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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:

‘How Ike Led’ coming soon

March 4, 2020

How Ike Led: “Inspirational… with lessons highly relevant and desperately needed for current and aspiring leaders.” –Robert M. Gates

My new book, How Ike Led: The Principles Behind Eisenhower’s Biggest Decisions will be published on August 11th by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press. It is now available for preorder in print, ebook, and audiobook format.

The book is a retrospective of Eisenhower’s wartime and presidential leadership, which includes biographical details, observations, and anecdotes about his character. I was fortunate to have known Ike well, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to share what observers, scholars and family members had to say about the leadership style of a man who will be memorialized on the Washington mall in September.

As I worked on the book I was surprised by the contemporary resonance of many issues that emerged: from Eisenhower’s full acceptance of responsibility for the potential failure of the D-Day landings to his commitment to building a political Middle Way in the United States to assure national unity and a foreign policy consensus. Some of his quotations read like they were written today.

I hope from time to time over the next year to be adding more stories here on this site. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the book.

Preorder now ›

Praise for How Ike Led

“A well-written reflection on one of the most significant American presidents. The compelling substance of How Ike Led is enhanced by the author’s sensitive style. It brings one of America’s most remarkable public figures into lasting focus.”

Henry A. Kissinger, U.S. Secretary of State 1973–1977

“Susan Eisenhower’s How Ike Led is not only a moving account of her grandfather’s major decisions, but an astute and timely reminder that his virtues—good judgment, taking full responsibility, self-control, courage and devotion to the truth, however uncomfortable—remain the lodestar of leadership in peace and in war, and of his own long, remarkable career of public service as a general and president. I had a wonderful time reading it—and there could not be a better time to read this book.”

Michael Korda, author of Ike and Hero

“This riveting account of Dwight David Eisenhower’s brilliant World War II leadership and his visionary Presidential accomplishments sets a new benchmark for excellence in the study of strategic leadership. Once again Susan Eisenhower brings her extraordinary storytelling skills to bear in this compelling history of one of America’s most gifted leaders of character and courage; the result is an authoritative and revealing perspective on “Ike’s” unparalleled role in shaping his era and our own.”

Lieutenant General David Huntoon, US Army (Retired), former Superintendent of the US Military Academy at West Point

“Susan Eisenhower’s How Ike Led distills from her grandfather’s life the enduring qualities of successful leadership. Those qualities—dedication to duty, sincerity, fairness, optimism, humility, patience and restraint, moderation and accountability—are illuminated through anecdotes both moving and entertaining from Dwight Eisenhower’s decades of unparalleled service to America. It is an inspirational book with lessons highly relevant and desperately needed for current and aspiring leaders, especially those in public life.”

Robert M. Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense 2006–2011

“An eloquent, compelling tribute to our 34th president, lovingly—but not uncritically—penned by the author’s granddaughter. This eminently readable book is laced with personal anecdotes and insights from his friends and closest advisors. Although Eisenhower’s life and presidency have been the subject of abundant scholarly study, the family details and flowing style of How Ike Led make a special contribution to our understanding of him as a person and as a leader.”

Dr. Susan Hockfield, President Emerita, MIT

How Ike Led takes us inside the mind of one of the towering figures of the 20th-century, indeed one of our nation’s most accomplished and yet still misunderstood presidents. Our host on this journey, Susan Eisenhower, one of the revered general’s granddaughters, uses personal stories and memorable anecdotes to provide a deeply-moving insight into one of the master-strategists of our time. As her book makes clear, Eisenhower’s leadership and his sublimation of ego stand in stark contrast to the qualities of far too many elected officials today. Read it with pride and be reminded of the virtues that defeated Nazism and contributed mightily to the nation that we Americans too often take for granted.”

Robert Edsel, author of Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

“Susan Eisenhower has given us an insightful and inspiring profile of Ike’s brand of leadership; his authority was grounded in his unshakable integrity and deep commitment to the service of others. Drawing on extensive research and her own personal experience, Eisenhower paints a 20th century portrait that is even more relevant in the 21st century. This book calls us to remember how essential true leadership is for American democracy to thrive.”

