Ethical Quote Of The Day—D-Day, That Is : Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander


“Our landings have failed and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

—–Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, as found on a piece of paper he wrote on just before the D-Day invasion began, and just after he ordered it to commence, on June 6, 1944.

Eisenhower wrote these words to be his own apology and acceptance of responsibility had the massive invasion at Normandy been a defeat rather than the history-altering victory it was.

It almost was a defeat, and as the note, which Ike’s naval aide, Captain Harry C. Butcher, found crumpled in his shirt pocket weeks later and saved for posterity, shows, Ike realized all too well that it might be. The secret dry run for the invasion had been a deadly fiasco, the weather was atrocious, and no military operation on this scale had ever been attempted before in the history of man. It took a combination of German mistakes, high command confusion, individual heroics and the usual twists and turns of chaotic fate that decide most battles to allow the Allies to prevail.

General Eisenhower wanted to be ready should all the planning and valor prove futile. He had his model: Robert E. Lee. Eisenhower was a student of both military history and U.S, history, and was a special aficionado of the Civil War, particularly the Battle of Gettysburg. (It was not a coincidence that Eisenhower’s farm, where he spent his retirement, was within sight of the battlefield.) Eisenhower knew that Lee had greeted the shattered Confederate army as the survivors stumble back from the massacre that was Pickett’s Charge, reassuring the men that they had done everything possible and fought bravely, and saying, over and over, “It is all my fault!” A realist, Ike could easily see D-Day being his own Pickett’s Charge, and was ready for both victory and defeat.

The scribbled statement was never used, of course. Still, it shows how tenuous Ike’s decision was, and how much courage it took to make it. It also exhibits the honesty, sense of responsibility, integrity and accountability of one of our greatest leaders.


Pointer: Other Bill


21 thoughts on “Ethical Quote Of The Day—D-Day, That Is : Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander

  1. Looking at the construction of the Atlantic Wall, it’s easy to understand why Operation Overlord might have failed. Luck was with Ike on June 6th even though the brave men who died and those who survived on Omaha and the other landing beaches made the big difference. We infrequently have a General now with the integrity of Ike.

    • It’s always good to keep in mind that the Omaha beach landings were one of five beaches the Allies assaulted on D-Day. If Bradley had made the decision to abandon Omaha (as he was contemplating), the follow-on troops scheduled for Omaha would have been diverted to Utah beach.

      The landings on the other four beaches obviously went much better than Omaha, although many of the D-Day objectives were still not met. It would be an interesting scenario to speculate how the battle might have gone if the Allies had been forced to abandon Omaha beach — certainly the linkup between the various landings would have been far more difficult. The Allies could have faced the prospect of having too small a beachhead to build up their forces in time.

      It;s always a good idea to remember that there was nothing ‘inevitable’ about the way WWII played out (except, perhaps, for the German’s ultimate defeat after Barbarossa). We think that because a war turned out a certain way that it was always bound to do so, but that is far from the case. Certainly the participants could not know in advance what was going to happen.

  2. We seldom have such generals, because today’s generals are politicians and not soldiers.

    I also find it distressing that the only reference to D-Day in the local paper yesterday was the Peanuts cartoon in the comics.

    • General George C. Marshall appointed General Eisenhower because he not only had great organization skills but also because Eisenhower was a very astute politician. Anyone who wasn’t wouldn’t have been able to hold the alliance together.

      • It was generally presumed that, after the North African and Sicily campaigns, Marshall would be appointed to command the Cross Channel invasion and Eisenhower would take his place as Army chief of staff.

        FDR, who had the responsibility for making this decision, apparently could not make up his mind and and waited up until (or perhaps beyond) the last possible moment before choosing Eisenhower. One of the reasons he gave for this choice was that he couldn’t stand the thought of doing without Marshall in Washington.

        Needless to say Marshall was hugely disappointed but continued to do his duty — superbly — as his country asked of him.

    • Cynical John said, “We seldom have such generals, because today’s generals are politicians and not soldiers.”

      Personally I think you’re wrong.

      You might find the book “It Doesn’t Take A Hero” an interesting read.

