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History Book Club

Join History Book Club for a great deal on PARTNERS IN COMMAND

Review by Dennis Showalter

Dual biographies of military figures usually feature opponents: Wellington and Napoleon, Eisenhower and Montgomery, even Patton and Rommel. Perry, well known as a historian and a policy analyst, breaks fresh ground with this analysis of the relationship between George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower. They first met in 1930, and Marshall thought enough of Eisenhower's character and intellect to enter his name in the famous little black book. As Chief of Staff, he summoned Eisenhower to the War Plans Division, the army's think tank, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.

Eisenhower's first assignment, a position paper on planning and winning a global war, sufficiently impressed Marshall that within weeks Eisenhower became his “go-to” officer, both for his ideas and because he took the initiative in solving problems. Perry argues convincingly that the result was a joint strategy for victory, based on “Europe first,” the security of Britain, and the retention of Russia as an ally. Its implementation, however, required one thing more: A senior field commander who could work with commanders of other nations—a diplomat as well as a fighter. Eisenhower possessed that quality, and honed it to perfection in two difficult years before D-Day.

At the core of this book is Perry's thesis that Marshall and Eisenhower shared a realistic understanding of Americans at war. “Pace” George Patton, “we do not like it and are not very good at it. The solution is to fight only when necessary, to fight only with allies, and to win quickly.” There may be a whiff of present-mindedness in this interpretation. It was nevertheless Marshall himself who declared that democracies cannot fight a seven-years war. The Marshall/Eisenhower team certainly implemented that threefold game plan. Perry's Eisenhower may have had to learn the fine points of defeating the Germans and high command, but never lost sight of the essential need for close cooperation with the British. By the time of the Casablanca conference in January 1943, he was able to prevail on both fronts.

By D-Day, the relationship between Marshall and Eisenhower was changing. Marshall wanted command of Overlord more than anything in his career. Perry subtly and effectively creates significant doubt whether he would have performed as well as Eisenhower in the role. It was Eisenhower who was master of the military and political dynamics of an Anglo-American coalition waging a total war in history's most intimate alliance relationship. It was Eisenhower who successfully brokered the power shift caused by America's mushrooming war effort and Britain's growing exhaustion.

Disagreements over operational issues like the airborne landings on D-Day and a second invasion landing in southern France; or over political ones like Eisenhower's handling of the British, did not affect the fact that the great battle in Western Europe was waged along the lines Marshall and Eisenhower had developed together in 1942. They may not have been father and son, or mentor and pupil. But at the highest levels of planning and command George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower created a synergy unmatched in the history of war.

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