Frederick M. Lawrence, Secretary and CEO, The Phi Beta Kappa Society and Distinguished Lecturer, Georgetown University Law Center

“This remarkable book is a priceless gift to people young and old, seeking the secret of America’s past success: wise and selfless leadership; written by an expert on the life, times, and personal values of a man called Ike.”

Ambassador Richard T. McCormack, Former Executive Vice Chairman, Bank of America and former undersecretary of state

“Susan Eisenhower’s unique insights into the values, vision, and courage of our 34th president and unmatched command of the history of his era deepen and at times transform our understanding of the events that shaped the modern world, from D-Day to Little Rock, from Suez to Sputnik…Ike’s humanity as well as his wisdom shine through as he steered the Nation to peace and prosperity…A must read for anyone who cares about America’s past, or its future.”

Daniel B. Poneman, CEO of Centrus Energy Corporation and former Deputy Secretary of Energy

A Note to the Reader

February 28, 2019

Over the years, I have found it enormously satisfying to write this blog and to offer comments on our current political scene. It has been some time since I have made a contribution to this site, but I hope to continue writing here on the completion of a book I have undertaken. My publication date is May 2020.

Without Words: A Year of Sadness and Joy

October 22, 2014

It has been heartening to hear from so many readers of this blog. Many have asked when I will be writing more commentary. I have told them this:

There are some periods in life when words cannot be found to describe the feelings and the thoughts that come to you. The last nine months have been that kind of a time for me.

On December 21, 2013, my father John S.D. Eisenhower died after 91 extraordinary years. Just weeks before his death, he finished his fourteenth book, American General: The Life and Times of William Tecumseh Sherman. On realizing that he would not be able to see the book through the editorial and production phase, he asked me – just days before his passing – if I would “complete” it. I was honored to step in and American General has now been published by NAL Caliber, a division of the Penguin Group. In the book’s foreword, I wrote that John Eisenhower had an “extraordinary ability to connect the intellectual dots across centuries of history and articulate them as simple principles, often associating them with the events of the day.” For me, this rare gift was inspiring.

During this same time, my mother, Barbara Thompson Eisenhower Foltz, struggled with rapidly declining health. Much to our sorrow, our brave and eternally optimistic mother died recently on September 19. As the daughter-in-law of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, she was a hostess, a goodwill ambassador, and the mother of four inherently rambunctious (if well-trained) children. I am still amazed at how she managed, with virtually no help, to be a loving, unharried mother and a glamorous public figure. She set the gold standard.

There was an additional passing that also touched my siblings and me. On September 14, only five days before our mother’s passing, Delores Moaney, our beloved housekeeper of 65 years, died at the remarkable age of 98. She, and Sgt. John Moaney who served as General Ike’s valet during the war, was with my grandparents from 1946 into their last years. Not long after, Delores came to live with me for a decade, helping me raise my three children as I juggled domestic life with a demanding full-time job. She remained an integral part of our family until the end of her life, forging all the while a continuing friendship between her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and ours.

How ironic, in a sense, that these three souls left us at the same time. They had been tireless servants of the public good during some of the most dangerous years of global history. They had lived a lot, experienced unforgettable things, and led productive lives. As the time drew near each, in his or her way, was ready to go. Still, we found it difficult to let them leave.

In this we were not alone. As we mourn the loss of our loved ones, all of us feel the growing absence of their generation every day. Our elders are leaving us when so many of the values they championed—modesty, humility, and selflessness– seem to have disappeared from the scene.

As John Eisenhower would have put it: the challenge is to find a way to meld the best traditions of the past with today’s world of change and transformation. And, there are reasons for hope. Common decency and service to others have not gone away. They live in parallel with the false heroes of a noisy, attention seeking and superficial culture. It is up to us to look for the exemplars of the world in which we want to live.

