John Liang

Geniuses at Work

(Spring 1958)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.19 No.2, Spring 1958, p.63.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Turn of the Tide
by Arthur Bryant
Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York 1957, 624 pp. $6.95.

Utilizing the diaries and autobiographical notes of General Sir Alan Brooke (now Field-Marshal Lord Alanbrooke), who was then chief of Britain’s Imperial General Staff, Arthur Bryant has succeeded in constructing a highly readable, in part illuminating, account of World War II from its outbreak on September 3, 1939 to the surrender of Italy on September 8, 1943. Another volume is promised that will bring the narrative along to the defeat of Germany and Japan.

In Bryant’s view, Brooke was a military genius, though Brooke himself, as revealed in his diaries, appears as a military leader of quite ordinary stature with a modest view of his own abilities. Brooke and Churchill represented a “Partnership in Genius,” the title of Bryant’s opening chapter. It was this partnership that won the war for the Allied powers. The huge armies, the struggling, suffering, bleeding, dying soldiers, the bombed and gutted cities, the endless streams of war refugees – all this is quite incidental to the scintillatingly brilliant performances of the two geniuses of the imperialist conflict.

In Franklin D. Roosevelt, General George C. Marshall and the stubborn Admiral Ernest King the British geniuses met their counterparts. Despite surface amicability, not much love was lost between them. There was present in the Britons’ minds, for instance, the not ill-founded suspicion that the Yankees wanted to trade military aid for chunks of the British Empire.

The Americans, for their part, felt that the British were less concerned with defeating the Axis than with the conservation of the Empire. The British, it is also clear, considered the Americans novices in war. They accepted Eisenhower as North African commander and later as commander of the invasion of Fortress Europe though they had scant confidence in his abilities. Brooke’s estimate of Eisenhower, whom he came to know quite intimately, is one of the bright spots of Bryant’s book. He writes:

“I was beginning at that time [November 24, 1942] to feel uneasy about the course of operations in North Africa. Eisenhower seemed to be unable to grasp urgency of pushing on to Tunis before Germans built up their resistance there. It was a moment when bold and resolute action might have gathered great prizes. Eisenhower ... was far too much immersed in the political aspects of the situation. He should have left his deputy, Clark [General Mark Clark] to handle these and devoted himself to the tactical situation ... It must be remembered that Eisenhower had never even commanded a battalion in action when he found himself commanding a group of Armies in North Africa. No wonder he was at a loss as to what to do, and allowed himself to be absorbed in the political situation at the expense of the tactical. I had little confidence in his having the ability to handle the military situation confronting him, and he caused me great anxiety ... He learnt a lot during the war, but tactics, strategy and command were never his strong points.”

This harsh but evidently justified estimate of the abilities of the future President of the United States Brooke softened somewhat by writing:

“Where he [Eisenhower] shone was his ability to handle Allied forces, to treat them all with strict impartiality, and to get the very best out of an inter-Allied force. In all the early times he was uncommonly well served by his Chief of Staff, Bedell Smith, who had far more flair for military matters than his master. In addition Ike was blest with a wonderful charm that carried him far; perhaps his great asset was a greater share of luck than most of us receive in life. However, if Ike had rather more than his share of luck we, as allies, were certainly extremely fortunate to have such an exceptionally charming individual. As Supreme Commander what he may have lacked in military ability he greatly made up for by the charm of his personality.”

Strategists in the Republican party high command also seem to be arriving at the conclusion that Ike’s one positive quality is his grin.



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