“The Affair” Smears An American War Hero

The General and friend.

                             The General and friend.

“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.

 

 

 

50 thoughts on ““The Affair” Smears An American War Hero

  1. It’s hard to imagine what goes through these writers’ heads. Do they not at least assume that these real, historically important people might have living relatives?

  2. Damn the facts, especially if the truth gets in the way of a good salacious story. The audience doesn’t care about history; it doesn’t want to learn anything. It just wants to be entertained, which, among other things, is why education in this country is so abysmal at all levels.

    • John,
      “The audience doesn’t care about history; it doesn’t want to learn anything.”

      You’re right. People go to school, read books, and attend documentaries to be educated; they watch dramatic works to be entertained. Whatever your feelings on the state of American education, I’m not sure you can draw any real conclusions from the fact that most movie-goers aren’t history buffs.

      Sincerely,
      Neil

  3. I must, and I mean MUST, believe that the people who write/produce these stories have never been faithful to their partners. They haven’t resisted the temptation and so everyone is just like them. I read an interview for a game where the devs said outright there were never happy or content pairings. They don’t believe it’s possible so that is what they write, expanding the anti-ideal, I’ve seen enough long term couples, that I know its possible, but the younger creative people haven’t seen it, so everyone is as bad. Of course the cumulative not resisting could be part of the reason the relationships fold.

  4. Grossly unfair, particularly to an outstanding army group commander, the one man who could keep the flamboyant and volatile Patton in check, and the last five-star general to pass from the scene. However, as you say, he is a fairly obscure historical figure, and as such, he has few advocates or defenders now. So, what the heck, why not slime him for a boost in the ratings?

    This is nothing new, and I also had a few things to say about when you wrote about the revisionist history present in too many films that say they are based on history. Too often history is treated as nothing more than a basis from which to spin a rip-roaring adventure or a story with a Very Important Message, and too often those stories highlight one character (usually the one played by the most popular actor) at the expense of others, sometimes resulting in the sliming of historical figures NOT played by big-ticket actors in this particular film.

    Michael Collins, played by Liam Neeson in the eponymous film, is treated as a near-saint, as many Irish still view him. Eamon de Valera is portrayed as a slimy weakling in that film when in life he was a much more complicated person and certainly not a self-centered prima donna. The movie Red Tails pitched the idea that the Tuskegee airmen never lost a single bomber to enemy fire and were the first to defeat German jet fighters, both false claims that come at the cost of the valor of other pilots. But in the first case the movie is showcasing one man and one actor, and in the latter its pushing a social justice narrative, so it’s excused.

    Why then, figure the producers, who are interested in ratings above all, not juice things up with an affair, when the only people offended will probably be Bradley’s family, 3 generations removed?

  5. And they’ll never backtrack from it because they’ll say that “The Affair” is a work of fiction, so false information about a real person or real people or real historical events shouldn’t be taken seriously.

    Even though they know audiences will take historical references as factual.

    As a WWII buff, I am sorry to learn that General Bradley’s memory is being sullied.

  6. In her own way Dietrich was a hero herself for all she did for refugees, soldiers and others during WW2 and was awarded the American Medal of Freedom for her work. Unlike a lot of other celebrities she just didn’t ask for other people’s money, she contributed a large sum of her own to the war effort. I don’t understand why their personal lives should detract from either persons accomplishments. Dietrich was surely sexually liberated way before the rest of the US, but not far different from Europe. The writer of this show is really not deserving of support, if he slandered both parties, not just Bradley, who was indeed a great soldier and leader.

  7. Well, it is extremely unlikely that Bradley had an affair with Marlene Dietrich. Patton, possibly. Bradley in my book didn’t do such a great job immediately prior to the Battle of the Bulge. He failed to anticipate the attack and Patton quickly maneuvered his Army to rescue the besieged forces at Bastogne. Still, to produce a crappy mini-series about this lurid supposed affair is a new low for Hollywood.

