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Dwight D. Eisenhower: Last good Republican

Finding the last good Republican president was not hard in light of the moving 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on the beaches and by the cliffs of Normandy, France.

In military annals, the Allies storming Nazi-occupied France on June 6, 1944, went down as the most extraordinary land, air and seaborne invasion ever.

American, British and Canadian forces — more than 150,000 — stole ashore before the morning light and caught German generals by surprise.

Yet the Supreme Allied Commander caught my attention just as sharply. His name: Dwight D. Eisenhower, born a Kansas farm boy. On the eve of the invasion, he moved among the American soldiers and sailors, asking where they came from.

They had the “light of battle” in their eyes, said Eisenhower, recalling Shakespeare’s King Henry V visiting his men’s camp (in disguise) before leading the charge against Agincourt — in France.

This is the crux of his character: That night, Eisenhower wrote a note to history. If his audacious plan for D-Day should fail in high seas or lashing rain, the fault is “mine alone.”

The successful landing turned the tide of World War II.

Even more a testament to Eisenhower’s humanity shone when American soldiers first liberated a Nazi concentration camp in April 1945. The cruelty he encountered was so brutal that he felt he had to be history’s messenger.

Once again, he wrote a clear, crisp message, to Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, to bear witness:

“The things I saw beggar description. … The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, (General) George Patton would not even enter. He said he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.'”

Alert to how quickly the crimes against humanity could be covered up, Eisenhower pressed Marshall, members of Congress, war correspondents and German villagers to tour the camp’s human wreckage so they would see what Hitler’s Third Reich had done.

These moments of greatness and truth are utterly out of reach for a Republican running for president today.

President for most of the 1950s, Eisenhower had no need to be the center of the news cycle. In his 60s, he played golf and more golf. But he conveyed the sense that he was, well, in command.

The old warrior did not inspire the partisan loyalty or wrath of today’s political wars. “He was just there,” some said.

A Cold Warrior no doubt he was, to extremes that led to tacit consent to the assassination of an African socialist leader, clearing way for a Congolese despot, Joseph-Desire Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko.) Eisenhower had the Dulles brothers — the dullest brothers, Allen and John Foster — as advisors on foreign policy, a poor choice.

The post-war 1950s enforced a culture of convention and the McCarthy crusade against communism. Yet it also saw the stirring of the civil rights movement when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

In his 1961 farewell address, Eisenhower soberly warned of the military-industrial complex. As president of the leading nuclear power, he wished he could say “a lasting peace is in sight.”

The last good Republican president wisely told us this:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies … a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Thanks, Ike.

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