OK, Troy is being a bit facetious about the "minor, insignificant acts," but you get his point how a major moment with astronomical stakes suddenly could take a back seat to the sensational in today's media frenzy. Eisenhower, a transformational figure in his era, enjoyed the benefits of hagiography during a non-invasive media age. If Eisenhower were forced to resign, it could have dramatically altered the course of the war in Europe - and civilization as we know it in the process.
Petraeus resigned as CIA director before the media frenzy could sink its teeth into debating his next step. His decision was affected - really hammered home - by email technology; with Eisenhower, we have seen his written letters to his wife, Mamie, during World War II. In them, Eisenhower admitted his loneliness but incessantly tried to reaffirm his love for Mamie while sometimes making what appeared to be veiled references to Kay. Yet, Kay or no Kay, Ike wrote Mamie approximately twice a week - that's 319 letters within a three-year span.
But how is a wife to feel when she constantly sees a lovely woman with her husband in the many photos transmitted back to the U.S. media in the 1940s. "Eisenhower - whatever the realities of their physical relationship - was certainly not shy about having Kay Summersby act as his companion," said Dr. David Silbey, associate director of the Cornell University in Washington program and a lecturer in courses in modern military history and European history. "She hosted parties for him, attended conferences with him and went to high-ranking meetings - lunching with (British Prime Minister Winston) Churchill, among others - with him. Mamie Eisenhower was jealous of her from quite a long ways away."
While Petraeus' relationship with Broadwell apparently was physical, Eisenhower's situation with Summersby appears a bit murkier. First, several biographies and historical annals have claimed that Eisenhower was sexually impotent. Second, Eisenhower may have fostered more of a "psychological affair" than physical one with Summersby.
However, there were reports that Eisenhower secretly desired to divorce Mamie and eventually marry a starry-eyed Kay after the war. If that's true, was his intention real, or was it a fleeting moment of lust (could that also apply to Petraeus and Paula?) for a cover-girl woman with the wares to potentially appear in a Cosmopolitan or Playboy magazine?
Either way, Eisenhower and Mamie remained married through two presidential terms and death.
What does all of this suggest?
Said Troy, "I believe that the relationship between Ike and Kay was deep, intimate, and was a form of psychological adultery, but not the tawdry physical adultery at the heart of the Petraeus scandal. I think it was not physical because Ike was a man of honor. I point to various pieces of evidence, including Kay's initial insistence - and frustration - that it was so. But to me, the most telling piece of evidence is the fact that Ike took both Mamie and Kay to a performance of "Oklahoma" on a New York trip. I don't think he was such a boor that he would have done that had he crossed the line in standard adultery."
In fact, Troy evoked a vivid image from the popular "Mary Tyler Moore" television show to illustrate the Ike-Kay relationship. Remember the characters Lou Grant (the boss) and Mary Richards (the employee). Said Troy: "Lou and Mary had a relationship wherein Mary was Lou's office 'wife' - they were close, intimate, friends - and there was some sexual tension, which led to one famous near-kiss in an episode, but nothing else ..."
And there's the view from Ike's orderly, Sgt. McKeogh, who, during a PBS documentary on Eisenhower that aired in the 1990s, said: "If you are having an affair, you can't hide it that much, and I put him to bed every night, and I woke him every morning. He was in bed by himself and he was in bed still by himself when he got up in the morning."
Added Silbey: "Summersby occupied much the same place for Eisenhower in Europe that his wife did at home. She was his companion, support, hostess and so on. She was, in a sense, his 'wife' during the war. Physically? That's much less clear. Summersby mentioned nothing at all about it in her first memoir and then detailed, in her second memoir, a somewhat fumbling physical relationship that consisted of only a few sexual encounters. That's really the extent of the credible evidence for the physical side of the affair."
Would Ike have resigned if his supposed affair had developed into a possible scandal, a la Petraeus? "I could see him getting humiliated or being forced to resign due to the 'non-affair,' despite his obvious skills," Troy said, "... and the country would have been deprived of an extraordinary hero and leader."
Added Maier of Harvard: "But the bottom line - this stuff is Shakespearean and not just an artifact of modern technology."
That's an all too familiar scenario.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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