All About Lieutenant General, Army of The United States George Smith Patton, Jr.(11)…
Controversies and criticism
Patton more than once caused political irritations and was criticized for some controversial faux pas, such as the slapping incident in 1943. Patton, in several reports, insisted on the highest standard of order and grooming within his army’s area and imposed fines for anyone who violated his strict guidelines.
Patton’s problems with humor, his image, and the press…
Unlike Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was popular with troops partly for his self-effacing humor, Patton disliked jokes aimed at himself, feeling that accepting such jokes would decrease the respect which he felt that troops should have toward their commanders.
Patton reportedly had the utmost respect for the men serving in his command but had no regard for men who had battle fatigue. The cartoonist Bill Mauldin ridiculed Patton several times in his comics, prompting Patton to summon Sergeant Mauldin to his headquarters for a dressing-down. On the other hand, he was himself capable of the occasional blunt witticism: „The two most dangerous weapons the Germans have are our own armored halftrack and jeep. The halftrack because the boys in it go all heroic, thinking they are in a tank. The jeep because we have so many God-awful drivers.” During the Battle of the Bulge, he famously remarked that the Allies should „let the sons-of-bitches [Germans] go all the way to Paris, then we’ll cut ‘em off and round ‘em up!” He also suggested facetiously that his Third Army could „drive the British [his allies] back into the sea for another Dunkirk.”
His remarks frequently ridiculed General Montgomery and at times the Soviet Red Army, contributing to inter-Allied discord. In the context of coalition warfare, these remarks were occasionally harmful. Eisenhower wisely used Patton’s high profile with the press to contribute to Operation Fortitude; he knew the press would report on his appearances in Britain and that the Germans would pick up these reports.
Patton has a reputation today as a senior general who was very impatient with the officers under his command, compared to his most famous colleague, Omar Bradley, but the truth is far more complicated. Patton actually fired only one general during the entire war, Orlando Ward, and only after two warnings, whereas Bradley sacked numerous generals during the war with little provocation, sometimes for the slightest transgression.
Patton deliberately cultivated a flashy, distinctive image in the belief that this would motivate his troops. He was usually seen wearing a highly polished helmet, riding pants, and high cavalry boots. He carried flashy ivory-handled, nickel-plated revolvers as his most famous sidearms (a Colt Single Action Army .45 „Peacemaker” and later also a S&W Model 27 .357). His vehicles carried oversized rank insignia and loud sirens. His speech was riddled with profanities. The toughness of his image and character appeared well-suited to the conditions of battle. Patton received many eulogies from the reporters who had followed him, including a tribute from a UPI writer who wrote, „Gen. George S. Patton believed he was the greatest soldier who ever lived. He made himself believe he would never falter through doubt. This absolute faith in himself as a strategist and master of daring infected his entire army, until the men of the second American corps in Africa, and later the third army in France, believed they could not be defeated under his leadership.”
After the German surrender…
After the surrender of May 8, 1945 eliminated the threat of Nazi Germany, Patton was quick to assert the Soviet Union would cease to be an ally of the United States. He was concerned that some 25,000 American POWs had been liberated from POW camps by the Soviets, but never returned to the US. In fact, he urged his superiors to evict the Soviets from central and eastern Europe. Patton thought that the Red Army was weak, under-supplied, and vulnerable, and the United States should act on these weaknesses before the Soviets could consolidate their position. In this regard, he told then-Undersecretary of War Robert P. Patterson that the „point system” being used to demobilize Third Army troops was destroying it and creating a vacuum that the Soviets would exploit. „Mr. Secretary, for God’s sake, when you go home, stop this point system; stop breaking up these armies,” pleaded the general. „Let’s keep our boots polished, bayonets sharpened, and present a picture of force and strength to these people, the Soviets. This is the only language they understand.” Asked by Patterson—who became Secretary of War a few months later—what he would do, Patton replied: „I would have you tell the Red Army where their border is, and give them a limited time to get back across. Warn them that if they fail to do so, we will push them back across it.”
