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When the Followers Become Our Leaders

November 24, 2020

Evenings come early in late fall. In America’s north, where I retreat for Thanksgiving, the gentle sun begins to set even before the clock reaches 4:00. The early darkness sparks the primitive impulse to withdraw, to hibernate, to reflect.

It has been a tumultuous year—one that strained us physically and emotionally. I fear the emotional toll has been harder to handle than the limitations on our physical activity. We discovered many things this year about ourselves, as well as our friends and neighbors. Many of my close associates say they have now culled their social lists forever. They tell me they hope never to associate again with certain long-time friends who put themselves and their own selfish interests over the health and safety of their neighbors or who’ve made excuses for a man who has occupied the White House and blatantly damaged American institutions.

I am not ready to condemn the president’s supporters quite so quickly. Since the election—for the first time—Americans are now forced to confront who we have become. From the arrogance of our elites and the easy unfounded beliefs of those who feel sidelined, the suffocating power of the almighty dollar has sullied our discourse, violated our privacy, and infected our heads. We have also seen people who prize power more than they value making our country stronger—by addressing the rampant poverty in our country and the human needs that our own system has overlooked or will not address politically. Having said that, now is time for a collective reckoning—with no finger pointing.

I have turned off my smart phone for the next week. Aside from holiday calls, I want to try and recreate the days when I could hear myself think, so I can ask myself what I can do to help. So far, this reflection has brought me to one observation that both hurts and inspires. This year, as we grasped for signs of leadership and courage, it appeared that it came mostly from those in subordinate positions of power. Think about it. It was the followers, not their bosses, who stood up, took the hit, and suffered the consequences—including illness, intimidation, threats, and joblessness. I repeat: these were not the top people we elected to defend our constitution and our democracy, but their subordinates who risked everything without the prospect of turning their courage into best-selling books or upward career trajectories.

This Thanksgiving, these are the people I will give thanks for.

The medical and healthcare workers of America. What a legacy of sacrifice and fortitude they have left us. Our shameful policy of denial has endangered their lives, now for a second time. It has exposed them to significant personal risk, as other Americans turn their eyes from the unfolding crisis, including limited testing and dwindling ICU beds needed to save lives. COVID-19 will also prove unaffordable for many who will be stricken. It is unconscionable that in the middle of a pandemic there has been an effort to deem ObamaCare unconstitutional, with no proposed alternative.

The serving members of our armed forces. They have taken an oath to defend the constitution and serve, nonpolitically, the American people. This is exemplified by General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In June, a week after law enforcement broke up a largely peaceful demonstration in Lafayette Park, the general memorably apologized to his colleagues and the American people for allowing himself to be used by the President of the United States for his boss’s own political purposes. His courage to admit a mistake and learn from it was inspiring, powerful, and enduring.

The secret service. For duty’s sake, they had to protect a president who cared not one wit about their own health and safety. Not only did the president expose many agents to COVID-19, either personally or through his unmasked events, he also put their families in jeopardy. Fine thanks to the agents who agree, when they take the job, to put themselves between the president and a bullet.

The Vindman brothers, Alexander and Yevgeny. The twins came to the United States with idealism and hope, and they committed themselves to serve the American people. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was subpoenaed by Congress last year to testify in the impeachment hearings. His brother supported him. In February, both paid the price for doing so when they were fired and subjected to a humiliating exit from the White House, as if they were common criminals. I wonder if they’ve allowed themselves to acknowledge that their treatment was not dissimilar to the oppressive tactics used by the country they left—a part of the former Soviet Union, Ukraine.

The long line of people who have been fired for doing their jobs. Success has apparently threatened the narrative of powerful forces.  I am thinking, for instance, of DHS official Christopher Krebs, who proclaimed that the 2020 election was the safest in American history. Rather than receiving accolades for his diligent work, he was dismissed.

