- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the Christmas break I read most of D.K.R. Crosswell’s Beetle: The Life of General Walter Bedell Smith. It is a striking book. Crosswell makes a good case that Smith not only was Eisenhower’s chief of staff during World War II, but also Ike’s deputy commander and foreign minister. Cranky Smith also was the perfect foil for Ike, who liked to smile, lead ambiguously, and avoid personal confrontation, which ‘Beetle’ appeared to relish.
The book also is notable for its sober views of senior American and British commanders and his willingness to embrace their complexities. Croswell clearly admires George Marshall, but also finds him a humorless prig. He portrays Montgomery as a great commander but an insufferable human being.
It also probably is the best book ever written on the inner workings of Eisenhower’s headquarters. That said, it is massive, crossing the finish line at some 924 pages.
A Best Defense salute to the University Press of Kentucky: Before reading Beetle, I spent half a day going back over another book they published, Henry Gole’s fine biography of Gen. William DePuy. And one of the books coming up on my reading list is Ira Hunt’s The 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam, which they also published. Pretty impressive performance by a small outfit in Lexington, Kentucky.