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.
In preparing for the D-Day invasion, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower carefully contemplated what would happen if the invasion failed. What if the Germans repulsed the Allies, and no foothold was established to re-take the main body of Europe from the Germans?
Ike’s answer is a model of leadership: He would take the blame. Regardless what happened, Ike took full responsibility for the failure, giving credit to the soldiers who would have sacrificed in vain, perhaps their lives.
The Bathtub recently posted Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s “order of the day” to the troops about to conduct the Allied invasion of Normandy — D-Day — 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.
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, sometimes too far, sometimes killing the pilots when the gliders’ cargo shifted on landing; 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); the bombing of the forts and pillboxes on the beaches, which failed because the bombers could not see their targets through the clouds.
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? Who else in history would have written such a thing? Is there any indication that Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, or any other commander of a great army in a world-turning invasion, considered how to save and perhaps salve the reputation of his troops, though they had failed?
Leadership is more than just positive thinking.
- The message may also be viewed here. Yes, it’s incorrectly dated July 5 — should have been June 5. In history, little is perfect. We can excuse his slip of the pen, considering what he had on his mind.
- Two Speeches: Remembering D-Day through Eisenhower and Reagan (michaelmilton.org)
- Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1944 Apology Letter On The Failed D-Day Invasion Of Europe (warnewsupdates.blogspot.com)
- Rare D-Day Footage Used in New Eisenhower Short Film Online (washington.cbslocal.com)
- Veterans gather in France to mark D-Day anniversary (stripes.com)
- World marks anniversary of D-Day (wtkr.com)
- Scholars back wartime quotes at future Eisenhower Memorial (stripes.com)
- OUR VIEW: Remembering D-Day (mercedsunstar.com)
- WWII D-Day Assault Normandy Invasion (Footage!) (warhistoryonline.com)