Book Review: Eisenhower
    Author: Paul Johnson (Penguin Books, 2014)
    Review by Joel Solliday

The twentieth century was filled with tragedy and triumph. Defeating fascism and communism called for incredible statesmanship and great leaders like Churchill, FDR, Reagan, and Thatcher. Paul Johnson’s concise biography of our 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) inclines me to add him to this list of leaders. He was not profoundly dynamic but he was the leading force on the ground (rather than in speeches) bringing defeat to Hitler in World War II. And later, in the Oval Office, he helped made America strong enough to eventually outlast the Soviets in the cold war.

Eisenhower (or “Ike”) was raised in Abilene, Kansas, to embrace small town Mid-Western values like personal industry and self-reliance. His German heritage combined militarism with Mennonite pacifism and his family read the Bible daily. As a student, Ike loved American history and excelled in English, geometry, geography, and engineering. His one black mark at West Point was for smoking. He quit cold turkey years later.

In the army, Ike proved to be an efficient staff officer, a flexible problem-solver, and an able administrator. He worked hard and rose in the ranks without ever seeing combat.

In 1916, he married Mamie Geneva Doud. They lost their first son “Icky” at age three to scarlet fever. Their second son, John, graduated from West Point on June 6, 1944 (D-Day) and he retired as a brigadier general. Throughout Ike’s army career, he and Mamie moved 25 times and never owned a home until after he retired. However, they soon had to move again—to the White House.

Of all the Allied generals in World War II, Ike probably had the least interesting personality. Still, he was the right man for the Supreme Command. He knew how to get along with strong-willed often egotistical officers with drastically divergent views. His analytic intelligence and his ability to communicate clearly enabled him to keep the other generals on mission—essentially, to destroy the German war machine, eliminate Nazi tyranny, and provide security for the free world.

The plan on the ground for getting this done was called Operation Overlord, It culminated in the largest air, land, and sea operation ever undertaken–the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 (D-Day). Ike was prepared to take the blame for failure, but Overlord turned out to be a successful turning point in the war. The Allies suffered some 10,000 casualties, including 4,414 dead. German casualties that day were far fewer but they failed to repel the invasion. By the second day, 250,000 Allied troops were ashore in France.

Elaborate deception strategies were required to successfully fool the Germans into thinking the landing would take place at Pas de Calais. Phony reconnaissance flights, massive pseudo building projects, Patton’s diversion, fake air-raids, and misleading bombing patterns served to keep twenty German divisions in the wrong place at the right time. The deception even included planting a dead body containing fake plans in a place where Germans would find it.

As the war drew toward its arduous end, Ike took pains to minimize casualties, refusing to race with Russia for the prize of taking Berlin—an unpopular decision. He made sure that Nazi atrocities were documented and available as evidence in war-crime trials. In the end, Gen. George Marshall congratulated Eisenhower, saying, “You have completed your mission with the greatest victory in the history of warfare.”

I Like IkeDuring the 1952 campaign for the presidency, Ike had his critics but they underestimated him. Millions of Americans sported “I like Ike,” buttons and he attracted more votes than any candidate in American history.

President Eisenhower understood war and the stakes for war. An early priority for Ike was to make peace in Korea without abandoning the cause or leaving a free people vulnerable to brutal communist imperialism. He succeeded. Ike’s military experience helped set his aim for the establishment of NASA and for the Interstate Highway System, which proved to foster tremendous economic advantages as well. Domestically, he tended to meet emergencies with patience, presuming that rising prosperity would cure ills better than political solutions. But patience is not always good politics. Both mid-term elections during his presidency secured gains for the Democrats.

Ike’s America in the ‘50s was prosperous, solvent, and calm. Inflation and unemployment remained low while the GNP consistently rose, as did purchasing power and the average family income. Fiscal restraint was applied across the board, including in the military. Still, our nuclear stockpile increased under Ike who used it to our advantage in diplomacy. International trade increased and the US rose as an industrial giant. Results like these were unprecedented.