Gretchen Witmer, Governor of Michigan. The Democrat governor has not faltered despite intimidation and an attempt to kidnap and possibly assassinate her—all because she was unflinching in her determination to address the safety and health of the people who elected her.

Brad Raffensperger, the Republican Secretary of State for Georgia, who refused to lie in the face of his political party’s abusive pressure. He is now, finally, defended by some in the GOP, but not before he received a range of death threats. This, too, has been the lot of Dr. Anthony Fauci, and many others who will not bow to demands that they change their expert opinions.

Whether or not we agree with the views of these courageous Americans is not the issue. Our country must recognize that civil strife—especially physical intimidation and silencing—is dynamite, especially amid economic despair and disinformation. Those who give a “wink and a nod” to vigilantes, no matter which side they represent, shake the foundations of our country and the viability of the union itself. All of us must demand a calm and peaceful political transition for our country. The danger of this moment should not be discounted. Nor should the work ahead for all of us be underestimated.

As evening draws closer to the morning’s soft sun, take a moment this Thanksgiving to think about our lives with gratitude, not just for your family and dearest friends, but also for those who have shown us courage, even in the face of grave physical and career jeopardy—just for doing what’s right. They inspire us and give us so much to be thankful for.

Sending you my best wishes for Thanksgiving—for a day of meaning and joy.

Susan

Halloween? No, Groundhog Day.

October 28, 2020

Exactly twelve years ago today, I posted a blog on this site about Halloween and the coming election, called “The Demons in our Midst: Political Fear Mongering and the Coming Election.” Take a moment to read it. Even I was surprised to be reminded of how long some rumors have been with us. We have been dealing with elements of toxic politics since the founding of our republic, but for the last twelve years there has been a growing acceptance that it is ok to exploit America’s fears and vulnerabilities as a way to make money and hoodwink the population. Ugly, unfounded rumor promotion has now gone mainstream—and may even deliver an election.

Fear has always lived within the hearts of the world’s most powerful of nations. There is a nagging worry that all we have could be taken from us by those who envy or seek to supplant us.  That’s why it is the role of this nation’s leaders to reassure us that we, as a people, have within ourselves the capacities to deal with our problems in a way befitting our global importance as a functioning democracy. Vote next week—if you haven’t already—and let’s expect and demand more from our leaders, including empathy for our fellow citizens and optimism tethered to the challenges that confront us. Together we can do this, not by denying the existence of critical issues, but by addressing them.

Sadly, political shenanigans also threaten our systemic balance. The denial of hearings for Merrick Garland is a blatant act of hypocrisy with Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. This will hasten the corrosion of the Supreme Court’s credibility. My most recent piece with Ed Grosvenor, which appeared in American Heritage, tells the story of Eisenhower’s commitment to politically balance the Federal bench, including the Supreme Court. He appointed five Supreme Court justices in his eight years.

Sending you my best wishes and please vote. 

Susan

Leadership Attributes in Times of Crisis

September 1, 2020

Dear Readers,

It is indeed a most extraordinary time. As I wrote recently for the Dallas Morning News’ special section on the presidency, trust is a critical leadership attribute—and it must be earned every day. Americans are adrift without the bedrock knowledge that our elected officials are serving the whole country and faithfully defending the rule of law and the Constitution of the United States.

Many people have written me to say that How Ike Led: The Principles Behind Eisenhower’s Biggest Decisions is highly relevant during this difficult time. Please join me on Twitter and help me amplify the critical nature of sound leadership, especially now: @eisenhowergroup.

I hope in the coming weeks that you will watch the book discussion I had with George Hammond at the Commonwealth Club, now on CSPAN Book TV. Or take time to listen to the podcast that the Association of the United States Army did with me recently. There have been so many events, including a discussion with Michael Steele, former Lt. Governor of Maryland and Chairman of the RNC, about Dwight Eisenhower, race relations then and now, and the future of the Republican Party. These were only a few of the engagements I enjoyed since I last wrote you.

For anyone who would like to tune in for a book discussion this Thursday, September 3, Politics and Prose will be hosting me for a lunchtime book talk.