The story of the last nine months has not only been sadness. The circle of life seemed complete when, on August 8, my newest grandchild was born. In holding her, it has been impossible not to think about my parents—or about the future and what might transpire in her lifetime. It has also been sobering to think that she will be looking to me for guidance, perspective, and an anchoring with the past. I feel this responsibility, too, with other members of the rising generations, especially as I begin another Strategy & Leadership (SALTT) seminar for undergraduate students at Gettysburg College.

And so it is time to start my commentary again. I hope to share my thoughts on subjects that are central to our future, especially matters related to strategy and leadership. These discussions are at the heart of what will influence the country our young people inherit, just as they will determine our country’s place in the world.

Still, I will write my regular offerings with pause and humility. I know my wiser counselors–those who knew me best– have gone. But they will always be a part of who I am and how I think.  How this comes together, however, will be for the first time – mine alone.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and family, Christmas 1955. From left to right, David Eisenhower, General John S.D. Eisenhower, First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, Susan Eisenhower, President Dwight Eisenhower, Barbara Thompson Eisenhower Foltz, and Anne Eisenhower (Mary Jean, the youngest sibling, is not pictured)

The Eisenhower family, Christmas 1955. From left to right, David Eisenhower,  John S.D. Eisenhower (later Brig. General and Ambassador), First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, President Dwight Eisenhower, Susan Eisenhower, Barbara Thompson Eisenhower (Foltz), and Anne Eisenhower (Mary Jean, the youngest sibling, is not pictured)

From Here to Mars: My Testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space

April 10, 2014

Senate Subcommittee on Science & Space

Senate Subcommittee on Science & Space

Ten years ago I came out with a book, “Partners in Space: US-Russian Cooperation after the Cold War.” Perhaps for that reason, I was asked to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Science and Space. Titled, “From Here to Mars,” the April 9, 2014 hearing featured experts on NASA exploration strategy, international cooperation in space, and commercial space efforts. Chairman Bill Nelson (D-FL) presided and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was also present at the hearing:

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for this opportunity to testify before you today. It is an honor to be here.

I hope to address the geopolitical issues surrounding NASA’s exploration efforts. It is impossible to think about a space exploration strategy, however, without putting it into the context of today’s events in Russia and in Ukraine.

I support well-targeted sanctions on Russia, which will have a direct impact on President Putin’s thinking. But for reasons that I will outline, I believe that rolling back space cooperation could be counterproductive and damaging to our national security and our long-term space agenda.

International cooperation is vital if missions of increasing complexity are on the international agenda, such as Mars.

During the Cold War, scientific and technical communities played a vital role in serving as a bridge between the United States and the Soviet Union, especially during times of crisis. Many multilateral and even bilateral interactions survived the Soviet invasion of Hungary, Sputnik, the U-2 incident, the Cuban missile crisis – as well as the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and later Afghanistan.

But since the Cold War ended, US-Russian cooperation on nuclear security and in space has been at the heart of enhancing the United States’ national security.

The restrictive measures on space cooperation announced by NASA last week, however, could well threaten our achievements of the last twenty years.

Here are three reasons why we need to lift last week’s ban on all cooperation outside of the operations related to the ISS:

1. Our national security is greatly enhanced through cooperation

Since 1992, US-Russian cooperation in space has had a positive impact on the transformation of the Russian aerospace industry, which was, at the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse, a bastion of Soviet hardliners. US interaction with the Russians on the Shuttle-Mir program and then the International Space Station brought unprecedented transparency and access to sensitive Russian facilities, along with a growing adoption, in Russia, of western best practices.

Since then, the lessons we have learned together have strengthened our overall performance in space beyond just the ISS, and have provided an indispensable window into the workings of the Russian military-industrial establishment.

2. If the goal of limiting cooperation is designed to send a strong message to President Putin, we need be careful. It could backfire.

The scientific community, as opposed to the aerospace industry, was traditionally the most progressive of all political sectors in the Soviet Union. But today, as a result of our cooperation, both of those sectors in Russia see us as their friends. Rather than sending a strong message to President Putin, suspension of cooperation will strengthen political hardliners who would prefer that Russia “go it alone” or work with countries more sympathetic to their views.