  8. Your photo of Bradley doesn’t show it, but in the General’s working hours he wore glasses. The only reason I knew he did is because I was a “four-eyes” kid whose optometrist, Mr. Ruston, — for every pair of cheaters from the age of six on until college: lost or broken regularly — was one of the men who had soldiered under him. He said he never saw the General without them on.

    A framed copy of the December 4, 1944 Time Magazine cover of General Bradley was featured front-and-center in the window, with another copy of the cover (where did he get a color enlargement in those days!) and several other photos inside featuring the same face plus eyewear doing his command job in the European theater, as well as Ruston himself in uniform and full kit with you-know-what on his nose. (I wondered about men on active duty in WWII wearing glasses — no plastic lenses then — but apparently the later draft reduced sight standards all the way to 20/40. Uncorrected!) On the back wall of the store were dozens of Polaroids of boys (and a few girls) all wearing glasses, their proud, determined faces almost obscured by the headgear of a United States Army general.

    Boys were extremely shy (to put it mildly) of wearing glasses in those post-war days and many were actively resistant — they probably still are in spite of advances in child psychology — and this was the wise optometrist’s way of giving them a heroic role model. When they were brought in to pick up their first pair for a final fitting, they had been tamed and inveigled with war stories accompanied by generous gesturing to the pictures, the promise of their own head-shot wearing The Hat put up on the wall with the others, and being addressed respectfully by an adult, probably for the first time, then and on all subsequent visits, as “sir.” By the time we learned that the General’s Hat was a bogus mock-up (somebody’s older sibling gave it away), it was too late: we were already heroes in battle. And the model for an excellent leader was Omar Bradley.

    I found the Time cover but it won’t copy (or I don’t know how to do it) I suppose because they’re all for sale. Or as usual, I’m tech-less.
    So this one will have to do.:
    http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/american-generals-george-s-patton-and-omar-bradley-speak-news-photo/119462985

  9. Jack,
    So when is it okay to change history for the sake of drama? Is it okay when it’s done in an obvious way like Inglorious Basterds or 300, or is it also allowable when done in more subtle ways like Deadwood or Titanic?

    I fully understand your disdain of such works, and am in full agreement with your choice not to watch them (you’re not who they’re targeting anyway), but putting in the realm of ethics makes no sense. The work was produced and advertised as one of fiction. It doesn’t matter that they used real people as characters and based the story “on true events,” so long as it’s not being claimed as gospel, they get a (fair) pass.

    How is this any different than dramatic art which depicts historical scenes that never happened (or never happened in quite that way)? Or books like A Tale of Two Cities which get larger historical context right, but also makes up people whole cloth?

    I’m not trying to be difficult, but you’ve harped on this before and the line seems to be wherever you draw it. Where exactly is the bright line between ethical and unethical in drama?

    To me, the wonder of fiction is that anything — literally anything — goes because it’s not real. This is why people laugh at dead baby jokes (no babies are actually dead as a result) or why people can cheer for a protagonist whose a serial killer.

    Finally, even though I’ve resigned myself to the fact that you won’t say it back (this is my fourth attempt) MERRY CHRISTMAS, JACK MARSHALL!

    Sincerely,
    Neil

    PS: AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!

    • I really have a hard time believing that you can’t distinguish between fictional works that use historical characters in context of a fictional event or story, and fictional works that make affirmative statements that undermine real figures’ reputation. What I am condemning are the equivalent of launching slanderous rumors and web hoaxes, like the “Harry Reid is a pederast” attack to get back at Reid for his Mitt Romney lie. This is a generation that accepts The Daily Show as news. You don’t see what’s wrong with showing one of the heroic officers on the Titanic taking bribes, or another shooting a passenger and them himself? You are too fair for that: I don’t believe it. Cameron could have easily invested a fictional officer—hell, his hero was made up—and had him be corrupt or cowardly. Nope–he chose two real people and named them, harming their reputations. This isn’t art, this is artistic defamation, and there’s no reason or justification for it.

      You know what? I believed that Bradley had the affair, and I know my history.I believed because it was inconceivable to me that the writers would spread such a rumor just to give a character a monologue. But I checked it out. How many will? If a million brains no think less of Omar Bradley, that he was a bad man who did great things, that’s harm, and random, drive by harm. You DON’T think that’s unethical? I don’t believe it.