Next time you hear from me I will share some further thoughts about what leaders do when challenges seem insurmountable. I think, in that context, Ike still has much to say to us—and I have a few thoughts of my own! In the meantime, stay well.

Susan

How Ike Led: “A moving account… there could not be a better time to read this book.” –Michael Korda • Available now

How Ike Led is highly relevant during this difficult time.

Uncle Sam Needs You

August 15, 2020

How Ike Led is a powerful addition to a leader’s bookshelf. The author’s unique perspective as Eisenhower’s granddaughter offers the reader personal anecdotes and insights on strategic thought and character not found in previously published biographies of Eisenhower. To understand Dwight Eisenhower, read Susan Eisenhower.”

Association of The United States Army

“Granddaughter of President Dwight ‘Ike’ Eisenhower and leader of Gettysburg College’s Eisenhower Institute, [Susan Eisenhower] has pored through the record of her grandfather’s career and distilled what made him a great leader both on the battlefield and in government. … A direct witness to Ike’s later years, the author draws on memories of her grandfather, and these highly personal anecdotes supplement her research. Armchair historians will treasure this book.”

Booklist

Dear Readers,

It is with considerable trepidation that one reads the newspapers these days. It seems like a perfect storm of crises has overcome our country. The deep divisions in the United States are what Dwight Eisenhower would say are “a welcomed sight for an alert enemy.” But these fissures are more than a national security issue. Covid-19, the economic slump, racial tensions and now the defunding of the United States Postal Service all threaten public confidence in our democracy’s capacity to ensure justice, access to economic opportunity and free and fair elections. Talk to your friends and encourage them to join this or any other civil discussion about the future of our country. Make sure they vote.

How Ike Led is my contribution to the dialogue we are having with ourselves. We should “expect more”—a phrase someone should turn into a hashtag on Twitter. The book was launched on August 11 and I am especially pleased that I have heard from so many people who are, in their words, learning new things about General and President Eisenhower. I have been especially gratified by the reaction of college-aged students who have found merit in learning about a time when our leaders addressed the crises of the day in ways that inspired confidence, not undermined it.

This week, I will be speaking at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, as well as the Boston Public Library (in partnership with WGBH). I welcome you to join the conversation.

In case you missed, this last week I also did interviews with a number of outlets, but I would single out the podcast with National Review’s Jay Nordlinger,  From the Green Notebook by military writer Joe Byerly, and AUSA’s podcast Army Matters.

With best wishes and stay well!
Susan

How Ike Led: “Inspirational… with lessons highly relevant and desperately needed for current and aspiring leaders.” –Robert M. Gates • Available now
General and President Eisenhower have much to teach us on leadership in times of crisis

Discussing leadership and national unity with Martha MacCallum on ‘The Story’

July 31, 2020

Yesterday, I appeared as a guest panelist on Fox’s The Story with Martha MacCallum to discuss the deep political divisions in our country. View the link to hear more of this discussion and read the accompanying article. I made the point that our current turmoil is a national security issue and our leaders must place national unity among our highest priorities.

Watch the interview

Martha MacCallum, Trey Gowdy, Susan Eisenhower, and Juan Williams on The Story
Appearing as a guest panelist on The Story with Martha MacCallum, July 30, 2020

Read the article

Susan Eisenhower calls on US leaders to “unify this country,” says division is a “national security issue”

Eisenhower and the Meaning of Victory

June 25, 2020

Dear Reader,

Seventy-five years ago this June, with the German surrender a month before, Dwight Eisenhower visited allied and liberated countries and expressed his thanks to the victorious armies and appreciation for the sacrifices made during the war. He also spoke of the teamwork that was forged by the Allied effort and its meaning for the future. 

