Monday, May 23, 2005

Two Quick and Cheap Lessons of History

The other day I was reading the one volume biography of Eisenhower by Stephen Ambrose when I came across this illuminating passage concerning Ike’s relationship with the media while he was Supreme Allied Commander:

Eisenhower believed that a democracy could not wage war without popular, widespread support for and understanding of the war effort, which only the press could create. At his first press conference, he told the reporters that he considered them “quasi members of my staff,” part of the “team,” a thought that delighted the reporters to no end . . .

Can you imagine the reaction of the modern press if an American general suggested that they were a part of his “team”? They would howl with derision and then they’d hound the poor General into resignation. This is a problem. They should be part of the team. I’m not saying that reporters shouldn’t be objective, but American journalists should see themselves as Americans first and journalists second. Instead they see themselves as journalists first and Americans . . . well, not second. Their country rates much lower than second.

Another passage that seemed to resonate through the years concerned the appointment of Eisenhower’s wartime chief of staff, Walter Bedell Smith, as ambassador to the Soviet Union after WWII. Smith suffered from ulcers and they helped turn this gruff man into a flat out mean son of a bitch. One time a woman who worked at his office poked her head through the door while he was in the middle of a meeting. He shouted “get the hell out” and before she could go he turned to the other people in the room and said “You’ll have to excuse her gentlemen. She’s an idiot.”

When Smith became ambassador to the U.S.S.R. Ambrose writes this about Ike’s reaction:

Eisenhower said he did not approve of professional soldiers serving as diplomats, but then, thinking about the men in the Kremlin having to put up with Smith and his ulcer, he grinned and remarked, “It serves those bastards right.”

And it will serve those bastards at the U.N. right when John Bolton shows up.

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