  3. Interesting how the Russians are getting so much credit these days for defeating the Germans. People seem to act as if the Allied trip through France and Germany and Belgium and The Netherlands was a walk in the park. Not to mention Anzio.

    • Anyone who would think those were a walk in the park would be an idiot.

      But with that said all those battles pale to what the Russians went through at Stalingrad.

      • I agree. We would have had a much harder time defeating the Germans without the Russians, who suffered more than any other people and whose decisive victory at Stalingrad turned the tide of the war. And it was their blood being spilt street by street in Berlin, not ours.

        They did not do it alone, no. But they did do a lot. It’s unfair to pretend they didn’t contribute significantly to Germany’s defeat.

        • Much of the Russian peoples suffering was due to Stalin’s ruthless purging of his top generals prior to WW2 which left the country unprepared for Operation Bararossa. In addition without all the trucks, aircraft, and tanks sent to Russia by America and Britain, it is doubtful that Russia could have defeated the Germans at Stalingrad and Kurtz. Stalin never paid for all the Lend-Lease supplies sent to him.

          • And had Hitler not broken his treaty with the USSR, Stalin would have been happy to let Hitler run amuck while everyone else dies. Once Hitler attacked, yes, the Russians fought gallantly, suffered terribly, sustained terrible losses and used those losses to guilt Roosevelt and Churchill into making concessions they shouldn’t have made, enslaving millions under Communism and creating an inherently unstable situation in Europe. All hail the Russian soldiers and military…but

            • All true…and Stalin spent several weeks out of action while the Germans got further and further into his territory because he seemed shocked (SHOCKED!) that the Germans invaded the USSR when he’d been warned by more than one source that it was coming.

              History is always more messy than victors and losers alike want to believe.

            • I have a good friend whose father came here from Hungary after the 1956 uprising. He despised FDR for handing eastern Europe to the Soviets and kept a picture of him pinned to a dart board in his office.

              • Good for him. It amazes me that historians shrug this off (Churchill is also accountable) as no blot on FDR’s record. How many lives were lost or destroyed because of that betrayal?

                • Churchill was actually quite prepared to go to war, at least for the independence of Poland, despite the advice of his high command. He was overruled by the Americans:

                  See Operation Unthinkable.

  4. In his farewell address to the nation, in Jan 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower also warned the public that the public funds he had invested in federal research agencies might be taken over by a “scientific-technological-elite” and misused to take control of US policies:

    That is almost exactly what happened after the US National Academy of Sciences used its control over budget review of federal research agencies to mold “97% consensus science” support for very questionable AGW dogma.

  5. Jack,
    I can’t tell you how great it is to get updates on the war effort from this esteemed editorial space. I sure hope we prevail against those Nip-loving Nazis

    … is what I’d be saying if this were 72 years ago.

  6. Paul Fussel wrote about this incident several years ago in his book, “Wartime.” He had served during the war, and his book was quite cynical about the vileness of the war and many of the senior Allied officers. I’ve always thought he expressed it beautifully:

    One wartime moment not at all vile occurred in June 5, 1944, when Dwight Eisenhower, alone with himself, for the moment disjunct from his publicity apparatus, changed the passive voice to active in the penciled statement he wrote out to have ready when the invasion was repulsed, his troops torn apart for nothing, his planes ripped and smashed to no end, his warships sunk, his reputation blasted:

    “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.”

    Originally he wrote “the troops have been withdrawn,” as if by some distant, anonymous agency instead of by an identifiable man making all-but-impossible decisions. Having ventured this bold revision, and secure now in his painful acceptance of full personal accountability, he is able to proceed unevasively with “My decision”:

    “My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available.”

    Then, after the conventional “credit,” distributed equally to “the troops, the air, and the navy,” Eisenhower’s noble acceptance of total personal responsibility:

    “If any blame or fault attaches to this attempt, it is mine alone.”

    As Mailer says, you use the word shit so you can use the word noble, and you refuse to ignore the stupidity and barbarism and ignobility and poltroonery and filth of the real war so that “it is mine alone” can flash out, a bright signal in a dark time.

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