General George S. Patton, Jr.

A Speech Presented to

The British Patton Society

by Charles M. Province


 

Just the mention of the name George S. Patton, Jr. immediately brings forth thoughts of a ruthless, swearing, raging General in the forefront of thousands of bloodthirsty troops; riding hell-for-leather in mechanical horses; screaming "Charge Sabers" at the top of their lungs; Blasting, pounding, ripping their way into the entrails of the hated enemy.

In part, that is truthful. That is the image that the General sought when he wanted to instill in his men the viciousness required to destroy the enemy. He said, "War is a killing business. You have to spill their blood or they will spill yours. War is direct, simple, and ruthless. The more of them we kill, the less of us will be killed."

He demanded and received the utmost in loyalty and discipline from his troops. He knew that to send undisciplined men into battle was to commit murder.

Yet, that was not really the whole Patton. That was Patton the actor. He admitted as much in his private papers when he wrote, "The general must be an actor; he must live the role. He must achieve the warrior's conquering spirit and having achieved it he must either conquer or perish with honor."

It seems hard to believe sometimes, but just as with all of us, Patton was born a normal human birth. The future general was called, "Georgie" by his family and friends.

He spent his early years in what is now San Gabriel, California.

He went to West Point where he stayed for not the usual four years, but five. When he failed a French exam by one tenth of a point he was required to take both an additional French exam and a mathematics exam. I am not sure why, but it was some obscure rule then in force at West Point. He passed the additional French exam, but this time failed the math exam, again by one tenth of a point. For this he was allowed to re-enter West Point and go through his plebe year again.

When he finally made it through the Point, he chose the Cavalry as his branch of service.

Shortly after his first assignment, he married Beatrice Ayer of Boston, Massachusetts. She was quite a person in her own right. She had three of her books published, she wrote music, and spoke fluent French. She wrote a piece in 1942 called the March of the Armored Force. It is the official 2nd Armored Division March today. Their union produced three children; Beatrice, Jr., Ruth Ellen, And Young George who retired from the Army as a Major General.

Beatrice and George had a very close marriage and they were devoted to each other. During the sometimes long separations that are usual with an Army couple, Patton wrote to his wife constantly, sometimes two times a day. Once he wrote a new joke that he had heard which he thought she would enjoy. A woman said to her husband, "John, if that is your elbow in my back, roll over. If not, I will roll over."

In 1912, Patton went to the Olympics as the American entry to the Military Pentathlon. He placed a very respectable fifth in the competition.

While on the continent, he spent six months studying at the French Cavalry School. When he returned he became the Cavalry instructor at Fort Riley, Kansas and the first Master of the Sword for the U.S. Army. He re-designed the Army saber from a curved "hacking" tool into a straight "offensive" weapon. It was quite a prominent position for a young lieutenant.

In 1916, he went to Mexico with General Pershing. There he was involved in the first motorized fight in the history of the world. He got into a blazing gun fight with some of Pancho Villa's banditos and after carving two notches in his newly acquired Colt .45 pistol, he strapped the bodies to the fenders of his Dodge Touring car and then dumped them in front of Pershing's tent. Pershing from then on called Patton his "Bandit."

When Patton went with Pershing to the Great War, he soon became bored with his staff position. He put in for a job with a newly created branch of service. The Tank Corps. At first, there was only one man assigned to the service and that was Captain Patton. In that capacity, he almost single-handedly created the tank corps. He wrote the regulations, wrote the course of study and training, and did everything from A to Z to get the Corps off the ground and into the fighting of W.W.I.

After being severely wounded, almost bleeding to death, he was too late to get back into the fighting. The armistice was signed on the day he was allowed to leave the hospital.

When he came back home, he left the Tank Corps after the government allotted only $500 for the entire year's research and development of tank equipment and warfare.

Patton kept abreast of tank development and armored tactics. He worked closely in his off time with Walter J. Christie who was creating the "perfect" tank. After the congress turned down Christie's tank prototype, Christie had to sell it to others to avoid bankruptcy. The "others" were England, Russia, and Germany.

Patton spent the years between W.W.I and W.W.II studying his craft. Years later, when he was accused of rash judgment and impetuosity, he remarked, "A doctor goes to school for years and years to learn his trade. In the course of an operation if he sees something amiss he does what is necessary while the patient is in surgery. For this he is called a skillful surgeon. When I do the same thing, that is, make a quick decision in a crisis, after years of study and consideration, I am called rash and impetuous."