Ike’s life spanned a tremendous era in history. Yet, his presidency seems anti-climactic in light of his previous accomplishments as a five-star general and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during WW II and later as the Supreme Commander of NATO. After nine years in retirement, Ike passed away with the first moon landing only four months away.

Underestimating Ike was common both then and now. He is not remembered as an intellectual and rightly so. He once said, “An intellectual is a man who takes more words than necessary to tell more than he knows.” That’s not Ike. He was more a man of experience than education, patience more than passion, and results more than rhetoric. Yet, in his quiet way, he succeeded as a leader because his education, passion and rhetoric were exceptional. They just weren’t all that noticeable.

Joseph of Nazareth
(A Righteous Man)

“Honey, you were right.”

I’ve had to say those words to my wife. Every time I do, her hearing suddenly goes weak so I have to repeat it. She threatens to write down the date but never does.

Every couple knows what I am talking about, including healthy ones that don’t keep score.

Long ago, before the first Noel, a Jewish carpenter named Joseph was famous for being right. The Bible introduced him as “a righteous man” (Matthew 1:19). Righteousness basically refers to a right standing with God and there is no better way to be right than that.
Of course, that was before he was married.

Sometimes it hurts to be right, or at least to think we are. Joseph was pledged to a woman named Mary who turned up pregnant before they tied the knot. Heartbroken and probably angry, Joseph entertained no doubts about being right on how wrong she had treated him. And there was no way he could be wrong.

But he was wrong. God had chosen Mary, a young virgin, to play a unique role in His plan of salvation by giving birth to God’s Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit. Do you know any heartbroken husband-to-be who has heard such an unusual explanation for such an awkward situation? Neither did Joseph.

Nevertheless, Joseph was wrong. May was innocent. Her story checked out, and it took the angel Gabriel to drive that correction home to Joseph’s righteous mind. Gabriel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife for the child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20).

It’s like everyone Gabriel met had to be told not to be afraid in one way or another. I wonder if Joseph actually said to Mary, “Honey, I was wrong.” In any case, he did marry Mary, after all—linking little Jesus in full measure to the royal line of David.
the Annunciation
When a national census was called, Joseph did his civic duty and traveled to Bethlehem with his pregnant wife to register. As a righteous and religious man, Joseph had his Son circumcised eight days after Jesus was born. Joseph and Mary dutifully consecrated their first born to the Lord and offered a sacrifice “in keeping with the law of the Lord.” (Luke 2:24). They could not afford a lamb so they offered two doves and a couple pigeons. As Luke narrated, “When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth.” (Luke 2;39).

Let’s back up. When Joseph was first called “a righteous man,” that description had little to do with being right all the time. There was much more to his righteousness than keeping regulations (which he did dutifully). Actually, his righteousness was given as the reason he did not want to disgrace the woman he thought betrayed him. Instead, he intended to privately call off their marriage. In other words, Joseph’s righteousness was a kind of kindness that prevented him from publically plastering Mary to the wall of justice to teach her a lesson. As heartbroken as Joseph was, a righteous kindness survived in his soft heart.

Two millennia later, I have seen couples on a mission to punish each other, even for sins long since confessed, repented of, and forgiven. No! Punishment and forgiveness do not run well together. Being righteous is not a formula for being unnecessarily mean to those who fail you. Real righteousness results in deeds of mercy and kindness. Jesus later told a parable about some sheep and goats in which he claimed it was “the righteous” who had seen the hungry and fed them, or the thirsty and gave them something to drink (Matthew 25:37).

No wonder Joseph’s boy grew up to preach things like, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled,” (Matthew 5:8).

Boaz of Bethlehem
(A tale of Romance and Redemption)

Boaz lived in the 12th century BC in Bethlehem, a town later known as “the city of David,” Boaz’ great-grandson. He is introduced in the book of Ruth as a relative of Elimelech. a man who died as a refugee in Moab. Boaz was a “man of great wealth,” though a better translation may be “a man of high standing.”

