since the U.S. reluctantly became an empire in World War II; Richard Nixon as the nearest to a sociopath by the time he was compelled to resign.
"Later deified," I wrote under Eisenhower's name, at the head of Chapter Three (in imitation of Suetonius, who used that epithet in his almost two-thousand year-old masterwork, The Twelve Caesars, on which I modeled my book).
And under Richard Nixon's name, at the top of Chapter Six? "Later reviled." I stand by both judgments -- this week, more than ever.
Nigel Hamilton is president of Biographers International Organization (BIO: biographersinternational.org), which is holding its second annual conference next May 21 in Washington D.C. He has published more than twenty works of biography and history, most recently American Caesars: Lives of the Presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush (Yale). Nigel recently became an American citizen; he is currently Senior Fellow in the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston.
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