3. Safety depends on trust.

Much has been said about our mutual dependency in space. Safety of human life requires cooperation. At the moment, operations on the space station are proceeding as normal. Trust, however– that invaluable yet fragile commodity– can be easily eroded. NASA’s announcement last week that it will suspend “the majority of its ongoing engagements,” including high level visits, email exchanges and video conferencing could leave many of our friends in Russia high and dry and potentially change the more general atmosphere. Collective attitudes even in the Russian space sector could change, which might negatively impact working relationships on the ISS and potentially even safety.

As we know from history, it is always easier to terminate space cooperation than it is to get it started again. And we will not be able to meet our long-term goals in space without it. We should consider establishing the general principle going forward that space cooperation should be exempt from sanctions.

Space has unique capacities to serve the global community. It can be a force for preventive diplomacy, transparency and for sustaining and building bonds among those who are willing to put aside solely national pursuits. The lynchpin of this goal must be engagement. We must be wary of any space policy that provides only short-term symbolic satisfaction, just as we should be cautious of those in both countries who might want to exploit this crisis for short-term commercial or political gain. They could, ultimately, undermine our long-term strategy in space and possibly jeopardize the enormous human and financial investment we have already made.

Watch the hearing and see Ms. Eisenhower’s testimony, which has been posted on the Senate’s website.

For press coverage of yesterday’s hearing, please see an article from The Orlando Sentinel titled “Nelson and Rubio discuss NASA’s plan to restrict ties to Russia” and an op-ed published yesterday by Marina Koren in the National Journal. 

 

Susan Eisenhower (seated third from left) delivers verbal testimony to Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio at the "From Here to Mars" hearing on April 9, 2014.

Susan Eisenhower (seated second from right) delivers verbal testimony to Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio at the “From Here to Mars” hearing on April 9, 2014.

Susan Eisenhower Discusses Crisis in Crimea on The Diane Rehm Show

March 20, 2014

TheDianeRehmShow_logoThis morning, Susan Eisenhower appeared as a guest on WAMU’s The Diane Rehm Show to talk about the rapidly developing situation in Crimea, which has left the United States and Europe pitted against Russia in a standoff reminiscent of the Cold War era. In a segment titled “What’s Next For Russia’s Relations With The West,” guest host Frank Sesno and panelists discussed the consequences of Russia’s actions. Eisenhower was joined by Christian Caryl, senior fellow, Legatum Institute; James Goldgeier, Dean of the School of International Service at American University; and Jack Matlock, U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991. Listen to this morning’s broadcast on NPR’s website. 

Hillary Clinton and the Cost of Political Talk

March 6, 2014

At a campaign fundraiser yesterday, Hillary Clinton managed to step on a geopolitical landmine when she compared Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler. Even though she has now been forced to backtrack a bit, her choice of historical analogy was unfortunate to say the least. Her jab at the Russian president may have played well with Hillary’s supporters, but it makes you wonder if she or anyone else in the public spotlight can ever stop politicking when it comes to delicate international events.

In the former Soviet Union there is no period in living memory as wrought with raw emotion as World War II. During the war the Soviet Union, under Russian control, served as one of the United States and Great Britain’s indispensable allies. The Eastern front, in battles of unparalleled violence and brutality, claimed the lives of nearly three million Germans and resulted in more Soviet casualties than all the other combatants combined. More than twenty-five million Soviet people perished in the “Great Patriotic War” in the fight against Nazism. In that context, had the Soviet Union failed on the Eastern front the path to victory for the United States and Great Britain would have been much more difficult, if not downright impossible. During the war, Ukraine fell to Nazi forces, ushering in terrible circumstances for that country under occupation. At the same time, however, it is well known that there were a significant number of Ukrainians who collaborated with the Germans as a way to throw off the Soviet yoke, which had cost millions of Ukrainian lives in the preceding decades. There were even Ukrainian SS units – a fact that still rankles many in Russia, since these weapons were aimed at the USSR – our Allied partner. Russian-Ukrainian tensions on this have continued to last, in some circles, to this day.

