Van Hipp: In coronavirus battle, here’s what Dwight Eisenhower would do


America is at war. Indeed the entire world is at war with the coronavirus. True, it’s a different kind of war, but it’s involving every facet of our lives in a way we’ve not seen since World War II.

President Trump has called himself a “wartime president,” and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has said we need to be “using the kind of intensity of implementation which served us so well in World War II.”

As such, I believe we can learn much on how to turn the tide on the coronavirus by looking at the man who helped lead us to victory in WWII, and who later, as president, would lead America back to a time of major economic growth and prosperity.

Yes, many of the same principles, beliefs and tactics that helped Dwight Eisenhower lead the free world to victory during D-Day and WWII – and later as president to get the American economic engine turned on full-throttle – are just as applicable today to winning the war against the coronavirus and getting America back up on its feet.

Raised in Abilene, Kansas, with a population of just under 7,000 today, Ike was the product of small-town, rural America. He believed in Main Street, not Wall Street. He looked to small business, not big business, for the ingenuity America needed in times of crisis.

And Eisenhower knew what military medicine could do, more than anything else, to save as many American lives as possible.

It was Eisenhower, the general, who turned to American small business in WWII, and it was Eisenhower, the president, whose administration started the Small Business Administration. As a result, today the SBA gives the “Dwight D. Eisenhower Award for Excellence” to contractors that excel in their utilization of small businesses.

Andrew Higgins was the Louisianan lumberman who built the “Higgins Boat” that was equipped with two machine gun positions and could carry 36 troops to conduct amphibious landings. The Higgins Boats were used at D-Day, the Allied invasion of Sicily, Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.

Eisenhower relied heavily on the boat for the successful Normandy invasion. Some 20 years later, Ike said: “Andrew Higgins is the man who won the war for us. If Higgins had not designed and built those [boats], we could never have landed on an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.”

Eisenhower was a meticulous planner and he knew firsthand, as a result of the Higgins Boat experience, that the innovativeness of America rests with the “little guy” and small business.

This and other experiences no doubt shaped the creation of the Small Business Administration during his presidency and his famous warning about big business and the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address to the nation in 1961.

Today, Ike would surely be asking: Where are the Higgins Boat companies of today? Where are the small American businesses with the therapeutics, plasma, antibodies, rapid testing, ventilators, and personal protective equipment that we need to turn the tide and whip the coronavirus now?

The great planner of the Normandy invasion would find them. He would not be turning to “big pharma” or bureaucrats for solutions a year or so away. Ike would turn to Main Street and the small businesses and scientists in the heartland of America whose therapies, treatments and technologies have shown great promise in defeating the scourge of the coronavirus, and some whose breakthroughs are actually being used by our allies now.

A student of history, Ike knew that it was military medicine that invented the ambulance system, how we triage patients – and thanks to Army Major Dr. Walter Reed, had no equal in stopping the spread of infectious disease.

In WWII, military doctors under Gen. Eisenhower’s leadership made great advancements in battlefield surgery, the use of plasma, expanded use of antibiotics to treat bacterial infections, preventive medicine and controlling malaria with the use of quinine.

Today Ike would be pleased to see that military medicine is still leading the way with “outside the box” thinking when it comes to real therapies and treatments to save lives. And President Eisenhower would not be surprised to see that today’s military doctors have worked closely with small American businesses, where real ingenuity rests, to develop the therapeutics and antibodies that might help patients fight COVID-19 until a vaccine is ready.

Yes, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, the Military Infectious Disease Research Program and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency have no equal in coming up with what it takes to save American lives today. They’ve had real breakthroughs for Ebola virus therapeutics and Dengue Fever. They’ve helped develop a treatment for “cytokine storm” that is being used by U.S. allies in Europe to treat COVID-19 patients.

And it was the U.S. Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center that made telemedicine a reality for our nation and developed the best telehealth technology available to fight the coronavirus.

Ike would certainly have them, and the small American businesses they work with, at the table educating civilian health authorities on what can be done right now to get America back on her feet.

President Trump’s instincts have been right when he’s pushed the Food and Drug Administration and others in the civilian health sector to cut red tape and when he’s called small business “the engine of American business.”

We can learn much from Eisenhower, the man from small-town America who didn’t seek destiny but who was sought by destiny.

Eisenhower’s appreciation of the ability of military medicine to save lives, and the fact that ingenuity and innovativeness rest in small American business, is the approach that would best enable America to turn the tide on the coronavirus. The Eisenhower approach could work today just as it did for the “Greatest Generation.”


Van D. Hipp, Jr. is Chairman of American Defense International, Inc.  He is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army and author of “The New Terrorism: How to Fight It and Defeat It.”  He is the 2018 recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II September 11 Garden Leadership Award for National Security. Follow him on  Twitter @VanHipp.



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