      And the real nauseating part is, Bradley is one of the relatively few “great men” who doesn’t the fictional writer’s argument! Many of the greats in any profession were (and are) awful people, neglectful parents, liars, sociopaths…terrible. Jefferson? FDR? LBJ? Edison? Ford? Ted Williams? Babe Ruth? Pete Rose? Jim Brown? Bill Cosby? Danny Kaye? Clark Gable? Chaplin? Jerry Lewis? Dick Van Dyke? Frank Sinatra? Bing Crosby? Martin Luther King? Winston Churchill? Patton? Montgomery? MacArthur? Arthur Miller? Tennessee Williams? Johnny Carson? David Letterman? Hemmingway? Poe? O’Neill? Jay Leno? These and hundreds more, and the writers choose, in their artistic freedom, to though acid on the legacy of Gen. Bradley? How can anyone defend that? Especially you?

      MERRY CHRISTMAS, AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!

    • I was going to find all of the book, movie and TV titles that consist “unethical” words, concepts or phrases but have content that is entirely ethical in purpose. But I don’t have time. I bet you could think of one.

  10. This is continuation of the same rumors about Eisenhower and Patton having affairs.

    I love how people think of Bradley as some low key GI General when he relived more commanders then Patton during the war. He was hard nosed disciplinarian.

    • The new Battle of the Bulge book goes to some lengths to indicate that one of the Patton rumors was true, but you are 100% right. The Ike-Kay Summersby rumor is stated as fact so often it’s disgraceful—my father flew into a rage every time he heard a reference to it. During Monica Madness, Clinton sent out surrogates to cite it as fact: I saw Chris Matthews throw him off “Hardball” as a result. My Dad said that there was no such thing as a “low key” General at Bradley’s level. Military politics are more bruising than civilian politics.

      • As a personal note, one day when my father was stationed at the Army War college he took us to a reception for General Bradley. Even as an old man in a wheel chair he commanded the room. You could see the respect that every single man their held him regardless of what service they were in.

  11. I had no idea what the show “The Affair” was, so I looked it up; it’s a fictional soap opera’ish series on Showtime? Isn’t everything fair game in fiction, only limited by ones wild imagination?

    Personally I don’t watch any kind of soap opera’ish shows and I’m guessing I’m not alone in that. The audience for this show is probably a rather small percentage of the population and they realize that it’s soap opera’ish fiction so no one is really damaging the honorable legacy of anyone, seriously. If viewers interrupt this form of entertainment as reality, they probably think Star Wars, Star Trek and Harry Potter are reality too and should seek professional help.

    Jack, My point is that regardless of whether you like the fictional show or not, I think you went a little over-board with this one; that’s my opinion. Watch the show, or don’t watch the show, for whatever reasons you choose.

    • It has nothing to do with the show, and that should have been clear. (I like the show, or did.) The fact is that a good man had his reputation tarred and his memory slandered gratuitously, and that this will and in fact already has harmed his public image (I have seen the “affair” cited in publications as historical). You certainly know the difference between taking the plot of the show seriously, which nobody will, and taking an assertion seriously made as if it was common knowledge about a historical event or biographical episode. This how most people learn things. There was no need for it, as a factual example could have easily been used. It served no entertainment purpose to to choose Bradley. People are harmed, truth is harmed, public knowledge is harmed, cynicism is enhanced, there is harm, gratuitously, because the writers can slander people who are dead and can’t sue them.

      By the way, if a live celebrity was used, the show could be sued. That’s why it used a dead one.

      It’s wrong, and not only that, it’s important, if only so Bradley’s grandchildren aren’t asked, “So, I hear your famous grandfather cheated on your grandmother with a movie star!”

      • Jack said, “It’s wrong, and not only that, it’s important, if only so Bradley’s grandchildren aren’t asked, “So, I hear your famous grandfather cheated on your grandmother with a movie star!” “

        …and the grand children can look straight in the eyes of the ignorant fools that opened their mouth to insert their own foot and honestly say, “That was fiction doofas?”.

