The Last Days of Patton
The Last Days of Patton more or less covers the last two years in the life of General George S. Patton, Jr., with occasional flashbacks to earlier events in Patton’s life. This is not a biography—Ladislas Farago has already covered that area with his earlier Patton: Ordeal and Triumph (1964)—but might best be called “a biographical mystery/thriller,” which could have been subtitled “Who Killed George Patton?” The author’s discussion of Patton’s troubles following V-E Day raises some interesting questions about “the military mind” in times of peace. That is, what can be done with the warrior when the war is over?
This particular warrior, whom Farago calls “one of the greatest masters of warfare and an American hero on the grandest scale,” was a warrior almost all his life. In fact, the military was the only life he knew.
In the period between World War I and World War II, Patton moved from the cavalry to the tank corps. That was a time, though, when funding of the military was at a very low point. Tanks were fairly new, having gotten their first tests in the last part of World War I, and they were subject to breakdowns, perhaps more so than other motorized vehicles. At one point, because the funds were low and because the Army was not fully committed to tanks as a major military force, when they broke down, there were no spare parts for repairs. George S. Patton, one of the wealthiest men in uniform, ordered the needed parts with his own money from Sears Roebuck—anything, it seemed, to keep them going.
What kind of man was Patton? To what impulses and drives did he respond? Again, this book does not purport to be a biography, as such, and definitely is not a psychobiography, but the author does give enough information for the reader to begin to construct some kind of picture of the inner forces of this aggressive and able soldier.
He was a man who by the end of his life must have seen war as his only reason for being. His commitment to battle recognized no bounds in himself and accepted no limitations in others. All who surrounded him—whether in superior or inferior capacities—had to be equally committed if he were to hold them in esteem.
Much was written about Patton in 1943 at the time of a famous—or infamous—slapping incident. While inspecting an army hospital in Italy, Patton came across two American soldiers suffering from “battle fatigue,” who said they were too ill to return to the front. Patton slapped them because such nonfighting was not acceptable in his eyes. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, rebuked Patton and ordered him to apologize to all those involved in the incident. Patton’s response to the criticism was that he felt the men were pretending, malingering, to escape the fighting.
Patton was not certain what would happen to him after the furor over the slapping died down, and, in Farago’s eyes, this uncertainty was “the cruelest part of his punishment,” the most unjust kind of response, “for he saw himself—most of the time—as greater than any of the others.” His tendency to see everything and everyone from only his perspective seemingly led Patton into scrape after scrape.
When one of his closest friends was killed in Normandy in 1944, Patton wrote that the death was “fortunate” because the friend had been fired at so often he was becoming timid, “not particularly for himself but for his men.” A year or so later, after V-E Day, while on tour in the United States, Patton spoke to an audience of four hundred wounded veterans. After complimenting them on their courage and fortitude, he went on to state that they were heroes, as much as, if not more than, those who had been killed in battle, for “I think a man is frequently a fool when he gets killed.” Logically, more outrage developed.
With such an ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, Patton should not have been surprised if he had had no responsibilities after the victory over Germany. On the contrary, however, he was named military governor in Bavaria, in charge of the occupation and the “de-Nazification” of the troops and the government.
Here, again, Patton seemed to do best those things which caused the most trouble, but this time he was not merely a threat to the smooth public relations façade of the Army. This time, he was a threat to peace. Ex-Nazi troops, while assigned to what formerly had been concentration camps, were supposed to be processed for return to civilian life. If they had been part of any overt murders in such camps under Nazi control or as part of occupying armies, the troops were to be screened for possible prosecution. The Waffen-SS troops—the most hated and...
(The entire section is 1951 words.)