Monday, July 26, 2010

The most influential Mississippian of the 20th century?

My money would be on Fox Conner:
Fox Conner (November 2, 1874-October 13, 1951) was a major general of the United States Army. He served as operations officer for the American Expeditionary Force during World War I, but is best remembered as "the man who made Eisenhower". * * *

Conner's most lasting contribution was his mentorship of a young Army officer named Dwight Eisenhower. Conner first met Eisenhower in 1919 at the Infantry Tank School at Camp Meade and the two men immediately developed a great mutual respect. When Conner took command of the 20th Infantry Brigade in Panama, he invited Eisenhower to join his staff. For three years, Conner instituted a systematic course of study for Eisenhower that ranged from extensive readings in military history to daily practical experience writing field orders for every aspect of the command. Finally, Conner pulled strings to get his protege admitted to the Command and Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, where Eisenhower graduated first in his class thanks in no small part to his comprehensive Panamanian tutelage.
IIRC, Conner met Eisenhower over dinner at George Patton's house.

It's of course possible that Eisenhower's talents would have been noticed otherwise, but I tend to doubt it; the Army's main use for Ike at that time seemed to be as a football coach. Would George Marshall have ended up commanding SHAEF? Would Taft have been the GOP nominee in 1952? Would Stevenson have won?

... I'm not sure whether Conner was "from" Slate Springs, which is on Hwy. 9 at the south edge of Calhoun County. I recall driving back from a hearing in Calhoun City and seeing a historical marker to Conner, but it seems to me I was driving to Grenada so it wouldn't have been so far south as Slate Springs. I will have to take a picture of the marker when I'm up that way again.


  1. William Faulkner? Robert Johnson?

  2. I guess I think that the world without either Faulkner or Johnson would still resemble ours in most respects, certainly in more respects than would a world where someone besides Eisenhower commanded the Western Allies' forces or (no need to be the same person) was president for most of the 1950s.

  3. I'm not convinced Eisenhower would not exit without Fox Conner, I suppose. I don't doubt his importance, but (to draw a similar parallel) I doubt claims that Faulkner would not exist without Phil Stone (such claims have been made), or Robert Johnson without Ike Zimmerman (who? Take my word that Zimmerman was Johnson's Fox Conner).

    The thing that's debatable is whether something like Johnson's lineage and creations would exist if he hadn't existed. It's presently unfashionable to believe he was that important, because it's unfashionable to privilege the rock part of what he influenced (the one with the most mass impact, of course). But I think that the forms shifted in important ways with his work. Not exactly similarly, I'm doubting "southern literature" would be that large a deal without Faulkner.

    Back to Eisenhower: I really don't see him as unique-nothing-like-him-would-have-taken-his-place even to the degree of Grant, say. But the point I really don't buy is that there would have been no Eisenhower without the key mentor. Geniuses seem to find such mentors.

    Finally, I am speaking from relative ignorance about that part of Eisenhower's story.

  4. Well, any counterfactual gets you only so far. Maybe Ike would've come to the attention of George Marshall some other way. But the post-1918 army was a pretty depressing place to be, and he could well have left the service. And FWIW, I don't think Ike was a genius; he had the right set of talents. (Grant was certainly a greater general and a military genius.)

    If, say, Marshall ends up commanding our forces in Europe, no way does he end up president. Quite possibly the Repubs shoot themselves in the foot in 1952 and manage to lose even after 20 years of Democrats in the White House. Making the pendulum swing back not in 1953 but in 1957 or even the Sixties. By that point, an unimaginably different Sixties.

    Whatever the scope of those changes, I don't think that Faulkner's failing to publish any novels, or Johnson's getting himself poisoned before recording any records, changes history to the same extent.

  5. I agree Eisenhower wasn't "a genius" but was using the word in the sense of "his particular genius was..." Your description of how things would have played out without Eisenhower makes me less convinced, in any event.

  6. My vote's on Elvis Presley, but moving to Memphis probably disqualifies him.

  7. ... Y'know, it says something about me and NMC that neither of us mentioned Elvis. Not sure *what* it says, but it says something.