        You’re welcome to your opinion on this but I’ve got to respectfully disagree with you on this one. Let’s leave it at that.

        • Uh-uh. You really can’t detect the material distinction between a fictional character and the character intentional mistating facts about historical figures and events without the writers flagging that it’s not true?

          In the Johnny Horton song “Sink the Bismark,” he sings that “the war had just begun” in 1941. Wrong. It furthers the idea that the war only started when the US entered, minimizes Britain’s ordeal, and spreads historical ignorance—and there’s no need for it. It’s irresponsible.

          You are allowing “it’s just a story” to be a rationalization. Are you ready to give “Truth” the same pass? Because I don’t see a difference. Those are fictional versions of Dan Rather and CBS staff. I thought the power of the media was pretty well established.

          • And I already wrote this, but I will again. If a fictional character in “The Affair” said that he was writing a book that exposed Hillary Clinton’s lesbian relationships, because the evidence was out there and had been covered up, she could sue the writers for defamation and malice, and “it’s just a TV show” wouldn’t be a defense if the context was otherwise serious enough to constitute intentional false statements of fact. Now, she might lose—but I guarantee the show’s lawyers would block such a line at the pass. That means it’s not as trivial as you seem to think. There is real harm.

            • Well, now that would end up being a political hot-potato right about now, I’d think. Being outraged at such an allegation wouldn’t do. In fact, I’d bet she’d see it as an opportunity to pander to the LGBT people, being Hillary Clinton.

            • And, that wouldn’t have the same scandal-porn value. On one hand you have a genuinely good and heroic man doing something 180-degrees out of character, and on the other you have a villain revealing a human side of herself. Besides, many people probably already suspect she’s a lesbian. Not saying your point isn’t 100% valid, just musing on the mechanics involved in your scenario; playing it out in my mind.

            • Jack,
              I really do understand and respect your opinion I just disagree with you on this one. I really wanted to leave it at that.

              Here are my complete thoughts:
              Even though this fictional TV show “The Affair” may deal with topics relevant to the day, this fictional TV show is NOT in anyway portrayed as a source for actual factual events and should not be considered anything but fiction – this show is no different than As The World Turns, or any other blatantly fictional show; it’s fiction. From what I’ve seen; Showtime and the show “The Affair” do not portray themselves in any way to be a factual news media outlet or a source for facts and should not be considered anything of the sort; this is NOT the equivalent to what a network like MSNBC (an actual self-proclaimed news network) has done by trying to dishonestly (in my humble opinion) intertwine actual news broadcasts and news “shows” that are supposed to be considered humorous in such a way where some idiots in the viewing public have a difficult time discerning between the two.

              My conclusion:
              I believe your opinion on this sets up Showtime and the show “The Affair” on the same implied intellectual level of public influence as MSNBC and some of their partisan based propaganda (supposed to be humorous) shows. I believe to interrupt what “The Affair” did as being relatively equivalent to what MSNBC does is intellectually dishonest.

              In my opinion:
              What “The Affair” did was certainly in poor taste in the eyes of some but was it “…sliming the legacy and reputation of long dead individuals of character and accomplishment…” or unethical, I just don’t think so.

              There’s my argument in its entirety.

              You have voiced your opinion as you see it, and I have voiced mine; regardless of whether we agree or disagree on this particular topic, can we now just leave it at that and move on?

              • Sure, although for the record, I don’t like doing that. There are elements of your analysis, uncovered in the post or the exchange, which themselves raise issues worth discussing,like your apparent certainty that pop culture sources don’t exercise exactly as much influence, and probably more, on the public’s knowledge base as news sources or other “factual” media. If I believed that, I would agree with you. Not only don’t I agree with you, I know the pop culture is a major source of what the public thinks it knows, and thus has to operate responsibly within those realities.

                But never mind. This issue comes up a lot—it will come by again.

