A General’s Life by Omar N. Bradley and Clay Blair; Simon and Schuster; New York.
General of the Army Omar N. Bradley’s military career spanned a half-century of dramatic change for the United States. When he entered West Point in 1911, the United States had few military interests beyond its borders; when he retired in 1953, American military commitments stretched around the world. And Bradley lived to participate in decisions that were the seeds of America’s global decline.
Bradley’s personal status rose in tandem with his country’s military might. He came from a militarily inauspicious background: as a child he lived in near poverty in rural Missouri, attended one room schools, and only belatedly decided to seek entrance into the Military Academy. (His acceptance was made possible only by the prime candidate’s failure to pass the entrance examinations.) Although stationed in the United States during World War I and thus deprived of the combat experience advantageous for military promotion, Bradley rose steadily, if uneventfully, in the peace time army by dint of hard work and a powerful patron—General George C. Marshall, the bête noire of the American right of the 1940’s and early 1950’s be cause of his role in the alleged Pearl Harbor conspiracy, the fall of Nationalist China, and other misdeeds. World War II gave Bradley the opportunity to step into the limelight. After performing skillfully as a battlefield general in North Africa and Sicily, he led American troops in the D-Day invasion of France and eventually commanded 1.3 million troops in Europe, the largest single field command in United States history. After World War II, Bradley was Chief of Staff of the Army (1948-49) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1949-1953).
From the onset of World War II until his military retirement in 1953, Bradley was involved in events of great historical importance. Among the issues covered by this work (which is a collaborative effort between Bradley and the military historian Clay Blair, written in an autobiographical style, though completed after Bradley’s death in 1981) are discussions of the Allies’ reliance on the code-breaking Ultra, which tapped into German radio communications (and remained secret until the 1970’s); the strife between British and American military commanders regarding overall Allied war strategy; and the post-World War II debate over the unification of the United States armed services. But the most significant issues are two Cold War controversies that split conservatives and liberals, and helped to account for the magnitude of the Soviet threat the West faces today. The first involved Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower’s strategic decision in the spring of 1945 (which Bradley helped to formulate) to halt the Anglo-American armies on the Elbe River rather than push eastward and capture Berlin and other east European territory before the Soviet Army did. Winston Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff had strongly argued for an eastward advance, holding that it would give the West a strong bargaining position from which to demand that the Soviet Union abide by the agreements on territorial control which it was already violating. (The Yalta Agreement had been made in February 1945.) In short, Churchill and the British were thinking in terms of the postwar balance of power; it was now apparent to many observers that the Soviet Union intended to control those areas “liberated” by the Red Army. Eisenhower and Bradley, however, only considered immediate military objectives—the crushing of German forces with minimal loss of American and British lives. From this strictly military standpoint, bombed-out Berlin, which faced imminent Soviet capture, was of no strategic value. Of greater concern was to thwart rumored German “redoubts”—last-ditch resistance by fanatical nazis in heavily fortified areas in the Alps.
It must be granted that the Eisenhower Bradley military strategy was in accord with the overriding Rooseveltian focus—to destroy Germany as a military power (“unconditional surrender,” the Morgenthau Plan to deindustrialize that country) and to cooperate with the Soviet Union as “policemen” in the post war world. The real question, however, is whether the Rooseveltian view was in accord with reality. Those who perceive the Soviet Union as a threat to the West would have to answer with a resounding no. Obviously, the United States should have attempted to frustrate Soviet control of Eastern and Central Europe (the domination of which has been fundamental in augmenting Soviet power); sending the Anglo-American armies beyond the Elbe would have done this.
To some degree, Bradley can be excused for neglecting geopolitical objectives in 1945, since his job was fundamentally a military one. Later, however, as Army Group Commander, Bradley should have been cognizant of geopolitical issues. He could have at least suggested a more geopolitically oriented strategy, even if the White House would not have accepted it. But in this work, written over three decades after the war’s termination, Bradley states that he remained convinced that the strategy pursued was proper.
Ironically, while Bradley looked at the Berlin issue solely in terms of military factors, when the scene shifted to the Truman-MacArthur controversy during the Korean War, when Bradley was Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he excoriated General Douglas MacArthur, commander of United Nations (though principally American) forces in Korea, for allegedly focusing on military objectives to the exclusion of geopolitical ones. After massive Communist Chinese intervention in November 1950, MacArthur proposed measures to attack the Red Chinese in their “privileged sanctuary” in Manchuria. The Truman Administration, with Bradley’s advice, rejected this on the grounds that “widening” the war beyond Korea would lead to Soviet intervention, including a possible invasion of Western Europe.
