McCain on Eisenhower’s two letters


In the first of the 2008 debates between presidential candidates, Sen. John McCain pointed to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s two letters, written on the eve of the D-Day invasion in June 1944.  One letter would be released.  The first letter, the “Orders of the Day,” commended the troops for their work in the impending invasion, giving full credit for the hoped-for success of the operation to the men and women who would make it work.

The second letter was to be used if the invasion failed.  In it, Eisenhower commended the troops for their valiant efforts, but said that the failure had been in the planning — it was all Eisenhower’s fault.  (It was not a letter of resignation.)

You can find the first letter, the one that was released, through links at this post at the Bathtub, “Quote of the Moment:  Eisenhower at D-Day Eve.”

The second letter, you’ll find in image and text with links to other sources at this Bathtub post, “Quote of the Moment:  Eisenhower, duty and accountability.”  Last year I wrote:

In a few short sentences, Eisenhower commended the courage and commitment of the troops who, he wrote, had done all they could. The invasion was a chance, a good chance based on the best intelligence the Allies had, Eisenhower wrote. But it had failed.

The failure, Eisenhower wrote, was not the fault of the troops, but was entirely Eisenhower’s.

He didn’t blame the weather, though he could have. He didn’t blame fatigue of the troops, though they were tired, some simply from drilling, many from war. He didn’t blame the superior field position of the Germans, though the Germans clearly had the upper hand. He didn’t blame the almost-bizarre attempts to use technology that look almost clownish in retrospect — the gliders that carried troops behind the lines, the flotation devices that were supposed to float tanks to the beaches to provide cover for the troops (but which failed, drowning the tank crews and leaving the foot soldiers on their own).

There may have been a plan B, but in the event of failure, Eisenhower was prepared to establish who was accountable, whose head should roll if anyone’s should.

Eisenhower took full responsibility.

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troop, the air [force] and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.

Who in the U.S. command would write such a thing today?

It was a case of the Supreme Commander, Allied Forces, taking upon himself all responsibility for failure.

McCain has called for the resignation of the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which he points to as part of his plan for accountability.  The analogy fails, I think.  The proper analogy would be George Bush taking blame for the current financial crisis.  In his speech earlier this week, Bush blamed homebuyers, mortgage writers, bankers and financiers.  If Bush took any part of the blame himself, I missed it.

I wonder if McCain really understands the Eisenhower story.  I still wonder:  Who in the U.S. command would write such a thing today?

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5 Responses to McCain on Eisenhower’s two letters

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    My point was that there is no acceptance of responsibility from George Bush, who carefully presided over almost this entire mess, nor from John McCain, who as recently as two weeks ago was denying that this sort of collapse was possible, or that this crisis could be just around the bend.

    I don’t mind the minor historical errors, actually. I was impressed that McCain even knew the story, if only through a glass darkly. What bothered me was that McCain seems to have missed the point completely: Those responsible for screwups should step forward and admit it. That’s a necessary step towards fixing the policy in a hurry, generally.

    It’s no “gotcha” to point out that McCain’s calling for the resignation of the Chairman of the SEC is rather pointless.

    If we trace the blame on this issue back. we have to include Alan Greenspan, and we have to include the idea — noble in its intent — that everyone should own a home.

    But more proximately, for the past 8 years the administration has pointedly turned away from regulating any part of this. Reform of HUD-1 forms and HUD regulation and oversight of mortgages simply couldn’t get on the table. Other reforms died. At no time was avoiding such a collapse a concern for the administration, who appear to have thought that only low-income first-time homeowners would get burned, and as Karl Rove well knew, they had few votes there anyway, and no campaign contributions.

    It’s been a decade since our family ran smash into the refusal to enforce the law on the part of HUD and lending oversight agencies. This is not a recent development.

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  2. Timothy T. Lupfer says:

    It is sad that political games of “gotcha” have obscured the point that John McCain was making on Friday night during the debate. Anyone who has served in the military knows from Eisenhower’s letter that he was putting his own head on the chopping block if the invation of Normandy had not succeeded. He knew he would be relieved, and he was preparing for that eventuality. It is not precisely a “letter of resignation” because officers in command serve at the discretion of their superiors; you don’t just quit and go home in war. In his letter, Eisenhower was clearing the way for his being relieved, which is as close to a letter or resignation as possible under the circumstances. This IS consistent with the spirit of what McCain was saying: a full acceptance of responsibility. It is disheartening to see the petty and superficial analyses that have been generated about McCain’s supposed “mistake”; even the so-called Truth Squad of NBC missed the point. While I don’t know who I’m voting for on Nov 4 yet, I get the point McCain was making – it’s a significant lesson that unfortunately seems to be lost in worthless noise pretending to be wisdom.

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  3. JohnMcCainIsaSOCIOPATH says:

    John McCain: Con man. Liar. Habitual deciever. A twister of the truth at every possible opportunity.

    McCain is The ultimate opportunist. He simply CANNOT stop lying; it’s a deep seated character flaw and half of America is buying the story of John Sydney McCain. It is my goal to spread the truth.

    He has been a scoundrel for most of his life. How DARE he mar and reshape one of the greatest acts of the ultimate responsibility (Eisenhowers letter) in US history with
    another one of his lies; yet again twisted to make up another story to give him an edge in a presidential debate? Hundreds upon hundreds of men were cut literally in half by machine gun fire that day, to give America freedom. Their guts spilled the beaches of Normandy. Their heads were severed. It was pure horror.

    For McCain to exploit this, proves beyond a shado of a doubt, that Senator John McCain is a despicable human being. His total addiction to lying in the 2008 campaign, and the better part of his polital career after the Keating 5 S&L scandal, that he attempted to cover up, places him at a scoundrel level never seen before, from one seeking the office of President

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  4. jd2718 says:

    An Ed moment! I knew he got it wrong, I knew what he meant (and it was an interesting point, but I’m with you, his analogy was off), and I knew this stuff because I read it here, first.

    In case anyone skimmed the post but is reading the comments, go back to the image of the letter, and look at the cross-outs. Amazing stuff.

    Thanks, Ed.

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  5. SSFC says:

    McCain certainly understands the point of the two letters, but as a senator and a member of Bush’s party McCain isn’t in a position to call for Dick Cheney to serve as a caretaker president until January. If we could get the man alone in a room with no tape recorders, we’d probably hear a more scathing critique of Bush than Obama could give on the record, but there’s a difference between straight talk, whatever that means, and suicidal honesty.

    Note that the second Eisenhower letter doesn’t blame Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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