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Eisenhower’s moment of weak leadership left lifelong scars

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Dwight D. Eisenhower won the 1952 presidential election with the largest number of votes in history. But amid the glory of his victory, he felt a tinge of regret.

Before and during World War II, Eisenhower had worked closely with Gen. George Marshall. When war broke out in Europe, Marshall was chief of staff of the U.S. Army and Ike was a highly regarded staff officer.

Throughout his life, Eisenhower viewed Marshall as a top leader. After the war, Ike was asked to list the five greatest men he had encountered in his career. He pondered the question for a few minutes, asked for a pencil and paper, and then wrote Marshall’s name first (followed by John Foster Dulles, Air Chief Marshall Sir Peter Portal, Gen. de Gaulle and Winston Churchill). When asked the same ­question five years later, Ike listed ­Marshall first again.

But when running for president in 1952, Eisenhower let his political ambitions get the best of him. Campaigning in Wisconsin, home of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Ike deleted a passage from his speech praising Marshall’s loyalty and patriotism.

Why? McCarthy’s allies had labeled Marshall “a front man for traitors” and Eisenhower decided to omit any mention of Marshall in his speech.

When McCarthy heard of Eisenhower’s last-minute decision to delete his praise for Marshall, he obtained Ike’s first draft and released it to the press. When reporters realized that Ike had chosen not to voice his admiration for Marshall, they accused him of spine­­lessness.

Eisenhower immediately acknowledged his cowardly act and never forgave himself. Biographers point to this incident as the only moment of ignominy in Eisenhower’s storied career.

— Adapted from Eisenhower, Paul Johnson, Viking.

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