Black Jack: The Life and Times of John J. Pershing
by Frank E. Vandiver
(Texas A&M Univ, Press; $35, 2 vols.)
Arthur M, Schlesinger, Jr. divides the American military tradition between the Roundheads and the Cavaliers: on the one side, Grant, Marshall, Ridgeway; on the other, McClellan, Patton, MacArthur. Pershing was a Roundhead, although which side he would have chosen between Cromwell or Charles I is a matter of conjecture; he was probably the finest example we have of this better side of American generalship. To command the AEF in World War I was as much a diplomatic as military assignment: Pershing was pleased to have the opportunity to lead the Americans in their rescue of the Western front, and determined to maintain the AEF as an independent force. Yet he remained unfailingly courteous to the other Allied commanders, succeeded in complementing French and British operations, and was a resolute and humane captain—careful to avoid wasting lives, tactically inventive and effective and, by his stolid and resolute manner, an inspiration to his troops, as well as a shot in the arm to the Allies.
This is one of the finest biographies that has been written of an American general, a masterful account of a military career that is both broad and deep. It is difficult to sew together the threads of character and events and to humanize the image of a totem like Pershing, but Frank Vandiver has succeeded, and stylishly, too. Perhaps some further inquiry into Pershing's personality might have been in order— in 1915, for example, his wife and three daughters died in a fire—but Pershing purposely left few novelistic details of himself and Vandiver wisely avoids going where nu trail can lead him.
by Julie Nixon Eisenhower
(Simon and Schuster; $8.95)
This is an exercise in distraction. Julie Nixon Eisenhower must surely realize that as we slog through the quicksand of these negligible portraits of celebrities she has known, we are all the time thirsting for something about the two people—or at least the one father—she knows best. After all, if she weren't Richard Nixon's daughter she would never have made the acquaintance of Prince Charles, Golda Meir, Mrs. Billy Oaham, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Mao Tse-tung or Mamie Eisenhower, or had the opportunity to publish her vapid impressions of them. What is intriguing is that her essays manage to belie the title, and ostensibly interesting people are revealed as not very special after all, or at any rate not very special in her presence. What hand would not wither, so to speak, gesturing in interview with Richard Nixon's daughter? I should have thought Lynda Bird Johnson's 1967 account in McCall’s of her engagement (crawling across the presidential bed to give LBJ and Lady Bird the good news) had put an end to the literary aspirations of White House children, but, alas, no.
Public Trust, Private Lust
by Marion Clark and Rudy Maxa
One of the vanities of youth is that each discovery is a revelation, and a year or two ago Marion Clark and Rudy Maxa, "two young Washington Post investigative reporters," after months of exhaustive research and hundreds of interviews with thousands of sources on land, sea and in the air, concluded that various members of Congress are known to have mistresses whom they sometimes employ in their offices. As with everyone else before Watergate, Clark and Maxa undoubtedly thought the world of their elected officials, and were therefore so astonished by the sleazy truth that they could ever after only write sentences that resembled Mickey Spillane's, refer to themselves in the third person (just like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein) and thank God that The Washington Post, at least, is above such arrangements
This book will serve as a warning to indiscreet congressmen, but leaves unsolved the problem of maniacal ascetics in office. For that matter, what is worse — Liz Ray playing backgammon at government expense, or journalists who assert that in the '50s it was fashionable to be a dumb blonde? Who whom, anyway? The penultimate line of Public Trust. Private Lust says, ". . . the reaction to the congressional scandals of 1976 held the promise of better government in Washington: campaign speeches everywhere were filled with pledges of a new political morality." Even a dumb blonde wouldn't pay $8.95 to read that.
This piece originally ran in the July 9, 1977 issue of the magazine