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Omar Bradley, the General’s General

By Alan Axelrod
1/29/2009 • World War II

Bradley saw Patton as the very man he needed to ensure that Cobra would be expanded as much as it possibly could. Patton did “transform” Cobra, but it was Bradley who deliberately employed him to do so. It was the beginning of a partnership of oil and water personalities that somehow worked. Ernie Pyle’s anti-Patton had decided to exploit Patton, and, for his part, Patton was only too happy to be exploited.

From the breakout through the rest of the war, the relationship between Bradley and his Third Army commander, though hardly untroubled, was extraordinarily effective. The pair actively conspired to circumvent Bernard Montgomery’s imperious demands to shift the offensive—and substantial resources—northward, for his exclusive use. Against Eisenhower’s directions, if not explicit orders, Bradley allowed Patton to maintain the offensive in the south. By the summer and fall of 1944, Bradley’s view of Patton had matured. He had come to regard him as a powerful weapon. Like all powerful weapons, he was dangerous to use, but what else is the profession of a soldier than the business of using powerful, dangerous weapons?

It is no affront to Bradley to suggest that his signal contribution to victory in Europe was his bold yet sensitive exploitation of a great commander who excelled at making life miserable for those above him. In that way, the GI General became the general’s general. It was a role that not only survived the end of World War II, but became increasingly important in the postwar environment. In his exquisitely uneasy but prodigiously productive relationship with Patton, Bradley fashioned himself into the prototype of a new kind of officer: a military executive operating in a middle realm between tactics and strategy and between combat and politics.

After the war, Bradley served successively as the vigorously reform-minded director of the Veterans Administration, and then as army chief of staff. Next, he was appointed the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It would be far too much to claim that this military executive shaped American cold war policy, but he did advise on it, and, more importantly, he directed much of the military implementation of that policy. The poor Missouri boy who had enrolled at West Point for the sake of a free education became the first in a new line of American commanders, called upon to remain masters of military strategy, tactics, and technology—an arsenal of dangerous, powerful weapons—even as they made themselves masters of politics and diplomacy.

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