The image of General George S.

Patton as depicted in the film Patton contrasted to the biography: Great generals series: Patton, a biography written by Alan Axelrod. 1. Introduction It is commonly believed that the Americans have modest military experience comparing to the Europeans who faced the cataclysm of two world wars in the twentieth century alone. Yet, the nation as well as the democracy was born and established through the struggle of combat. That is to say, the periods crucial for the history of the United States of America were marked by warfare, just to mention the War of Independence or the Civil War. The tendency of non-interventionism in European affairs, exercised since the 1820s, and halted during the Great War and World War II gave way for the greatest American general who grew up deeply influenced by his ancestors’ courage to die in those battle fields to reveal his own high “warrior class”.1 The data from Charles M. Province show that the “battle performance of the US Third Army under Patton’s command from the start of its operation in Normandy until the VE-Day is estimated to have been outstanding”.2 As the war veteran who served under General Patton recalls: 1,280,688 soldiers were lost on the part of the enemy after being captured; 144,500 lost their lives, 386,200 men have been injured which gives the total of 1,811,388.3 As exaggerated as they may be, the figures are still impressive. General George Smith Patton “made his mark on the world over 60 years ago” 4, nonetheless his legend is still alive and well both among those who may have been related to him in any way and to the millions of average Americans. The myths around his person or, as it would be better to put it, personality launched their existence soon after his unexpected death of injuries which he received in a car accident on December, 9 1945. Then, they flourished being fed by amateur and professional researchers dedicated to win the right to study Patton’s Diary.


Axelrod Alan, Patton: A Biography (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 172. George Smith Patton, Old Blood and Guts (Filiquarian Publishing 2008), 28. Unknown Patton (CPM) Publications, 2002),


Charles M. Province, The


General George Patton Museum, “The Patton Saber,” General George Patton Museum,


Those endeavors eventually led the prominent commander to become an increasingly interesting subject matter for Hollywood movie producers. Thus, general George Smith Patton entered the complex maze of popular culture and what is the inevitable consequence – into the money- making industry.5 After an unruly negotiations with the general’s family lasting roughly from 1953 until the early sixties, Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox involved, finally the latter succeeded in persuading to translate a fragment of Patton’s life into the language of cinema. In the year of 1970 an award-winning film directed by Frank J. Schaffner was released in the USA. On the following pages the expertise of the book Patton: A Biography by Alan Axelrod will be used to answer the question asked by Bea Patton – General’s daughter – just in the course of movie negotiations: “Who is this George S. Patton Jr.?6”. A thesis statement which was devised in the course of research, that the image of the person and personality of General George S. Patton is similar in Axelrod’s book and Schffner’s film will be the focal point of this essay.

2 A. General Patton – the Person and the Personality as presented by Axelrod. A brief assessment offered by Axelrod states “one may well find a host of chances to praise Patton and just as much condemnation to be allotted”7 allows to continue in the words of his that “Patton is widely admired as a captain, delighted in as a legendary national hero but there are difficulties in decoding Patton as a man ”8. The source of those difficulties may possibly be found in the early childhood and the specific environment Patton was shaped by. Due to his literacy troubles, today probably diagnosed dyslexia, he started schooling at the age of twelve and by that time he excelled his knowledge of military history and his family saga, especially the Scottish line of his “Papa who was a great authority in the eyes of little Patton” 9 listening to his father reading to him. Thus, separated from peers raised to favor the ancient hero worship, moreover exposed

Stanley P. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life (New York: Harper Perenial, 2003), 689. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life, 690. Axelrod Alan, Patton: A Biography (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), ,2. Ibid.,7. Ibid.






heavily to racism thought to be a proper way of treating what is different, Patton developed “a craving for personal glory that he would persist in until his very last days.” 10. In general’s own words his life creed was: “YOU ARE NOT BEATEN UNTIL YOU ADMIT IT. HENCE DON’T.”11 Holding to that creed he managed to educate in Virginia Military Institute and at West Point, emulating his grandfather and father, after that he nurtured his military heritage by instilling improvements to American Army of The Great War. The extensive tank usage and the M-1913 Cavalry Saber attributed to him as undisputed and unchallenged merits. Yet, he grew into a hero as a skillful tactician and commander on the battlefields of World War II. Patton assumed a command of the II Corps taking the place of Major-General Lloyd Fredendal due to the reports of ill-command generated after Americans having been defeated at Kasserine Pass, Tunisia. That Happened on March, 6 1943. The state of the II Corps at the time Patton arrived the headquarters appeared to be in its dilapidation. Axelrod describes the men as “sloppy, demoralized and unsoldiery” which stood in conflict with his heroic warrior philosophy.12 For him a soldier properly looking and well-equipped as well as well-fed, subject to a heavy training soldier is superior to even the most prodigious plan or strategy.13 Although tough in executing the minutest rules of military regulations expecting his soldiers to have full uniform, be well-shaved and physically strong enough to endure the ruthless as it is called drills, he was a master in motivating them to fight. Yet, his strategy for a battlefield could not have been simpler, “in any case of doubt attack, do not take command to your fears”14. Patton was said to have a kind of sixth sense when it comes to warfare but this was yet another repercussion of his upbringing and self-teaching. Being witty with using his sharp sense of humor he used to set a problem to his superiors. He himself admitted that cursing and