When stationed in Hawaii in the late 1930's, Patton once wrote a paper which turned out to be quite prophetic. He outlined almost to the letter a plan in which the Japanese could use their aircraft carrier fleet to attack Pearl Harbor. He paper was sent to the War Department and filed away; as are all good little reports. Four years later, the Japanese attacked American forces in the South Pacific.

While having nothing else to occupy his time, Patton wrote another thesis which concerned the re-organization of the Army. He laid out plans for what he called a triangular division table of equipment and organization. It was almost exactly like the plan thought up later by the War Department under the direction of General Marshall. It gave more bang with fewer troops.

In 1942, Patton was promoted to temporary Major General. At the time, all of the future generals of the European Theater such as Devers, Simpson, Bradley, Eisenhower, And Clark were lieutenant colonels. All of these would be given four star rank before Patton would receive his permanent rank of full general. It proved to be very ill treatment of America's winningest fighter; the general who was called by Winston Churchill, "America's Star Halfback."

While a major general, Patton planned and executed Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. He then went on to steal the glory from Montgomery in Sicily by getting to Messina before our British cousins.

It was on Sicily that Patton slapped two malingering cowards. Due to lack of backbone in the High Command, he was forced to apologize for his actions. According to information released over the years, it is now known that under military law Patton could have shot those men and been within his rights as a commanding general.

Patton was not in the doghouse for long. He was too valuable. Even Eisenhower admitted that he was imperative to an Allied victory.

Although Eisenhower's head size was growing with each new star on his shoulder, he was once taken down a notch by General Wedemeyer, who was visiting from the Pacific Theater of Operations. Wedemeyer told him, "Ike, get onto yourself. You didn't make Patton, he made you."

Patton's dramatic breakout into and around France rejuvenated his fame as a combat commander.

After the hostilities in Europe ended, Patton had planned to resign his commission. He planned to, as he put it, "Remove his watch, and wear his short coat so that everyone could kiss his ass." He was severely critical of some of the strategical and tactical blunders which had been allowed by SHAEF. He planned to write a book exposing the many errors which occurred, especially the incompetence of such men as Eisenhower and General Lee of the Supply Services.

Patton did not live to complete his plans. He died on December 21st, 1945 of injuries sustained in an automobile accident.

General Patton was one of our nation's most dedicated proponents regarding preparedness. He knew, as does any rational individual, that the simple act of being able to defend itself does not necessarily make a nation a bully. Also, the need for defense requires not only defensive weapons, but, also, offensive weapons with which to attack, if the situation warrants it. There has never in the history of the world been any defensive position that has been successfully held.

Patton was keenly aware that the United States government has the habit of dismantling the fine Armies that it had creates. He had personally seen it happen after the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 and he knew that it was going to happen after the end of the war with the Axis powers in 1945. Knowing that it was far more expensive to be unprepared and have to build a new Army from nothing than it was to have a finely honed Armed Force in the event that it was needed, he correctly reasoned that, "... it is better and cheaper to have a strong Army and not need it than it is to need a strong Army and not have it." A good analogy would be that an automobile kept in proper running condition by good maintenance practices is much cheaper in the long run than is purchasing a new automobile each year.

He agreed wholeheartedly with the precepts of General Leonard Wood who wrote that "... panic patriotism appears from time to time when the clouds of possible trouble loom up heavier than usual. There is much discussion, but little accomplishment. Adequate national preparedness on sound lines will be secured only when there is a general appreciation of its vital importance for defense and of the further fact that it CANNOT be improvised or done in a hurry. In short, improvisation is inadequate and extremely expensive in both materiel and manpower."

Patton had a very fine sense of history and a keen insight into the future. He made some extraordinary prophesies which have, indeed, come true. Instead of listening to the late General, the politicians ignored him, Patton's superior officers chose to avoid contact with him, and the American newspapers constantly attacked him. Had we listened to the General when we had the chance, we would not be having the great amount of trouble that we are experiencing today. That is a certainty.

In a speech Patton gave to his officers, he said, "Twice in my lifetime, America, the Arsenal of Democracy, has come from behind to insure victory. Is it not evident that should another war arise, those producing it will make every effort to see that the Arsenal of Democracy is knocked out in the first round? How this can be done I do not know, but I do know that the progress made in airplanes and self-propelled missiles is such that the possibility of an early knockout cannot be discounted."