Although Hillary Clinton may get away with such an inappropriate comparison, it doesn’t mean she should have made it in the first place. Many pundits surmised that Hillary’s slam on Vladimir Putin, in the words of analyst Ian Bremmer, is an attempt to “inoculate herself” against political accusations that as Secretary of State she was the architect of the U.S.-Russian “reset” policy. This could well have been her motivation, but I believe there is more. It was also a way for her to reinforce indirectly the “wisdom” of Bill Clinton’s administration for pushing NATO expansion, even though it is another one of the underlying causes of tension between Russia and Ukraine.

Hillary Clinton’s ill-conceived assertion, however, is in keeping with the general tone adopted by President Obama and Secretary Kerry—advanced perhaps with an eye to the forthcoming midterm elections. Surely they know that it is strategically incompatible to condemn individuals in such vociferous, personal ways if they expect to gain that very same person’s trust or agreement for the crafting of a solution. Such personal attacks may also make the person dig in more. By expressing in this way their justifiable alarm at Russia’s intervention, the Obama administration has risked losing the opportunity to be an honest broker. It is now, very possibly, too late for a shift in roles.

Had the U.S. seen its value as peacemaker at the outset we might have found more receptivity for serious negotiations and redeemed ourselves, in part, for some of our own past mistakes. Earlier this week on “Face the Nation,” Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russian action: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in [a] 19th-Century fashion by invading another country on [a] completely trumped-up pretext.”

Ha! What?

Has America’s policy-making class already forgotten our numerous “preemptive” interventions—most notably the U.S. invasion of Iraq on the grounds that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? When it turned out there were none, advocates for the attack on Iraq found endless other “pretexts” for the necessity to act.

During the last week stepping up to the podium gave policy-makers the sense that they were doing something about the situation. But talking does not excuse the more fundamental failure to develop a sound strategic policy. Any strategy in this case must be backed by the realities that beg us to choose the highest and best use of our limited options. The situation in Ukraine is complicated and potentially dangerous. So how do we support Ukraine and its independence and, at the same time, convince the Russians that this is not a zero-sum game? The art of diplomacy has to include more than sticks. If there are no carrots on the table any outcome is far less likely to be sustainable over the long haul.

Today former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger underscored the biggest issue for the West in a similar way. “Public discussion on Ukraine,” he wrote, “is all about confrontation. But do we know where we are going? …The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins.”

Kissinger warned against the temptation to make the Russian-Ukrainian crisis into a showdown. “If Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them.”

Henry Kissinger’s words remind us of another era, when our public officials were wise men and women – strategists who put longer-term international security concerns ahead of domestic political pandering.

The Monuments Men: How Many Heroes Really Act Alone?

February 21, 2014

Considerable ink has been devoted to reviews of “The Monuments Men,” the newest World War II story to hit the movie theaters. Starring an ensemble cast of A-list Hollywood actors, under the direction of George Clooney, the movie has endured some harsh criticism. It tells the story of a handful of men and women who saved countless cultural treasures from wartime destruction – perhaps a little known facet of the war until now. The most telling complaint is that the movie suffers from an “Ocean’s Eleven” style, with all its jocularity, superficiality and we-don’t- answer- to-anyone formula. There is something to what the critics say. In fact, there were nearly 400 men and women who served as Monuments Men, and they coordinated, to the extent possible, with their combat counterparts in preserving what could be saved during some of the most difficult points in the war.

In essence, Clooney would have had a far richer story to tell if he had touched on the military/arts cooperation that transpired. Perhaps the reason he adopted a simple, one-dimensional approach rests with today’s culture. We worship the idea of what I would call “heroes acting alone.” Good people are more likely to get this designation if they are celebrities or if they are seen to be operating outside of authority, and certainly apart from any military chain of command.

