George S. Patton Essay - Critical Essays

Patton, George S.

Introduction

Patton, George S. 1885-1945

(Full name George Smith Patton, Jr.) American military commander, memoirist, historian, nonfiction writer, and poet.

General George S. Patton, Jr. commanded United States tank forces in World War II, conducting important campaigns in Tunisia, Sicily, France, and Germany. Nicknamed "Old Blood and Guts," he was known for his flamboyant manner, his often crude or impolitic public statements and actions, and his decisive leadership as a commander. In addition to his extroverted qualities, however, Patton was a scholar of history who possessed—according to many who knew him well—a surprising degree of sensitivity. His scholarship found expression in his military writings, and his sensitivity in his poetic work. Except for articles in military journals and a handful of poems that appeared in newspapers, however, the majority of his output was published only after his death. His nonfiction, his poetry, and his life shared a common theme: a preoccupation with war.

Biographical Information

Patton's family came originally from Virginia, where many of his forebears had fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War. By the time he was born in 1885, however, the wealthy and influential Patton family had settled in San Gabriel, California. Because he suffered from dyslexia, Patton had to be educated at home, and even when he entered a private school in Pasadena, he found himself an object of ridicule. He spent his first year of college at Virginia Military Institute, but transferred to West Point in 1905. After his graduation, Patton received a commission as a first lieutenant in the cavalry. The next decade he served in Illinois, Virginia, and Kansas and competed on the U.S. pentathlon team at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

In 1916, Patton went to Mexico with General John J. Pershing in an attempt to capture rebel leader Pancho Villa after the revolutionary's forces killed some U.S. citizens in New Mexico. Though the army never caught Villa, Patton did kill three of the latter's bodyguards. More importantly, he took an automobile out on patrol, which may have been the first use of a motor vehicle in combat by the U.S. Army. Soon Patton would have an opportunity for greater exposure to the principal of mechanized combat, when in 1917 he went with Pershing to France. Up to that time he had been a cavalry officer, but mounted warfare was being superseded by tank combat, which made its debut in World War I. Patton became the first member of the U.S. military to receive tank training. In two offensives during September of 1918, he led the 1st Tank Brigade, which he had organized. Wounded in the Meuse-Argonne offensive on 26 September 1918, he received a Purple Heart and was forced to sit out the remaining seven weeks of the war—which from Patton's perspective amounted to a form of punishment. Later he would say, "All my life, I have wanted to lead a lot of men in a desperate battle"; but he would have to wait more than two decades for his opportunity to do so. During the years between the world wars, Patton—who had temporarily received the rank of colonel during wartime—was returned to the rank of captain and rose slowly again to colonel's rank. As another war began to seem inevitable, he was promoted to brigadier general and given increasing responsibility over tank and desert warfare operations.

On 8 November 1942, Patton and his Western Task Force landed in Morocco, the first significant American counteroffensive in the European Theatre during World War II. Following defeat of an American force in Tunisia's Kasserine Pass, he was made commander of II Corps in March of 1943 and lasted two weeks in the post before being removed because of inappropriate remarks he made to a British officer. Later he took charge of the Seventh Army, and in July and August of 1943 directed a highly successful offensive in Sicily. But when on 16 August 1943, he slapped two soldiers in a field hospital, claiming that they were fit for battle and only feigning sickness out of cowardice, he was sent to England. While the Allies—including his rival, British General Bernard Montgomery—overran Italy, Patton took command of the new Third Army in Britain. On 6 July 1944, a month after the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day, Patton's forces landed in France and began to advance across the northern part of that country toward Germany. Patton's force conducted an especially rapid and effective offensive in France and the Low Countries, where they fought with distinction in the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944. Following the defeat of the Germans in that battle, the last significant Nazi offensive, Patton's Third Army pressed on to the Rhine, facing heavy resistance from German forces. When he reached the Rhine on 22 March 1945, Patton—in a characteristic touch—urinated in the river. He turned his troops toward the southeast, entering Bavaria, Austria, and Czechoslovakia in rapid succession. Patton became governor of occupied Bavaria soon after the German surrender on 7 May, but was relieved of his position because he allowed former Nazis to maintain administrative positions in the Bavarian government. In October he became commander of the Fifteenth Army, a unit that existed chiefly on paper. Two months after this humiliation, on 9 December, Patton sustained serious injuries in an automobile accident. Twelve days later, on 21 December 1945, he died in Heidelberg.

