I suppose that as long as the human gene pool throws up walking piles of shit like Kim Jong-il, Osama bin Laden, and Adolf Hitler, we will need men like George S. Patton to stand against them … but I sure wish we didn’t. I think most military historians would agree that he was America’s best fighting general since Robert E. Lee (who, technically, was on the other side, but he was a West Pointer). He was also a certifiable loon, who believed he had been a general (Hannibal, Napoleon) in previous lives. But who cares? He won his battles, he always accomplished what he said he’d do. His troops loved him (even the guy he famously slapped) because they knew that his “never retreat” way of fighting would ultimately end the war sooner, and they knew that he loved them, in his own peculiar way. If only he could have kept his big yap shut …
I think the man truly did not comprehend the mental stress of being in combat. He could only see it as cowardice. That’s a damn shame, but it’s part of the warrior mentality that made him such a success on the battlefield. There are soldiers like that, who thrive on danger and stress, who sign up willingly. But in WWII the majority of troops, even in the Marine Corps, were ordinary boys whose only experience of battle had been playing cowboys and Indians in their backyards. Whether they volunteered or were drafted, they were not prepared for the carnage and the fear, and it “un-manned” many of them. Patton just could not understand that.
I suspect we will never see his like again. Men like Eisenhower and Omar Bradley knew how to play the political side of soldiering, knew what to say. Eisenhower’s greatness was in keeping the often-fractious Allies together, from the defeated, humiliated and ever-prickly French, to good old Monty, who always wanted a bigger piece of the action than his generalship deserved (in my opinion; I know the Brits still revere the hero of El Alamein). Our generals today are all like that. They know how to testify before Congress. Patton never could.
This is a truly great film, one of the best biographies ever put on the screen. From the electrifying opening, with him standing in front of the giant flag and addressing his unseen troops, George C. Scott owns this film. He has to carry that scene all by himself, and he nails it. He nails every scene. Whether or not this is an accurate portrait of Patton (and most people who knew him say it is), it is a towering performance, a screen character I will never forget, well worthy of the Oscar that Scott famously refused to accept.