Take a few minutes to watch the video of Eisenhower’s epic carriage ride through the crowded streets of London to the Guildhall Hall where on June 12 he was presented with Marlborough’s sword and the citizenship of London. In watching this seven-minute newsreel one is struck by a set of values that have seemingly disappeared. It is possible to get a sense of Eisenhower’s leadership: his humility, his humor, the depth of this thinking, not to mention his capacity to articulate historically relevant context. It should be noted that Ike wrote the speech himself and delivered the twelve-minute speech (in the audio link) from memory. Yes, without a note or a teleprompter! 

I think you will be struck by power of this extraordinary moment, and by Winston’s Churchill’s moving comments at the end. Eisenhower went on to other countries for similar victory parades, eventually returning to the United States where he was given a massive parade, ending with a speech before a joint session of Congress. 

Watch an account of the historic Guildhall Day—including the reaction of the British people:

Listen to the audio of Eisenhower’s full speech:

Guildhall Address, London, England, June 12, 1945

For more on this and other key moments in the life and service of Dwight Eisenhower, How Ike Led will be published on August 11.

My best to you all,
Susan

A Fateful Decision; an Historic Outcome

June 5, 2020

It is difficult to overemphasize the world-changing events that hung in the balance on June 5, 1944. Operation Overlord, the military operation launched against Nazi forces in Normandy, had been postponed a number of times, due to inadequate landing craft and even the weather. In the early hours of June 5, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, Dwight D. Eisenhower, said “Let’s go.”

This decision was made in the face of more uncertain weather and doubt among some of his senior command that critical Airborne troops—deployed to secure inland areas so that our soldiers could get off the beaches—would survive the assault. The unstable weather conditions would play an outsized role in their necessary success.

History was made the day of the invasion—June 6, 1944. On this anniversary, we are humbled in the memory of those who successfully secured the beachhead in Normandy seventy-six years ago, and went on to liberate Europe. The sacrifices were countless, the heroism legendary, and the courage and tenacity of leadership indispensable. 

Although the on-site commemorations in Normandy have been canceled this year due to the pandemic, my thoughts—and those of all Americans and their Allies—turn again to that titanic struggle to rid the world of Nazi oppression. Here is a link to my comments, in a short film produced by the American Embassy in France:

Video: Susan Eisenhower’s remarks on VE Day and the gift we received from those who served with Allied Forces in World War II.

This time last year, in addition to the memorable commemorations in the American sector, I had the enormous honor of crossing the English channel with Henry Montgomery, the grandson of Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery, commander of land forces on D-Day, and nearly forty British veterans of the landings.

The 75th anniversary was an occasion to be remembered, but it will not be the last time thousands of people go to the Normandy coast to stand in silent gratitude.

Susan Eisenhower and Henry Montgomery standing before the D-Day map
Photo: With Henry Montgomery, almost exactly seventy-five years later, at Southwick House where the D-Day decision was made. The original map still hangs on the wall. Credit: Susan Eisenhower. (All rights reserved. Not for reproduction without permission.)

A poignant story on Memorial Day

May 25, 2020

Dear Reader,

Please join me in taking a moment this Memorial Day to pay tribute to those who gave their lives for our country and for causes greater than themselves.

I will remember one such person, who has brought considerable meaning to my own life. I will stop to pause on Monday, during a national moment of silence at 3:00 pm local time, to think of Pvt. Frank Mackey, Jr., from North Philadelphia—a modest pipefitter and avid dancing enthusiast. I never met the man, but I found inspiration in him long after his death.

Mackey was a 21-year-old paratrooper/medic—with a wife and young son at home. On D-Day he jumped and landed near the swampy areas behind Utah Beach, and set up his medic’s station in a little French hamlet near Picauville. He saved the lives of several people, and patched up a French youngster who had injured himself before the invasion. The next day, on June 7, German soldiers attacked his station and Mackey held off the assault, so those under his care could escape from the back exit. The Germans soon broke down the front door and bayoneted the unarmed medic. Four hours later, Mackey bled to death on the main street of the village. There were no other medics in the area to help save this brave man, and the French villagers were under German armed arrest.

