Quote of the Moment: Eisenhower, duty and accountability

Eisenhower's unused

This quote actually isn’t a quote. It was never said by the man who wrote it down to say it. It carries a powerful lesson because of what it is.

A few days ago I posted Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s “order of the day” to the troops about to conduct the Allied invasion of Normandy to establish the toehold in Europe the Allies needed to march to Berlin, and to end World War II in Europe. As a charge to the troops, it was okay — Eisenhower-style words, not Churchill-style, but effective enough. One measure of its effectiveness was the success of the invasion, which established the toe-hold from which the assaults on the Third Reich were made.

When Eisenhower wrote his words of encouragement to the troops, and especially after he visited with some of the troops, he worried about the success of the operation. It was a great gamble. Many of the things the Allies needed to go right — like weather — had gone wrong. Victory was not assured. Defeat strode the beaches of Normandy waiting to drive the Allies back into the water, to die. [Photo shows Eisenhower meeting with troops of the 101st Airborne Division, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, on the eve of the invasion. It was these men whose courage he lauded. Update: Someone “took hostage” the photo I linked to — a thumbnail version is appended; I leave the original link in hopes it might be liberated] eisenhower-with-paratrooper-eve-of-d-day.jpg

Eisenhower wrote a second statement, a shorter one. This one was directed to the world. It assumed the assault had failed. 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?

  • The message may also be viewed here. Yes, it’s incorrectly dated July 5 — should have been June 5.

18 Responses to Quote of the Moment: Eisenhower, duty and accountability

  1. […] sure to check out the follow-up post, on the exigency message Ike didn’t have to […]


  2. […] This is an encore post. Share this:TwitterStumbleUponDiggRedditFacebookEmailLinkedInPinterestTumblrLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]


  3. […] sure to check out the follow-up post, on the exigency message Ike didn’t have to […]


  4. […] sure to check out the follow-up post, on the exigency message Ike didn’t have to […]


  5. […] sure to check out the follow-up post, on the exigency message Ike didn’t have to […]


  6. […] the possible exception of Eisenhower’s never-used apology and fault-accepting letter for the failure of D-Day, the Normandy invasion — never used […]


  7. […] Be sure to read the other posts in this series about Eisenhower’s Order of the Day: “D-Day, 65 years ago today,” and “Quote of the moment:  Eisenhower, duty and accountability.“ […]


  8. […] sure to check out the follow-up post, on the exigency message Ike didn’t have to use. Possibly related posts: (automatically […]


  9. […] With all of the economic wrangling, blaming, and buck passing going on in Washington (where responsibility should be shared among, not least and perhaps most, George Bush, Barney Frank, and Christopher Dodd) it’s refreshing to read a story of accountability and responsiblity at the top, by a man whose like is hard to find these days. […]


  10. […] 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 […]


  11. […] sure to check out the follow-up post, on the exigency message Ike didn’t have to […]


  12. jd2718 says:

    Our history teachers use a lot of documents in classes. Today I printed out your image, and gave it to 4 teachers. Two got it immediately – I was impressed.

    Everyone liked the cross out – principal (English teacher) was happy to lose the passive voice. And everyone remarked on the details that added up to taking greater responsibility.


  13. Ed Darrell says:

    We should probably be aware that this piece is included in the National Archives set of original documents selected for use in U.S. history courses; here is the lesson plan the Archives proposes.
    Would it not be wonderful to have a class that did nothing but deal with these documents?


  14. Most excellent use of primary sources. I mentioned Eisenhower in a post today as well….

    I didn’t mean to ignore your comment about the Lincoln picture over at Old Pictures. I’m simply researching some facts before I venutre forth with an opinion. However, it did seem to be over to one side more than another.


  15. onlycrook says:

    I am so glad he didn’t have to send that second message. To me, this is the power of primary sources in researching history. The image of that note is *so* powerful.


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