“The Affair,” Showtime’s much lauded soap opera, wrapped up its season yesterday, without me. There are some things I won’t forgive, and sliming the legacy and reputation of long dead individuals of character and accomplishment is one of them.”The Affair” was guilty of that the previous week. It is dead to me.
The background: General Omar Bradley is increasingly accorded credit for planning D-Day, and thus is owed a large share of the world’s gratitude for winning World War II. He was not flamboyant like Patton or MacArthur, and had no political aspirations, so despite his remarkable life in service of the United States, Omar Bradley is an undeservedly obscure historical figure. He is, also, beyond any controversy, an American hero.
He also was an especially ethical one, as indicated by three of his better known quotes:
“It is time that we steered by the stars, not by the lights of each passing ship.”
“We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”
“Dependability, integrity, the characteristic of never knowingly doing anything wrong, that you would never cheat anyone, that you would give everybody a fair deal. Character is a sort of an all-inclusive thing. If a man has character, everyone has confidence in him. Soldiers must have confidence in their leader.”
Why the writers of “The Affair” decided smear Bradley, I cannot fathom. Nonetheless, any viewers of the show that watched the penultimate episode and who didn’t know who Bradley was, and many who did, left it with the belief that Bradley, a who by all accounts was faithfully and lovingly married to the his first wife throughout the war and until her death, had an affair with actress Marlene Dietrich, who traveled with the U.S. Army for nearly two years at the end of the war. “The Affair’s” self-obsessed and perpetually horny protagonist, a successful novelist, told his therapist—and boy, does he need one–that his new book would be a historical novel about Omar Bradley. Then he said that he was tempted to skip the affair with Marlene Dietrich, but then that was the most interesting thing about Bradley to him.
“Did Bradley have an affair with Marlene Dietrich?” the therapist asked. The novelist smirked, rolled his eyes, and said, “Well, there were rumors, and pictures…” leaving no doubt that he was sure there was such an affair. Then he used Bradley as the central example of the issue that was troubling him. Is it possible to be a good man, and a great one? Was Bradley less of a hero for succumbing to the charms of the movie star? If Bradley had been simply a good husband and stayed home away from temptation, could he have been also been the brilliant military tactician who won the war?
There is no evidence, none, that Omar Bradley had an affair or even a one-night fling with Marlene Dietrich, and nothing about his life and character that would suggest he would. A recent history of the Battle of the Bulge suggests that General Patton had an affair with Marlene, but not Bradley.
I’ve written about this disgusting practice before, most recently regarding “Selma’s” efforts to minimize the degree to which Lyndon Johnson made the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act possible. You can read about the ethical stench emitted by such post-mortem slander in this this post, exploring the many falsehoods, some quite despicable, in James Cameron’s “Titanic.” Yes, it is all free speech, yes, it’s a TV show, yes, the record is easily corrected by 10 minutes of googling. Yes, yes, yes.
Nevertheless, the United States of America and every citizen alive today owe Omar Bradley a debt of gratitude. He is more worthy of enduring status as a role model than any living American who I can think of, and less deserving of a gratuitous, dishonest, fact-free attack on his character than most of our deceased icons. “The Affair’s” decision to manufacture out of rumors the lie that Bradley, a soldier who extolled integrity at every opportunity, was an adulterer and a hypocrite breaches minimal standards of fairness and respect.
The show’s writers have committed a cruel offense against honor and history.