A Tribute to George Patton on His Birthday
November 1, 2005
“To conquer, we must destroy our enemies. We must not only die gallantly; we must kill devastatingly.” George Patton
One wonders what the backlash would be if CNN aired one of our current Generals in Iraq uttering such a statement. Perhaps this is why George Patton has been pushed to the margins of our history classes and all that remains of him is a caricature. Today we value sensitivity over principle, tolerance over ideology, and appeasement over victory. As for me, I write to honor a warrior on his birthday.
George Patton was an accomplished man, even before his heroism in World War II. Despite having dyslexia he was a voracious reader, and a prodigious writer. He was a champion pistoleer, polo player, and an Olympian in the Pentathlon. He led the first vehicular assault by the U.S. military in a 1916 Dodge touring car. He designed a cavalry sword. He was integral in the training and implementation of virtually all American armored warfare tactics from World War I through World War II.
You would think a man with such a varied resume of accomplishments would be content with his life. Yet the driving force of his entire career was the belief that it was his “destiny to lead the biggest army ever assembled under one flag.” This belief was so strong that as early as 1913 he was surveying and mapping the Normandy area in an eerie foresight of where, years later, one of World War II’s most decisive battles would be fought.
It was Patton’s ability to read and properly understand history that would allow him to be so prescient. His knowledge of the routes William the Conqueror used in 1044 was vital to the Allied breakout across Europe. Patton’s tactics were innovative. He deliberately bypassed strong pockets of resistance and fixed fortifications (which he described as “monuments to mankind’s stupidity”) dislodging them by maneuver, nullifying the staggering advantage the Germans had in armor technology, thereby saving supplies and the lives of his men. Generals such as Bradley and Montgomery were praised for their “caution” which resulted in the slow, methodical approach of sending men and material into a veritable meat grinder of German fixed positions. By contrast, Patton was seen as “reckless” as a result of his “Blood n’ Guts” persona, despite achieving far more mileage on similar provisions. In fact, one could make the argument that had Eisenhower given Patton the fuel his armor needed to continue, he would have pierced the shell of what was a hollow German resistance on the Western front, which would have ended the European theater of the war well before the German counteroffensive that was able to launch due to Allied delay. Had Patton’s speed and “recklessness” been encouraged by the more “levelheaded” Allied Generals thousands of lives would have been saved. Germany too, would have been saved from the ravages of replacing Nazi tyranny with Soviet tyranny and the world may not have had to endure a Cold War.
As Patton turned his army in the dead of winter to rescue the surrounded American forces at Bastonge he had the following prayer distributed to his men:
Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.
Patton was a warrior, and if we understood history and Providence as he did we would not be so naïve as to value subtle shadings of language over resoluteness of action.
Rich Policz is a 1997 graduate of Ashland University and the Ashbrook Scholar Program and currently teaches Philosophy at Ashland Christian School.