Today, though, we do know how such a knock out blow can be delivered. The massive evidence is blatantly and proudly displayed each May Day by the Soviets as they parade their arsenal of weapons in front of the Kremlin during their celebration of their "Independence Day." Conversely, on America's "Independence Day, July 4th, in many parts of the nation, it is illegal to as much as own a firecracker.

I, personally, have encountered some rather strange considerations concerning America and American preparedness. At one lecture, a man said that we need not worry about being attacked because if needed, American productivity can out produce anyone in the world. That may have been true at the turn of the century and even during the Second World War, but it is pure folly today. We were still isolated and somewhat of an island at the end of W.W.II, but what of our situation today? With the massive first strike capability of the Soviet Union, our major cities, our political capitols, and especially our military bases and production plants will be destroyed before we have a chance to use our "defensive" weapons. Even if we use all of our atomic or nuclear devices and the Soviets use theirs and if there is anything left, they still would have the largest navy, air force, and army in the world. They also have a very extensive and well thought out Civil Defense system, while we have none.

One way in which General Patton explained his position on preparedness was, "When I went to school all of the children were taught how to form in column and march out of the building in an orderly manner in case of fire. This instruction did not, so far as I know, produce fires, but when fire occurred, the lives of the majority of the children were saved. If we go to the extreme of saying that preparedness produces wars, then the instruction in fire drills would produce fires."

"Referring again to the fire department aspect of the prevention of war, a very large proportion of the duties of the fire departments in large cities is not the extinguishing of fires, but their prevention through advice and supervision. You man are all potential firemen. You have put out the fire by your heroic efforts. It is now your duty as citizens to see that other fires do not occur, and that you and your children are not again called upon to extinguish them."

"Let me say that it is my profound hope that we shall never again be engaged in war, but also let me remind you of the words attributed to George Washington, 'In time of peace, prepare for war.' That advice is still good."

Patton was completely in favor of the concept of a universal conscription system which required ALL citizens to serve in some capacity. As a matter of fact, after the General died, his wife, Beatrice, took up the banner and went forth on the lecture circuit in behalf of a universal draft law. He felt that it should be compulsory for all citizens so that each could serve regardless of race, creed, pecuniary considerations, or religious reasons. He felt, and rightly so, that only when all of the citizens served in the military would the universal draft be absolutely fair and just; and also, only then could all of the citizens feel that they were fellow Americans who were a part of their nation and it a part of them.

Patton said, "I am firmly convinced that we must have universal training because the one hope for a peaceful world is a powerful America with the adequate means of instantly checking aggressors. Unless we are so armed, and prepared, the next war will probably destroy us. No one who has lived in a destroyed country can view such a possibility with anything except horror."

Patton was always aware of America's "gimmick" syndrome. It was the "gimmick" syndrome that was one of the underlying reasons for the failure of the German Army. he said, "It is very easy for ignorant people to think that success in war may be gained by the use of some wonderful invention like the Atomic Bomb rather than by hard fighting and superior leadership."

Patton was very much against organizations like the United Nations. To him there were nothing more than clubs for communists. He said, "There are a host of people who have to squat to piss who will say that this will be the "last" war and that from now on we will only need world "clubs." They are the ones who will be responsible for the deaths of millions of people. The pacifists are always at it. I met a "visiting fireman" of supposedly great eminence who told me that this was to be the LAST war. I told him that such statements since 2600 B.C. had signed the death warrants of millions of young men. He replied with the stock lie, "Oh, but things are different now." My God! Will they NEVER learn?"

Patton had some very definite ideas concerning communists, socialists, and what he generally termed "do-gooders." He said, "There are all kinds of low class slime who are trying and will continue to try to wreck this country from the inside. Most of them don't know it, but they are actually working for the Russians. Some of them do know it, though. It doesn't matter whether they call themselves Communists, Socialists, or just plain foolish Liberals. They are destroying this country."

Patton was well aware of Russian aims long before the war was over in Europe. He warned, "Russia KNOWS what she wants. WORLD DOMINATION. And she is laying her plans accordingly. We, on the other hand (and England and France to a lesser extent) don't know what we want. We get less than nothing as a result. If we have to fight them, now is the time. From now on, we will get weaker and they will get stronger. Let's keep out boots polished, bayonets sharpened, and present a picture of force and strength to the Russians. This is the only language that they understand and respect. If we fail to do this, then I would like to say that we have had a victory over the Germans, and have disarmed them, but we have lost the war."

