Opinion

General Patton: Why We Still Remember This American Icon

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Posted: May 31, 2021 12:01 AM
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Most Americans recall no more than three World War II generals: Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, and the best-remembered ultimate warrior: General George S. Patton. 

Memory is legacy; memory is honor; memory warns the young and naive. Of all the great WWII legends, Patton, aka “Old Blood and Guts” and Winston Churchill alone, have stories and characters grand enough to take over and “own” Academy Award-winning film classics. 

Eighty years before today’s “anything goes,” culture, Patton proclaimed, “you can’t run an army without profanity, and it has to be eloquent profanity. An army without profanity couldn’t fight its way out of a piss-soaked paper bag.” 

So, let’s clear out all this woke bull%$% with a Memorial Day salute. 

General Patton was an intellectual warrior who obsessively studied every facet of warfare - while studying his Bible daily. He had a massive library, a “who’s who,” of ancient and modern war. In every book, he made comments on each paragraph, words now enshrined at the West Point library where his strategy and tactics are “must-reads.” 

Why was he such a different type of general? Years of Patton research as an author and filmmaker have been a quest to answer this question. My quest as a dramatist is not so tricky with this naturally dramatic character. 

Call him anything, and you’d be right! Long before we ever heard of ADHD, Donald Trump’s favorite general had no impulse control. That’s what made him, as he might say, “so God(*(&^)) funny?” He had a grand sense of humor, a twinkle in his eye, and he was a huge celebrity.

His ego was as big as the tanks he led, but he was equally as effective on the battlefield, going through the Krauts like “&*^&$ through a goose!” The New York Times’  Sid Olson wrote of Patton, “He was unpredictable” - and constantly advancing.

Asked “Where was Patton?” Eisenhower once replied, “I don’t know, I haven’t spoken to him in three hours.” Patton kept charging fiercely forward, crushing the Nazi strategy by moving even faster, demonstrating his constant impatience with bureaucratic “play it safe” generals, politics, and the Washington Establishment.

Patton thought Eisenhower was subservient to the British. In truth, Ike, who smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, was trying to keep a mass coalition of allies on the same page to win a two-front war. 

Patton also insulted and hurt colleague Omar Bradley. Bradley was a great general but neither a wartime star nor Renaissance man. Patton came from wealth and high expectations. Bradley, to his credit, was a GI General from a low-income background, reliable enough to help win any war.

Bradley, a primary source for the 1970 film, outlived Patton, shaping the Patton story by describing, “the most fiercely ambitious man and the strangest duck I have ever known. He seemed to be motivated by some deep, inexplicable marshall spirit.” 

Patton dressed as if he had just stepped out of a custom military tailor shop. He was unmercifully hard on his men, demanding the utmost military efficiency, but led with a daring lack of fear the French would call “elan-vital.” 

Many respected but despised Patton. Although he could be the epitome of grace and charm at social or official functions, Bradley claimed he was the most profane man he had ever known. Yet, those fighting with him had the highest chance of survival.

As a biographer, I agreed with some who suggested that his macho profanity was an unconscious overcompensation for some of his most severe personal flaws, including an “almost comically squeaky and high pitched” voice that “lacked command authority.”

Nicknamed Mickey Mouse, Patton sounded nothing like George C. Scott (who captured the Patton spirit), but Patton’s physical voice turned out to be only a footnote to his bold and brash actions that formed his legacy. We instead recall a man so confident he had a destiny that he would charge toward hails of bullets. 

Yes, war is not woke, and it’s time we get that straight. Some of Patton’s rhetoric offended, even leading to massacres in Sicily. BUT... he also chased away the German Army. American Ambassador Harriman told Josef Stalin, no General in the Russian Army could do what Patton did: Quick maneuvers. 

Patton once led French-bought Renault tanks in WWI, running out in front and pointing his horsewhip. He was an equestrian rider who turned tank offense into a new cavalry. He knew how to go around the enemy in moves of double envelopment. 

His advancements would pierce an enemy’s front lines, surrounding them until they surrendered, like the ghost of William Tecumseh Sherman. He landed in Africa after Americans, replacing a failed U.S. general, who led from too far too behind the lines. 

Patton spurted out, “some God damn fool once said, flanks have to be guarded. Before he figures out where my flanks are, I’ll be cutting the $%^$%&’s throat.”

He was a genius at air-to-ground coordination and felt planes were more interested in bombing than supporting infantry. His skills led to the critical breakout moments in World War II: 

  • He invaded Africa in 1942, captured Sicily in 1943, beat rival generals to Messina, and forced the Germans back onto the mainland.
  • In Bastogne, on Dec 16, 1944, he relieved (not rescued) the 101st Airborne division. Taylor MacAuliffe was on the ground holding his position, answering the German appeal to surrender with the now-famous word, “Nuts.”
  • Sidelined at Normandy, in 1945, by “the slapping incidents,” and asked to act as a decoy to peel off Rommel’s defenses from the pillboxes defending the beachheads, Eisenhower called him to break open Operation Cobra.

When Eisenhower called a meeting at Verdun for the Battle of the Bulge, Patton said, “I’ll make a meeting engagement in three days, and I’ll give you a six-division attack in six days. Patton turned hundreds of thousands of men around, from a due East campaign to head due North to join the hardened men in Bastogne. 

In Normandy, Patton broke through the German lines then swooped west, then east, and ran through France like the tank cavalry. He would capture hundreds of thousands of surrendering Germans, and in the opinion of this humble author, he would have had Berlin had Eisenhower allowed him.

Patton, technically was behind Simpson’s Ninth Army, who had scouts already in the city. Still, he would have arrived soon enough because of his rolling 3rd Army and because the Germans wanted to surrender to U.S. troops rather than face the marauding Russians.

Boldness and ingenuity, Patton’s campaign should be measured not only by Washington’s Delaware, but also by Washington’s hero, the Roman General Cincinnatus.

Patton always thought his Army was undersupplied, but he won every significant battle; he was never in a position to advance beyond orders. Had he been, Patton might have ended the war much sooner with far better results.

So was he a belligerent who deserved hatred and censorship and supervision? Yes. But who would Americans want to challenge the murderous regimes of Hitler and Stalin? Dictators who didn’t slap soldiers but shot their officers in the head?

Patton was a 20th-century man with an ancient spirit of war, haunted by American patriotism and his duty to fulfill his destiny. In the afterlife, I’m sure he would greet his old brothers in arms in the Pantheon of great warriors.

A frequent Patton order to troops is echoed by today’s voters, who cry the exact words toward Washington: “Don’t you ever stop fighting, you sons of &%$^%$!”  

Editor's note: To learn more about the book and film visit www.silencepatton.com