Although the likelihood of Soviet intervention on a global scale was highly questionable, it must be conceded that Truman’s Korean stalemate strategy conformed to the framework of containment, America’s grand strategy during the Cold War. The real question, however, is whether containment was sufficient to defend the West. Containment allowed only measures to protect noncommunist countries from the spread of communism; strictly proscribed were any actions to weaken communism in those areas it already controlled. Almost from its inception, containment’s critical flaws were pointed out by astute observers such as James Burnham and Robert Strausz-Hupé. They noted that containment could never fulfill its defensive purpose: leaving communists free at home to consolidate their rule and develop a gigantic war-making machine enabled them to devote their energies full-time to external aggression. Because of the solely defensive nature of containment, every American victory could be overturned in the future, while every defeat was permanent. To be successful, containment had to win every engagement—a virtual impossibility.
The critics proved correct. For a quarter of a century the United States pursued a strategy of containment; Soviet power inevitably expanded worldwide, while Western power concomitantly retracted. Had the United States pursued MacArthur’s strategy, communism would not have been struck an immediate deathblow, but the tactic would have been a precedent for further offensive Western action that, at the very least, would have meant that the West would not enter 1984 facing the dire threat it now does.
It must be stressed that there is nothing unusual about Bradley’s views on these two issues, which, in fact, conform to the standard historical interpretation of the events. And the standard interpretation is, naturally, that of orthodox liberalism. (New Left accounts would view Bradley’s position as unnecessarily antiSoviet and anticommunist.) Liberalism’s view toward the Soviet Union and other communist states on foreign-policy issues is predicated upon its fundamental view of communism. While acknowledging some (though far from all) of communism’s brutal practices, the liberal still views its fundamental goals to be beneficent. Therefore, the liberal is psychologically unable to interpret the actions of the Soviet Union and other communist countries as really threatening to the West; consequently, he never sees the need for a strong response.
While most Americans have never accepted liberalism’s underlying assumptions—the essential beneficence of communism—they often do accept the liberal line on specific foreign-policy issues, because the liberal line is the dominant one, the one publicized by “experts.” Undoubtedly, this was the case with Bradley, who, while he was not a conservative (he supported the New Deal), evinced strong hostility to communism and had an abiding fuith in American society. Bradley sincerely opposed the Sovietization of Eastern Europe and desired the liberation of all of Korea. But, Bradley was a man of little reflection who had a limited intellectual back ground. His intellectual talents did not fur transcend the military realm, and even there he tended to rely on conventional military tactics; he was not innovative. In most cases, the proper application of conventional military tactics brought about victory on the battlefield. But in the foreign-policy realm, accepting the conventional wisdom meant the acceptance of the arguments of orthodox liberalism, which prevailed even in high military circles because of the influence of General George C. Marshall.
It is instructive to contrast Bradley’s character with that of his contemporary, General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur was an individual of wide-ranging genius. He excelled in the roles of scholar, diplomat, ruler, military commander, and administrator. In the military realm, MacArthur was not just the practitioner of conventional tactics and strategy, but an innovator as well. One example of this, covered in this work, was his Inchon landing during the Korean War, which the conventional Bradley decried as the “wildest kind of military plan.” To Bradley, its success was inexplicable—”the luckiest military operation in history.” The independent-thinking MacArthur, of course, repudiated the tenets of liberal orthodoxy.
It would seem to be a fact of nature that the bulk of humanity, even most of its leaders, tend to be more like Bradley than like MacArthur, unreflectively following the conventional wisdom. Thus, today we see millions of patriotic, anticommunist Americans unthinkingly parroting nuclear-freeze statements and calling for the abandonment of Central America. Even staunchly conservative politicians, upon achieving high office and thus more forcefully bombarded by liberal ideas, accede to the liberal position on specific matters. Because of liberalism’s dominance of intellectual discourse, only reflective thinkers (and a small number of innate nay sayers) reject its messages. Obviously, America’s very survival today rests upon more MacArthurs and fewer Bradleys in positions of leadership. Unfortunately, this development seems unlikely.