Patton's succinct summation of his opinion of the Russians was that, "The Russians are all out Sons-of-Bitches and chronic drunks."

It would have been no surprise to Patton when the Russians rolled their tanks into Hungary in 1956; when they built the Berlin wall in 1961; when they smashed the freedom fighters in Czechoslovakia in 1965; and when they invaded Afghanistan in 1980.

Patton was relatively unconcerned about the implications of the atomic age. He felt that the atomic bomb was just one more instrument in the orchestra of war. He said, "So far as the atomic bomb is concerned, while it is a scientific invention of the first water, it is not as earth shaking as you might think. When man first began fighting man, he used his teeth, toe-nails, and fingernails. Then one day a very terrified or very inventive genius picked up a rock and bashed a man in the head while the latter was gnawing at his vitals. The news of this unheard of weapon unquestionably shocked Neolithic society, but they became accustomed to it.

Thousands of years later, another genius picked up the splintered rib of a mastodon and using it as a dagger struck the gentleman with the rock. Again pre-historic society was shocked and said, "There can be no more wars. Did you hear about the mastodon bone?"

When the shield, slingshot, throwing stick, and the sword and armor were successively invented, each in its turn was heralded by the proponents as a means of destroying the world or of stopping war.

Certainly the advent of the atomic bomb was not half as startling as the initial appearance of gunpowder. In my own lifetime, I remember two inventions, or possibly three, which were supposed to stop war; namely the dynamite cruiser Vesuvius, the submarine, and the tank. Yet, wars go blithely on and will when our great-grandchildren are very old men."

There has been a great deal written about the nuclear age and the supposedly terrible burdens on the super powers. Often, it is said that the U.S. should not have dropped the device on Japan. Those people have never seen the atrocities committed by the Japanese soldiers; never known anyone who survived the Bataan Death March; and never seen American soldiers having their heads chopped off with Japanese ceremonial swords. There were some very terrible and useless atrocities committed by the Germans, but, the atrocities committed by the Japanese were no less cruel and vicious.

Strangely enough, some of those who say we should have not bombed Japan would have gladly bombed Germany.

Frankly, I am of the opinion that the whole world is extremely lucky that the United States was the first to have the device. Imagine what would have happened if the Germans had managed to build it. They were working on it, too. How about the French? They would have obliterated Germany without flinching an eyelash. If the Japanese had developed it, I am certain that Arizona would undoubtedly be beach front property today. We are, indeed, lucky that America had it first. Patton knew it's value and would have used it, but only as a tactical weapon.

Patton was concerned throughout his career with the preparedness of military arms in the United States. He was convinced of the necessity of being well armed. He wrote about preparation thusly, "Do not regard what you do as only a "preparation" for doing the same thing more fully or better at some later time. Nothing is ever done twice. There is no next time. This is of special application to war. There is but one time to win a battle or a campaign. It must be won the first time."

Patton was one of the rare "Great Captains" of war. He truly had the feel of battle. A gifted few in history have had this battle judgment; this quality; a combination of imagination, daring, skill, and an instantaneous appreciation for the task to be performed. It cannot be learned in a military school, though the background may be acquired there. Experience in battle is necessary but study and experience are not enough. The leaders that have it stand out above all others. Patton stands out above all others.

Over the years, I have compiled a list of some of Patton's most thought provoking maxims. I would like to share a few of them with you in the hopes that you will think about them.

Always do everything you ask of those you command.

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Never fear failure.

Inspiration does not come via coded messages, but by visible personality.

It is the unconquerable soul of man, not the nature of the weapons he uses, that insures victory.

A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later.

In case of doubt, Attack.

A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood.

By perseverance, study, and eternal desire, any man can become great.

Nothing is ever done twice, there is no next time.

Cowardice is a disease. It must be checked before it becomes epidemic.

I prefer a loyal staff officer to a brilliant one.

Moral courage is the most valuable and usually the most absent characteristic in men.

What damn good is a general who won't take the same risks as his troops?

Always give credit where it is due.

Loyalty is a two way street.

Punishment for mistakes must be immediate.

In closing, I believe that the best, most succinct way of summing up General Patton's thoughts on preparation for war would be to quote one of my favorite Patton-isms;

"The only thing to do when a son-of-a-bitch looks cross eyed at you is to beat the living hell out of him right then and there."

I would like to thank you for inviting me to speak here today. If we have some time left, I should like to entertain any questions that you may have.



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