TWO AMERICANS: TRUMAN,
EISENHOWER, AND A DANGEROUS WORLD
By William Lee Miller
ED KENNEDY’S WAR: V-E DAY,
& THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Julia Kennedy Cochran, editor
LSU Press, $34.95
Harry Truman of Independence, Mo., and Dwight Eisenhower of Abilene, Kan., two modestly born middle Americans, were both unlikely candidates for president. The first was elevated upon the death of the four-termer Franklin Roosevelt; the second, a professional soldier, once referred to military and political worlds in terms of the separation of church and state, and was loath to cross over from the one to the other.
“They were both gregarious, friendly, card-playing joiners,” writes William Lee Miller, who previously garnered notice for his books on Abraham Lincoln. Ike played bridge, Truman poker. But by the outbreak of World War II, the only real connection the author has found between Truman and Eisenhower is the fact that a New Orleans patriot named Andrew Jackson Higgins developed the shallow-draft boats that bore his name: Truman chaired the Senate committee that promoted the landing boats, which General Eisenhower relied on in planning the invasion of Europe.
Indeed, the “two Americans” of the book’s title do not interact at all until July 1945, after the fall of Germany, when as an untested president, Truman visited Berlin and toured the ruined city with the victorious general. The most interesting commentary on relations between the two presidents occurs at the end of the book, with competing interpretations of who snubbed whom after Eisenhower’s election, and where the fault lies. For the first 150 pages, however, Truman and Eisenhower have nothing at all to do with each other.
The author is strained to explain the organizing principle of a history that is clunky and largely devoid of personality.
Two Americans is a well-informed synthesis of the political times in which Truman and Eisenhower lived. It is an adequate, but not an especially impressive, treatment.
It succeeds in independently explaining how destiny shaped a political warrior and a warrior non-politician (“I do not want to be associated with any political party,” Ike wrote in his diary in 1950); but Miller’s analysis adds little to anyone’s appreciation for the inner workings of the minds of his subjects.
You’ll go deep inside World War II from a unique perspective by reading Ed Kennedy’s War, the uncensored memoir of the Associated Press reporter who got the scoop on the Nazi surrender and was fired for breaching the military’s rules by reporting what he had witnessed.
The pages were penned in 1950, and found only after its author’s death. Ed Kennedy’s War recovers the dangerous and exciting world of the 20th-century foreign correspondent. Kennedy (1905-1963) crossed continents. He was in Cairo when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, in the Balkans before that; he describes conflict and controversy in France, Spain, Italy, Libya.
Never mind that this was all written more than 60 years ago, the memoirist’s writing has a fresh feel. From Kennedy’s perspective, prewar Paris was a happy place, but not as “gay” as legend had it: “I often found that the celebrated French thrift was mostly avarice and the equally celebrated French logic was sometimes nonsense.”
As the times soured, his real-life tales convey an Indiana Jones-style dynamism: “Egypt is the Nile and the Nile is Egypt, the saying goes … . For hours the plane winged over a tawny expanse of desert, an overwhelming emptiness. Then I saw a green ribbon with a glistening silver thread running through it.”
You get a good sense of a reporter’s ethic, too: “Our government has never given the American people full information on how and why the decision was made to immobilize our troops on the Elbe and let the Russians take Berlin.” Witness to war, panic, deceit, and such symbolism as the gaudy display that accompanied Hitler’s pre-war visit to Rome, Kennedy tartly trudges through an unfolding political nightmare; he knows precisely how to write himself into the story without making the story about him.
The culmination of the reporter’s story is the super-charged “Operation Jackplane,” when he and a select group of journalists were flown from Paris to Reims after Hitler’s death to witness General Gustav Jodl’s unconditional surrender to the Allies, “one of the greatest news stories in history.”
At 2:41 a.m. on May 7, 1945, the final act took place in a war room covered with maps. “Photographers buzzed around the table,” Kennedy recalls. “The Germans entered a little uncertainly and blinking in the glare of the lights.” Afterward, Kennedy witnessed from a doorway as General Eisenhower asked Jodl if he understood the terms and how they would be carried out.
When the reporters were told that they had to hold their stories, all bristled. Only Ed Kennedy resolved that his duty to inform (and an interest in not getting scooped) superseded the slower-moving Army censorship system.
Meanwhile, in a preview of Cold War tit-for-tat, the Russians tried to manipulate the process, spreading propaganda which made it appear that they had received the surrender, with the Western nations merely along for the ride.
The blow-by-blow is deftly told. For World War II buffs and just about everyone else, Ed Kennedy’s deeply personal, greatly informative memoir is a brisk and amazing read.
Andrew Burstein is Manship Professor of History at LSU and author of books on American politics and culture. His website is: http://www.andburstein.com.