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Great leaders assume responsibility

  • Published
  • By Capt. Steven Olin
  • 737th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron
It has been said before that leadership is the responsibility of those who share the glory of success, and suffer the blame of failure. Perhaps no man better grasped this concept than the thirty-fourth president of our nation, the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

During the night of June 5, 1944, just hours before the invasion of Normandy was to commence, General Eisenhower sat down in his private chambers and prepared a note for President Roosevelt. Eisenhower had spent the day meeting with the soldiers taking part in the coming attack, shaking hands, and wishing everyone luck in the bloody days ahead. The note he prepared was just in case the invasion was a failure.

The note began, "Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops." Eisenhower then began the next line with, "This particular operation ..." This is a classic example of what my history teachers in college would call the "passive voice". Passive voice is what occurs when you manipulate your sentence structure so that your object of an action becomes the main subject of a sentence. In essence, you're stating that the action occurred of its own volition, not through the causes of any particular person, place or thing.

Eisenhower realized what he had done and redrafted the sentence to read, "My decision to attack..." This emphasized the result of the failure as his alone. He went on to praise the bravery of the Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen responsible for carrying out the battle and closed with the line, "If any blame or fault attaches to the event, it is mine alone."

This moment in history provides a sobering reminder to us of the responsibility of leadership within our military system. Eisenhower did not want to suffer the blame of failure anymore than you or I would, but he realized the responsibility of his command. To him, ultimate victory was far more important than his own stellar military career. He was willing to sacrifice himself rather than risk blame befalling those who had fought and died in such a desperate battle.

Today we find ourselves fighting a very different war against a very different enemy, but it is the quality of our leadership, our professionalism to our trade, and our commitment to our nation that will once again lead us to triumph.