August. And time to start a new historical theme of the month! We’re going to explore some primary sources from the European Theater of World War II.
What’s a primary source? A document created by a real person who was really at the scene of the event. In other words – an official document, a journal, reminiscences, letters, etc. etc. It’s good to read primary sources and use reliable ones when researching history because you’re “listening” to an account by someone who experience it.
Today, I’m introducing a book of reminiscences by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. If you’ve been reading Gazette665 for a while, you know that Eisenhower is one of my favorite historical presidents, and I admire his leadership. Well, this was the book that made me an “Eisenhower fan.”
At Ease: Stories I Tell To Friends By Dwight D. Eisenhower
First published in 1967, this book is a real gem of historical stories and insight. As the title suggests, it’s a collection of easy-to-read stories that Eisenhower told his friends for entertainment. If you can read this book without laughing, I’d be in shock. (I’ll dare you…) And, if you’re picky about “language” – this book sticks to “parlor standards” and leaves out the hard language of the period.
Quite autobiographically, Eisenhower begins his story-telling with his childhood and continues through West Point days, young officer escapades, family life, World War I, the interwar years, World War II, presidential terms, and home life.
It’s Eisenhower’s chance to casually tell his life story, the way he wanted it told. Did he leave out things? Absolutely. But that’s part of the charming challenges of primary sources.
My Favorite Story From The Book
This is so hard. I absolutely love this book! But I have to pick one story to talk about today. How about the turkey?
Eisenhower was about six. He was at a family reunion at one of his relative’s prairie farms. And lacking a playmate near his own age, he started exploring the barnyard. There he met the terror-striking male turkey, who puffed out his feathers and chased little Ike. The six year old fled to the house, crying and telling his tale of woe to the adults.
This incident repeated several times, each time Ike retreated with a tale about the bad turkey who was being so mean. Finally, Ike’s uncle got tired of the crying and “carrying on”; he took the lad outside, gave him a broomstick, and told him that if the turkey came after him, he had permission to whack the bird.
Boldly, the little warrior marched forth. There came the turkey, bustling over and expecting an easy victory. Ike raised the broomstick, closed his eyes, and brought it down with a sturdy thwack. The turkey was started and turned to run. Little Ide pursue the turkey, fully establishing who was the real boss.
According to the story, that was Ike’s first lesson in dealing with bullies. Don’t back down. And fight if you have to. Years later, these principles would form Ike’s strategy for fighting World War II in Europe and dealing with the Soviets during the Cold War.
(I don’t condone “animal cruelty”; I do approve of dealing with bullies.)
Why YOU Should Read This Book
It’s pure entertainment…and mostly family-friendly! It’s a historical account. It’s a great way to “hear” a leader’s advice, learn about his values, and what challenges and triumphs shaped his life.
We usually think of Eisenhower as an unbending leader in World War II or a solemn president. Sometimes we get stuck working his other book (Crusade in Europe) and all its detailed tactics. It’s good to see the casual, personable side of leaders. This book was Eisenhower’s way to share his life with his friends and with generations of Americans.
P.S. If you’ve read the book, what’s your favorite story?