Major Works

Patton is remembered more as a man of action than as à writer. Though he published a few articles and poems during his lifetime, as well as an army saber manual that he wrote c. 1915 at Fort Riley, Kansas, the majority of his significant work was published only after his death. The first major item appeared in 1947 under the title War As I Knew It, a "brief account. . . hastily written" of his campaigns in Europe from the Normandy landing to the defeat of the Germans. In the book, he offers his impressions of colleagues and adversaries, and openly discusses his fears in facing battle. In 1972 and 1974, Martin Blumenson published two volumes which made up The Patton Papers, 1880-1945. Although Blumenson edited them and provided commentary, the bulk of the material came from Patton's journals and correspondence, as well as his reports, memoranda, and other professional writings. As for Patton's poetry, he had planned to publish a book of it during the years between the world wars, but never did; hence the publication of The Poems of General George S. Patton, Jr., in a 1991 edition edited by Carmine Prioli, marked the first appearance of his poems in book form. Although the book includes a love poem to his future wife, Beatrice Banning Ayer, as well as verse on politics, the occult, and other subjects, the overwhelming majority of the poems are devoted to the subject of war, which Patton referred to as the "uncrowned Mistress of all time." Most famous among these is "God of Battles," which Prioli called "a sonorous invocation of a pre-Christian warrior-deity whose human apotheosis was Patton himself." Printed on cards, it was distributed to soldiers in Patton's Third Army.

Principal Works

War as I Knew It (memoirs and history) 1947

The Patton Papers, 1880-1940 [edited by Martin Blumenson] (correspondence and nonfiction) 1972

The Patton Papers, 1940-1945 [edited by Martin Blumenson] (correspondence and nonfiction) 1974

The Poems of General George S. Patton, Jr.: Lines of Life [edited by Carmine Prioli] (poetry) 1991

Criticism

Gerald W. Johnson (essay date 1945)

SOURCE: "Prometheus Patton," in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 21, No. 2, Spring, 1945, pp. 273-80.

[In the following essay, Johnson draws upon statements made by Patton, as well as ideas expressed by José Ortega y Gasset, to make predictions concerning the postwar world.]

The appalling thing about the late Big Bill Thompson, sometime Mayor of Chicago, is not how wrong he was, but how nearly right he was in some of his most unpleasant manifestations. Bill's contribution to diplomatic protocol, you remember, was a promise to bust King George in the snoot if that potentate ever stuck his nose into Chicago. He was wrong; but his error was in picking his objective....

(The entire section is 2765 words.)

Ira Wolfert (essay date 1947)

SOURCE: "George Patton's Plain-Spoken Diary," in The New York Times Book Review, Vol. 52, No. 27, November 9, 1947, pp. 3.

[In the following essay, a review of War As I Knew It, Wolfert finds fault with Patton's expressed views toward himself, others, and the war.]

In the introduction to this book—a book written by General Pattom from the diary he personally kept until four days before his fatal' automobile accident—Douglas Southall Freeman writes, "It is to be hoped that General Patton will be among the first to attract a competent biographer and that others will leave him alone. He was a man to win, to intrigue and sometimes to enrage his...

(The entire section is 1145 words.)

Sherman Miles (essay date 1947)

SOURCE: "Patton Preferred," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 180, No. 6, December, 1947, pp. 128, 130, 132.

[In the following review of War As I Knew It, Miles offers a positive appraisal of a book that aids in understanding of both the war and Patton himself]

1

War As I Knew It, by George S. Patton, Jr., is the first personal narrative of an Army Commander in the late war—the most picturesque and probably the most brilliant of them all. And for good measure, the Navy's counterpart, Admiral Halsey, simultaneously tells his story. Decades hence, historians will turn to such narratives in drawing the true picture of those who won our...

(The entire section is 2645 words.)

Aram Bakshian, Jr. (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: "Peppery Paladin," in National Review, Vol. 24, No. 2, April 14, 1972, pp. 407-8.

[In the following essay, a review of The Patton Papers, 1885-1940, Bakshian applauds editor Martin Blumenson for allowing Patton's own words to control the direction of the narrative.]

There was far more to General George S. Patton Jr. than met the eye. Fortunately, much of it can now be found in this massive edition of the Patton papers. From his earliest years America's most peppery paladin was a chronic scribbler. By the time of his death, there were enough notebooks, letters, diaries, essays, lectures and articles to fill over fifty filing cabinets—perhaps the richest...

