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Personality and D-Day Adversaries

Hitler and Eisenhower—and the decisions they made.

Visiting Omaha Beach this week, at the time of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, I thought about the contrasting personalities of the two men primarily in charge of this monumental military operation. Although it is improper to attempt formal diagnoses of Adolph Hitler and Dwight Eisenhower, they exhibited distinctively different characteristics. Buoyed by Germany’s early military victories, Hitler’s narcissistic grandiosity denied the realities facing him as the war progressed. He eliminated officers who questioned his strategies, including the brilliant Rommel, whom he forced to commit suicide.

Delusionally confident, he demanded total control of the western front forces. Determining invasion was not imminent, he retired to bed on the evening of June 5, with strict orders not to be awakened. Even on the next day when he arose and was advised of the early morning attack, he refused to believe he had miscalculated, and delayed even further the reinforcement of his troops.

Although Eisenhower did not lack confidence, he was painfully aware of the realities of his decisions. His self-assurance seemed seasoned with humility. He lacked the magical thinking that Hitler invoked when his strategies began to fail. Eisenhower contemplated for hours whether to proceed with the June 6 invasion, despite threatening weather. He wrote a note that he kept in his wallet, declaring that if the operation failed, all blame should be on him.

Leadership requires faith in goals. But failure to consider that the leader may be wrong, failure to consider alternatives to decisions, insistence on clinging to unrealistic paths is the mark of a leader’s ultimate demise.

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