After a long absence, Elimelech’s widow (Naomi) returned to Bethlehem from Moab with a widowed daughter-in-law named Ruth. Naomi had lost everything, except the love and loyalty of her bereaved daughter-in-law. To survive, Ruth gleaned for grain along with the poor and destitute of Bethlehem. It was the duty of wealthy landowners to leave some gleanings for the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10) and Boaz was glad to comply.

One day, Boaz greeted the hungry gleaners in his field saying, “May the LORD be with you.” (Ruth 2:4). He addressed them with kindness and respect, though many, like Ruth, were strangers. They responded, “May the LORD bless you.”

“Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz),” 1853, by Jean-Francois Millet (French, 1814–1875).
“Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz),” 1853, by Jean-Francois Millet (French, 1814–1875).

Boaz noticed Ruth in his field and took a special interest in her. He generously made sure she went home with plenty of grain. Turns out, her reputation for kindness and selfless loyalty preceded her. He made sure she was not subjected to insults and rebukes and blessed her, saying, “May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.” (Ruth 2:12). Boaz was generous with his blessings!

Naomi recognized God’s kindness in Boaz’ deeds and quickly assumed a crucial role as Ruth’s mentor through a match-making process. She revealed Boaz’ kinsman-redeemer status and the marital prospects this presented to Ruth who had precious little to offer Boaz. Following Naomi’s instructions, Ruth makes a bold move letting Boaz know of his obligation to her (and Naomi) as a kinsman redeemer. The rules of Deuteronomy 25 must have gone through Boaz’ mind when Ruth revealed who she was. How romantic!

Boaz responded to Ruth with yet another blessing, invoking Yahweh: “May you be blessed of the LORD, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich.” (Ruth 3:10). Then Boaz declared his intention to do his duty as a kinsman redeemer, affirming Ruth as “a woman of noble character.” (3:11). He knew Ruth could have gone after younger choice males, but instead she obeyed her mentor and acted as much in Naomi’s interest as her own. Boaz wanted this marriage.

Nevertheless, he respected custom and convention enough to give Ruth up to another relative with first rights as a kinsman redeemer. Fortunately, this rival declined when he saw the inheritance risks and sacrifices involved in doing his duty. This cleared the way for Boaz to marry Ruth.

Ruth and Boaz were initially surprised to find favor in each other’s hearts. When expectations are low, the joy of finding love runs deep. When Boaz called Ruth a woman of “noble character” (3:11), he used the same Hebrew word [hayil] that was applied to him previously as “a man of standing” (2:1). This signals to the reader that she was Boaz’ moral equal and fully qualified to marry him. This same word was used to describe a wife whose worth surpassed jewels (Proverbs 31:10). That was Ruth.

Since Romeo and Juliet, a popular formula for love stories has been to pit romance against family and social obligations. Not in the book of Ruth! The romance between Ruth and Boaz flows richly through their duties, customs, and conventions. In this redemptive love story, social and religious obligations lead the way. It was pure kindness for Boaz to carry on the family line of a deceased relative and take care of his helpless widow and her in-law. As with the redemptive love of Jesus on the cross, the kinsman-redeemer role played by Boaz was no less loving for all the obligations involved. And the lineage of Elimelech endured all the way to the birth of the ultimate Redeemer; Jesus Christ.

Let’s sum up Boaz’ character qualities:

  • He was a man of standing in his community (Ruth 2:1).
  • He was gracious to poor and hungry workers (2:4).
  • He had sympathy for foreigners without prejudice (2:6 & 4:10).
  • He respected and protected the vulnerable (2:9).
  • He was kind, generous and hospitable (2:13-14).
  • He was a good judge of character, attracted to integrity (3:11).
  • He was a reliable man who finishes what he starts (3:18).
  • He responsibly honored his obligations (3:11 & 4:9-10).
  • He was a man of wisdom at the city gate (4:1-8).
  • Boaz was both blessed and a blessing (2:4,12 & 3:10).

Ruth and Boaz were ordinary people with extra-ordinary character and kindness.