On a personal level, Patton was disappointed by the Army’s refusal to give him a combat command in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Unhappy with his role as the military governor ofBavaria and depressed by his belief that he would never fight in another war, Patton’s behavior and statements became increasingly erratic. Various explanations beyond his disappointments have been proposed for Patton’s behavior at this point. Carlo D’Este, in Patton: A Genius for War, writes that „it seems virtually inevitable … that Patton experienced some type of brain damage from too many head injuries” from a lifetime of numerous auto- and horse-related accidents, especially one suffered while playing polo in 1936.
Many of the controversial opinions he expressed were common (if not exactly popular) at the time and his outspoken opposition to post-surrender denazification is still widely debated today. Many still laud his generous treatment of his former German enemies and his early recognition of the Soviet threat, while detractors say his protests reflect the views of a bigoted elitist. Whatever the cause, Patton found himself once again in trouble with his superiors and the American people. While speaking to a group of reporters, he compared the Nazis to losers in American political elections, and that being a Nazi in Germany was, „like being a Democrat in the States.” Patton was soon relieved of command of Third Army and transferred to the Fifteenth Army, a paper command preparing a history of the war.
Attitudes on race and nationality…
Considering the period, Patton’s attitude toward minorities was neither negative nor positive. His attitudes were varied depending on time and circumstance, with military necessity being of particular importance.
On black soldiers: „Individually they were good soldiers, but I expressed my belief at the time, and have never found the necessity of changing it, that a colored soldier cannot think fast enough to fight in armor.”
Patton stated that performance was more important than race or religious affiliation: „I don’t give a damn who the man is. He can be a nigger or a Jew, but if he has the stuff and does his duty, he can have anything I’ve got. By God! I love him.”
Later, Patton addressed a group of African-American tankers, saying:
Men, you’re the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army. I would never have asked for you if you weren’t good. I have nothing but the best in my Army. I don’t care what color you are as long as you go up there and kill those Kraut sons of bitches. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all your race is looking forward to you. Don’t let them down and damn you, don’t let me down!
Patton also insisted on the assignment of some black officers as judges in military tribunals involving black defendants, and he spent more time with his African-American aide, Sergeant Meeks, than with nearly anyone else while in Europe, developing a relationship of mutual respect that transcended that of a general with his valet. Patton disliked the British, but appreciated Montgomery’s organizational abilities more than either Eisenhower or Bradley did.
Patton was horrified at what he found when his Third Army liberated Buchenwald concentration camp. Local German citizens claimed that they didn’t know what was going on, though at least a few admitted to knowing of the atrocities but insisted they had been powerless to stop it. He ordered American troops to round up the approximately 2,000 local Germans and march them through the camps. He wanted them to see the atrocities firsthand.
Though many of his attitudes were common in his day, as with all of his opinions, he was often exceptionally blunt in his expression of them. He once wrote:
The difficulty in understanding the Russian is that we do not take cognizance of the fact that he is not a European, but an Asiatic, and therefore thinks deviously. We can no more understand a Russian than a Chinese or a Japanese, and from what I have seen of them, I have no particular desire to understand them except to ascertain how much lead or iron it takes to kill them. In addition to his other amiable characteristics, the Russian has no regard for human life and they are all out sons-of-bitches, barbarians, and chronic drunks.
After reading the Koran and observing North Africans, he wrote to his wife, „Just finished reading the Koran—a good book and interesting.” Patton had a keen eye for native customs and methods, wrote knowingly of local architecture, even rated the progress of word-of-mouth rumor in Arab country at 40–60 miles a day. In spite of his regard for the Koran, he concluded, „To me it seems certain that the fatalistic teachings of Mohammad and the utter degradation of women is the outstanding cause for the arrested development of the Arab. . . . Here, I think, is a text for some eloquent sermon on the virtues of Christianity” (both Patton and Halsey were Episcopalians).