Military Leadership in Two Brief Messages

 

General Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, prepared two messages in preparation for D-Day, 6 June 1944. One was issued as his Order of the Day for June 6, 1944, to be read to all the troops. The other was jotted in pencil on a single page. Both messages teach us what military leadership under our constitutional republic should look and sound like.

SUPREME HEADQUARTERS
ALLIED EXPEDITIONARY FORCE

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will-trained, well-equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

General Eisenhower walked among the paratroopers preparing to load up and jump into the night to initiate Operation Overlord. He looked men in the eye who he knew would soon be dead, following his orders. He reportedly made small talk about fishing, as was his habit under stress. His order of the day and his actions in the assembly areas expressed confidence in the plan and the forces’ preparation, while not sugar-coating what they were jumping, gliding, or wading into. Eisenhower even invokes the “Home Fronts” as a massive force multiplier behind the men on the tip of the spear.

In the same hours, he jotted down another D-Day message, to be transmitted to both the troops and the home fronts, in case the landings failed. If the Germans stopped the invasion on the beach and threw them back into the sea, he would take full responsibility for the plan and its failure.

Our landings in the

Cherbourg – Havre area

have failed to gain a

satisfactory foot hold and

^I have withdrawn the troops have been 

withdrawn. This particular

operation My decision to

attack at this time and place

was based upon the best

information available. and

The troops, the air and the

Navy did all that [crossed out]

Bravery and devotion to duty

could do. If any blame

or fault attaches to the attempt

it is mine alone.

— July 5

Note the revision. Ike’s first draft went passive voice with “the troops have been withdrawn. This particular operation.” He stopped himself, lined through the blame-defusing words, and inserted “I have withdrawn the troops.” He doubled down: “My decision to attack . . .If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.” He praised the troops (“Bravery and devotion to duty”) and the planners (“best information available”). He even added emphasis here by separating the planning phrase from the execution phrase, dropping in a period and crossing out “and.” Everyone had done everything in their power to bring victory. Then he took responsibility, rather than allowing an opening for criticism of the American and British commanders in chief, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill. In the face of a major military set-back, the democracies did not need political generals joining politicians in attacks on the war governments.

Would that we had generals and admirals with the same moral courage and clarity today. Would that we were not facing another massive “dereliction of duty” by our senior uniformed and civilian military service leaders. In the face of critical corrosion of the American military, we need leaders aspiring to be like Ike.*


* A play on “Be like Mike:”

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  1. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Great post Clifford.

    I suspect that it’s tough to have any “moral courage and clarity” when all that is on our current generals’ minds is their cushy civilian jobs as investment bankers.

    • #1
  2. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    This on the eve of D-Day + 77.  Thank you sir.

    • #2
  3. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    There is an interesting “error” in this note, with the wrong date of July 5th. 

    In the book “How Ike Led” (by his grand-daughter Susan Eisenhower), she related the following about his hand-written note.  Ike was asked for his handwritten statement on or about July 11th by a naval subordinate, I recall.  Ike was asked to date the note, and he wrote July 5th.  His granddaughter Susan surmised that Ike was not focused on that date, otherwise he would have written June 5th. 

    ___________________________________

    Also, as to the reference to “fly fishing” I recall that the paratrooper was from Michigan, and Ike identified Michigan with fly fishing.  Ike’s right hand was showing how to hold the rod in fly fishing for emphasis.  

    Ike was famous for asking his troops where they were from.

    What a leader!

    • #3
  4. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Clifford A. Brown: Would that we had generals and admirals with the same moral courage and clarity today. Would that we were not facing another massive “dereliction of duty” by our senior uniformed and civilian military service leaders. In the face of critical corrosion of the American military, we need leaders aspiring to be like Ike.*

    Indeed. 

    • #4
  5. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Clifford A. Brown: Note the revision. Ike’s first draft went passive voice with “the troops have been withdrawn. This particular operation.” He stopped himself, lined through the blame-defusing words, and inserted “I have withdrawn the troops.” He doubled down: “My decision to attack . . .If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.”

    I blame the ascendancy of inappropriately-used passive voice in spoken and written English for an awful lot of what’s wrong with the world today.  It’s turned us from actors into those acted-upon, from doers into bystanders, from winners into losers, and, everywhere, into victims.  Somehow, in all the paeans to illiteracy, in all the condemnations of clear, accurate, and descriptive language as an oppressive, racist, supremacist construct in which useful guideposts such as upper case (classist), periods (sexist), and spelling (thamauturgic privilege) are regularly called out and abandoned, it’s the one aspect of grammar that’s never mentioned as ripe for correction. 

    And thus, three-quarters of us wake up every morning to find ourselves expected to redress things we did not do to others, by others who did not have those things done to them, but who’ve been taught from birth that “someone” is responsible for whatever unfortunate, ill-defined, circumstances that exist in their lives, and that “someone” has to pay.

    As usual, the flattening of the discourse masks the fact that there really are all sorts of unfortunate victims in the world, and they get lost in the shuffle, and their very real needs go unaddressed, while the race-baiters and leaders of sundry “movements” laugh all the way to the bank.

    • #5
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    He was indeed a great general. How refreshing to see him directly take responsibility.

    • #6
  7. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    She (View Comment):
    I blame the ascendancy of inappropriately-used passive voice in spoken and written English for an awful lot of what’s wrong with the world today.  It’s turned us from actors into those acted-upon, from doers into bystanders, from winners into losers, and, everywhere, into victims.  Somehow, in all the paeans to illiteracy, in all the condemnations of clear, accurate, and descriptive language as an oppressive, racist, supremacist construct in which useful guideposts such as upper case (classist), periods (sexist), and spelling (thamauturgic privilege) are regularly called out and abandoned, it’s the one aspect of grammar that’s never mentioned as ripe for correction. 

    I agree.

    • #7
  8. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    She (View Comment):
    As usual, the flattening of the discourse masks the fact that there really are all sorts of unfortunate victims in the world, and they get lost in the shuffle, and their very real needs go unaddressed, while the race-baiters and leaders of sundry “movements” laugh all the way to the bank.

    I should read words and paragraphs in the order they are presented instead of at random. At first I thought this was about covid.

    But I agree about the passive voice.  With FDR’s “Four Freedoms” we went from pursuit of happiness, i.e. something we do, and from stopping people from doing other things to us, to “freedom from want, hunger, fear, etc.” The latter are things that are supposed to happen, without specifying who is obliged to make them happen.  They are rather passive in tone, which obscures those nasty details.  

    • #8