            • UPDATE: The over-all point made in an article about “The Truth”…

              “Even if [“Truth,” featuring Robert Redford as Dan Rather] bombed at the box office, it will live on in the database of Netflix (and others) so generations hence may come to believe that Rather and his team of fearless producers and researchers were brought down by powerful forces who were either in the pocket of George Bush or, alternatively, had him theirs. People will believe this because they saw it in the movie and not knowing much else about this story, it will become their emotional truth. These days we all get to have one – an emotional truth, that is – and it often comes out of the movies we see. And like.”

              http://www.weeklystandard.com/showtime/article/2000340

        • This isn’t a particularly respectable source, but the reference is typical: From Entertainment:

          “His new book is historical fiction revolving around Omar Bradley, a World War 2 hero. Bradley allegedly had a wife at home but managed to have an affair with Marlene Dietrich.”

          No, in fact he didn’t, and there are no allegations, from your perspective, since a claim by a fictional character is to be taken as fictional as well.

          However, if I just read the article, I think: Hey! There are allegations that Bradley slept with Dietrich! And this both a predictable and a toxic result of fictions launching rumors.

          • Jack,
            Entertainment wrote, “His new book is historical fiction revolving around Omar Bradley, a World War 2 hero. Bradley allegedly had a wife at home but managed to have an affair with Marlene Dietrich.”

            I agree that was poor choice of wording from Entertainment! A better wording might have been something like this without that period to separate the two sentences…

            “His new book is historical fiction revolving around Omar Bradley, a World War 2 hero, where he alleges that Bradley had a wife at home but managed to have an affair with Marlene Dietrich.”

          • Here is my experience that, I think, corroborates your message.

            When I was young I read and enjoyed Kenneth Roberts’ historical novels of the American Revolution, to wit ‘Rabble in Arms’ amongst others. Even though these were clearly novels and historical fiction, they colored my perspective on Benedict Arnold, and I could never regard him as a one dimensional black hearted traitor.

            In this instance, that is probably a good thing. Traitor he was, but he was also a brilliant general (and hero) who had accomplished many things for the infant United States.

            The salient point is that this clearly fictional writing had a profound influence on my perception of a famous real life American, which I think is one of the main thrusts of your arguments here.

  12. Diego Garcia, thanks for the reminder of Roberts’ books. I had a similar experience with another historical novel of his, Lydia Bailey. I picked it up as a teenager for the Barbary pirates part of the story, but until you reminded me of how well he fleshed out characters and “you are there” situations I had completely forgotten the source of my feelings about Haiti today — that the poverty, dirty politics, disease, helplessness and hopelessness I kept reading and hearing about was somehow overlaid by Roberts’ bloody realism of the Haitian Revolution that was the bigger part of the novel’s adventurous background. It gave me orther perspectives that weren’t all comfortable: that Americans weren’t always the good guys (this was a biggie since WWII had just ended a few years before and I was just beginning to know that we weren’t the center of the universe), and that black men, slave and free, could get organized and take over their country (I imagine now that some white American adults might have been disturbed by this image when the book came out). The little thing I recall, though, that is a big one now, is how tropical Haiti lost almost all its trees because France demanded the lumber in reparations. Now there’s an ethical dilemma, I believe.

    Knowing how influential popular fiction can be, especially when the background is as well researched as Roberts’ was, makes me fear for the narrow and shallow influences of today’s education system. The books are being written but who is reading them?

    • People do actually still buy his books. Roberts has been a fairly consistent seller when I can actually get his books to list.

      Really good historical fiction such as his can have the effect of leaving you to wonder just where the line might be between fact and fiction.

      Tangentially, it’s also one place where many conspiracy theorists fall apart. You hear their tales and they describe well known historical figures acting in ways that you know just cannot be true.

  13. I can’t help but believe that these things are done due to the fragile ego of the perpetrator. When you’re a sleazy Hollywood denizen who’s operating far above his ceiling of competence, being able to use your unremarkable skills to slander someone who was your proven superior on all counts helps to shore up your self image.

  14. Kitty implied Omar had an affair with Marlene and several other ladies. See The Private Life of General Omar N Bradley by Jeffrey D Lavoie for more info…

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