By bowing to this contemporary impulse Clooney lost the opportunity to offer this account in its truly extraordinary context. During World War II, the United States and its allies were in an existential fight against Nazism, a war of brutality and destruction not seen before or since. The trade-offs were often agonizing. While simultaneously meeting the life and death demands of our combat operations, it was deemed that, for the future of our civilization, it was vital to try and save Europe’s cultural treasures. Time was of the essence. We had to win the war decisively and in doing so assure the survival of millions of people, including victims of the Holocaust. Despite these grave considerations, Clooney’s film made gratuitous swipes at the armed forces for, among other things, failing at times to get out of the art professors’ way.

At the same time, saving Europe’s magnificent cultural artifacts required much more than President Franklin Roosevelt’s recognition of the mission’s value — contrary to what the movie implies. It took General George Marshall’s assent, as well as the commitment of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was held responsible for winning the war as quickly as possible. It also required an operational framework. On December 29, 1943, General Eisenhower issued an unprecedented order to his commanders, charging them with protecting the monuments and other cultural artifacts “as far as war allows.” The Monuments Men, or the A.M.G. (Allied Military Government officers), would work with pilots to identify the locations of these cultural sites so that military efforts could be made to avoid bombing them, if at all possible. The A.M.G. officers reported directly to the Operations Division of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, Europe (SHAEF) headquarters, under Eisenhower’s command. Even with glitches and overriding military requirements, if not for these commanders and countless warfighters it would have been impossible for the Monuments Men to do their work.

The Greatest Generation would not have understood telling this story Clooney’s way. “Heroes acting alone” is part of our ethos, not theirs. It is a pervasive notion throughout contemporary culture, from sports “heroes” who somehow earn this status independent of their teammates, to corporate leaders who take all the credit when their companies succeed. It also exists in the arts and scholarship communities— where geniuses often think their work should speak for itself, even though it is teams of gallery owners, museum curators, and publishers who bring their work to the public.

Robert Edsel’s book, Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, which served as the basis of Clooney’s film, has inspired its share of controversy in arts circles. But if it was Edsel’s book that caught Hollywood’s attention, and not earlier works by art scholars, there is a reason for it. Edsel built a constituency for the story.

It is clear that Robert Edsel’s book stands on the shoulders of other scholars — he did cite them and even helped some in their work. But, he understood that in today’s world it is not enough to write a book — or even produce a documentary film. So, he turned his unshakable commitment to this story into a cause, and he applied focus and a relentless determination to do what had to be done to inspire others and engage them in his quest. This demanded more than a decade of personal sacrifice and a ready willingness to contact and enlist strangers to his mission. As part of this plan, Edsel established the Monuments Men Foundation to serve as a repository for the artifacts, documents and stories that surround this tale. In 2007, the Foundation received a National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush in the presence of a number of surviving Monuments Men.

After years of hard work, today the Monuments Men Foundation has become a valuable resource for veterans, their families, art lovers, and World War II buffs who want to connect to this history. The Foundation currently has a program to encourage American GIs to return to their country of origin the cultural treasures they themselves took home as war “souvenirs.” It has already borne fruit. Additionally, over the years, Edsel and his Foundation have also discovered new stories and unearthed artifacts and other archival material not previously discovered.

I was exposed to the depth of Robert Edsel’s passion on this topic many years ago, just after the publication of his first book, Rescuing Da Vinci, in 2006. He came to the Eisenhower Institute to speak on the subject. A few years later, he contacted me about a newly discovered audio tape of General Eisenhower after the war. The General was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art receiving an honorary lifetime fellowship for his role, and that of the Allied military under his command, in saving these treasures.

Since then, Edsel has traveled the world on behalf of his foundation, written Saving Italy (2013), chased new leads, lobbied Congress on the Monuments Men’s behalf, and held the hands of dying veterans to convey our collective gratitude. The movie would have never been made without him.

Whether you like Clooney’s interpretation of this World War II story or not, at least this major motion picture brought the Monuments Men into the national consciousness and won these remarkable veterans the appreciation they deserve. The Allied Force’s cooperation and coordination with the Arts communities, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, saved many of Western culture’s priceless treasures. Robert Edsel and the work of his Foundation brought this story to Hollywood and to the international stage.

It reminds you of what can be accomplished when people make a determined effort — together.