May/June 2000 | Volume 51, Issue 3
It has to be one of the very few instances in which Douglas MacArthur referred to himself in anything but the third person. “I shall return,” he muttered upon arriving in Australia. When the Office of War Information asked him to rephrase the pledge in the more inclusive first-person plural, the general refused. As Stephen H. Ambrose has noted, “The emphasis on ’I’ became more pronounced as the war went on.”
As various historians have pointed out, “Follow me” is a more effective exhortation than “Go take that hill” in small-unit actions. But military history’s bread and butter is the big picture and the larger-than-life figures who move the pieces across the board while barking out pithy or gutsy orders that could have been, and often were, written by public relations men.
On this grand stage, certainly the most underrated quotation is Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s declaration that set the D-Day invasion in motion. Not the one you have probably heard—“The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you”—but the one you haven’t. Like the pebble that touches off a landslide, it is humble and innocuous, the kind of order you can imagine following instinctively. “Okay, let’s go,” is what he said.