Over the decades, due to the efforts of villager Lucien Halsey—whose younger brother Pvt. Mackey had tended to—this story had become something of a legend in the area: the medic’s name was the only one missing on “Lucien’s Wall,” a memorial that the Frenchman carved on the side of his stone barn, which he dedicated to the men who liberated his village in June 1944.

The identity of Pvt. Mackey was unknown to the villagers for seventy-two years. And during that time Lucien and others had tried to find his name. But through the miracles of the online world, and the creativity of my Gettysburg College student Greg Dachille, my associate David Wemer, Normandy local historian Ben Trumble, and WWII expert Col. Leonard Fullenkamp, our team found the identity of this mysterious man, who had given his life to save others.

At first, when I challenged this group to help me find the medic’s name, most of us were skeptical that we might succeed. However, all of us wanted to give it a try—for Lucien. Here is a short clip of the story that the United States Army’s 82nd Airborne Division compiled after members of their unit participated in the village event, three months later, when we disclosed our findings. Please take a moment to watch this moving clip of Frank and Lucien’s shared history.

How Lucien’s Wall came to have a complete list of names of soldiers from the 82nd Airborne who liberated the hamlet near Picauville in 1944.

Today, Frank Mackey’s name is on Lucien’s Wall, carved there by Lucien Halsey himself, with all the physical difficulty of one who has lived more than eight decades of life. Despite the pain and worries, he did so with determination and a sense of completion. Later that fall, Lucien met Frank Mackey’s son who visited this spot to learn that his father had been a revered hero in this little hamlet on the Normandy coast. Lucien’s Wall of remembrance is now a French monument.

This Memorial Day, please take a moment to think about the men and women you might have known or learned about, who sacrificed all they had, not just for us, but also for strangers. It is especially meaningful this year, in our time of loss and gratitude.

Susan Eisenhower

Trumble, Wemer, Halsey, Eisenhower, and Fullenkamp at Lucien’s Wall
This is the team that undertook the search for the medic, in what Col. Fullenkamp told us would be like “trying to find a needle in a haystack.” From left: Ben Trumble, David Wemer, Lucien Halsey, Susan Eisenhower, and Leonard Fullenkamp. (Missing: Greg Dachille.)
addition of ‘F. Mackey’ engraving to Lucien’s Wall
Detail of “F. Mackey” stone, engraved by Lucien Halsey at Lucien’s Wall.
Frank E. Mackey’s headstone at his grave in Normandy, France
Frank E. Mackey’s grave. Taken by the author at The American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.

 

Victory in Europe: 75 years ago

May 8, 2020

Dear Reader,

I hope you will take a moment on May 8, 2020 to remember “Victory in Europe” 75 years ago. Like me you may be filled with both sorrow and joy. Sorrow for allies who perished as they defeated Nazi Germany’s murderous rule and joy that their sacrifice ushered in the possibility of a “second chance.” The post-war world brought with it peace, as well as new, vibrant democracies and economic progress unseen in human history. In looking back on the legacy of that campaign and its aftermath, Dwight Eisenhower wrote a vigorous defense of the capacities within democracy to achieve our urgent goals. In his book, Crusade in Europe he noted:

“Victory in the Mediterranean and European campaigns gave the lie to all who preached, or in our time shall preach, that the democracies are decadent, afraid to fight, unable to match the productivity of regimented economies or unwilling to sacrifice in a common cause.”

We are being tested today in a different way, but in the memory of all those who were part of the war effort, let us recommit ourselves to shoring up the basic tenants of our democracy, and promoting peace, justice and cooperation in facing our contemporary challenges.

Yesterday, to mark VE Day, I interviewed Col. Leonard Fullenkamp, an internationally recognized historian and strategist.

On EI LIVE, we examined the legacy of the war in Europe and its relevance in today’s world. I hope you enjoy our discussion.

Susan Eisenhower

***

Listen to General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s V-E Day Statement, May 8, 1945: