A Soldier’s Story by General Omar N. Bradley is one of the most profound books I’ve ever read. My friend and fellow writer, William Alford, loaned Bradley’s autobiography to me as a source of research for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. My research required a closer look at World War II, such as those provided by doctors and nurses (And If I Perish, Heroes From the Attic), but I still read Bradley’s account of the war, and I am extremely glad I did so.
He prefaces his autobiography with the inscription, “To those soldiers who must often have wondered WHY they were going where they did. Perhaps this will help answer their questions.”
I believe Bradley answered these questions truthfully and without the ego that might have come from a lesser man achieving such rank and accomplishing what Bradley did. As for the tough issue regarding loss of life, he explained how every move made by troops was analyzed and not conducted until the loss was the lowest number possible. The decision to go ahead, shouldered by Bradley and other men like him, was not taken lightly, and it is not one I would ever want to have.
There are many who would argue that the war was unnecessary, but I concur with General Bradley: the evil that swept through Europe wasn’t going to go away on its own. Even with the combined forces of the Allies, the battles were not easily fought or won. Perhaps unavoidable would be the better word choice in regards to World War II.
Bradley was against actions such as taking a site simply for the prestige of location. Yet when other commanders’ egos swelled, he remained cordial with them even while strongly disagreeing with their decisions and/or actions. He went so far as to put his career on the line to get the truth out to the American public regarding one such instance.
Further testimony to Bradley’s humility and strength of character are his accounts of his friend, General Patton. Bradley spoke frankly about the times Patton overstepped his bounds, yet he never criticized in a way that tore Patton down. When Patton was placed under Bradley’s authority, the two men worked together quite well and held each other in high regard.
Bradley includes comments from Prime Minister Winston Churchill that are chilling predictions come true. Considering that the conversation took place in 1945 and wasn’t published until 1951, when Churchill says, “There may come a day when we shall walk into a cabinet room, break the glass over a switch, dial to the nation to be bombed, and push a button to declare war,” I can’t help but wonder if this technology was in place long before we were aware. More unsettling are Churchill’s words, “But we shall never sit by and permit a minority to force its will upon a helpless majority anywhere,” which speak to the current world situation.
The book concludes with the end of the war in Europe, an occasion that was no doubt worthy of celebration, but I was left with a feeling of melancholy that I could only attribute to the realization that the type of patriotism displayed during World War II no longer exists. Still, I believe that Bradley’s explanations successfully bridged the gap between those in command and those in the field. I highly recommend A Soldier’s Story as a worthy read.