Ibid.,13. Ibid. Ibid., 96. Ibid. Ibid.,107.






expressing his controversial opinions allowed to minimize his fears and frustrations.15 Being open with his unfavorable attitudes towards the Soviet Army he failed mention the Russians when he gave a speech for British ladies at the opening ceremony for the English and American officers. After this event leaked to the press Patton had a narrow escape from being relieved. A number of such faux pas, as they were received by the press, led Old Blood and Guts, which is Patton, to uncomfortable confrontations with his superiors. After the audacious Sicily Campaign of 1943 a gloriously received achievement general expressed the opinion, in accordance to his “philosophy of command, that the victory must not be attributed entirely to him”16. Patton was not only using the empty words to behave according the military ethic. The words were put in practice by creating a relationship to his men hardly fathomed by anyone from the immediate circle of his colleagues. Soldiers fighting under Patton, always identified themselves as “Patton’s men”17, even if most of them admitted to be reluctant, if not fearful of their general. General Patton was convinced that a commander should “see and be seen”.18 Moreover, he claimed his presence among the soldiers boosted morale.19 Thus, visiting wounded soldiers was both practical and ideological step. The well-known though infamous Slapping Incident which occurred during such a visit on August 3 1943 proved of the complexity of General Patton the man, as well as earned him eleven-month suspense from duty’.20 Old Blood and Guts used to award the soldier with Purple Hearts while being with the injured. On that memorable day in Sicily hospital he may have done that too. When he saw “a 24-year old soldier who was weeping”,21 General could not see any heavy injuries on his body, so inquired what he was suffering from. The reply he received generated a reaction nobody would have expected, even after such an impulsive man as the

Ibid., 110. Ibid., 115 Ibid., 185 Axelrod, 114 Ibid. Wikipedia; The Free Encyclopedia, “Patton (film), George Smith Patton, Old Blood and Guts (Filiquarian Publishing 2008), 19.








General. As the witnesses relate: “Patton thereupon burst into a rage and employing such a profanity, he called the soldier a coward and ordered him back to front”, then, “struck the youth in the rear of the head with the back of his hand .[…] Patton was pulled back by a doctor.”22 Subsequent events however hard to bear for Georgie, as his West Point classmates nicknamed him23, made him even stronger, and taught a bitter lesson. As soon as Dwight D. Eisenhower heard about the controversy, Patton was reprimanded and ordered to apologize to Charles H. Kuhl who was the slapped soldier. In the history of United States there was never before a soldier of such dedication to his homeland’s army yet so unpredictable in his command. To conclude with the words of Bea Patton, her father was so complex a personality that he is impossible to be portrayed fully in a book, let alone a movie24. 2 B. Patton as presented in the film contrasted to the image from Axelrod’s book. In 1970, “after nearly 25 years of battle-like struggle against his family resistance to cooperate the movie “Patton” appeared only to prove itself so superbly produced to win 7 Oscars”25. However the specialists and the relatives of the General found the film increasingly faulty in depicting the real face of his. As told in The Internet Movie Database “Patton” is a story of the U.S. General George S. Patton. This movie attempts to show the life of Patton from his II Corps leadership after the American defeat at Kasserine Passage (1943), through the Sicily Campaign and famous American Third Army warfare until his dismissal from command in the year 1945. 26 Among the actors starring in the film there are: George C. Scott as Patton, Karl Malden as Bradley and Michael Bates (Montgomery). Franklin J. Schaffner directed the movie using a script by


Ibid. Axelrod, 22. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life, 690. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life, 699. Plot Summary for Patton ,




