As for Bradley, he was the quintessential field commander — organized, thoroughgoing and loyal to Ike even when his boss overruled him. Somehow Bradley always found a way to get a tough job done. But as the two men’s military careers drew to a close, their friendship cooled; convinced that Ike had made certain battlefield decisions to further his own political ambitions, Bradley withheld his vote for the man in both his 1952 and 1956 presidential campaigns.
Patton likewise had little patience for politics — or politicians, for that matter. In his personal diaries, as Jordan shows here, he brutally criticized Ike’s unfamiliarity with field tactics (Ike had never led troops in battle) and his readiness to placate the Brits. Perhaps Patton should have been more appreciative of those diplomatic skills, for time and again Ike had to save Patton from the political consequences of his rash behavior — most famously the incidents (yes, there was more than one) in which Patton slapped an artilleryman, which Jordan covers in riveting detail.
Readers may find a discomfiting familiarity to Jordan’s accounts of how rigidly senior commanders had to monitor themselves and their subordinates to navigate the minefield of public opinion in countries wracked by war and economic hardship. Parallels also ring in passages detailing the criticism leveled at Patton for his alleged lax enforcement of the denazification of postwar Germany. The idea was to purge all Nazi supporters and influence from German society for all time. But once the enemy had been defeated, Patton saw National Socialism as “just another defrocked political party” whose supporters would move on. A similar quandary gripped post-Saddam Iraq, where supporters of the U.S.-disbanded Ba’ath Party indeed moved on — to guerrilla warfare.
Jordan’s otherwise compelling tale could have been magnified by some narrowing. Revealing anecdotes pile up, yet often they illustrate the same point. Still, it’s easy to understand the author’s temptation to include so many stories: The interactions among Eisenhower, Patton and Bradley were many and varied, and in Brothers, Rivals, Victors Jordan has fashioned a surprisingly timely group portrait of three men juggling the shifting degrees of rivalry and camaraderie brought on by the burden of protecting their country at a time of grave national peril.
Bill Lenderking is a current freelance journalist and former Foreign Service officer. He previously reviewed A Girl’s War: A Childhood Lost in Britain’s WWII Evacuation for AARP The Magazine Online.