Delays in writing are often caused by having too much to write about, rather than not having enough. That has been my problem of late. War, poverty, pandemic, insurrection—set against a backdrop of rising inflation, violence, school shootings, soaring national debt, and climate change—have dominated the news, as each upsetting and tragic day unfolds. Many people are wondering if we will ever again have the leadership we need to address these problems. We must have people who will be able to bridge the partisan divide and actually get something done that works for the whole country. This leadership crisis is never far from my mind, especially on D-Day. This year marks the seventy-eighth anniversary of this turning point of the war.
I feel certain that we would have stronger political candidates today if they would adopt one of Dwight Eisenhower’s most basic principles, displayed clearly on the eve of the Allied invasion of Normandy, France: always be positive and project optimism. He understood that no one will go into combat with a determined will to “get the job done” if they think the commander has doubts about whether the operation will succeed. Or in the civilian world: no one will make a strong, concerted effort to follow, if they think their leaders lack the assurance within themselves to make well-reasoned decisions based on fairness and justice for them—which means for everyone.
Eisenhower’s visit to meet the 101st Airborne Division seventy-eight years ago was one such act of optimism and self-confidence. He went to visit the men of the 101st and 82nd Airborne before they jumped behind the lines to wrest control of the enemy-held causeways that ran from the beaches inland. This was necessary so that the troops, after a long journey across the English Channel, could get off the shoreline and move toward their objectives. Despite weather problems and a German reinforced position, Eisenhower had the emotional bravery to look those men in the eyes—knowing full well that they were frightened, and casualties could be very high. He spoke to the men and asked them about their homes and about football scores—a way to remind them that people were thinking of them and waiting for their return. The banter was lighthearted, a way to convey that he valued them and that he was certain they would meet the challenge.
George Allen, a well-connected Washingtonian and political consultant, was a friend of General Eisenhower. Ike loved George for his humor and his storytelling genius. Despite a reputation as a raconteur, Allen admitted that he went through dark periods of doubt about the outcome of the war, which he expressed to the general. Allen feared that Hitler would force our ally, the Soviet Union, out of the war; invade Ireland; block up the Suez Canal and “proceed to mopping up…in all directions.”
As I noted in my book, How Ike Led: The Principles Behind Eisenhower’s Biggest Decisions:
“Eisenhower was, according to Allen, ‘one of the most confidence-inspiring men it has been my good fortune to know. If he ever entertained the slightest doubt about the outcome of the war, he never betrayed it…He never underestimated the difficulties, but neither did he question the ability of the United States and its Allies to meet and overcome them.’ ”
As Eisenhower himself later hinted, unfailing optimism is as much an act of self-discipline as it is conviction about the outcome. “I firmly determined,” he wrote, “that my mannerisms and speech…would always reflect the cheerful certainty of victory—that any pessimism and discouragement I might ever feel would be reserved for my pillow.”
Today, we desperately need leaders who will reassure us that our problems can be solved, and America can stand together. The alternative narrative is not only toxic, but also unsustainable and could lead to palpable dangers for us all in a deeply divided, well-armed nation. Fear, anger, frustration, and the sense of “losing out,” has gripped the nation. If there are those who doubt this, they should review again the rising number of suicides and people with depression in this country. It is not all pandemic related. It’s also the lack of forward progress, in building for the future. Rising generations are rightly concerned that this has not been adequately addressed.
America is fully capable of successfully confronting what may seem like overwhelming challenges. But to do so, each of us must become better listeners, learn to feel and express empathy for those of differing views, and refuse to be captured by the negative forces that continue to compete for our attention. They sap our energy just when we need it most, adding to national self-doubt and growing despair. There are people in our country who are doing extraordinary things that are making this nation better and stronger by fortifying those who need it and building more resilient and responsive communities. I want to write about them.
I would be grateful if you would alert me to such people and/or organizations that you know of. I would like to highlight those who are making a difference. I know that all of us will be inspired and elevated by learning about their efforts.
Today, June 6, let us also take a moment to remember those who served and made sacrifices on this day. They helped bring an end to the bloodiest and most brutal war in history. As President Eisenhower once said: “They gave us another chance.”
With warm regards,
P.S.: If you leave a message on this site with suggestions of names and/or organizations, I will regard them as confidential and will not publish them unless you tell me specifically that you would like me to do so. Otherwise, I will take note and hope to write about them throughout the year. And of course, please feel free to leave a more general comment if you wish.