The Internet Movie Database.,



Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North whose inspiration were a biography Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago and Omar N. Bradley's memoir A Soldier's Story27. In the professional milieu the most appreciated person occurred to be the director, not as it is often happening the leading role actor: “he gleaned among the cast with his gift of dealing with unpredictable setting situations, with drunken actors and high expectations about what he was going to direct”28. In his review Bernard Weiner discuses the logic behind the intermission used in the movie as being „the boarder of what is closer to the original.” 29 To clarify, what he perhaps meant is that in the first part the figure of Patton is shown with a lot of inaccuracies, as are the settings of the events. Already the opening scene is full of factual errors. Firstly, the speech to the Third Army that can be heard there30 is non-existent as a whole. What has been done was a compilation of several other speeches given at different times and places. Secondly, “the language of the speech was changed into milder which can be seen as mischaracterization of Patton”31. Secondly, the outfit of General Patton is not truthfully depicted because ‘he never appeared in public with his medals pinned to the uniform’ 32. Only once he agreed to do this – when his wife wanted him photographed in their private garden. Last but not least, the General was nothing of a sophisticated orator, for “his voice was high-pitched and as an experienced commander he was aware of the fact he would not sound credibly”. 33 Despite he dreamed about victory constantly, General Patton never tried to achieve it at the cost of his soldiers. He thoroughly planned the attack strategy first, then instilled the discipline on the soldiers to abide by the plan. He would have not been so cruel for his soldiers because as he expresses himself: “when you see men who have demonstrated discipline and courage, killed and wounded, it naturally raises a lump in your throat and

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, Patton (film), John Fell, Review (untitled), Film Quaterly, 39, no. 4 (1970). University of California, via JStor. Bernard Weiner, Review (untitled), Film Quarterly, 23, no. 4 (1970). University of California, via




Patton, DVD, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (1970; New York City, NY: 20th Century Fox, 2008). The Homepage of General George S. Patton Jr., How accurate is the Patton movie ,
32 31

George Smith Patton, Old Blood and Guts (Filiquarian Publishing 2008), 53. Ibid.,54.



sometimes produces a tear in your eye.”34 Patton was believed to have expected from his soldiers only as much as he would manage to perform himself. It is not advisable to base one’s opinion about Patton’s professional relationships on the film only, as it presents those truthfully just to a certain degree. Paraphrasing one of the Internet sources used: The general was strict not to reveal his personal attitudes toward his superiors. He kept them secret between the covers of his private diary.35 The Slapping Incident scene and the picture of the apologies to the slapped soldier 36 was misinterpreted in this high-budget Hollywood production because there is not any briging element between those two that would build a logical chain of events. Merely the fact of the hitting was put in focus, without any mention who was mistreated by Patton. What is more, the fact that the soldier was suffering from malaria, which neither Patton nor the medical staff was aware of at the day of the Slapping Incident, was not included in the movie. That is why he judged the soldier to escape into the disease called battle fatigue. Despite of all the inaccuracies mentioned above and a number of minor particulars that contradict the reality presented in the movie it is widely believed to leave a balanced portrait of General George S. Patton Jr. in the memory of the average spectator, either American or European. As well as that, the picture became the favorite of all times among many critics and revivers of the Hollywood cinema.

3. Conclusion On the one hand the USA never was a military oriented nation which resisted maintaining the army as a ruling power37, but on the other it feels uneasy with its national heroes not being glorified38 as one may say paraphrasing the words of Alan Axelrod. His claim proves to be truth in the case of General Patton. He earned such a recognition in the

34 The Homepage of General George S. Patton Jr., How accurate is the Patton movie , 35

Ibid. Patton. Axelrod, 3. Ibid., 173.





days of his life that to the his contemporaries it must have been certain he would someday be worshiped in a way he himself used to worship Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. The adamant quest to be given the rights to make one of the greatest American General’s life into an epic war film may be enumerated as the most important reason for the United States being a country of hero-worship mentality. Furthermore, the attachment to history and tradition shows clearly if one reflects upon the life and death, as well as subsequent cult of Patton the hero. Considering what was written above, it would not be reasonable to maintain the thesis that Schaffer’s movie “Patton” reflects exactly the habits of Patton as a commander and the complexity of his personality. Summing up, it would be more suitable to investigate in general’s childhood and Cadet years and then make an effort of translating this period of his life into the language of motion picture. One may obtain the image much more complete to perhaps remake and improve all the flaws Schaffer’s film lies upon the biography of General George S. Patton Junior.

Bibliography Primary sources Axelrod, Alan. Patton: A Biography. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Patton. DVD. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. 1970; New York City, NY: 20th Century Fox, 2008.

Secondary sources Hirshson, P. Stanley. General Patton: A Soldier’s Life. New York: Harper Perennial, 2003 General Patton, George Smith. Old Blood and Guts. Filiquarian Publishing, 2008. Fell, John. Reviev (untitled). Film Quaterly 39, no. 4 (1970): 43-44. Weiner, Bernard. Reviev (untitled) Film Quaterly 23, no. 4 (1970): 61.

Internet sources “How accurate is the Patton movie.” General George S. Patton Jr. Homepage. _movie.html (accessed January 6 2009) “Patton (film).” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. (accessed December 28, 2008) “The Patton Saber. ”General George Patton Museum. (accessed November 16, 2008). “Patton.” The Internet Movie Database. (accessed December 28, 2008). “Plot summary for Patton.” The Internet Movie Database. (accessed December 28, 2008) Province M. Charles, The Unknown Patton. (CPM Publications, 2002), (accessed November 20, 2008).


Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful