Killing Patton: A Review


Sometimes you have to pick the gun up to put the Gun down.” ― Malcolm X

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” ― G.K. Chesterson

092414_bill“Nobody likes war,” is the old adage.  Some do.  Some have it coursing in their veins.  These types do not seek war, but once it happens, something kicks in that separates them from the rest of us.  Something intangible that no one can teach defines them among their peers. Give these types what they deem to be a justifiable and worthy cause and they won’t hesitate to lay down their lives for people they’ve never met.  General George Smith Patton Jr. was one of these men. The intro of Patton’s most famous speech expressed as much:

“Men, all this stuff you hear about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of (BS). Americans love to fight. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big-league ball players and the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. The very thought of losing is hateful to Americans. Battle is the most significant competition in which a man can indulge. It brings out all that is best and it removes all that is base.”

Patton first saw combat in what has been called the Pancho Villa Expedition, or the Mexican Expedition of 1916, he then saw action in World War I (WWI), and then, of course, in WWII.  Like many men of his era, Patton saw war for most of his adult life.  Whereas some came to be affected by it in deleterious ways, Patton was emboldened by it.

Pacifists, like the television show M*A*S*H’s character Hawkeye Pierce, have never understood this mentality.  The character stated –and I’m paraphrasing— “I never understood how someone that wrote as beautifully as Ernest Hemingway, would choose war as his subject.”  The implicit statement in the character’s complaint is that only way Hemingway could write about such things is by never experiencing the true horror of it firsthand.  Yet, a cursory glance through Hemingway’s history shows that he was an ambulance driver in WWI, a position that led him to see more carnage than all of the M*A*S*H writers combined, yet unlike the M*A*S*H writers, he continued to write of some of the glory that could be found in war, in many of his most famous books.  The complaint that pacifists like Hawkeye Pierce, have of Hemingway is, if he saw the casualties of war how could he focus on the glory, when there is no glory in war, and the only winners are the ones that lose the least. Hemingway agreed, at least in part, saying:

“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”
― Ernest Hemingway

For better or worse, most of the men of Hemingway and Patton’s generation were either tacitly, or personally, affected, influenced, and characterized by war.  Hemingway’s life was so influenced by the various wars that occurred in his life that for him to write on another subject was difficult.  He did it, but many claim that most of his best works chronicled war.  As a side note, Hemingway did attempt to enter WWI, but he received a deferment based on poor vision.  Patton’s life was as influenced by war, and to write a piece on him without including descriptions of their war time activities he engaged in would be nearly impossible.  War defined him, and he defined wars.

Killing Patton

For those not familiar with the process that Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard bring to the discussion of history in their Killing series, Martin Dugard does the research and Bill O’Reilly takes that research and puts it in a readable style that O’Reilly equates to a John Grisham style of writing.  The research that Mr. Dugard performed in the eight books written before the Killing series so impressed Bill O’Reilly, that Bill labeled him one of the best researchers in the country.

The benefits of the partnership they formed comes through in the readability that O’Reilly brings to Martin Dugard’s research.  I must confess here, that I have never read one of Mr. Dugard’s books, but as a researcher, and writer, I can tell you that it’s very difficult to edit, or delete, large chunks of the work you’ve done in research.  A decent writer, knowing the virtues of pace and readability, will remove those large chunks of work that the researcher has unearthed and provide an easy read of the material.

Those of us that love history, love many of the mainstream, history books, but we also know that they have a tendency to get bogged down in detail.  Even the best of these books require breaks.  There’s just too much information in them for one brain to handle in one setting.  Thus, the formula that these two men have laid out is that the writer, Bill O’Reilly, will surf through all of Dugard’s research and use only that which fits what he terms a readable pace.

In the book Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General, the two authors uncover a wealth of information.  At its best, the book provides details of some of WWII’s most heroic efforts.  It provides details of the lives, and the actions of some of WWII’s great leaders Patton, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and some details of Winston Churchill’s actions during the War.  It also informs the readers of WWII’s lesser-known heroes, the warriors that carried out the orders of all those listed above.  There are moments in the book, a reader will find thrilling, and other moments involving the chilling details of how close this war came to going the other way if not for some crucial German mistakes, some of which were procured through Allied deceptions.  Those of us that believed that WWII came to an end soon after the Omaha Beach landing have been corrected by many authors, including the two here.

The most controversial portion of Killing Patton involves the death of General Patton.  It provides details of a conspiracy theory that the Premier of the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin, may have ordered Patton killed.  Anyone that knows anything about Bill O’Reilly has to suspect that this was his idea.  One has to suspect that while sifting through Dugard’s research, Mr. O’Reilly unearthed a sales tactic to separate Killing Patton from the numerous books written on WWII.  The latter involves as much speculation on my part, as the conspiracy theory does.

As the theme of a 2003 ABC special, conducted on the assassination of John F. Kennedy suggested, some of the times, it’s difficult to believe that consequential men can die by inconsequential means, or that inconsequential men can take down consequential men … Even by accident, as appears to be the case of Patton.  Some of the times, it’s much more interesting to look at all of the circumstantial evidence and wrap it up in a bow for greater sales and easier promotion.  While on his promotional tour, Bill has admitted that he doesn’t know exactly what happened, and that he’s speculating with this particular theory, and that the evidence he cites is circumstantial, but he says, “There’s enough there to warrant more investigation.”  Some have questioned the latter, and others have outright refuted it.  Those that have refuted it have dismissed the entire book on the basis of this theory.  Personally, I think this is a mistake, but I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that factual errors, or speculative theories, in other books have rendered those books unreadable by me.  With that qualifier out of the way, I must say that this is a great read, and there are numerous, substantiated facts in this book that are fascinating.

Some may also dismiss Killing Patton on the basis that it is but another book that glorifies war, warriors, and the archetypal males that have a lust for violence and war.  Some may argue that the very premise of such a book only contributes to the patriarchal, male dominated society that we’ve all been trying to defeat for the last few decades.  They would also argue that in our more civilized societies, the warrior mentality is a lot less necessary, as any and all threats we face are greatly exaggerated by political types of the same mind.  These men, these warriors, used to be enshrined in their cultures, but some may argue that was based on the fact that those societies were less stable, that needed warriors to help them continue as a culture.  They argue from the mentality that our civilization is so much more stable, and permanent, that intellectual diplomats, and social leaders, are far more necessary to continued peace.  Yet, those types usually fail when confronted with irrational evil, and it is at that point that warriors, like General George S. Patton, are brought in to clean up the mess and provide the continued illusion of permanence.

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