(The entire section is 1119 words.)

Josiah Bunting III (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: "The Man Who Would Be Hero," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 229, No. 4, April, 1972, pp. 107-8, 111.

[In the following essay, a review of The Patton Papers, 1885-1940, Bunting compares Patton to other leading figures in the United States military during World War II.]

For many it is difficult to acknowledge authentic military genius—and there is such a thing—without a patronizing smile. The very existence of brilliant generals seems an unacceptable reminder of our failures to stop hating and fighting one another. The political systems and ambitions of nations in which men esteemed the profession of arms their highest calling are now largely despised...

(The entire section is 2129 words.)

Martin Blumenson (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: "Harmon Memorial Lecture, 16 March 1972," in The Many Faces of George S. Patton, Jr., by Martin Blumenson and Ernest J. King, United States Air Force Academy, 1972, pp. 1-26.

[In the following essay, an address given to the United States Air Force Academy on March 16, 1972, Blumenson summarizes the life and complex character of Patton.]

General and Mrs. Clark, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I am doubly privileged this evening. It is a great privilege for me to be asked to give this 14th Annual Harmon Lecture, which honors the memory of a distinguished Air Force officer. It is a great privilege also to talk with you about General...

(The entire section is 9958 words.)

Carmine A. Prioli (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "The Poetry of General George S. Patton, Jr.," in Journal of American Culture, Vol. 8, No. 4, Winter, 1985, pp. 71-82.

[In the following essay, Prioli offers a close reading of several pieces of Patton's verse, both published and unpublished.]

"I have a hell of a memory for poetry and war."
—Major George S. Patton, Jr. to his wife,
March 20, 1918.

Next to war, poetry was one of the great passions of George S. Patton, Jr. He was a diligent student of military history, an accomplished horseman and polo player, a skilled sailor and swordsman. Above all, of course, he was a soldier but he...

(The entire section is 754 words.)

Beatrice

Should I compare you to the dawning day
What day was ere so beautiful as you:
What colors of the dawn may hope to vie
In their fresh pinkness to thy cheeks' fair hue?

Or if with evening I compare thy face
What stars fair shining that at evening rise
Can in their sparkling loveliness compare
To the pure splendor of thy lovely eyes?

Show me the flower though it be passing fair
That hath the velvet softness of thy cheek
There never was a rose or lily blown
That such divine perfection we might seek....

(The entire section is 2085 words.)

A Soldier's Burial

Not midst the chanting of the Requiem Hymn,
Nor with the solemn ritual of prayer,
'Neath misty shadows from the oriel glass,
And dreamy perfume of the incensed air
Was he interred.

But in the subtle stillness after fight,
In the half light between night and day,
We dragged his body, all besmeared with mud,
And dropped it clod-like back into the clay.

Yet who shall say that he was not content,
Or missed the priest or drone of chanting choir,
He who had heard all day the Battle hymn
Sung on all...

(The entire section is 4619 words.)

X. J. Kennedy (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "Meter-Rattling," in The Sewanee Review, Vol. CII, No. 1, Winter, 1994, pp. 148-52.

[In the following essay, a review of The Poems of General George S. Patton, Jr., Kennedy observes that the poems engender an effect quite different from that which their author might have imagined.]

From Richard M. Nixon's favorite movie, Patton, millions first became aware that Old Blood-and-Guts, conqueror of North Africa, Sicily, and the Rhine, had written verse. This devotion to such an outmoded pasttime was made to seem part of the general's quaint and old-fangled character, a throwback to days of chivalry. High-handedly the scriptwriter Francis Ford Coppola...

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Martin Blumenson (excerpt date 1996)

SOURCE: "The Legend and the Man," in The Patton Papers: 1940-1945, edited by Martin Blumenson, Da Capo Press, 1996, pp. 836-59.

[In the following excerpt, Blumenson presents a eulogy for Patton through the words of others.]

"I can't decide logically if I am a man of destiny or a lucky fool, but I think I am destined . . . I feel that my claim to greatness hangs on an ability to lead and inspire . . . I am a genius—/think I am. "

—November 3, 1942

If from some unearthly place George S. Patton, Jr., observed the human scene after his death, he no doubt smiled cynically. He had been...

(The entire section is 9018 words.)